The Widow's Mite -- The Olivet Prophecy -- The Parable of the Sheep and Goats.
Jesus, making his way through the crowd, left the temple courts at the close of his earnest impeachment of the Scribes and Pharisees. As he was passing out, he sat down do rest, "over against the treasury," and saw the widow cast in those two mites which have become of world-wide fame. His remark thereon was no commonplace aphorism. It was the statement of a truth which has been a comfort and encouragement to the many thousands of "the poor in this world rich in faith" who have since been called to the kingdom. It was a truth that would not have occurred to human wisdom: "This poor widow hath cast in more than" the rich which have "cast in much." We can see how from a divine point of view this must be the case. We cannot give anything to God in the absolute sense, since all things are His. The munificence of the intention must be the measure of all offerings to Him. Judged by this rule, the widow gave more than the rich, because she gave more in proportion. By the same rule, it is in the power of the poorest to be large doers for God though their gifts may be paltry by human comparisons. "It is reckoned according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not."
Before passing on, one of the disciples called the attention of Christ to the beauty of the temple buildings. They had recently been renovated by Herod, and according to Josephus, they were enriched by the expensive ornaments of worshippers from all lands. Built of marble and spiked with gold, it looked, say they who saw it, like a glittering pile of snow. The Jews took a pride in it; so did the disciples who at this time shared the feelings of the nation. The response of Christ was not at all in harmony with the national feeling: "Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down."
Soon after this remark, Jesus resumed his journey towards Bethany with his disciples, passing out of the gate, east or south, and descending the Kedron valley, crossing the brook, and ascending the path that goes obliquely up the Olivet slope in a southeastern direction. On the face of the hill, overlooking Jerusalem, with the temple right opposite them, Jesus and his disciples sat down again to rest. On the way, the disciples had been thinking of the statement he made about the coming destruction of the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew take advantage of this opportunity of asking him about it: "When shall these things be, and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?" Within a few days, Jesus was to be crucified and rise again. Within a few weeks, he was to be taken away from his disciples altogether, in that prolonged absence which has not yet come to an end. The things he now said must be read from this point of view, for the nearness of their separation was known to Jesus.
He first of all told them to be on their guard against false Christs. "Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. Go ye not after them." If we can imagine ourselves in the position of the disciples, we shall see how necessary such a direction as this was. Without it, they would have been liable to continual distraction. Having known Christ and receiving before his departure a promise of his return, his reappearance would be both a most desirable and a perfectly natural thing; therefore the announcement, from any quarter, that he had come would naturally interfere with the continuity of those labours in which they were destined to spend the full terms of their natural lives. For naturally, on receiving such reports, they would be unhinged, put into an attitude of expectancy and investigation. This warning beforehand was a complete protection. The rumours of Christ's reappearance as they arose would have no disturbing effect at all, but the reverse; for the disciples would recall to mind that it was just what Jesus had told them.
We have not much information about these false alarms. There is here and there in ecclesiastical history an indication of their having occurred, but not the full account that mere curiosity would demand. We do not require particulars about the false. Particulars about the true are most essential. Hence we have the one and not the other. There have been false Christs at various times since the apostolic age; but it was those of the apostolic age that Christ would have more particularly in view in fore-arming his apostles.
Next he spoke of the political convulsions that would by-and-bye ensue. At the time of his own presence upon the earth comparative peace prevailed; but as leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, there would be "wars and commotions" throughout the land. When hearing of these, they were "not to be terrified: for these things must first come to pass." Before anything of this sort happened, there would be trouble for themselves. "Before all these, they shall lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. It shall turn to you for a testimony:" that is, the occurrence of these great tribulations, instead of being a damper and a discouragement to them in the work which they would have in hand as witnesses for him, would be a confirmation to them that they were in the right way; because they would be a fulfilment of the word which he was now speaking to them; and would strengthem them to endure. They would be specially helped in the rigours that would assail them. Jesus himself would help them, though invisible to them. "I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist." "Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye pre-meditate; but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye, for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit."
They would greatly need the help and encouragement which the speaking of these things to them beforehand was calculated to afford; for in the bitterness of the times, "Many," said he, "shall be offended and shall betray one another and shall hate one another ... and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" "The brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son, and children shall rise up against their parents and shall cause them to be put to death, and ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved."
