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Jesus’ Words After Leaving The Temple About The Future History of the World, About The Destruction Of The Temple And About His Second Coming (24.1-26.1).
After having prepared His disciples and would be disciples for the future (23.1-12) and having exposed the Scribes and Pharisees, revealing why they needed to be displaced (23.13-36), and having warned of the coming abandonment of the Temple by God (23.37-39), Jesus now declares that as a consequence the Temple will be destroyed within that generation, and then goes on to describe His own second coming in glory and the consequences which will at some time follow. This whole section can be analysed as follows:
Note that in ‘a’ He speaks of the destruction of the Temple and in the parallel He goes off to prepare for the destruction of the Temple of His body. In ‘b’ His disciples ask concerning the destruction of the Temple, and concerning His second coming and the end of the age, and in the parallel He describes what will happen at the end of the age. In ‘c’ He describes the troubles and catastrophes soon coming on the world, and the tribulation awaiting the disciples and their followers, which will be accompanied by the spreading of the good news of the Kingly Rule throughout the whole world, along with which will be the sowing of the tares/darnel (13.25-27, 38-39), that is, the false prophets and teachers and their words, who will cause some to grow cold (24.4-14), and in the parallel we have the three parables which reveal these activities as being carried forward through the servant who may either produce blessing or tribulation, the wise and foolish virgins, five of whom will prove to be unready (they have grown cold), and through good and bad servants who will receive accordingly. In ‘d’ Jesus’ coming is to be sudden and unexpected, and in the parallel His coming is to be sudden and unexpected. Centrally in ‘e’ His coming is described.
The section gives us an interesting example of the way in which, in translating from the Aramaic, the Gospel writers or their sources carefully select their material and at times edit it in order to bring out what they see as important. A full transcription of Jesus words would be longer than the discourses in any of them. (See introductory article in which the narratives are collated to produce such a suggested longer discourse using parallel citations as a basis on which to build it up).
The Disciples Question Jesus on The Mount Of Olives (24.1-3).
Having learned from Jesus, as they were leaving the Temple, that the wonderful buildings that they had just been looking at and admiring were to be totally demolished, as Daniel had clearly prophesied (Daniel 9.26), the party walked back through Jerusalem towards Bethany and came to the Mount of Olives, and once they had ascended the Mount, from which they could look out over the Temple mount and the city, they asked Him when this would take place. Furthermore, as in their minds such an event was seen as probably connecting with the end of the age, they also asked what would be the sign of His return and of the end of the age. To them the two ideas sounded as though they were connected. And they are in fact very much connected, for the destruction of the Temple was a necessary step towards the second coming. It was preparatory. And if the interval between them of around two thousand years seems long to us, it is but as the blink of an eyelid to God as Peter draws to our attention (2 Peter 3.8). As occurred so often in Old Testament prophecies, Jesus found no difficulty in leaping over hundreds of years in order to present the whole picture. The whole point here is that the Temple is being replaced by Jesus Himself, and by the living Temple of those who will become members of His body (John 2.19-21, and compare Matthew 26.61; 2 Corinthians 6.16; 1 Corinthians 3.16-17) in readiness for His return.
Such questions, when connected with the Mount of Olives, would undoubtedly have taken their minds back to Zechariah 14. There Zechariah had declared that one day Jerusalem would be surrounded by invading armies composed of many nations, with many of the people then being taken into exile, and the whole city being plundered. And he then declared that around that time (we are not necessarily told at what point it would happen in relation to the destruction) ‘YHWH will go forth against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle, and His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives --’, as Jesus’ feet were standing now As a result living waters would go out from Jerusalem (compare John 7.37-39) and YHWH would become King over all the earth.
It will be noted that these words in Zechariah can be seen as a brief summary of Jesus’ words here in Matthew 24/Luke 21. Here too He prophesies tumult among the nations, the destruction of the Temple, the future permanent exile of the Jews, the going forth of the Good News of His Kingly Rule (in the form of the water of eternal life - John 4.14) to the nations, and Jesus’ final coming in glory to establish God’s everlasting rule.
Compare also how in Daniel 9.25-27, once the Messiah is cut off, the city and Sanctuary are to be destroyed, and after God’s covenant has been confirmed ‘with many’, an attempt is to be made to subvert the people of God, and war and desolation is to come to the nations.
Introductory Words (24.1-3).
As they were leaving the Temple following Jesus’ exposure of the Scribes and Pharisees, the disciples, filled with admiration at the vastness and beauty of the Temple, drew Jesus attention to it. But Jesus’ response was immediate. To Him the Temple was a whited sepulchre full of dead men’s bones (compare 23.27). And He pointed out that in coming days the Temple and all its glory would vanish, for ‘there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’. This description is not necessarily to be taken literally (as meaning ‘not one single stone’) but is a hyperbolic way, typical of Jesus, of stating that it would be utterly demolished. And anyone going to Jerusalem today will find that it is just as He said, for it was destroyed in 70 AD and all that is left of the Temple are archaeological remains which have had to be dug up.
This reply shook the disciples. It seemed incredible to them that this huge structure, which was so deeply reverenced, would so soon be destroyed. And it turned their minds to what according to their own ideas lay ahead. In their eyes if the Temple was going to be destroyed it could only mean that the final events would be taking place prior to the establishment of the everlasting Kingdom. For they could not at this stage conceive of life without the Temple. So they asked when ‘these things’ would happen, and followed it up by asking what the signs of His return would be, and what would be the signs of the end of the age, (or world). What is meant by the end of the age/world here is defined by 25.46 where we are told that then the righteous will go into life under His eternal Rule, while the unrighteous will depart into everlasting punishment. No clearer description of the end all things physical could be given. It will be the end of the world as we know it. Then all will be complete, and Jesus, as the representative of the Godhead charged with the function of becoming man in order to bring about Salvation, although in association with the Father and the Holy Spirit (28.19), will hand all things over to the full Godhead, ‘that God might be all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15.23-28).
Note that in ‘a’ He departs from the Temple to go on His way, and in the parallel the question is as to when He will return. In ‘b He prophesies the destruction of the Temple, and in the parallel He is asked when ‘these things’ (the destruction of the Temple and what accompanies it) will be. (They also ask concerning His second coming). Centrally in ‘c’ Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives, the act of a Teacher and Judge.
24.1 ‘And Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way, and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple.’
We are probably to see here the idea that Jesus is leaving the Temple for the last time, on His way to the cross. For as He has just declared the Temple is now ‘written off’ (23.38). Like the Scribes and Pharisees it too has rejected Him. Not only the Scribes and Pharisees, but also the Chief Priests, are to come under judgment. Nothing now remains but the working out of that rejection. Thus we can understand why, when His disciples drew His attention to the grandeur and beauty of the Temple He was unimpressed. Had they but realised it the Temple of His body, and what was to happen to it, was now far more important (John 2.19, 21; compare Matthew 12.6).
It is difficult to overstress humanly speaking the splendour of the Temple. It was a huge edifice built on top of the Temple mount. The building of it commenced in 19 BC and the main structure was completed within ten years, but the finishing touches went on and were still in progress at this time, not being completed until 64 AD (just in time for its destruction). It was enclosed by a wall of massive stone blocks, each block on average about 1 metre high and five metres long. The front of the Temple was covered in gold plating that shone brilliantly in the sun, and its stones were of glistening white marble. There were stones in the Temple measuring 20 metres (68 feet) by 2.5 metres (9 feet) by 2.25 metres (7.5 feet), while the Temple area itself was about 450 metres (1450 feet) by 300 metres (950 feet). All was on a vast scale. The large outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, which surrounded the inner courts and the Sanctuary on three sides, was surrounded by porticoes built on huge pillars. It was in these colonnades that Rabbis held their schools and debates (Luke 2.46), and the Temple trading took place (11.15). It would be here that the early church came together for worship (Luke 24.53; Acts 2.1, 46; 3.11; 4.1 etc).
Steps leading up to the first inner court, the court of the women, demonstrate that that court was at a higher level than the outer court. The court of the women was surrounded by balustrades on which were posted the signs warning death to any Gentile who trespassed within. (Two of these inscriptions have in fact been dug up). Beyond this balustrade was the Court of the Women, through which men had to go to reach the court of Israel, and in which were found the thirteen ‘trumpets’ (trumpet shaped boxes) for collection of funds for the Treasury. A further court, raised above the court of the women, and reached by further steps, was the Court of Israel which was for the men of Israel, and beyond that again was the Priests’ Court which contained the great Altar built of unhewn stone, where offerings and sacrifices were offered.
Within that Court, raised above all and up further steps, was the holy shrine itself, entered through a porch that was 100 cubits high and 100 cubits wide (a cubit was 44.45 centimetres or 17.5 inches). The doorway that gave entry was 40 cubits high (seventeen metres or around sixty feet) and 20 cubits wide, and another door, half the size, led into the Holy Place. The Holy Place was 40 cubits long and 20 cubits wide, and separated from the Most Holy Place by doors over which hung a curtain (the veil). The Most Holy Place was 20 cubits square and 40 cubits high. But the height of the sanctuary was increased by an additional empty room above it which raised the height of the whole to 100 cubits.
Josephus described the holy shrine and its magnificence thus. ‘Now the outward face of the Temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look on it turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this Temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for as to those parts of it which were not gold they were exceeding white.’ Some of these great white stones have been unearthed within the past few years.
This then was the magnificence that so drew the attention of the disciples as they left the Temple, and then later as they gazed at it from the Mount of Olives. They had seen it before but they had never ceased to marvel at its massiveness and splendour, and as they were walking away from it as the sun went down they seemingly turned to survey it and were again struck by the sight of it and began to discuss its marvellous stonework of massive white stones, and the glistening gold of the offerings made by Herod and others that shone in the setting sun. It drew a sense of wonder from their hearts. These gifts had been made by great and powerful men, and they never ceased being filled with awe at them, while the Temple was so solid that it seemed to them eternal, and to them it represented the heart of Judaism. Jesus, however, saw it all totally differently, for He knew it all for what it was.
24.2 ‘But he answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” ’
So He informed them that, wonderful and ageless though the Temple may seem to be, (and all no doubt expected it to last for hundreds of years), there was coming a time when there would not be left one stone upon another which would not be thrown down, because God had rejected it. In other words, it would be torn down and so utterly wrecked, that nothing would be left of it. As we now know this destruction would in fact be carried out by the Roman general Titus and his men about forty years later when the Temple would be set on fire and burned, and then pulled down, never to be rebuilt, with what remained of it finally disappearing below the ground.
24.3 ‘And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world (age)?” ’
It is probable that the shaken disciples were still discussing this amazing and rather startling statement as they made their way to the Mount of Olives, from where again they could survey the glory of the Temple, and it was as they gazed at it once more that they came to Jesus in order to find out more about what He meant. We need in fact be in no doubt that Jesus was expecting them to come, and was prepared for it. He would know that He could hardly have let drop such a startling declaration as He had without questions being raised. So even as He sat down He would be waiting for them to ask Him about it, and He had no doubt already decided on what He was going to say.
It may well be that we are to see special symbolism in Jesus leaving the Temple and going immediately to the Mount of Olives. Ezekiel describes something fairly similar where the glory of God leaves the Temple followed by His taking up His position on a neighbouring mountain, ‘and the glory of YHWH went up from the midst of the city, and stood on the mountain which is on the east side of the city’ (Ezekiel 11.23). In both cases the Temple has been forsaken by God.
It should be noted here that, as with Mark and Luke, the main question was about the Temple that they saw before them, not some future apocalyptic Temple of men’s imaginings, even though they did themselves then link its destruction with the second coming of Jesus and ‘the end of the age/world’, the end of the age that would lead on into the eternal kingdom (25.46). This is not surprising. The possibility of the destruction of that massive Temple must have seemed to them beyond imagination, for they had not as yet been fully wooed away from the idea of the Temple and its worship (John 4.21). So they would have been unable to conceive of a time when it did not exit. To them it would seem to be essential to the future of the new Israel that Jesus had spoken about. Thus they would consider that by speaking of its destruction Jesus was indicating the time of final judgment and the coming in of the everlasting kingdom. It would only be later that they would recall His words in John 4.20-24 and recognise that the physical Temple was no longer important, and that the new and vital Temple was that which consisted of all who believe (2 Corinthians 6.16), with each believer (1 Corinthians 6.19), and each group of believers (Revelation 11.1-2), being a sanctuary within it. Of course, they were right in what they believed about the destruction of the Temple. It did actually indicate the time of judgment on the old Israel. But what they did not fully appreciate was the time that had to be allowed in order for the new Israel, springing from the old, to achieve its worldwide effectiveness (as outlined in chapter 13) so as to be ready for the second coming.
‘The end of the age (world).’ This phrase occurs a number of times in Matthew, see 13.39, 40, 49; 28.20 and always appears to have in mind final judgment and the end of all things.
So there were in fact two basic questions that came to mind:
But although they did not then know it 1) and 2) would be separated by a long and weary period of great tribulation through which the old unbelieving Israel (21.43) would have to go (Luke 21.24). Just as previously the old unbelieving Israel had, because of its disobedience, suffered tribulation for thirty eight years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2.14), until it was wiped out and replaced by a new believing Israel (the thirty eight years was a period almost ignored by Moses, for we are told little about it apart from in Numbers 16-17; Deuteronomy 2.7), so now the ‘old’ unbelieving Israel will suffer an undescribed length of tribulation until it too is destroyed, being replaced in the purposes of God by the true Israel, who are the true people of God composed of all who are branches of the true Vine (John 15.1-6), founded on the believing remnant of Israel, and making up the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16; compare Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9).
So looking ahead in a similar way to the prophets, and in the light of the words of Jesus, they would see before them the two great mountaintops of the destruction of the Temple (24.15-20) and the second coming of Jesus (24.29-31), separated by a period of great tribulation for the Jews (24.21-28; Luke 21.23-24). Both had been spoken of by Jesus previously, for He had previously spoken of His coming in glory in 16.27; Luke 17.24, and had hinted at the desolation of Jerusalem in Luke 13.35. Now they wanted to know more about both, and they no doubt connected both in their own minds, without having any appreciation of the length of time that lay between them. Understandably from their viewpoint, for they could not see the long valley stretching for two thousand years (two God days - 2 Peter 3.5) that lay between the first and second mountaintop. (Mountains often seem close to each other from a distance when in fact there are great gaps between them. And that is also how the prophets saw ahead. They saw the main peaks but not the valleys in between. The same was now true of the disciples. Nor did the Father, Who alone knew the time of His coming, want them to know the size of that gap as we discover later. He wanted them to know that Jesus would ever be near and ‘at the doors’).