The preaching of the gospel would go on in the midst of it all. "This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations;" which came to pass, as the subsequent record of apostolic labour shews: "and then shall the end come," that is, the end decreed for the land and the people of Israel; for then, he goes on to say, they would "see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (Matt. xxiv. 14, 25). They would see "Jerusalem compassed with armies" (Luke xxi. 20), and by this would discern that the desolation thereof was nigh. They were then to flee out of the city and from the neighbourhood to the mountains (on the east side of the Jordan: which ecclesiastical history tells us they did -- escaping to Pella). "These," said Jesus, "be the days of vengeance that all things which are written may be fulfilled.... There shall be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people." (The finish would be thus:) "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword and shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
How long a time these events would take, Jesus did not know (Matt xxiv. 36). The Father had reserved the times and seasons in His own power (Acts i. 7) until a later time, 60 years later, when he gave to Jesus a revelation so that his servants might know of other things which would shortly come to pass (Rev. i. 1). He did know this, however, that the generation would not pass away without witnessing the fulfilment of his words concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish polity (Matt. xxiv. 34).
He also knew that beyond the time of the calamity, there would elapse a period of down-treading which would continue to the time of his coming, and which would end with sign-events analogous to those which closed Israel's day of grace: "There shall be signs in the sun, moon, and stars -- (a Bible figure for commotions among the ruling powers upon the earth) and distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring (a figure for the people in tumult), men's hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things that are coming upon the earth: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. (A figure for the undermining of thrones and governments). Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."
It is thus evident that the discourse privately addressed to his disciples on this occasion, as they sat together on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and temple, covers the entire interval from the moment of its utterance to the time when Jesus should be manifested in glory to his people at his return from heaven. The discourse having this scope is noticeable on two points, as affecting the popular conception of the mission of Christ. First, that it deals with political events and occurrences on earth as calling-for the attention of his disciples, whereas popular theology, in proportion as it is earnestly worked out in a man's life, pushes all such matters out of sight; and, second, that it concentrates attention on his second appearing, as the culminating point of the believer's hope: ("When ye see these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh"): whereas popular theology leads men to fix their attention on the day of death when the believer is supposed to fly to Christ in heaven. Such features as these in a discourse of Christ, bearing directly on the hopes and prospects of his people, ought to be suggestive to logical minds that there is something wrong with popular theology; which, indeed, they will discover to be the case to an extent that will appal them. This is not the place to enlarge on this, though the suggestion forces itself on attention as we listen to Christ on this particular occasion.
His discourse was delivered with practical ends. It was intended as a guide both for those who should be contemporary with the terrible events that would lay the land of Israel in desolation, and for those who, in all the intervening intervals, should wait for his return from heaven. It is so framed as to serve this double purpose. Those who should "see Jerusalem compassed with armies" were to "know that the desolation thereof was nigh," and were accordingly to "depart out of the midst of it" and "flee to the mountains," praying that their flight might not be in the winter or on the Sabbath day (when a severe season, or a day of activity with the enemy and inaction on the part of the defenders of the city, would add to the personal suffering of those in flight). Those who should see the times of the Gentiles in full swing, and be watchful of the signs of his coming, were to "take heed to themselves, lest at any time their hearts should be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon them unawares which should come as a snare on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth." The haze that overspread the whole subject of the times and seasons at the time of the delivery of the address, brought both classes to a level as regards the practical bearing of events upon them. They were both, and all, and at all times to be "always ready; not knowing the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man should come."
The fact that many generations of believers would go to the grave would make, and has made, no practical difference to their relation to the final event of the Lord's coming; by reason of the fact revealed in the Scriptures, and denied by popular theology, that man is mortal, and the dead know not anything. There being no conscious interval between a man's death and resurrection, the day of the believer's death appears the day of the Lord's coming to him, because the Lord's coming is the next conscious event to him, and apparently in immediate sequence to the moment of his death. As regards, therefore, his fitness for appearance before the Lord, and the bearing of the Lord's judgment on his life and actions, the day of his own death is on the same practical footing in relation to him as the day of the Lord's arrival on the earth for judgment.
For this reason the Olivet discourse, while primarily intended for the information of the apostles, was useful, and in the sense hinted at, applicable to every generation of believers that should come after. Because of this it was placed on record by the Spirit of God long after its immediate purpose had been served, and it still answers its purpose, as when Jesus proceeds to say: "Take ye heed; watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is: for the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye, therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh.... lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping" (Mark xiii. 34). "Who then is a faithful and wise servant whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you that he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, my lord delayeth his coming: and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not and shall him asunder, and aware of, cut appoint him hisportion among the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. xxiv. 45 51).
When the Lord has arrived for these interesting and terrible transactions, the kingdom (Christ now said) will be comparable "to ten virgins who took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom." In what sense and way we have considered in chapter xxxiii., and need not here repeat. We find the subject expanded in the remarks he made immediately after the parable of the ten virgins -- remarks not lacking the parabolic element, yet quite clearly literal in their main features; and having this effect, first and foremost on the listening ear, that, unlike modern popular theology, they fix attention on the Lord's return to earth as the supreme crisis of destiny for all who stand related to his judgment seat: "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left." To the sheep he says, "Come, ye blessed;" and to the goats, "Depart, ye cursed;" for reasons we shall look at.
First, let us ask who are to be understood by the sheep, and who by the goats, and who by "my brethren" to whom the king alludes in his speech to both. Some think "my brethren" means the Jewish race, and the sheep those nations that have treated the Jews well, and the goats those nations that have treated them badly. The only thing that favours this idea is the use of the phrase "all nations" in describing those gathered before the king for judgment. If the idea were right, all parts of the parable would be in harmony with it. That this is not the case must be evident from the words addressed by the king to "them on his right hand." "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
We know abundantly from the plain teaching of the word that the heirs of the kingdom, for whom it has been prepared, do not consist of nations, but of persons out of all nations with whom the Father is pleased, because of their faith and obedience: as James says, "God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom which he hath prepared for them that love him" (James ii 5). It is the saints who "take the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever" (Dan. vii. 18), who, being washed from their sins in the blood of Christ, are made kings and priests to reign with him (Rev. i. 6; v. 10). The nations, as such, do not inherit the kingdom, but are governed by the kingdom in the hands of the saints (Rev. ii. 26; 1 Cor. vi. 2). Consequently, an interpretation which makes Christ invite Jew-favouring nations to inherit the kingdom prepared only for the saints, must be a wrong one. It is manifestly wrong also from the unscriptural construction it would compel us to put on the phrase "my brethren." Jesus has told us who his brethren are: "He that doeth the will of God is my brother." He has also given us his estimate of mere Jews according to the flesh: "Ye are of your father the devil" (Jno. viii. 44). "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham" (Ibid 39). "The flesh profiteth nothing" (Jno. vi. 63).
What, then, is the meaning of "all nations?" The plain representations of the judgment must be our guide: "We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." What, "we?" The class to and of whom Paul wrote these words. He, a Jew, wrote to Corinthian Greeks, and affirmed things intended to be applicable to "all that in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus." It had been proclaimed by Peter, in opening the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles, that "in every nation, he that feared God and worked righteousness was accepted with him" (Acts x. 35). These, gathered at last in one body, speak of themselves as "redeemed unto God out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation" (Rev. v. 10). Hence, it is plain that those who are gathered before Christ for judgment at his coming, are not unfitly described as "all nations." Literally and exactly stated, they would be "people of all nations," but the larger phrase is not out of place, as when we say of the first exhibition (of 1851) "All nations were there;" or, as when the scriptures, in speaking of the assembly of the armies of all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, say, "I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle" (Zech. xiv. 1). When Christ returns, and gathers the "all" who have to stand before his judgment seat, the resultant assembly (consisting for the most part of people raised from the dead of all countries of the Roman habitable) will be composed of "all nations."
The reason why Jesus should choose this mode of describing them may be apprehended if we realise that for many previous generations, the responsible class were Israelites exclusively. It would naturally be anticipated by the disciples that the assembly of the resurrected would be composed of none other. Jesus had already hinted the participation of the Gentiles (though the time had not arrived to invite them). He had said "Many shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of God." There was advantage in his now saying that the judgment to be dispensed at his coming, in the presence of the angels who should be with him, would be dispensed to an assembly composed of "all nations," gathered before him for the purpose -- not Jews only, nor all nations in the popular sense of absolute universality, but in the sense of people out of all nations who, through enlightenment, have become responsible to the judgment of God, whether their part be that of acceptance or rejection of His revealed truth -- obedience or disobedience of His revealed commandments.