It should be noted in this regard that Mark and Luke both limit the question of the disciples, although not the answer received, to that concerning the destruction of the Temple which they could see before them. That was their central focus, ‘when would the Temple be destroyed?’ For ‘these things’ referred to the events that would result in the accomplishment of what Jesus had described, the Temple being demolished stone by stone. That being so Mark and Luke clearly saw that also as the question that Jesus was mainly answering in the first part of His dissertation, and wanted their Gentile Christian readers initially to concentrate on, because they wanted them to be aware that they were not answerable to the Temple in any way, for in God’s purposes it was destined to be destroyed within that generation. They then moved on to the next important event, allowing the information about the second coming to flow from the destruction of the Temple and final rejection of the unbelieving Jews (who were cut off from Israel - Romans 11.15 - although individual Jews could still believe and be reunited with the true Israel), without indicating how long afterwards it would come (for they did not know), although Luke does define it as following ‘the times of the Gentiles’ and the exile of Israel (Luke 21.24).
Jesus had previously given teaching about his second coming (16. 27; Luke 12.35-40; 17.24; 19.12-27), which was to follow His death and resurrection, and it was inevitable therefore that the coming judgment on the Temple and His final coming would be linked in the minds of the disciples as two major events that lay ahead. From their standpoint the two would go together, for they had at this time no understanding of the panorama of history, only an indication of its peaks. Jesus, therefore, now determines to fill in the picture for them, and to indicate to them that future history and make it clear that that history and the coming of the everlasting kingdom are not to come about quite as speedily as they are imagining (compare Acts 1.6).
Prior to His description of the destruction of the Temple He therefore outlines what history in general holds for the future, both before and after its destruction. For He wants them to become aware that the heavenly Kingdom will not simply arrive with a bang in the near future, but is rather separated from them by a period of tumult for the world, and of persecution for His disciples; by the destruction of the Temple; and by a long period of great tribulation for the Jews during the ‘times of the Gentiles’.
This makes clear that while He does want them ever to be in readiness for His return, He also wants them to recognise that certain things must happen first, although with little indication of how long they will last.
It must be stressed with regard to this that there are no grounds in any of the Gospel narratives for seeing two destructions of the Temple. Such ideas are totally absent from the narrative, and when they are questionably introduced it is simply so as to fit in with theories based on equally doubtful foundations. But such ideas are totally unjustified here for there is not even a hint of it. We intend therefore to interpret His words in the way that they would be understood by the disciples, confident that that is how Jesus meant them to be seen.
The Dissertation that follows splits up into different sections:
This particular ‘great tribulation’ will clearly apply mainly to the Jews, for it could initially be escaped by fleeing to the mountains and thus not being caught up in the end of Jerusalem with all its consequences. Among those who did flee in time, possibly as a result of Jesus’ warning as it was amplified by a ‘prophet’ (so Eusebius), were the church of Jerusalem who settled in Pella (24.21-22).
1) Outline of the General Future of The World Describing the Initial Birth Pains Of The New Age (24.4-8).
Jesus begins by outlining the coming initial sufferings of the world, the ‘birth pains’ of the new age. Such, consisting of war, famine and earthquakes, etc. will cause suffering among the nations and will lead up to and include the invasion of Judaea and the destruction of Jerusalem.
Note that in ‘a’ they are to be careful not to be led astray by what is to happen, especially by false Messiahs, for in the parallel it is like the beginning of birth pains, which often lead men and women astray into thinking that the time for birth has arrived, when there is in fact still more to come (as many women know by experience). In ‘b’ there will be wars and rumours of wars, and in the parallel nation will rise against nation. Centrally in ‘c’ is the necessity for these things to be.
Jesus Is Concerned That The Disciples Are Not Led Astray By Future Happenings (24.4).
24.4 ‘And Jesus answered and said to them, “Take care that no man lead you astray.” ’
Jesus is giving these warnings so that none who follow Him might be led astray by events of the future. Men have always had weird ideas about what the future would hold. And they have always looked for, and hoped for, future Messiahs who will arise among men and solve all their problems. But Jesus warns severely against expecting the latter, or interpreting the former in the wrong way. All these things that He is about to describe will come on the world but they are not to be looked on as signs of the end. Note how this emphasises His uniqueness. No other like Him can arise after Him.
We must remember as we consider His words what limited experience of the world the disciples as a whole had. They were largely Galileans whose main adventures in their lives had been regular trips to Jerusalem for particular feasts, and while the twelve had occasionally also visited neighbouring countries with Jesus, they had had little real experience of them. Thus their knowledge of the wider world was almost non-existent. Once they were facing that wider world, therefore, Jesus knew that they might easily have begun to imagine all kinds of things as a result of seeing and experiencing the tumults among nations and the events that took place there, and even more so when they received news of events on an even wider scale. Jesus thus warns them not to take such events, both seen and heard, however spectacular, as signs of the end. They are rather simply to see them as the continual outworking of history, the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.
The Beginning of Birth Pains (the Early Contractions) (24.5-8).
Jesus begins by describing the turbulent future that the world must face. This should not have been surprising to anyone who knew the Scriptures. The Old Testament is full of descriptions of war and famines and earthquakes and tribulations which were to come and would occur at various stages. So Jesus’ words are simply confirming what the Scriptures had foretold. All that the prophets have spoken of must come about, but this particular aspect of it is not necessarily to be seen as the sign of the end. These wars (including the Judaean war) are simply initial birth pains.
24.5 “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’, and will lead many astray.”
His first concern is that during this period many professing deliverers and saviours will arise among men, and will claim to be ‘God’s anointed’. And many will be led astray by them. The importance of this to Jesus is seen in that in one way or another He repeats it three times, see also verses 11 and 24. No doubt such men did arise during the hectic period that led up to the destruction of the Temple, each arising in a small way, although very influential among those whom they affected, for fanaticism was continually abroad in Palestine at that time, and men have always delighted in accepting exalted titles, while others delight to see them as ‘messiahs’. So with a ‘coming Messiah’ anticipated it was inevitable that some would be seen in that way. And later history is also littered with examples of men who made this kind of claim, and even more with men who behaved like it. The point is not, however, that one of them will be the true Messiah, so that they have to discern which one is the right one, but that none of them will be so. No human figure who arises in this way is to be believed, or spoken of as the Messiah, for that is not how He will come.
While it is true that we ourselves, because of our lack of contemporary material, only know of one specific example who arose in the first centuries of our era, and officially claimed to be the Messiah, and was widely given heed to as such and given general acceptance among the Jews, and that was Bar Kochbah (c.135 AD), we can be sure that there were many who took the title to themselves in a small way as they stirred up their followers, or acknowledged it as their followers gave it to them. In the religious atmosphere of the time in and around Palestine it could hardly fail to happen. It is because they did not make sufficient impact on history to be remembered that we do not know of them, even though ‘many’ would be led astray by them. Compare Revelation 6.2 which probably pictures the rise of false Messiahs. Also compare 1 John 2.18-19 where John speaks of many ‘antichrists’ in his day.
24.6 “And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled. For it is necessary for these things to happen, but the end is not yet.”
Nor were His disciples to see wars of which they heard, or even rumours of distant wars (including the wars in Judaea), as indications that His coming was near. Any such news was not to disturb them. Such wars, however terrible they might sound, were not to be seen as an indication of His coming, even the great war that will envelop Jerusalem, for wars like this will continue on through time (see Revelation 6.3-4). This reference to ‘hearing of wars’ is preparing the way for the fact that the war that will strike at Jerusalem is simply one among many.
The reference to ‘hearing’ of wars does not exclude the possibility of their being caught up in wars themselves. It is simply a reminder that what is heard about can often be seen as much more portentous than what is experienced personally, and that rumours which come from a distance tend to grow in the telling and can become so exaggerated that it often sounds as though the world must surely soon come to an end.
‘It is necessary for these things to happen.’ Note the divine necessity. It is all part of God’s programme, for it is the outworking of man’s sinfulness, and as the Old Testament Scriptures have revealed, such sinfulness always has its consequences.
‘But the end is not yet.’ While these things such as wars will lead up to what is to follow, and are reminders along the way, they are not to be seen as indicators that the end is near for they will continue on through history. Thus wars of any kind are never to be taken as the sign of the end. Taking this with the continuing necessity for wars, and referring back to the disciples’ questions concerning the destruction of the Temple and Jesus’ parousia (coming, arrival), it is a further indication that the war which results in the destruction of the Temple will not necessarily signify the closeness of His coming. Wars will happen, even war in Palestine and its surrounds, without it necessarily signifying the end of the age.
24.7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingship against kingship, and there will be famines and earthquakes in many different places.”
Indeed the regular disasters that face men, and have always faced men, will continue on. Wars between nations will regularly occur, and rulers will fight against rulers. There will also be famines, often caused by wars, but equally often by providence, and there will be earthquakes which are only caused by providence. Thus man’s activities and God’s activities will intermingle. The world will go on as it always has. But none of these must be seen as indications of His soon coming. (See Revelation 6.5-8, 12). It is to be recognised that they are all the result of the inevitable process of history.
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingship against kingship.’ For the language compare ‘nation against nation’ in 2 Chronicles 15.6; and ‘kingship against kingship’ in Isaiah 19.2. History rolls on as it always has.
There were plenty of such events in 1st century AD before the destruction of Jerusalem, and indeed have been ever since. For the dreadful famine in the time of Claudius (around 40 AD) see Acts 11.27-30, and in 61 AD Laodicea, for example, was destroyed by a terrible earthquake which shook the whole of Phrygia, while Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by volcanic action not long after. Tacitus, a first century Roman historian, after referring to the horrors and calamities, and disasters and portents, of the period, went on to say ‘never has it been better proved, by such terrible disasters to Rome, or by such clear evidence, that the gods were concerned, not with our safety but with vengeance on our sins.’
Jesus’ point is not that this will be a unique period but that these are but the beginning of what must come on the world, not signs of the end, although at the same time being seen as reminders that one day He is coming. They are indications of the start of what is to come (like initial birth pains).
24.8 “But all these things are the beginning of birth pains.”
So all these thing will be but the first contractions in the process leading up to His coming. There will still be a long way to go. Such birth pains which will lead up to judgment or to God’s final consummation are a regular feature of Scripture (see Isaiah 13.8 where the Babylonian invasion is in mind; 26.17 where they will finally lead up to the resurrection; Jeremiah 4.31; 6.24 which are prior to the previous destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar; Micah 4.9-10 where it precedes their being taken to Babylon, but with the final deliverance in mind; and so on). Here Jesus warns that they will be long and arduous as birth pains often are, and that they are only just beginning. (Most fathers know of the interminable wait between the beginning of birth pains and the final birth that results).
What Will Happen To His Followers And Those Who Oppose Them At This Time (24.9-14).
But while these wars and disasters are going on, and on into the future, His followers will have their task to do. And in doing it His own followers must recognise that they must expect to suffer intensive persecution in one way or another, and that many false prophets will arise. The path to truth will not be easy. Furthermore they must not be deceived into thinking that the whole world will respond to them. Far from it. The world will become increasingly lawless and religion will in general stagnate. Nevertheless through it all the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven will triumph and will reach out into the whole world as the light continues to shine in dark places (4.16; Isaiah 42.6; 49.6). This is God’s programme for the future, during which awful times the Kingly Rule of Heaven will spread throughout the world among men (24.14), and this will prepare for the future ‘coming to birth’ of the final heavenly Kingly Rule of Heaven, and the future enjoyment of ‘eternal life’ (25.46).
We have already seen indications that Jesus was aware that after His death and resurrection there would be a period of time before His return. Given a little thought it was required by the parables of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in chapter 13, and we can compare also Luke 19.11-12. So the events described here will cover at the minimum a fairly long period of time, for they are to occur among ‘all nations’, although the phrase may have in mind ‘all nations’ round about.
Analysis of 24.9-14.
Note that in ‘a’ a quick end will come for many of His followers (they will be martyred), while finally in the parallel the end will come for all. In ‘b’ His disciples will be hated of ‘all nations’, and in the parallel the good news of the Kingly Rule will be proclaimed among ‘all nations’. In ‘c’ there will be failure, betrayal and hatred, and in the parallel lawlessness will multiply and love will grow cold (apart from those who are His). Central in ‘d’ will be the rise of false prophets to lead men astray, a central and regrettable feature of what is to come.
24.9 “Then will they deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated of all the nations for my name’s sake.”
Meanwhile what of His own followers? They will face tribulation, they will be killed, they will be hated by all, and all for His Name’s sake, that is because they are His and testify to His Name. These are the inevitable consequences of serving Him (see John 15.18-19; 16.2-3, 33; Acts 14.22; also Matthew 16.24 and variants). But even these experiences are not to be seen as signs of the end, for they will occur both prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, and will continue on after it, even during the period when the Jews are experiencing their own great tribulation (verses 23-24). Compare for His disciples continuing tribulation 10.16-18, 22. The same experiences will continue to the end.
24.10 “And then will many stumble (or ‘be entrapped’), and will deliver up one another, and will hate one another.”
Not all will go smoothly, even among His followers. The world will stumble on in its darkness, and some of those who profess to follow Him will also be ensnared by the world, and will stumble, and they will then act vindictively against their one time ‘brethren’, delivering them up to the authorities and being filled with hatred against them, following the patterns among the Jews (10.17, 21-22; compare John 16.2). No one knows how to hate better than an apostate, and there is nothing more painful than to be betrayed by those who once professed to be fellow-brethren. But it was something to be expected. We can compare here how Judas’ betrayal must have hurt Jesus so deeply. But the disciples are to be prepared for this as well. (This is in contrast with the love that will be established among those who are truly His - John 13.34-35; 17.21). Compare here 10.17, 21-22, 35-36. To Jesus this is a necessary part of the battle between truth and falsehood.
24.11 “And many false prophets will arise, and will lead many astray.”
Many false prophets and teachers will arise and will lead many astray. This would include so-called prophets among His followers, and many others as well. False teaching will abound (compare 7.15-20; 2 Peter 2.1-3; 1 John 2.18-19; Jude 1.4). And sadly through it many will be led astray. For being ‘led astray’ will be a feature of history, see verses 4, 5, 11, 24. A prime example of this is Muhammad. Jesus here nowhere leaves room for Muhammad as a true prophet.
24.12 “And because lawlessness will be multiplied, the love of the many will grow cold.”
Such will be the attitude of lawlessness that permeates the world and multiplies that it will even affect some among Jesus’ followers, so that the love of many will grow cold. They will have the form of godliness without its power (2 Timothy 3.5). But such godly love is the essence of being a disciple (5.42-48; John 13.34-35), and its fading will therefore be an indication of either backsliding or of lack of genuineness. This has been the constant experience of His ‘congregation’ through the centuries, and time and again He has had to stoop to restore those who are truly His, so that the flame is again fanned in their hearts. Only through prayer and the study of His word and constant witness, especially when we feel at our lowest, will our zeal be maintained. We must recognise that it is a dangerous thing to grow cold, for it can result in a frozen spiritual life and even spiritual hypothermia.
24.13 “But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved.”
But those who would finally be saved must persevere. Endurance is required of His followers. This does not mean that all who grow cold are lost, for at times all, even the best, grow cold. It is those who remain cold because the work of the Spirit is not taking place within their hearts (Philippians 2.13; Ephesians 3.16-19) who will be lost. For in the end if a man belongs to Christ it is He Who will seek him until He finds him (Luke 15.4), so that He may restore him to the fold. We must recognise that such endurance as is described here is only possible through the continual work of the Saviour in our hearts (1 Corinthians 1.8-9; Philippians 2.13; Jude 1.24). It will occur because of His saving power and faithfulness as a shepherd (John 10.27-29). A wise Christian was once asked whether he believed in the perseverance of the saints, and after thinking a little he replied, ‘No, I believe in the perseverance of the Saviour’. And in that, and in only that, lies our hope and certainty.
24.14 “And this Good News of the Kingly Rule will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then will the end come.”
Jesus finishes this solemn section on a high note. Let them not doubt that through all the experiences of His followers, their testimony will go on, so that the Good News of the Kingly Rule will be ‘proclaimed’ in the whole world for a testimony to all nations. The people of God may sometimes be down, but they will not be out. And His work will go on and prosper. Indeed sometimes when we look at church history, and then look at the church, we can only wonder that it has survived. And yet the wonder is that today there are more true Christians in the world than ever before (even if there are also many false ones whose apparent love has grown cold, or has always been cold). God has triumphed in spite of the failings of His people. And we should note that this Good News of the Kingly Rule is not some half-baked message for a lesser age (indeed in Mark it is ‘the Gospel’). It is the message described in chapter 13 and proclaimed by Jesus Himself, and by His disciples, and by Paul in Rome (Acts 28.23, 31). It is ‘the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 28.31). It is ‘righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17). It is the Gospel of the present age (Mark 13.10).
‘To all the nations.’ That Jesus knew that the Good News must reach out to all nations is apparent as early as 8.11. The only question was the timing, and we have seen how gradually His ministry had extended towards Gentiles (compare 12.18, 21; 15.21 onwards). Now the time has come for full openness in the outreach of the Gospel. There was a limited sense in which this universality was fulfilled at Pentecost, where Jews ‘from every nation under Heaven’ were gathered (Acts 2.5). It could also have been seen as fulfilled when the empire was evangelised so that the Gospel had gone out ‘throughout the whole world’ (see Romans 1.8). But today we are aware that He meant it literally, and that His aim is to reach to every part of the world (see 28.19-20). And then the end will come.
This should not have surprised them. It was an axiom of the prophetic teaching that in the end some of all nations would be brought under God’s rule. To Abraham the promise was given that through his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12.3). The Servant was to ‘bring forth justice to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42.1) and indeed be ‘a light to the Gentiles, that you (the Servant) may be my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49.6 compare Isaiah 42.6). ‘The nations’ would seek to the root of Jesse (i.e. a son of the Davidic line - Isaiah 11.10), and ‘will come from the ends of the earth -- and will know that My name is Yahweh’ (Jeremiah 16.19, 21). Compare also Malachi 1.11; Psalm 96.10, 13.
We should note here how important the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world is seen to be. While wars and natural disasters will go on and on, and Jerusalem may be destroyed, it is not those events, but the final successful proclamation of the Gospel that will affect the time of His coming. Compare for this 2 Peter 3.9. That is the final aim of this age.
Jesus’ Answer To The Question As To When The Destruction of the Temple That They Had Been Surveying Would Take Place (24.15-21).
We should note first that what is described here refers to the Jews only. Reference is made to ‘those in Judaea’, and to those who would not flee on the Sabbath. And escape is thus found in the neighbouring mountains. So this ‘great tribulation’ is initially localised in Palestine.
Secondly we should note that this is the only part of Jesus’ dissertation which could possibly be the answer to the question as to when the Temple would be destroyed, and as the purpose for giving the question in verse 3 must be in order to answer it, the answer must be somewhere. (This is even clearer in Mark and Luke).
Nevertheless we should note that ‘the holy place’ must probably at least initially be seen as referring to Jerusalem, ‘the holy city’, for Luke’s or Jesus’ interpretation of ‘the appalling horror standing where it ought not’ is ‘Jerusalem surrounded by armies’ (Luke 21.20). And that is so even though the phrase ‘the holy place’ can also refer to the Temple on the lips of Jews (see Acts 6.13; 21.28). But in fact ‘the holy city’ was called ‘holy’ precisely because it contained the Temple with its worship (Psalm 46.4), and the Jews certainly saw Jerusalem as a whole as ‘holy’. Jesus thus clearly wanted His disciples to recognise that it was at this time of the investment of Jerusalem that the Temple would be torn down. The consequential sacrilegious destruction of the Temple is thus assumed from the description.
The standards, containing images of the god-emperor and images of an eagle, to which the Roman soldiers offered a kind of worship explain the use of the word ‘Horror’, for the word often refers to idolatry, which by this time was a horror to all good Jews. And once the city and the Temple were in process of being taken that would certainly be the time to flee, for once they were finally taken Roman reprisals would range far and wide, and might even do so while the siege was going on, on any Jews who could be found. The Romans were not noted for their mercy to rebels. Thus all in Judaea are advised to flee at the first signs of the investment of Jerusalem, and hide in the mountains.
Note that in ‘a’ the appalling horror will stand in the holy place, and in the parallel this is to result in unparalleled tribulation. In ‘b’ those in Judaea are to flee to the mountains, and in the parallel they are to pray that their flight not be at an inconvenient time. Centrally and repeated threefold in ‘c’ are the warnings and woe on those caught up in the events.
24.15 “When therefore you see the desolating abomination (or ‘the appalling horror’) which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him who reads understand),”
Jesus was telling them that during the time previously described in verses 4-14 a particular event will happen which will be of huge significance to the Jews, out of all proportion to the rest. ‘When therefore’ may thus be seen as a vague time connection indicating ‘at some point in time over this period’. Or alternatively it may be seen as a reference back to the question in verse 3. ‘When therefore, you see this, then be ready for what I have described, the destruction of the Temple’. Now at last they will have the answer to their question. Either way there is no specific indication of when this will happen. It will simply be at some time in the future, in the course of the other wars and events described.
And what will happen is that they will see ‘the desolating abomination’ or ‘the Horror which appals’, the one which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place. The original ‘Desolating Abomination’ (Abomination is the Jewish view of the appalling nature of idolatry and the phrase in Hebrew can be seen as meaning ‘the desecration that appals’ or ‘the desecration that brings desolation’) was when Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC) captured Jerusalem and raised an altar to Zeus in the Temple, slaying a pig on it so as deliberately to offend the Jews, and causing the cessation of true sacrifices (Daniel 11.31). This was looked on as the most dreadful sacrilege, and as a ‘Desolating Abomination’, a ‘desecration that appalled’, and it was followed by widespread persecution. It was never forgotten and no Jew could think of that time except in horror.
But later in Daniel it became a phrase which could be applied to any such person and such action, and it was thus expected to occur again in what was then the distant future, when the Messiah would be ‘cut off’, and the city and the sanctuary would again be destroyed (Daniel 9.27). And it is on the basis of this connection to this highly disputed passage that many fantastic theories have been spun. But there is no real reason to doubt that the cutting off of Messiah and the destroying of the city and the sanctuary described in Daniel apply to 1st century AD, which is their obvious meaning as Jesus makes clear here when He says of it that it was ‘spoken of by Daniel the prophet’.
Thus the Desolating Abomination, the Temple and the cessation of sacrifice were all closely connected in Jewish minds (see also Daniel 12.11), and if you were to say to a Jew of Jesus’ time ‘Desolating Abomination’ he would immediately think of sacrilege, of the profaning of the holy city and the Temple and of the cessation of sacrifice, with general desolation also included (Daniel 9.27). And in view of the fact that this is intended to be Jesus’ explanation of His earlier statement that there would not be left ‘one stone upon another which would not be thrown down’ it must here have included the idea of the destruction of the Temple.
Furthermore if a Jew thought of it happening at this time in history he would certainly think of Rome. Under its procurators Rome had already made attempts at such sacrilege, for Pilate at the beginning of his governorship had deliberately introduced his troops with their Roman standards into Jerusalem ‘the holy city’ by stealth at night ( Josephus says ‘Jerusalem’. Eusebius (4th century AD) later adds a reminiscence that the standards were introduced into the Temple area, but such sacrilege would surely have cause an immediate riot even at night, and they would certainly have been torn down the next morning whatever the consequences. Thus they were probably introduced into the Castle of Antonia, hard by the Temple). They had been introduced by stealth because they were looked on as idolatrous in that they often bore a representation of Caesar on them, as well as the image of an eagle, and soldiers offered sacrifices to them. Pilate had probably hoped that once it was done and was a fait accompli he would be able to continue to enforce it. But so horrified were the Jews that a huge crowds of them had subsequently besieged Pilate day and night in his palace at Caesarea demanding their removal, and when he had sent his soldiers with bared swords to surround them and threaten them, thinking thereby to bring them into subjection, they had simply bared their necks and said that they would rather die than allow what he had done. The people’s fierce resistance, and their fortitude to the point of offering to lay down their lives in passive resistance, was so great that Pilate at last withdrew. Such a massacre would have drawn down on him the wrath of the emperor.
So the people were constantly on their guard against such attempts by Rome. Note that it was not only the Temple’s sanctity that the people sought to preserve, it was also the sanctity of the city they saw as ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11.1, 18; Isaiah 48.2; 52.1; Daniel 9.24). The standards could not even be allowed into the city. (Later the Emperor Caligula would order the erection of his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem, with accompanying worship, and this was only forestalled by his death, something which Matthew’s readers would certainly have been very much aware of. Thus the possibility of desecration of Jerusalem and the Temple was a continuing situation of which the Jews were ever cognisant).
‘Standing in the holy place.’ In Scripture Jerusalem was regularly called ‘the holy city’ (Nehemiah 11.1, 18; Isaiah 48.2; 52.1) and it is especially to be noted that it is so-called in Daniel 9.24 which is in the context of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the destruction of the city and the sanctuary (Daniel 9.27). This would support the idea that ‘the holy place’, when quoted in the context of Daniel’s prophecy (‘spoken of by Daniel the prophet’), is to be seen as indicating Jerusalem and its environs, ‘the holy city’. And this view is supported by Luke 21.20 where Luke’s Gospel interprets ‘standing -- in the holy place’ as signifying ‘when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies’. It was in horror at the thought of the Roman standards entering the holy city that the Jews had previously resisted Pilate to the point of death, and we can compare how in Psalm 46.4 it is ‘the city of God’ which is ‘the holy place’ of ‘the tabernacles of the Most High’. Compare also Ezekiel 45.4 where in the picture of the ideal future the sanctuary will be set in ‘a holy place’ of some considerable size as designated by God, although it is no longer Jerusalem because Jerusalem has been replaced by an area even more holy. All this would support the idea that ‘the holy place’ here signifies Jerusalem and its environs.
So the ‘Desolating Abomination standing where he ought not’ (Mark 13.14), that is in ‘the holy place’ (so here), would indicate the actual preparations which would take place in the environs of the city, ready for the entry into ‘the holy city’ of the Roman eagles. This last would occur once the surrounding Roman legions had forced an entry, and it would inevitably be followed by entry into the Temple itself. Luke confirms this quite clearly. Instead of the mention of the Desolating Abomination he wrote, ‘When you see Jerusalem compassed with armies then know that her desolation is at hand (21.20)’. The desolating abomination would do its sacrilegious work. It should be noted that this is in exactly the same place in the discourse as the reference to the desolating abomination (note in both cases the previous and following verses - ‘you shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake, but he who endures to the end the same will be saved’ - Matthew 24.13 = Mark 13.13 = Luke 21.17; and ‘let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains’ - Matthew 24.16 = Mark 13.14b = Luke 21.21 which demonstrate this). Thus under any reasonable interpretation ‘Jerusalem encompassed with armies’ and ‘the desolating abomination’ are closely connected if not synonymous.
A suggested collation of the three Gospel narratives might be as follow:
The presence of these troops with their standards and idolatrous worship around the holy city, with the purposes of eventually entering it, would be the Desolating Abomination. As a result the holy city would be profaned. And Titus would then in fact enter the Holy Place within the Temple itself, quite probably with his standardbearer who would follow close behind, thus adding to the profanation. Josephus in fact claims that rather than see the Temple profaned in this way it was the Jews themselves who set fire to it. But that may simply have been propaganda.
Some commentators are dissatisfied because Jesus did not actually mention the destruction of the Temple at this point. But we know that Jesus constantly said things and left the remainder for the mind to think over. The same is the case here. He was never prosaic. He was answering a question about the destruction of the Temple, and therefore these words and their consequences could only mean exactly that in the minds of those who considered His words. The coming of the Desolating Abomination (with its connection with destruction of city and sanctuary in Daniel 9) and the resulting great tribulation, would be seen as including the destruction of the Temple. To have actually said it before it happened would have taken away the mystery and could have opened the words to the charge of being treason against Rome, and may even have inflamed the Jews to earlier rebellion, for although they were private words to the four disciples they were words which were intended to be passed on. Rome would not like to be accused of sacrilege on such a scale before it happened, and such a suggestion from a ‘prophet’ would not have helped the Jews to remain relatively calm while the Gospel progressed. The reason that He is not specific is because He is protecting His disciples against the future. They will know for certain what He means (they asked the question) but others will not.
‘Let him who reads understand.” Compare Mark 13.14. This is seen by some as being spoken by Jesus, signifying ‘him who reads Daniel’. Others see it as meaning, ‘him who reads Matthew/Mark’. This latter would then suggest either that Matthew copied from Mark or that both used the same written source. The basic idea behind the statement is that those who read Daniel were expected to understand the meaning that lay behind it, and to realise who it was who in Jesus’ mind were seen as being the expected culprits. Such a phrase favours a date before 70 AD when the actual events had not yet taken place, and when caution was therefore necessary.
24.16 “Then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains,”
And when the people of Judaea saw the danger of the armies of Rome surrounding Jerusalem they were to flee to the mountains, for the Roman search parties, foraging for food, would be a danger to all Jews, and once the city had fallen vengeance and reprisals would be wreaked on the whole surrounding area. The purpose of fleeing into the mountains was in order to escape the ‘great tribulation’ which was coming on those who did not flee, which serves to demonstrate that those who would initially suffer under the tribulation would be localised. Sadly many instead fled into the city itself, so that many from Judaea were found in the city when it was taken, thus experiencing the initial phases of their great tribulation, and being subjected to the remainder.
However Eusebius tells us that the Romans allowed those who wished to leave the city, prior to its final investment, to do so (when his spies told him of all the atrocities of Jew against Jew that were going on in Jerusalem he might well have done so). If this be so then it was also open to them to flee to the mountains had they wished to do so. This ‘fleeing to the mountains’ has in mind what had previously happened in the time of Jeremiah (compare Jeremiah 16.16; 50.6; Lamentations 4.19). David had also fled from Saul into the mountains with his men. The mountains were ever a refuge from enemies and from invading hordes.
The purpose behind this description and what follows is so as to bring out the urgency of the situation and the importance of avoiding the tribulation that would ensue. (It had nothing specifically to do with Jewish Christians, although they would benefit too when they fled to Pella).
24.17-18 “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house, and let him who is in the field not return back to take his cloak.”