With this view, we may understand why the award of the judgment seat should be made to turn on practical service and not on doctrinal enlightenment. Some have said "Nothing about doctrine in this judgment scene of Matthew xxv." They say this in discouragement of that earnest contention for the faith which Jude enjoins. It is a case of setting one part of the word of God against another, which ought never to be done. Let everything have its place. It is enlightenment in the truth that brings the people out of all nations to the judgment seat. There is no need to bring that into question. It would be as much out of place as at the breaking of bread. It is taken for granted. Its discussion could settle nothing; because the worthy and unworthy alike know and profess the truth. The real question is their practical attitude towards Christ during the probation to which acceptance of the truth introduces them. "I was an hungred and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger and ye took me in; naked and ye clothed me; I was sick and ye visited me; I was in prison and ye came unto me." This is the commendation the Judge passes upon the accepted. It covers every form of benevolent service.
It is not mere philanthropy that is commended. Attention is fixed upon the "I." As the Lord said to Israel when they did certain things, "Did ye it all unto Me?' Not that goodness to all men is excluded: far from it. It is Christ's command to "do good to all men as we have opportunity:" to be "kind even to the unthankful, and to the evil." But in the case before us, it is what men have done to Christ that is in question. Did they feed Christ, clothe Christ, succour Christ? But how do these things to Christ in a day when he is not upon the earth? The commended class are made to present this difficulty for the sake of bringing out the king's answer: "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." But who are his brethren? Not paupers who pronounce his name for the sake of the loaves and fishes. So he himself tells us: "Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, but he that doeth the will of my Father."
By this we may try ourselves beforehand. Are we drawn out affectionately to the needs of such as show themselves in love with God and all His ways? Could we lay down our lives for such? We know how our feelings act in this matter, and whether it is our practice in the measure of our possibilities to give them effect. If it is as suggested (and it will be well to give the fullest and most liberal effect to the things commended in advance by the Judge; for the danger is always more in the direction of frittering away their import than of over-performing them), if our case be so, we may look forward with confidence to our arraignment on that solemn day, when men and angels will be made to see us as we actually are under the searching light of divine exposure. John helps us in our judgment of the point when he says: "By this we know that we love the children of God when we lave God and da His commandments." There may be no children of God around us. We may be so situated as to be in contact with nothing but what grieves and mortifies and disgusts the innermost recesses of the righteous soul, as in the case of Lot in Sodom (2 Pet. ii. 8). In such a situation, not love but vexation may be our daily experience, and we may bitterly stand in doubt of ourselves on this head. John's test will come to our aid: Do we ourselves love God and keep His commandments? if so, it is a moral certainty that we love all who are in the same attitude to God, though we may rarely have the opportunity of experiencing it in personal manifestation. Where we have no such delightful opportunity of ministering to Christ as is presented in the needs of those who "fear God and keep His commandments," we can at least fall back on the commandment that tells us to love our enemies; do good to them that hate us: pray for them that despitefully use and afflict us. How pleasant will the retrospect of obedience be, however bitter now, when the King is pleased to say, "Come ye blessed of my Father: inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
In the case of the rejected, the rule is just reversed. "I was an hungred and ye gave me no meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink, I was a stranger and ye took me not in, naked and ye clothed me not, sick and in prison and ye visited me not." On this ground, the awful order issues: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." In no more forcible manner could Christ have enforced the fact that our ultimate acceptance with him depends upon self-sacrificing deeds of kindness of the kind that he himself exemplified, when, as he said, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister." Our faith is the foundation, but works in harmony with what he requires is the indispensable superstructure.
Much will be forgiven: but much will also be required at the hands of those who would enter life eternal. His commandments require us to "Look not every man on his own things" only, but to "Bear one another's burdens." If we harden our hearts to the afflictions of the afflicted, and wrap ourselves comfortably in the mantle of God's bestowed mercies, heedless of the needs of those to whom God has given less, the day so powerfully depicted by Christ in Matthew xxv. will show us in terrible severity, if we never realised it before, that though we speak with the tongues of men and angels, and though we have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, if we have not the love that takes an active serving shape, we are of no use to the King whose reign is to be a reign of love and blessing.
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