The necessity of acting with speed in the situation is emphasised by two examples. Those who are on the flat roofs of their houses within the city when they hear the news, are immediately to descend the outside stairs and flee without even taking the time to collect anything from the house, while those who are out in the fields when they hear the news, are not to return home to gather their necessities, not even their cloaks whatever the weather, but are to make for the mountains immediately. Such would be the urgency of the hour. This is not so much intended to be practical advice as to stress the urgency of the situation. When the time came not a moment was to be lost.
24.19 “But woe to those who are with child and to those who are breast-feeding in those days!”
And for these who fled conditions would be terrible, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women who would have the most difficulty. For them it would indeed be a time of woe. But the whole point of these descriptions is that Jesus is saying that the tribulation will be so terrible that is spite of their condition these women would still be better to flee and face up to the consequences, rather than face up to the alternative which would be even more appalling. Among other things invading armies took little notice of such tender conditions when raping women, but this tribulation would go even beyond that.
24.20 “And pray you that your flight be not in the winter, nor on a sabbath,”
They were also to pray that this flight might not be required in the winter, when the roads would be difficult to travel on, and when conditions in the mountains would be at their worst. Nor on the sabbath, which would restrict how far a pious Jew would be able to travel on that day. While some might consider that the sabbath regulation could be set aside where all agreed that flight was necessary, the thought here is that it is probably not the majority view, so that the emergency regulations would not be seen as applying. It would be felt that they should remain to defend the city. Or the thought might be that the gates of the city might not be opened on the Sabbath.
24.21 “For then will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever will be.”
And the reason for their flight would be so as to avoid ‘great tribulation and suffering’ that would come on those who remained behind. First there would be the unbelievable intensity of the suffering of the siege (the story of what happened in the city as told by Josephus is almost incredible) combined with the devastation caused by the besieging army to the surrounding area, and this would be followed by the appalling treatment meted out to the besieged once the siege was over, with many being crucified and large numbers being forced into a long, unceasing exile, from which they would never return. Luke describes it graphically, ‘they will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled’ (Luke 21.24). Thus the great tribulation would extend into the unknown future, as graphically described in Deuteronomy 28.49-68, and including the whole miserable history of the Jews. It would be such that none other would ever suffer the like again. Note the ‘nor ever will be’, which indicates a considerable time gap following the initial commencement of the tribulation. A long period of time was expected to follow the first initial experiences of this event, and it is true that no other nations have suffered throughout their history like the Jews. (This is in contrast with the time of trouble in Daniel 12.1 where the time of trouble described there does not end with the words ‘nor ever will be’. It is therefore referring to a different time of trouble).
Combining the three accounts in the Gospels we would come up with the following:
The Second Coming of the Messiah Is Not To Be Thought Of In Terms Of An Earthly Coming Of An Individual (24.22-28).
Following the destruction of the Temple and the continuation of the Jewish people in their unceasing period of great tribulation because of their rejection by God, a number of false Messiahs and false prophets will arise on earth, just as they had before it. But they are not to be believed. For when the true Messiah returns He will not come like that. He will come like the lightning in the twinkling of an eye, with a glory that can be seen from east to west.
Note that in ‘a’ unless the days had been shortened no living flesh would be saved, and in the parallel the vultures will gather at the appropriate time to eat the dead flesh. Note also the contrast of the living flesh with the carcase. The one is alive and is to be delivered, the other is dead and destined to be torn apart. In ‘b’ the deliverance of the elect is in mind, and in the parallel it is effected by the coming of the Son of Man. In ‘c’ false Messiahs and prophets will arise, and in the parallel they are not to be taken notice of. Centrally in ‘d’ Jesus emphasises that He has told them beforehand (like the prophets did of old).
24.22 “And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved. But for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
‘Those days’ here probably refers back to all the days described in 4-14, compare verse 3 and 23.36. Such will be the troubles that come to the world, which will get worse and worse, that were it not for the fact that God would call a halt to it, no one would survive. The idea of the days being shortened is in order to indicate God’s control of time and events. It is because God is in control that any flesh at all will survive, and the purpose of that is so that the elect will survive. So however terrible the situations that come on the world we can be sure that God will ‘shorten the days’, otherwise there will be no elect to be gathered when He comes (24.31). In all that is coming He will say, ‘thus far and no further’.
Others see this as indicating that the terrible tribulation of the Jews through the ages (or of the Jews at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem) would end in total annihilation were it not that God will cut the time short for the sake of the preservation of Jewish Christians among them.
Thus the point is that God will constantly be watching over ‘His elect’, His ‘chosen ones’, His ‘congregation of the righteous’ ensuring that they will survive to the end (compare the vivid picture in Revelation 11 where the people of God in Jerusalem are His Temple). We do not need to examine how exactly this will happen, and indeed we do not have sufficient information to be able to do so, for these words are not so much intended to make us analyse history, as to enable us to recognise God’s overall control and protection on behalf of His own.
Note the contrast with verse 28. Here the living flesh is to be saved. It is to be delivered and made whole, so that it may enjoy true life. This is in direct contrast with those who are like carcasses awaiting the attentions of vultures. It is the choice between life and death, which is dependent on whom they listen to, the true Messiah or false Messiahs, the true prophets or false prophets.
24.23 “Then if any man shall say to you, ‘Lo, here is the Messiah’, or, ‘Here’, do not believe it.”
Once again He warns of the dangers of false Messiahs, those who will pretend to be on earth as the ‘anointed of God’ (see verse 5). For no such genuine Messiah will ever come. Thus whether they say ‘look here’, or ‘look there’ it will make no difference. The very fact that these Messiahs are on earth will demonstrate that they are not the Messiah (Who will have risen and ascended to glory, and will come in that glory). So whether it be out in the wilderness among separatists, or whether it be in secret conclaves in the great cities of the world, all such claimants must be rejected.
24.24 “For there will arise false Messiahs, and false prophets, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
Nevertheless they will arise. There will be false Messiahs (compare verse 5) and false prophets (compare verse 11). And they will even be able to show great signs and wonders. Indeed they will appear to do wonders of such a nature that if it were possible they would even deceive the elect. Fortunately that is not possible, for the elect know that no man on earth can truly be the Messiah, but such would be the wonders that had they not known that, some of them might well have been deceived.
We can compare how the Egyptian ‘magicians’ aped some of Moses’ signs and wonders. By conjuring men are able to give the impression of great wonders. And it may well even be that He intends us to recognise that Satanic power has produced, or will produce, such wonders (2 Thessalonians 2.9; Revelation 16.14, compare Acts 8.9-10. See also Deuteronomy 13.1-2; Revelation 13.13-14; 19.20).
24.25 “Behold, I have told you beforehand.”
So they must remember that He has told them beforehand in order that they might not be led astray. Jesus is here putting Himself in the line of the great prophets who by their foreknowledge gave proof of their genuineness and integrity (compare Isaiah 41.22-23; 44.7; 45.21; 46.10, and see Deuteronomy 18.15-22).
24.26 “If therefore they shall say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness’, do not go forth, ‘Behold, he is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it.”
So it does not matter in what direction they are pointed, whether it be to a man or a sect in the wilderness, or to those who meet in secret places and make great claims, and profess great mysteries, they are not to believe such people.
24.27 “For as the lightning comes forth from the east, and is seen even to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
And the reason for that is because when the Son of Man does come it will be as swift and as sudden and as glorious as a flash of lightning. It will be a heavenly, not an earthly, coming.
One of Jesus’ temptations had been to put on a spectacular display of power on earth so as to gather a following (4.5-6), a way that He had rejected. And some of these Messiahs may well seek to do something similar. But He wants His followers to know that He will never act in that way. When He speaks of His glorious appearing here He is rather speaking of the inevitable manifestation of His true and heavenly glory which in the end cannot be hidden.
That the expression ‘Son of Man’ found here and in the following verses refers to Jesus seen as a heavenly figure, but as also closely related to previous uses of the expression with regard to His life as a human being on earth, is confirmed by the fact that here He is represented as the true Messiah as against false Messiahs , and the true Prophet as against false prophets, for there has been constant emphasis on the fact that Jesus is the outstanding and unique Prophet (12.41) and the true Messiah (16.16). It is also required by the constant previous references to Jesus as the Son of Man under all conditions.
24.28 “Wherever the carcase is, there will the vultures be gathered together.”
Jesus then cites a proverb to finish of this section of His speech. In interpreting it we should, however, keep in mind Luke 17.37. There too there is a question concerning its meaning. There the ‘gathering’ of the vultures might appear to parallel the ‘taking away’ of the one of two (‘one will be taken and the other left’), for it answers the question, where are they taken? And the answer would seem to be, ‘to the carcase’. If those taken away are thought of as those being taken to judgment, that is as the unrighteous, then the carcase might be signifying the place of death and corruption. Thus the vultures will gather to the carcase with its significance of death and corruption. But if those taken are seen as the righteous the carcase might then be seen as the crucified and now risen Christ to Whom the righteous gather to feast on Him. This last would, however, not only appears inapposite as an illustration about Jesus, but would more significantly (for it is not always easy to judge what is inapposite to someone who illustrates as vividly as Jesus) also go against the usual significance of birds of prey as instruments of judgment or of evil (Ezekiel 39.4; Revelation 19.17, 21; Genesis 15.11). It is this last point that is most against it.
Or it may be that we are to see the picture the other way around, that is, that they (the unrighteous) are as carcasses conveyed to the place of death and corruption, where the vultures are gathered in judgment to deal with them. This idea would best fit the idea of vultures elsewhere.
The meaning has similarly been variously interpreted in Matthew:
It would seem to us that 1) or 3) is the most likely meaning of the words, with 2) lying below the surface as the unexpressed alternative for believers if 1) is chosen. Whichever, however, is taken it is a reminder that at the end there will be a time of distress and judgment.
The Coming of the Son of Man (24.29-31).
In a remarkable contrast Jesus now brings out the glory of His coming which will make all creation pale into insignificance. It will occur when God calls time on the great tribulation suffered through the ages by the Jews. And then all that man gloried in will fade. The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give her light, for both will withdraw in the face of the greater glory of the Coming One. Furthermore the stars will fall from Heaven. This is regularly a picture of the defeat of the forces of evil, both earthly and heavenly (Daniel 8.10; Revelation 12.4, 9). So all that the heavens represented will be defeated and humbled. But in contrast will be the coming Son of Man, for His glory will shine out in ever increasing splendour, and His angels will descend triumphantly to gather up all Who are His, His ‘elect’, rescued from all who, represented by the heavenly bodies, would do them harm.
Not that in ‘a’ the ‘lights of the heavens will be dimmed’, and ‘the stars will fall from heaven’, and in the parallel ‘the glory of the Son of Man will shine out’, and ‘the angels will come down’ to gather the elect from one end of heaven to the other. In ‘b’ the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and in the parallel the tribes of the earth will mourn. Centrally in ‘c’ all will see the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven.
24.29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken,”
‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days.’ That is, ‘once the long, tortuous tribulation of the unbelieving Jews is coming to an end’. This follows the pattern of the Exodus when the great deliverance was postponed until every last one of the people of Israel who had not believed had died (Numbers 14.28-30; 26.64-65; 32.13; Deuteronomy 2.14-16). They had suffered tribulation in the wilderness until they had died, and were replaced by a believing nation who would obey Moses. But this present unbelieving nation, who will have committed an even greater sin, and will go on doing so generation by generation because they still refuse to believe, will suffer on and on in their generations until the One Whom they had caused to be crucified returns again (although we should note that there is always a way of escape for any who believe. Mercy is always available on repentance). Their tribulation will thus not end until they come face to face with the Messiah, either in belief or judgment.
‘The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ All will fade and quiver at the approach of the Coming One. In the Old Testament such vivid descriptions regularly indicate the powerful judgment of God which results in tumultuous political events and the defeat of the gods of the nations (see for example Isaiah 13.9-22 of the ravages of Babylon; 34.4-5 of the destruction of Edom; Joel 2.30-31; 3.14-16 of the time of the end). And this was especially in the light of the fact that sun, moon and stars were seen by the nations as powerful deities. Thus these are the indication of God’s final judgment and of the fading before His glory of all other heavenly or earthly opposition. All the lights of Heaven grow dim in His presence. All the powers of Heaven are humiliated. And Luke makes clear that activities on earth are also very much involved in these signs (Luke 21.25-26). The point is that the whole of the universe is being affected, both heavenly and earthly. The sun and moon would often be darkened by the smoke arising from burning fields and cities, and this was symbolic of the futility of the gods.
‘The stars will fall from Heraven.’ This could literally indicate meteors and meteorites, but in terms of those days it goes further than that. The defeat by Antiochus Epiphanes of his enemies was depicted in terms of him casting down the host of the stars to the ground and trampling on them (Daniel 8.10). Kings depicted themselves as demi-gods. It thus vividly depicts the fall of earthly kings. Consider also Revelation 8.10-12 where it depicts Heaven affecting earth in some way. And in Revelation 12.4 the dragging of stars from Heaven probably depicts the fall of angels (compare Revelation 9.1). Thus the point is that there will be tumults, both among angels and among men.
‘The powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ This idea is taken from Haggai 2.21 where it connects with God’s establishment of Zerubbabel’s earthly kingly rule by the defeat of all his enemies and their gods. Here it results in the establishment of the everlasting heavenly Kingly Rule of the Son of Man.
24.30 “And then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then will all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
And then the great sign will be seen, the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven, Compare Acts 7.55-56 where precisely the same sign, more secretly given, was to be an encouragement to the new-born church. And when they see this sign all the tribes of the earth will mourn, because the One whom they have rejected has now come to be their judge (compare Revelation 1.7). These ‘tribes of the earth’, representing the people of earth (compare ‘those who dwell on earth’ which occurs regularly in Revelation), may be seen as in deliberate contrast with ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ who represent the believing people of God (19.28; James 1.1; Revelation 7.1-8) who are joyfully looking for His coming.
Some see ‘the sign’ as signifying the raising of some kind of banner which will announce His coming, in line with Isaiah 11.10, 12 (it is followed by the trumpet in verse 31). There the ‘root of Jesse (and thus of David) -- stands for an ensign of the peoples to whom the nations seek and His resting place will be glory’. Thus the Son of Man will be like a standard raised so that His people from among all nations may to gather to it, in order to share His glory.
‘Then will all the tribes of the earth mourn.’ Compare Revelation 1.7, ‘behold He comes with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and they who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.’ The idea would appear to be of sorrow and anguish because they had failed to acknowledge Him before it was too late (similar to the weeping and gnashing of teeth elsewhere).
This would appear to have in mind Zechariah 12.10, ‘and I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they will look on Me Who they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and be in bitterness for him as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn.’ This is then followed in Zechariah 13.1 by a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. If that be the case there may here be a hint of hope for last minute repentance, but Zechariah 12.10-13.1 more probably refers primarily to the coming of the Holy Spirit and its results (Acts 2), so that Jesus’ idea here may rather be of a contrast between that appearance and this one at the end when that hope has gone, and all that awaits is bitterness of soul at what they have lost.
Then they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The kingship, power and glory given to Him at His resurrection (28.18; Acts 2.36; Daniel 7.13-14), and initially demonstrated in the activities of the early church (16.28; 26.64; Mark 9.1; Luke 9.27; Acts 7.55-56), will be revealed to all at His glorious appearing (16.27; 25.31; 2 Thessalonians 1.7-8; Titus 2.13). ‘Coming on the clouds of Heaven’ signifies His heavenly nature and power, and the power and great glory stress that He has come as judge (compare 25.31). Thus for His own there will be joy, and for others bitterness of soul.
Attempts to link this to the fall of Jerusalem described in apocalyptic terms must be discounted in view of the heavy emphasis on observed phenomenon, and the worldwide nature of the event. The whole world will be aware of it. It will present no problem to the Son of Man to manifest Himself in every part at once. It is Heaven breaking through on earth.
24.31 “And he will send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
And His first act on being revealed will be to gather to Him all Who are His, ‘His elect’, those whom He has conscripted (1 Thessalonians 4.16). They are to be gathered to His banner. His angels will come like a group of mustering sergeants to muster His troops, who will respond to a shout of command and a trumpet from the heavenly trumpeter (compare Isaiah 27.13; 1 Corinthians 15.52; 1 Thessalonians 4.16), and they will ‘gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’. The ‘four winds of heaven’ were a regular description of universality and indicated the activity of God (Jeremiah 49.36; Daniel 8.8; 11.4; Zechariah 2.6, and compare Ezekiel 37.9). ‘From one end of heaven to the other’ indicates the heavenly nature of those gathered (compare Ephesians 2.6; Philippians 3.20), and the universality of their presence. This event is vividly described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.52-53; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; and is in mind in Revelation 11.12. Thus we have here the final ending of time as the righteous are taken to life eternal, while the remainder face His eternal judgment (13.41-43, 49-50; 25.46).
While silence is sometimes a dangerous weapon it is difficult to see how, if anything was to follow this on earth (such as a Millennium), there would be no hint of it here. And that is especially so as there is no reference to any such Millennium anywhere else in the New Testament. (The suggested reference seen by some in Revelation 20 is very much dependent on interpretation. See our commentary). Even after 25.31-46 the same silence applies, and there it is even more incredible if there were any truth in the idea. But there the only destinies awaiting men are either eternal life or eternal punishment. And we can also compare 13.41-43, 49-50 where the impression is given that the reference there is also to the final destiny of men. Silence might be one thing, but a total blanket over the idea, and the giving of a different impression is quite another. It would seem therefore that Jesus knew nothing of any Millennium, and that we must therefore interpret any such ideas which are found in the Old Testament which give that impression, in the light of this fact, and as being portrayals in earthly terms (necessary at a time when there was no concept of men living in Heaven) of the everlasting kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21.1 compare Isaiah 65.17). This is confirmed in the way that the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham is also in Hebrews seen to occur in the new Heaven and the new earth (Hebrews 11.10-14).
Some have interpreted this as signifying the sending forth of the messengers (aggeloi) of the Gospel, but in view of 16.27 where a similar description refers to the final judgment, and the clear indication from the parallel ideas in mind in both, we must surely see this as in line with that. Taken together with the clear parallel picture given in verse 27, where the visible coming of the Son of Man is made very apparent, it must be seen as very unlikely that it refers to the evangelising of the world, wonderful though that is.
They Must Take Note Of The Signs But The Date Of His Coming Is Unknown (24.32-36).
Jesus now makes clear to them the purpose of what He has been saying. The coming events that He has been describing which will lead up to His coming will be like the leaves on a fig tree which proclaim that the summer and the fruit is coming. They will point to the fact that ‘He is near, even at the doors’. Thus they will be able to continue forward through all that comes, confident in His nearness, and knowing that He is waiting, as it were, outside the doors ready to enter when the time is ripe. And they can be sure that in His own good time those doors will open. Indeed Revelation 3.20 reveals that if any individual responds and opens the door, He will come into him and they will sup together. But for the world at large that door will remain closed until the time of God’s choosing.
Notice that ‘all these things’ refers specifically to the signs prior to His coming. He did not Himself know when He would come. This is made absolutely clear in verse 33. We can compare also verse 3 where ‘these things’ refers to the demolishing of the Temple, and what accompanies it. The words do not therefore include His actual coming. And ‘all these things’ will occur within the generation of the men to whom He is speaking, which as we know they did, at least in part. But He warns them that while they will indicate that He is ‘near, even at the doors’ so that they can be ever confident of His nearness (28.20) and His purposes, He does not Himself know the time of His coming (verse 36). The leaves may grow, but the timing of summer is in His Father’s hands. He can tell them no more.
Note that in ‘a’ the leaves show that summer is near, but not when it will arrive, and in the parallel no one but the Father knows when that final Summer will come. In ‘b’ all ‘these things’ that He has described, which will be preparatory for His coming, will be seen by them and will reveal that He is near, even at the doors, and in the parallel that this generation will not pass away before these introductory things are accomplished is more certain than the continued existence of Heaven and earth.
24.32 “Now from the fig tree learn her parable. When her branch is now become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is near,”
Jesus now illustrates the situation by means of a ‘parable’ based on the fig tree. When in the spring the branches again begin to flow with sap, they produce leaves. And those leaves are a sign of the coming of summer. But they are no guarantee as to when summer will come.
24.33 “Even so you also, when you see all these things, know you that he is near, even at the doors.”
In the same way when ‘all these things’ occur which are preparatory to His coming, then they will know that Jesus (or in Luke ‘the Kingly Rule of God’) is near, even at the doors. Compare Revelation 3.20 where He is shown to be at the door, and ready to respond to any individual who opens. But from this it is clear that ‘all these things’ does not include His coming, for they indicate His nearness prior to His coming. As constantly in the Old Testament ‘near’ is in God’s terms. It can indicate any time long or short, depending on the response to His promises and warnings (Isaiah 51.5; 56.1; Ezekiel 30.3; Joel 3.14; Obadiah 1.15; Zephaniah 1.14). Thus using modern terminology it is imminent but not necessarily coming immediately. As we know from earlier (verse 14) it will depend on the progress of the Gospel. Thus all efforts must be put into the evangelising of the world. That is the main task of His servants.
24.34 “Truly I say to you, This generation will not pass away, until all these things be accomplished.”
But so that they will not begin to think that this means that they do not need to consider what He has been talking about, because it is likely to be delayed, He assures them that ‘all these things’, all the things that must happen prior to His return as outlined, will happen within that generation. Although He then immediately goes on to point out that as He does not know when the time of His coming will be, He cannot give them any assurances about that, only that from that time on they can recognise that He is ‘near’ and ‘at the doors’ so that they can respond to Him and be aware that it can happen at any time within the will and purpose of God.
Note on ‘This generation will not pass away, until all these things be accomplished.’
Other interpretations include:
24.35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
And all that He has said is more certain and sure than the continuation of Heaven and earth. We learn here Jesus’ awareness both that Heaven and earth will one day pass away, and that His own words have a permanence that reaches into eternity. From this again we recognise the uniqueness of Jesus. Not even the prophets had dared to make a claim like this. But He then immediately goes on to point out that while He is here on earth and aware of all that will in the future occur on earth, there is one thing of which He is not aware while here as a man on earth, the time when He will come again, and when all things in Heaven and earth will come to an end.
24.36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
For of the time of His coming no one knows apart from the Father. It is not even known to the angels in Heaven, or to the Son. Once again He stresses His uniqueness as the only Son, even though while on earth His knowledge is limited in accordance with the purposes of the Godhead. It is a reminder to us that Jesus was truly human. His divine attributes had been put in abeyance so that He could be tempted in all points like we are (and yet without sin - Hebrews 4.15).
‘Of that day and hour.’ Both ‘day’ and ‘hour’ have been elsewhere used to indicate significant events. Consider, for example, ‘That Day’, which is a regular indicator in the prophets describing when something climactic will happen; and ‘the hour’ which is similarly regular with that significance in the Gospels (26.45; Mark 14.35, 41; Luke 22.14; John 5.28 and often). Note how this connects with 25.13 confirming the unity of the account, and how the chiasmus reveals that this verse is an integral part of the whole.
His Coming, Of Which He does Not Know The Time, Will be Sudden and Unexpected (24.37-41).
His coming will be sudden and unexpected. For just as in the days of Noah the coming of the flood was sudden and unexpected, and swept all away, so also will be the coming of ‘the Son of Man’, that is, of ‘their Lord’. They are therefore to keep on the watch because they do not know the day on which He will come. But this time the coming will not sweep all away, for those who are His will be taken by Him, as Noah was taken to safety in the Ark, before the rest are swept away.
Note that in ‘a’ reference is made to the coming of the Son of Man, and in the parable reference is made to the coming of the Lord. In ‘b’ the course of life in the days of Noah is described, and in the parallel the course of life in the coming days is described. Both have in mind provision of food (in the field, grinding at the mill) and the fact of married couples (two men, two women). Centrally in ‘c’ comes the climax, first for Noah and then for the Son of Man.
24.37 “And as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
Jesus now compares the days of Noah with the coming of the Son of Man. Both were in anticipation of judgment, and both judgments would come suddenly and unexpectedly.
24.38-39 “For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they did not know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
So sudden and unexpected would be the final event that most would be caught unawares when the end came. The similarity lies in the fact that in the days before the Flood men ate and drank, and married and gave in marriage, in the same way as they did in Jesus’ day. In other words they lived what seemed like normal everyday lives. But both ignored the preaching of a Preacher of Righteousness (see 2 Peter 2.5). The result was that the flood came upon them unexpectedly, and carried them away, in the same way as the coming of the Son of Man will one day do the same with the same unexpectedness. The difference is that this time those who will be saved will not be just a few taken into the Ark, but will be the many who will be taken up as His own.
24.40-41 “Then will two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left.”
For in the same way when the Son of Man comes two men will be working together in the field, and two women will be working at their handmills at home, and in each case one will be ‘taken away’. This may signify that they will be taken away ‘to judgment’ (compare 13.30, 41, 49), while the other will be left to be caught up to meet their Lord in the air (1 Corinthians 15.52; 1 Thessalonians 4.18), or it may mean ‘taken to be with the Lord’, with the others remaining for judgment. (Dogmatism is ruled out, for all descriptions of what will happen on the final day of judgment are in picture form. Consider the different descriptions of the final judgment in the Book of Revelation (e.g. Revelation 6.12-17; 11.14-18; 14.14-20; 16.17-21; 19.11-21; 20.11-15). All will be essentially true, but the reality will be unlike all. All are picture of a greater reality, the sudden and climactic judgment of God, as depicted similarly by the Old Testament prophets. God is not subject to the vagaries of time or a physical world).
The men would be working in the fields producing food for their daily fare, while the women would grind the produce at home in their small hand mills, thus enabling all of them to eat and drink (compare verse 39, ‘eating and drinking’). The picture is a homely one of two married couples keeping the household going (again compare verse 39, marrying and giving in marriage). Note that in both cases of those who were judged, their judgment is not said to be based on their sinfulness (although of course it is), but on the fact that they simply ignored the Son of Man and the need to be ready for Him. Their final sin was that they had ignored God’s remedy for sin.
24.42 “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord comes.”
So in view of this sudden and unexpected way in which He will come, all His own people are to be on watch, because they do not know when He will come. The interesting thing is how the imminence of His coming is balanced here against the fact that there are certain matters which indicate delay (indicated previously and assumed in what follows in that His servants have a task to accomplish, and one can say, ‘my Master delays His coming’). Jesus was quite happy to teach the two ideas in tension. His followers must be busy, and not easily led astray by false hopes, but at the same time watchful and ready and working faithfully in readiness for His coming (Luke 12.35-40). And the point behind the parables is not that they should be sitting in the window seat constantly looking out and asking themselves when He will come, but rather that their sleeves should be rolled up, and the lights burning as they make the house ready, so that they really will be ready for His coming. There are some who talk so much about His coming that they neglect the more important truths, and fail to do the necessary preparation work.
In The Light Of His Second Coming All Are To Watch Wisely and Work Faithfully (24.43-51).
There now follow a series of parables in which Jesus stresses both the need to watch and the need to work. Indeed their very watchfulness should keep them hard at work, for they are servants waiting for their Master to return, and they must therefore be sure that when He does return they can present to Him an account of work well done. The series begins with a brief exhortation to watch in the same way as a man needs to watch in case a thief breaks through the mud wall of his house in order to steal his possessions. Here the stress is on his need to watch, and Jesus then immediately goes on to the need for the appointed servant to ensure that he is feeding the Lord’s servants, rather than misusing the things that have been put within his charge. This stresses the need to work and serve. Both emphases are very necessary.
Note that in ‘a’ the master of the house has allowed his house to be broken into because he did not watch. We are left to imagine his chagrin on coming home and finding the mud wall broken into, and his goods gone, and in the parallel, in a similar way, the unfaithful servant will weep and gnash his teeth at what will happen to him, because he was not in readiness. Both will mourn because they had not watched. In ‘b’ the Son of Man will come when He is not expected, and in the parallel the Lord of the servant comes when he is not expected. In ‘c’ the wise servant faithfully feeds the household while in the parallel the wicked servant in contrast misuses his position and indulges himself. Centrally in ‘d’ the faithful servant is blessed for his faithfulness and fully rewarded.
24.43 “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken through.”
Here the master of the house has clearly returned to his house and discovered that the wall has been broken through. But if only he had known at what time the thief was coming he would have remained at home and prevented it. The point, however, is that he did not know. Thus his only hope was to watch all the time. And because he had failed to do that the burglary had taken place. The emphasis is on the fact that he had failed to be aware all the time. He had been too busy with other things. The inference to be gathered is that we too have to be on the watch over the house all the time lest the Lord comes and catches us unawares, not tending it.
24.44 “Therefore be you also ready, for in an hour that you think not, the Son of man comes.”
And when it cones down to the coming of the Son of Man we cannot afford to make that mistake. We must be watching all the time, tending the house and living in the light of His coming, for He will come at an hour when we do not expect Him. The only way to be ready therefore, is to be about the business of the house, and watching all the time.
24.45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season?”
Jesus now goes on to indicate what ‘watching’ involves. For He has not called men in order that they might gaze into the heavens (Acts 1.11). He has called them in order to serve Him. So He gives the example of a servant who is faithful and wise, and is appointed to watch over the Master’s household and provide food for all His servants as it is needed. This was indeed the calling of the Apostles. As Jesus said to Peter, ‘Feed My lambs, tend My sheep, feed My sheep’ (John 21.15-17). It is in the end the calling of us all, for as Christian brothers and sisters we are each responsible for all (7.5; Galatians 6.1-2). Primarily this means spiritual food. But it also includes physical food where necessary. Here is our continual responsibility. Here is the task that has been given to us. To watch over the household and to feed His people.
24.46 “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing.”
And the one who is faithfully doing it when his Lord comes will be blessed by God. He will hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Note that he is not blessed for watching, but for doing, the doing that revealed that he was watching in the right way.
24.47 “Truly I say to you, that he will set him over all that he has.”
And he will not only be blessed but will be given total overall control of all that the Lord has. He will be made second only to the Master himself. Now humanly speaking and in a human situation that could only happen to one person, or an inner few. But that is not so in God’s economy. In God’s economy the privilege can be given to all. Together his people will be set over all that He has. And as we have learned elsewhere, in that position of responsibility each will delight to serve and be the lowliest of all, so that they can be like the supreme Servant of the Lord. For God turns all our values upside down. When He offers us thrones, we find that they contain pails and scrubbing brushes.
24.48-49 “But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delays’, and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken,”
However, if the one appointed turns out to be an evil servant, and begins to consider that his Master is delaying his coming (although that should ideally have made no difference to his behaviour), and thus begins to beat his fellow-servants and indulge in riotous excess (note the inference that such latter behaviour is equally displeasing to the Lord), he will in the end be caught out. Here is what ‘watching’ means. It means doing so by putting all our effort into the Lord’s service, and into the desire to make all in the household whole. It means not expressing our own feelings and desires and letting ourselves go. It means not belabouring our fellow-servants, or indulging in excess.
24.50 “The lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not expect, and in an hour that he does not know,”
For his Lord will come on a day when he is not expecting Him, and at an hour which was outside his calculations, and he will then be called to account. Like the man who had previously thought that he could neglect his house for a few hours (verse 43), he will discover the mistake that he has made.
24.51 “And shall cut him apart, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
Note that Jesus does not draw back from the idea of the severest penalty. He will be ‘cut in two’ (compare 1 Samuel 15.33; Hebrews 11.37). All that he is and has will be destroyed. And he will join the hypocrites. In context this has in mind the Scribes and Pharisees who were constantly described as hypocrites in chapter 23. But it does, of course, include all hypocrites, that is all who do not live up to their profession. And we know that their destiny is the eternal fire. Again there will be ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, the awful anguish of those who realise too late all that they have lost.
The lesson of the parables is clear. They stress the need to watch, and to faithfully carry out the responsibilities that the Lord places on us. We are not called on to apply every detail of the parable. But the Scribes and Pharisees saw themselves as servants appointed to feed the household of Israel. And they had failed. They therefore stand as a warning to all who see themselves as having that responsibility (and even those who do not see it but are nevertheless responsible, for in the end we are all responsible. None are exempted). We cannot avoid the final conclusion. The faithful will be blessed. The unfaithful will have demonstrated that they are not truly His, and will therefore be condemned. And that will include all who have spent their time trying to prove that they were saved, even though they were not faithful. For by their fruits they will be known. (‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?’ - Luke 6.46; compare Matthew 7.21-23).
The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25.1-13).
Another emphasis on the fact that all must be ready for His second coming is found in this next parable. It is the parable of ten maidens who were to go out to meet the bridegroom in accordance with custom, to welcome him with their well lit, oil-soaked torches, so as to escort him to the banqueting hall where the wedding would take place. These torches would consist of sticks with rags attached at the end which were soaked in oil before they were lit. When lit they would then burn brightly while the oil lasted. But five foolishly ignored the fact that the oil might evaporate and took no spare oil with them. They thought that what they had in their torches was enough. Thus when after some delay the call came that the Bridegroom was coming they were unable to keep their torches alight because there was too little oil left in them. The oil was drying out. And they had no surplus oil with which to renew them. Only the five who were ready, and had brought vessels of oil with which to renew their torches, could thus keep their torches burning brightly. They went happily in with the Bridegroom into the wedding feast, able to fulfil their duties. The foolish were left outside, trying to find somewhere where they could buy oil, and when at length they arrived at the building where the wedding was taking place (we are not told whether they had obtained oil or not) they were refused admittance. They knocked and pleaded but it did them no good. The Bridegroom would not acknowledge them. For the whole main point of the parable is that they should have been watching and prepared. If they had loved Him they would have been ready. By not being ready they had proved themselves as not being the Bridegroom’s true friends, (they were not ‘watching’), and as not being fit to share in the wedding celebrations.
The identity of the Bridegroom is clear from previous parabolic material. Compare 9.15; 22.2. In both cases the Bridegroom is Jesus, and in the latter case the King’s Son. The maidens clearly represent all who should be watching and ready for His coming. Having light, or the lack of it, reminds us of 5.14, 16. The lives of those who are His are to be like a shining light. That is what identifies them. The oil is whatever is needed to provide that light. This may therefore indicate the special blessing of God (5.3-10; 11.6; 13.16; 16.17), continuing true faith (8.10; 9.2, 29; 15.28), and/or the drenching in and renewal of the Holy Spirit (3.11). But the idea is rather general than particular. It is to be recognised as whatever is seen as required to keep the torch burning brightly. This is a good example of a parable that has one main point, and yet whose very content contains a number of unavoidable lessons.
Note that in ‘a’ the virgins go forth with the set purpose of meeting the bridegroom whenever he comes, and in the parallel all are to watch in the same way. In ‘b’ five of the virgins were foolish, and in the parallel they thus came too late because they were unready. In ‘c’ five were wise, and in the parallel they thus came on time because they were ready. In ‘d’ the foolish had no oil with them and in the parallel they are told to go and obtain oil. In ‘e’ the wise had oil and in the parallel the foolish wanted to share their oil. In ‘f’ they all slept, and in the parallel they all arose. Centrally in ‘g’ is the fact that the Bridegroom came, something for which they should have been ready.
25.1 ‘Then will the kingly rule of heaven be likened to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.’
‘Then the kingly rule of heaven will be likened (future passive).’ The Kingly Rule of Heaven is thus to be seen as like this in its whole history from start to finish, although the future tense, in contrast with 13.24; 18.23; 22.2; (where they are aorist passives) see also 13.31, 33, 44, 45, 47; 20.1, may be intended to suggest a special concentration on the closing days of the age, even though when that will be is not known, and therefore all must see themselves in it. The parable is therefore giving a picture of the outworking of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in this life, as it describes some who are under that Kingly Rule of Heaven, and then leads on to the final consequences in the continuation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in the next life. The wise maidens have entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, for they possess the essential light-giving qualities. They have been blessed by God (5.3-9). They have received the divine benefits. Their lives have all the constituents that enable them to shine (5.16). But the foolish have not, as is evidenced by the fact that they do not have those qualities. They have not received the divine benefits. They have not been recipients of God’s blessing. They have made do with second best. What they have is dried out and old, and useless for providing light. Thus the wise will enter the eternal kingdom, for they will eat at His table. The foolish will have no place in it.
The number ten is a number that indicates a complete whole. We may see these virgins either as representing the whole world, for in the end all are called on to look for His coming and to welcome Him, or it may be seen as indicating all who make a profession of being His. Readers may certainly see themselves as included.
25.2-4 ‘And five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For the foolish, when they took their torches, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their torches.’
The division between five and five is arbitrary. The point is that everyone is in one section or the other (compare 7.13-14). And the question is whether they will be those who are truly prepared when the Lord comes, or whether they will be those who are just carelessly assuming that everything will be all right, only to discover at the last that it is not. They will discover that they lack the vital ingredient that makes all the difference, the oil of true spirituality which reveals itself in giving true spiritual light.
The torches would be sticks to which oiled rags would be attached. These would be soaked in oil. As the time passed the oil in the rags would tend to dry out, and the wise therefore took with them vessels containing olive oil with which they could further soak the rags when they had to be lit, thus renewing the oil. The foolish just depended on the old oil as being enough for the purpose. But because they all had to wait for a while the oil in their torches would dry out.
In these verses we have laid out before us the basically important question in life. In what does true wisdom consist? And the answer given is that true wisdom lies in possessing the God-provided oil so that the torch may shine out (5.16). The parable does not tell us where this God-provided oil would come from. But we have only to look at the remainder of the Gospel, and especially to Jesus’ teaching, to discover the answer to that question. It comes from being especially blessed by God (5.3-10; 11.6; 13.16; 16.17), it comes through faith (8.10; 9.2, 29; 15.28), it comes from the working of the Holy Spirit (3.11), it comes from being one of the ransomed (20.28). Most of those who are seen as wise in this world will spurn such oil, for it is for ‘babes’ (11.25; 18.3-4 compare 1 Corinthians 1.18-2.16). It is for the lowly in heart (5.3-9; 11.28-30).
25.5 ‘Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all fell asleep and slept for some time.’
But there was a delay in the Bridegroom’s coming, just as there had been delay in the return of the Master (24.48). Thus Jesus’ teaching concerning His coming has built into it the idea of unexpected delay. He wants all to know that it will not necessarily come as soon as expected. And the result was that inevitably all fell asleep, and then continued to slumber (or possibly drowsed off and then went to sleep). There was nothing sinful in that. We all have to sleep. Indeed as long as they were ready and ‘watching’ it was a wise move. The folly lay in not making full preparations before going to sleep. Note the aorist followed by the imperfect. They fell asleep and went on sleeping. Or alternately ‘they became drowsy and then went to sleep’.
25.6 ‘But in the middle of the night there is a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come you forth to meet him.” ’
And then while they slept the moment that they had been awaiting arrived. In the middle of the night (not necessarily midnight, but possibly even later) the cry went out, ‘the Bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet Him’. None had known when He would come, and the middle of the night was an unusual hour. He had come at a time when they did not expect (compare 24.50). And that was when their readiness would be tested.
25.7 ‘Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their torches.’
And as a result all arose and ‘trimmed their torches’. They did all that was necessary in order for them to shine out. This was when readiness was vital. If they were not properly prepared their torches would not shine out, because something would be missing. And that was when the foolish recognised that they had no further supplies of oil. We should recognise here that they had failed the Bridegroom. They were to be an essential part of the procession, and then of the dancing. But because of their foolishness they were of no use for the task. The vital element was missing, well lit torches. They could not play their part in the celebration, and all because of their own folly in not being ready.
Strictly the picture is of those who would expect to be ready to meet the Bridegroom. If we take it in that way it represents those who had some knowledge of the Bridegroom and wanted to welcome Him, and yet had failed to make the necessary preparations. Outwardly they professed to be His friends. But underneath they were not. Yet we cannot just tie it down to those who profess to be Christians. For in the nature of the Bridegroom ALL should be ready to meet Him. Thus in the end the folly is of all who are not ready for His coming. As in all parables, each can apply it to their own case.
25.8 ‘And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” ’
The foolish suddenly realised that they had failed to provide extra oil for themselves. They thus knew that they had nothing suitable with which to welcome the Bridegroom, for without further oil the drying out torches would not continue to burn. Their torches were already ‘going out’. The oil simply refers to the divine provision that they had failed to obtain, and which therefore resulted in their lives not shining out. They had been content with the old oil which was drying out. They had not responded to the word of God (15.3, 6), they had not been open to the work of the Holy Spirit (3.11), they had not put their real trust in the Lord (8.10; 9.28-29; etc), they had not benefited from the blessing of God (5.3-9; 11.25; 13.16). Note these things all go together. Had they responded truly to Him their lives would also have shone out, for they would have enjoyed all of these blessings. It would have been inevitable.
25.9 ‘But the wise answered, saying, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and you. You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” ’
The wise knew that they could not help them. They had only brought with them sufficient for their own needs. They had none to spare. And they dared not take the risk of spoiling the wedding. Everyone was depending on them. Similarly those who are His can be sure that they will receive total sufficiency for all that they need. But they will need it all if their torch is to continue to burn brightly. So all that these virgins could do quite genuinely was point their fellow-virgins to the oil-vendors. The foolish had previously failed to come to God and buy what was without money and without price (Isaiah 55.1). Sadly they would now find that it was too late to obtain what they needed.
25.10 ‘And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and they those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.’
For while the foolish went off to seek what was needed the Bridegroom came. Those who were ready went out with their brightly shining torches, to welcome him, and they all went into the wedding feast. And then the door was shut! The time of opportunity had passed.
‘The door was shut.’ The point is made quite clearly. There will come a point in history when the Lord comes, and at that point all further opportunities for salvation will cease. Those who are prepared because they have what gives light will enter into the presence of God with Him, and enjoy the marriage feast with Him. And for all others their last opportunity will have gone, and that will include many who thought that they were ready, but will suddenly discover that they have no oil. It was true that they were properly dressed. It was true that they had their torches. It was true that they gave every appearance of being ready. But they were not. Their dimly lighted wick was going out, for they had insufficient oil. Their torches could not shine and thus they would not be received. It is a salutary thought that the One Who did not quench the dimly burning wick (12.20) can now be of no help. For they have left it too late. How often He had come to them and sought to resuscitate them, but they had refused. They had been satisfied with how they were. And now the Bridegroom was unavailable and they had to look elsewhere. And there was nowhere else.
There are many unwise people who argue about whether you can accept Jesus as Saviour and not as Lord. But that is something you cannot do. It is irrational. Receiving Jesus is a personal experience. If you accept Jesus you accept Him for what He is, both Saviour and Lord. How that works out is a different question, and it may take time before the realisation of what has happened can sink in. But the warning here is to beware lest you are found to have no oil, no true work of God within (Philippians 2.13). For if you have oil your torches will shine out. God’s light will shine though your life. But if you have no oil clever theology will not help at all.
25.11 ‘Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” ’
Having either purchased oil of a kind, or having been unable to obtain any (it really made no difference), the remaining maidens came running desperately to the door and discovered that it was shut against them. And they hammered on the door and cried out in despair, ‘Lord, Lord open to us.’ We can compare these words, and the double repetition of ‘Lord’, with what Jesus said in 7.21-22. There too there were some who had thought that they were ready, but then discovered that they were not. For only those will enter who had done the will of their Father (7.21), those whose torch shines out because they have been truly blessed by God (5.16; compare 13.43). For it was this blessing of God at work within them that would result in their doing the will of the Father.
25.12 ‘But he answered and said, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” ’
The reply of the Bridegroom came back firm and strong, ‘Truly I do not know you!’ Compare 7.23, and note there that He had never known them. This is not a case of the saved being lost, it is a case of people who have wrong ideas and so do not take the trouble to be properly prepared. They are not His elect (24.31), and have never been so. For had they been so they would have had oil, and their lamps would have burned brightly. They would have been blessed by God in a life-transforming (5.16), mind-enlightening (11.25) way; they would have received the Holy Spirit (3.11); they would have looked to Him in faith and trust (John 10.26-28). But they had not. Thus when it counted most they found that He did not recognise them. The lesson is clear. If your torch does not shine out brightly you are in danger of hearing Him say, ‘I do not know you’.
25.13 “Watch therefore, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”
And then Jesus applies the main lesson of the Parable. All must watch in full preparedness so that they will be ready for His coming, for they do not know the day or the hour when He will come (compare 24.36, 42, 44, 50). And watching does not just mean ‘looking out’, it involves being ready and fully prepared.
The Parable of the Talents (25.14-30).
In this third of three major parables on the need to be ready for His coming Jesus likens Himself to a man who goes to another country and hands over control of all that He has to servants so that they can look after His affairs. Two of them do well and double what He gives them. They receive His “well done!” But one makes no use of what he is given and buries it in the ground in order to keep it safe. When called on to give account he admits that he knows what he should have done and is accused of abusing what he has been given, by not using it for the benefit of his master. The result is that he is utterly condemned. The important lesson here is that all must use what God puts under their control to the glory of God, and that if we refuse to make use of what He puts under our control for His glory, building on it so that it multiplies, we can only expect judgment. Note that it is not a case of a man who does great wrong (as similarly in the first parable). It is the case of a man who does nothing, as in the case of what follows in verses 31-48.
Note that in ‘a’ the man delivers his goods to his servants, and in the parallel what they do with them determines their future destiny. In ‘b’ the five and two talents are given to two servants respectively, and in the parallel the receiver of the five talents receives an extra talent. In ‘c’ the one who received the one buried it in the earth, and in the parallel he is accused of wasting its value. In ‘d’ the lord returns to reckon with his servants, and in the parallel he castigates the one who failed for not recognising the reckoning that he would have to make. In ‘e’ the one who shone out had made five talents more, and has no criticism of his lord, while in contrast the one who had failed hands it back, blaming his lord for his behaviour. In ‘f’ the one with five talents receives his lord’s ‘well done’, and in the parallel the one with two talents receives the same. Centrally in ‘g’ the one who received two talents has doubled what he had received. But as sometimes happens with a chiasmus here the central emphasis is to be seen in the central three points. Success is attended by a ‘well done’.
25.14 “For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods.”
‘It is as --.’ That is, ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is as --.’ Note the relationship of the Kingly Rule of Heaven to the man who is going away. It is He Who has the Kingly Rule. And those to whom He gives responsibilities are under His Kingly Rule. On going away for a while He hands over all that is His to His servants for them to make use of while He is away. They are to use it in recognition of His second coming, the time for giving account. Each is to make of them what they can.
25.15 “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his several ability, and he went on his journey.”
Note that no one is expected to do more than they are capable of. Each is given a task to do in accordance with their ability. Each has been assessed and is called on only to do what they can.
25.16 “Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.”
The first goes out ‘immediately’. He is joyful and dedicated in his service. And he makes full use of what has been entrusted to him by his Lord. He trades, and turns the five talents into ten talents. A talent, which is a weight of silver or gold, was no mean sum of money so that five talents was a large amount (possibly half a lifetime’s wages), and it therefore involved him in being very busy, with his mind concentrated on what he was doing. He was ‘watching’, but he did not have time to stand and stare. He was busy for his Master.
25.17 “In the same way he also who received the two gained another two.”
The man who had received the two talents, a lesser amount, but still very large, behaved similarly. And he too doubled what he had been given. He gained two talents more.
25.18 “But he who received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.”
But the one who received the one talent, which did not after all require all that much of him, although it was still a useful sum (it was beyond most people’s dreams), went away, and instead of making use of what had been entrusted to him he buried it in the earth. Burial was a recognised way of keeping treasures safe in those days. He was just doing what many people did. But the point is that he was refusing to make use of what had been entrusted to him, possibly because in his misguided view of his lord he was either frozen with fear, or resentful and unwilling to serve. Either he was terrified at the thought of losing the precious money, or he simply did not want to be bothered with it (as ever Jesus leaves each listener to apply it to his own situation). We should recognise that he was a servant, and knew that his responsibility was to make use of what he had been entrusted with. But he chose not to do so. He thus had no excuse when called to account. In the same way many are so terrified of God that they never come to appreciate His mercy, and others just cannot be bothered with Him, and resent His demands. Both can fit into this picture.
25.19 “Now after a long time the lord of those servants comes, and makes a reckoning with them.”
Inevitably the day came when the Lord returned and called them all in for reckoning. In the context this refers to Jesus’ second coming. Thus all were to be busily occupied until His return. Note that it was ‘after a long time’. This idea of delay occurs in a number of parables about the second coming (compare 24.48; 25.5). Jesus did not know when He was coming, but He did know that it would not be too soon (according to His own words it could not occur before the destruction of Jerusalem, nor before the Gospel had been proclaimed ‘worldwide’. (On the other hand the destruction of Jerusalem could have happened at anytime, and Paul could think in terms of the world-wide spread of the Gospel - Romans 1.8).
25.20 “And he who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, ‘Lord, you handed over to me five talents. Lo, I have gained another five talents’.”
The first servant came to give his account and was able to point to the fact that he had doubled his five talents. The Lord had entrusted him with five talents and he had made use of them to produce five talents more. His Lord had greatly benefited from his endeavours and his skill. And he came with joy at what he had been able to do for his Lord.
25.21 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ ”
And he thus received his Lord’s commendation of ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ (or ‘it is well, good and faithful servant’). Note the description. He was like the faithful and wise servant of 24.45. For this is what the Lord requires of all of us. Faithfulness, goodness and commonsense. The result is that he learns that, because he has been faithful over a few things, the Lord will set him over many things. He is to enter into his Lord’s favour, and share His joy.
25.22 “And he also who received the two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you handed over to me two talents. Lo, I have gained another two talents.’ ”
The one who had received the two talents also came to render account, and was able to point out that he had doubled what he had been given. He too had used what was entrusted to him wisely and well.
25.23 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ ”
And he too received the same commendation and the same reward (compare 20.1-16). But the greatest reward of all was in being pleasing to his Lord. He too was ‘set over many things’.
25.24-25 “And he also who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you, that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter, and I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Lo, you have your own.’ ”
However, the man with the one talent had nothing extra to offer, for he had made no use of what had been entrusted to him. He had simply hidden it away. But he knew who was to blame for that. It was his Lord’s fault. If his Lord had not been such a hard and exacting master he would have behaved differently. But he knew that his master was one who expected to reap where he did not sow, and to gather where he had not scattered. He was unfair, and greedy, and not to be trusted. Thus he had taken no risks. He had gone away and hidden the talent in the earth. And now here it was. He could have it back safe and sound.
His words were like a mirror of his heart, and by them he was self-condemned (compare 12.36-37). Firstly he had a jaundiced view of his Lord, a view which we know from the remainder of the parable was untrue. He considered him to be hard and unfair, and to be someone who expected too much. And he was sure that if he lost what had been entrusted to him he would be severely punished. There are many who see serving Christ in the same way. They see Him as too demanding. And yet his words also reveal that he knew what he should have done. He knew where his duty really lay. He knew that he should have multiplied the talent so that his Lord would be pleased. By his words he was actually passing sentence on himself, for he had blatantly refused to do what was required of him because of his resentment about his Lord. And such an attitude lies behind the failure of all men who fail to make use of what God entrusts to them for His glory. Belief in God is not rejected because it is irrational. That is the face saving excuse. It is because it makes too many demands, and interferes with our being able to have our own way.
So he thrust the talent back at his Master, and said, ‘There you are take it. You have it back, just as you gave it to me, unused and untouched.’ And the fact that it was untouched revealed that the servant had failed in his duty, and in his responsibility. He had thought that he could behave as though his Lord was never coming back. And that was precisely how he had behaved.
Paul in Romans 1.18 onwards speaks similarly of man’s awareness of what his responsibility is, and of his refusal to acknowledge it. No man, he says, will be able to say in the last Day that he was not aware of what he should have been, and of what he should have done. For all are aware from the least to the greatest. All have an inward awareness of the reality of God. All are aware of the moral ‘ought’, the fact of what they ought to do. All can see the divine plan and beauty in nature. That is why in the end all who refuse to turn to Him try to seek to justify their actions, whatever they may be, for they know that they have not behaved as they ought. Thus they are as foolish as this man was. And like this servant the majority simply bury what God has entrusted them with, or misuse it to their own advantage, ignoring the fact that one day they must give account.
25.26-27 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter. You ought therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own, with interest.”
But his Lord answered him in his own coin. In contrast with the ‘good and faithful’ servants, this servant had failed in his duty. He was the very opposite. He was a ‘wicked and slothful’ servant. His attitude was wrong, his heart was wrong, and he was lazy too. For he had himself admitted that he knew what was required of him, and indeed that it was his duty, and by his own admission he had refused to do his Lord’s will. The very minimum that he should have done was to invest the money so that it gained interest that he could hand to his Lord. All that the Lord had wanted was that he should do what he could. But he had refused to do even that, and that because of his wrong attitude towards his Lord.
25.28 “Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.”
So his sentence was twofold. Firstly that he should lose what had been entrusted to him, simply because he could not be trusted to use it properly. He was rather to see it given away to another who had proved to be more worthy of it, and would use it properly. Secondly that he be sent away for severe punishment. He had said, ‘Take it.’ And so his Lord would. And then his Lord revealed His own generous nature by giving it to the one who had ten talents, exposing once for all the calumnies of the wicked servant.
25.29 “For to every one who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
And thus was fulfilled the proverb that to those who ‘have’, because they have been good and faithful, will more be given. They will receive an abundance. But as regards the man who was unfaithful, and had therefore handed back all that he had been entrusted with, even what he had would be taken away from him, both his talent and his life. (This would have applied even if it had been the man with five talents who had failed. But Jesus used the man with one talent as His example, because he was the one who was like most of us).
25.30 “And cast you out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
These words are left until the end so as to bring out their emphasis. This was what the parable was finally leading up to. It is not an added note, it is at the heart of the parable, the failure of men and women to respond to Jesus Christ with their lives. Jesus was warning all who were listening, that this was what had to be avoided at all costs.
For the one who refuses to serve his Lord and fails to make use of what He entrusts to him, is unprofitable. And he will thus be cast into the outer darkness, away from the light. Light is regularly the picture of eternal bliss (Revelation 21.23; 22.5). It is a symbol of living in the presence of God. And that is what this man has lost. He is cast into outer darkness, away from the light, and there, as he observes all that he has lost, he will weep and gnash his teeth. For the outer darkness see 4.16; 8.12; John 12.46. For weeping and gnashing of teeth see 8.12; 13.42, 50; 22.13; 24.51, always apparently referring to the despair of the lost at what they have lost.
The Final Judgment (25.32-46).
That this passage describes the final judgment comes out in that its verdict determines the eternal destiny of men (verse 46). It should be noted that it is not said to take place on earth, it includes everyone, that is ‘all the nations’, whether living or dead, for all the dead await His coming too. (See John 5.28-29; Compare Ezekiel 32.17-32 where the nations as nations are in their graves on earth awaiting judgment; Psalm 2.9 with verse 1 where the nations are finally to be severely judged). And here the righteous will inherit the Kingly Rule prepared for them ‘from the foundation of the world’, in other words the Kingly Rule of God which began in the beginning in Eden, where man was appointed as God’s representative on earth (Genesis 1.26-28), continued on in a small way under the patriarchs, was re-established at Sinai with the promise that His people would become a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6; Numbers 23.21; Deuteronomy 33.5), looked as though it was being set up by Joshua, leaked away through disobedience in Judges, was promised again through David (2 Samuel 7.13, 16; Isaiah 11.1-9; Ezekiel 37.25), but never came to fruition, and has, however, never ceased in Heaven (Psalm 22.28; 103.19) in spite of man’s failure, and has now been reintroduced as a heavenly kingly rule on earth by Jesus Christ the son of David, and David’s Lord, that is as a Kingly Rule on earth by God over His responsive people, which will finally result in an everlasting kingdom in Heaven. This is what Matthew is all about. Compare Genesis 1.26-28; Psalm 8 with Hebrews 2.9-11; Exodus 19.5-6; Numbers 23.21; Deuteronomy 33.5; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-9; Ezekiel 37.25.
The idea of a ‘glorious throne’ should not be taken literally (see, however, Ezekiel 1, although there also it was visionary), for God is Spirit, but for those who wish to see it as such it is depicted as the throne of His glory which is in Heaven where He shares it with His Father (Revelation 5.6; 6.16-17; 14.14; Daniel 7.13-14; Jeremiah 14.21), in the same way as He has taken His seat at the right hand of God (Acts 2.34; 7.55-56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22) and all creation cries ‘glory’ 4.9, 11; 5.12, 13). From this throne the covenant was confirmed and made sure (Jeremiah 14.21) We can compare it also with the great white throne (Revelation 20.11-15), the seat of impeccable judgment, from which Heaven and earth fled away. No doubt the same happens here. Indeed we should recognise that God’s judgment through His Son is pictured in many ways, all vivid, and the common idea behind all is the separation between the righteous and the unrighteous, and the appalling end of the unrighteous (compare 13.41-43, 49-50; 2 Thessalonians 1.8-9; Revelation 6.16-17; 14.6-20; 16.17-21; 19.11-21). The details are never to be pressed. It is the ideas, the principles and the final results that are important. Thus Jesus will not come on a white horse, nor will He and His accompanying angels have to do battle with earthly forces (as the account itself makes clear all is accomplished through His word of power - Revelation 19.11-21). The world’s armouries would be powerless against His all prevailing presence, (to say nothing of their ineffectiveness against spirits). These are pictures emphasising that He is the true Messiah (contrast 6.2), coming in purity and divine power, and in triumph, to bring about His will, and bring all into judgment by His word (Revelation 19.11-21). But the picture is nevertheless magnificent and conveys the foundational ideas perfectly adequately in a way that people can understand and appreciate.
Here in Matthew 25.31-46 the emphasis is to be on the grounds of judgment, a judgment which applies to individuals, and is based on both the Law and the Sermon on the Mount. It examines men’s willingness to show consideration and mercy. It can be paralleled with Revelation 20.12-13, where the question is again the manner of life, and there also the result is eternal life for those in the book of life, and eternal punishment for the remainder (Revelation 20.15, compare Matthew 25.46). The reason that the righteous are spared is not because they are seen as ‘not guilty’ on the basis of their own merits (they do not think that they have any merits; compare Romans 3.19-20), but rather because the quality of their lives will reveal that they are those who have been blessed by God (5.3-9) who have been ransomed (20.28) and forgiven (18.27, 32 compare 6.12-15), who have been filled with righteousness by the Righteous One (5.6 compare 6.33), and have thus begun to walk in the way of righteousness (21.32) with their light shining clearly before men. They are those who from the beginning have been chosen by Him (verse 34; 24.31). They are judged by their changed lives, because they have become new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17), and are living out the effects of the blessing of God (5.3-9).
This has little in parallel with the judgment scene described in Joel 3 where it is the nations who are charged as nations. There it is because they have scattered His people, cast lots for them in order to sell both males and females into prostitution, stolen God’s possessions, and have sold His people as slaves. Furthermore they would be sold off as slaves in return, demonstrating that that is an earthly judgment scene carried out by earthly people with earthly results (Joel 3.2-8). Their judgment would come on the battlefield in the valley of Jehoshaphat (often the battleground of the nations) where they would be punished as nations (Joel 3.9-12a), by awesome defeat, something which in fact happened fairly regularly (e.g. 2 Kings 23.29), although such judgments are then seemingly connected with (although not necessarily following immediately by) the last judgment to which they lead up (compare Joel 3.12b-14 with Revelation 14.14-20). In the Old Testament all God’s judgments on nations are pointers to the end, but we must distinguish those judgments from the last judgment which is necessarily of a totally different kind.
It is significant how much that is in the verdict given here is connected with the Law, the Sermon on the Mount, and the remainder of Matthew’s Gospel:
“For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.” See 14.16; 5.42; 6.25-26; 7.9-12; Leviticus 19.9-10, 34; 25.6, 35; Deuteronomy 12.18; 14.28-29; 24.19-22; 26.12; Isaiah 58.7; Ezekiel 18.7; consider also 1 Kings 17.10-16; 2 Kings 4.43-44.
Note how in one way or another all these benefits were given by God to His erring people in the Old Testament, for He regularly promises to feed and water His people (e.g. Psalm 146.7 and often); to welcome them when they have become as strangers (Hosea 1.9-10) and to welcome the Gentiles (e.g. Isaiah 49.6, 22; Malachi 1.11), to clothe His people (Genesis 3.21; Deuteronomy 8.4; Ezekiel 16.10-14; Zechariah 3.4-5), to visit the sick (Psalm 103.3; 146.8; Isaiah 35.5-6; 42.7; 61.1) and to show compassion on the prisoners (Psalm 102.20; 146.7; Isaiah 42.7; 61.1; Zechariah 9.11-12). Thus to be like this is to be God-like (5.48).
The analysis of the passage is simple:
It will be noted that the two Judgments follow precisely the same pattern.
25.31 “But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory,”
Significantly here the Son of Man is paralleled with the King (verse 32). In Daniel 7.13-14 the son of man came into the presence of the Ancient of Days and was given kingship and glory and dominion. In the case of Jesus this was fulfilled by His enthronement after the resurrection (28.18; Acts 2.36; 7.55-56) when He received His eternal kingdom (Daniel 7.14). And now that glory is to be openly revealed to the world. Compare 16.27 where the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father with His angels in order to render to every man according to his deeds, and 24.30-31 where the Son of Man comes on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory and sends out His angels to gather His elect. Both are being fulfilled here. The angels are attendants who carry out the duties required by the court. That the Son of Man is Jesus is demonstrated by the fact that it is the answer to the question about ‘Your coming’ (24.3), and this is confirmed by the use of the term Son of Man throughout the remainder of the Gospel. One significance of the title Son of Man was that Jesus was bringing out that His life was finally fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.
‘Then shall He sit on the throne of his glory.’ As He will have been given kingship, and glory and dominion (Daniel 7.14), He will clearly have received His throne. This is thus that very throne where He received His glory. But regularly it is also His Father’s throne (Revelation 5.6; 6.16-17; 14.14; Daniel 7.13-14; Jeremiah 14.21) where He sits at His right hand (Psalm 110.1; Acts 2.34; 7.55-56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22), and from which the covenant is confirmed and made sure (Jeremiah 14.21). Isaiah had seen it in vision (Isaiah 6.1). It was the place from which judgments were made. Here Jesus is making clear that He is, as the Son of Man, the Judge of all the earth (compare John 5.22, 27; Genesis 18.25). It is heavenly reality put in earthly terminology.
25.32 “And before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
From His throne He surveys ‘all nations’. These include the ‘all nations’ who have hated His disciples and followers throughout the age (24.9), and the ‘all nations’ who have been evangelised prior to His coming (24.14) and have been ‘discipled’ (28.19). Thus, as with those verses it has in mind individuals, and it includes the living and the dead. Now His voice has spoken and the dead have come from their graves to receive either life or judgment (John 5.28-29). It includes the nations who had been waiting in their tomb worlds for this time (Ezekiel 32.17-32), and the righteous raised from the dust of the earth (Isaiah 26.19; Daniel 12.2-3) which also at the same time includes the unrighteous (Daniel 12.2). For at His coming the dead in Christ are raised, and the living are transformed (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17).
25.33 “And he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”
He is pictured as a shepherd dividing the flock. The separating of sheep from goats for various reasons was a regular part of the shepherd’s life. Goats required different treatment from sheep, and especially to be protected from the cold at night, while sheep had at some time to be sheared, and were more highly regarded. Other reasons for separation may have been for breeding, or for the purposes of the market. To be placed on the right hand was to be placed on the favoured side. It indicated judgment in favour. To be placed on the left indicated guilt and judgment. A similar idea is found in other ancient literature.
This division between the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous, the elect and the non-elect is pictured elsewhere in many ways. See for example 13.30, 41-43, 49-50; 24.31, 38-41; Daniel 12.2-3; John 5.28-29; Revelation 20.13-15. The righteous are those whom Jesus has saved from their sins (1.21). We must remember that when God goes about His judgment there will not be the same logistical difficulties as there would be for men. This is not so much a description of how it will be done, but of what will be accomplished.
25.34 “Then will the King say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingly rule prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ ”
Here Jesus is for the first time called King. For the shepherd King see Ezekiel 37.24. For the Son of Man as King see 13.41, where it is also directly related to the judgment. It is noteworthy that He does not address them as ‘you righteous’, but as those who have been ‘blessed by His Father’ (compare 5.3-9; 11.6; 13.16; 16.17; 24.46). That is what has made them acceptable (compare 5.3-9; 13.16). And because they have been so blessed they are to ‘inherit’. An inheritance is something that is bestowed by a benefactor on those whom he chooses because of their relationship. Inheritance therefore indicates what is given and received in total undeserving. And as a result these are to enter into the everlasting Kingdom under His Kingly Rule. They are to inherit eternal life (25.46).
25.35-36 “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”
The reason for His verdict is given. It lies in what they have revealed themselves to be (compare especially Isaiah 58.7; Ezekiel 18.5-9). They have revealed their love for Him by how they have behaved towards ‘His brothers’. By their behaviour they have revealed that they are true sons of their Father (5.42-48). Compare Acts 9.1, 4-5 for this idea that what people do to Jesus’ disciples is done to Him, because they are a part of Him (John 15.1-6; 17.20-21; 1 Corinthians 12.12 onwards).
There is an interesting parallel in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless’. But these are the more obvious needs of the poor, and together with hospitality, were widely practised (Romans 12.13; 1 Peter 4.9). They express what a man of true conscience would know that he had to do. It is the other two (sick and prison visiting) which are more distinctive and are very much seen as Christian responsibilities (see Hebrews 13.2-3; James 5.14; Acts 28.8; but see also the Jewish work Ecclesiasticus 7.35). Nevertheless the whole was a reminder by Jesus of the future that many of His people would face.
As mentioned above this behaviour parallels God’s behaviour towards His own in the Old Testament. Thus by doing this they are being perfect even as their Father in Heaven is perfect (5.48). It also parallels the behaviour of God’s Coming One (Isaiah 35.5-6; 42.6-7; 49.6, 10; 61.1-3), thus making them like Himself.
We can compare how this epitomises the early church as seen in the book of Acts 2.45; 4.34 where food, drink and clothing was ensured for all by the sacrifices made by some among them, because they had first ‘believed’ (2.44; 4.32). And that would also soon develop into prison visiting, which would be very necessary because prisoners depended on outsiders to provide their food (8.3). It could, however, be very dangerous, especially in times of persecution, for it associated the visitor with the prisoner (‘Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world’, because he was afraid of sharing Paul’s fate). The reception for strangers was important because there were few inns, but Christians became famed for their hospitality.
25.37-39 “Then will the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you, or thirsty, and gave you drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and took you in, or naked, and clothed you? And when did we see you sick, or in prison, and came to you?’ ”
Being blessed by His Father these are now ‘the righteous’, those who are accepted by Him and delivered from judgment, and made righteous by His saving power. This is evidenced by the fact that they have been placed on His right hand side. They are the forgiven (6.12; 18.27, 33) and are the ransomed (20.28). They have been saved from their sins (1.21). Compare also 13.43 where the righteous are those who are saved and who shine forth in their Father’s kingdom; Ezekiel 18.5-9 where ‘the righteous’ do such things as are described here and are also ‘careful to observe all My ordinances’. There too they will find ‘life’ (compare verse 46).
They express their surprise at His words. They were unaware that they had done anything special for the King. We must not take this too literally. When the righteous come before the King they will already be aware of this for, if nothing else, they will remember these words. The purpose of them here is in order to stress the facts. These people have not done these things in order to earn merit, they have simple behaved in this way because this is the kind of people into which God has made them (Philippians 2.13). They are demonstrating that they have really been blessed by God in such a way that it has transformed their lives (5.3-9).
25.40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it to one of these my brothers, even these least, you did it to me.’ ”
For the King will point out that it was when they did these things to ‘His brothers’ that they did it to Him. The only people whom Jesus describes as His brothers in this way are those who have responded to His words and do the will of His Father (12.48-50; 28.10, compare 10.42. See also Hebrews 2.11-12). This is further confirmed by ‘even these least’. For that was precisely what His followers were to seek to be (18.4; 20.27; 23.11-12; Luke 9.48). Furthermore He has already said that to receive a disciple in His Name was to receive Him (10.40), and has spoken of those who give a cup of cold water to a disciple as not losing their reward (10.42). The evidence that we identify ‘brothers’ with followers of Jesus is conclusive.
Some suggest that ‘His brothers’ indicates the Jews, but Jesus never speaks of the Jews as such as His brothers. Others see it as indicating all mankind. That Jesus saw all decent men as His neighbours comes out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.36-37). But again He never describes all men as His brothers. This further confirms that by ‘His brothers’ He was referring to His followers.
We are not to see ‘His brothers’ as being a separate group from the righteous and the unrighteous. They will indeed be the same as the righteous. Thus when Jesus said, ‘these My brothers’ He could be seen as indicating all the righteous with a wave of His hand.
By these words Jesus was demonstrating that while His true followers are to love all men, they are to have special love for their brothers. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another’ (13.35). And certainly as a result of persecution many of them would be in need of such help, for their faithfulness in testimony would often lead to poverty, illness, exile in a strange country and imprisonment, but Jesus’ expectation was that in such situations their brothers in Christ would sustain them. This would be one very real evidence of the genuineness of their faith. Nothing more surprised the ancient world than the love which Christians revealed towards each other.
That the description ‘His brothers’ does indicate His disciples and followers is important for the significance of the whole account, for it demonstrates that in the end it is the attitude of men and women towards Jesus that is in question. A few moments thought will demonstrate that the final judgment cannot possibly be limited to dealing with such matters as are described here, however important they might be, if they are simply seen in a general way. For however sentimental we might be, acceptability with God cannot possibly be seen as based simply upon these few requirements. Indeed there was nothing that the Jews were more diligent in than giving alms and helping their poor, and they were exhorted to it by the Scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus’ criticism of them did not lay in their lack of such behaviour but in their reasons for doing it (6.2) and their whole attitude towards people. Relief work is good and valuable, but it does not and cannot ensure entry into His everlasting Kingly Rule. It is only a small part of the whole. Such righteousness would not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Doing fully the will of the Father is far more demanding than that.
But if in reality the judgment is being made on the basis of the attitude of the judged towards Jesus Christ, as revealed by their behaviour towards His brothers (compare 10.42 where the same principle is in mind), then it brings us back to the basis of salvation found all the way through the New Testament, that salvation finally depends on response to and attitude towards Jesus Christ Himself. For there is no other Name under Heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4.12). They are not saved by ‘do-gooding’ but because of their response to, and attitude towards, Him which results in even greater ‘do-gooding’.
25.41 “Then will he say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels,’ ”
Then comes the judgment declared on ‘those on His left hand’. Notice the anonymity of the description. They are all who are not ‘the righteous, the blessed of the Father’. They are ‘the cursed’. They are those who are indifferent to, or at odds with, Jesus Christ, as revealed by their attitude towards His followers. Only this could justify their sentence. In contrast to those who are ‘blessed’, these are ‘cursed’. They have not enjoyed the saving blessing of God. And as a result they are to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
Of great interest here is Jesus’ emphasis on the fact that the eternal fire had not been prepared for mankind. Originally it had been prepared for spirit beings. This in itself reveals that it is not physical fire, which could not touch spiritual beings. But these out of mankind are to experience it also because they have sided with the Devil and his angels. They have rejected God and His Law in practise if not in theory, and above all they have rejected His Son. And thus their destiny is to share the fate of the main rebels against God. Thus originally God’s purpose was that all men should be righteous and enjoy eternal life. It was man who chose otherwise. The final realisation of the fate of all that is evil is described in Revelation 19.20; 20.10, 14.
25.42-43 “For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.”
And their rejection was based on their attitude towards the followers of Christ. They had refused to help them because of Whose they were, and by it they had revealed their attitude towards Jesus Christ Himself.
25.44 “Then will they also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ ”
Again they ask the question which reveals that they are ignorant of what they have done wrong, for to them Jesus Christ is irrelevant, and thus what happens to His followers does not matter. They cannot understand it. Here is this great Judge and He is ignoring all the good that they have done. What can He mean?
25.45 “Then will he answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of these least, you did it not to me.’ ”
And His reply is that it is because they have failed to reveal their love and compassion towards the followers of Christ, whom they see as ‘the least’, and have therefore failed to demonstrate it towards Him. In the end it is because by doing so they have rejected Him. It is because their hearts are not truly right towards God.
25.46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And the final verdict is given. These who have not responded from their hearts towards Jesus and His followers will go away into eternal punishment. While those who have been made righteous by Christ will enter eternal life, the life of the age to come, the everlasting Kingdom.
Note on Eternal Punishment.
What is involved in eternal punishment is something that we are in no position to be dogmatic about. All we know is that it is eternal in its consequences, but see Isaiah 66.24 where it appears to be both eternal and ‘unconscious’. Scripture clearly indicates that it will include some kind of conscious punishment beyond the grave, but nowhere is ‘eternal conscious punishment’ spoken of, and there are a number of reasons that caution us against dogmatism. One is that the impression given in Revelation is that the Devil and his closest minions are subjected to special treatment in that they are thrown ‘alive’ into the eternal fire in order to be ‘tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (Revelation 19.20, compare verse 21; 20.10). All others are apparently thrown in ‘dead’ (20.15, compare 20.12 and 19.21). In their case it is only the smoke from their torment, as they are questioned before the Judge, that is said to ascend for ever and ever as a reminder to the universe of their folly (14.11). And if all are to be seen as treated equally in this way it is difficult to see how some can be said to be punished with only ‘few stripes’ compared with ‘many stripes’ (Luke 12.48). ‘Few stripes’ hardly seems a reasonable description of eternal torment (compare also 11.22). Nor how it can be more tolerable in the day of Judgment for some rather than for others (11.22).
Furthermore God becoming ‘all in all’ is not consistent with there still being rebels in Hell (1 Corinthians 15.28). And while some may point to ‘the immortality of the soul’ (which is Platonic teaching, not Biblical teaching, for the latter teaches that life is given and taken away by God), it is little short of blasphemy to suggest that God cannot destroy an ‘immortal soul’, (as I in my foolishness once used to do). Thus while we must never underestimate the awfulness of the fate of the unrighteous, we are wise not to be too dogmatic about it. We must leave it with God. On the other hand we are left in no doubt that the consequences of unforgiven sin are awful. They are not to be dismissed lightly.
End of note.
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