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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, our Redeemer, leaving the temple, probably for the last time, after having denounced the Scribes and Pharisees, predicts the utter ruin of that magnificent structure (1–2). His Apostles propose a twofold question—1st. Regarding the time of the menaced ruin of Jerusalem, and the final end of all things, which was to precede His glorious coming; and, 2ndly, regarding the precursory signs of these events. Replying to the second question first, regarding the precursory signs. He gives, as far as verse 14, the signs that would apply equally to the ruin of Jerusalem, and the end of the world (3–14). He next gives the signs which apply, directly, to the ruin of Jerusalem, and, in a secondary way, to the final end of all things; the former being a type of the latter (15–28). He, then, gives the precursory signs of the final end of all things, when the Sovereign Judge shall come to judge all mankind (29–35). Replying to the first question, regarding the time of His second coming, He tells them, they must be ever kept in uncertainty on this point; and He, therefore, concludes, they should he always prepared for it, always on the watch, and not to be taken by surprise—ever engaged in the performance of good works (36–51).

1. “And Jesus being come out of the temple, went away.” After having been engaged during the day in preaching in the temple, He left it, probably, for the last time, as we read nowhere that He returned there again, and proceeded, as was His wont, to Mount Olivet (Luke 21:37), and lodged with Magdalen and Martha (A. Lapide). This occurred on the Wednesday before His Passion; and thus He closes His public ministry with the awful reproofs and predictions contained in the preceding chapter.

In the Greek, the word, “temple,” is not joined with “came out,” but with “went away” (ἐπορύετο εκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ).

And His disciples,” who heard Him menace the temple with utter ruin (23:38), in the hope of moving Him to commiseration, so as to revoke His sentence, and spare the doomed city, “came to show Him the buildings of the temple”—the quality of the stones, and its magnificent proportions (Mark 13)—the splendid gifts with which it was enriched (Luke 21:5). The Zorobabelic Temple was rebuilt by Herod; and viewed, either in regard to its strength of structure, its magnificence, its costly materials, its rare beauty and ornamentation, it was an object of wonder and admiration (see Josephus de Antiq. Jud., Lib. 15, c. 11, where he gives a full description of the materials employed by Herod in rebuilding the temple). In directing the attention of our Lord to the magnificence of the temple, which was the glory of the Jewish people, the disciples wished to convey, what a pity it would be, if such a noble monument of piety were utterly destroyed, as had been menaced. Could such a thing be possible? In the minds of the Jews, the destruction of the temple and the end of the world were coeval, or, at least, some change in the constitution of the world should take place at the destruction of the temple (Bloomfield). The magnificence of earthly buildings can never appease the anger of God, provoked by sin. It availed the Jews but little of old to say, “the temple of the Lord,” &c. (Jer. 7:4) St. Mark (13:1) says, only one of His disciples addressed our Lord on this occasion. But there is no contradiction between him and St. Matthew. It may be, that the disciples had previously spoken among themselves on the subject; and that one, on the part of the others, addressed Him. Hence, they addressed Him through their spokesman; or, it may be that, after one had spoken, the others also spoke out, as is mentioned here by St. Matthew.

2. “Do you see all these things?” that is, consider again and again, this magnificent temple. This He says, in order to direct their attention the more to the judgment of God, and to show the deliberation with which He announces the following solemn threat, to which He prefixes the usual form of asseveration. “Amen, I say,” &c.; I assert it as a thing that shall unquestionably take place.

There shall not be a stone,” &c. These words denote, utter destruction and ruin They were verified in the destruction of the temple by the Romans. They were however, verified afterwards more literally still; and the Jews themselves were made the instruments of this literal fulfilment, when, at the instance of Julian the apostate, they undertook to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. They came together from all quarters of the globe. They lavishly contributed their choicest gifts towards the expenses of the work, aided by the State support and encouragement of the Imperial apostate, who thus sought to falsify the prediction of our Redeemer. They set about vigorously to work; and, in clearing the foundations, they did not leave a single stone upon another, of those left untouched by the Romans, in their work of destruction, so that the prophecy of our Redeemer was fully verified. The work was put a stop to, as we learn from Ammianus Marcellinus (Lib. 23), Socrates (Lib. 3, c. 20), and Sozomen (Lib. 5, c. ult.), by the Divine interposition. Horrible balls of fire issued from the foundations, rendering them inaccessible to the scorched workmen; and owing to repeated earthquakes, whatever was cleared away during the day, was thrown back, the next night, into the trenches, so that they were reluctantly obliged to discontinue the work altogether (see Alban. Butler, Lives of SS., March 18).

3. “And when He was sitting on Mount Olivet.” Our Redeemer, after preaching in the temple during the day, went out each evening to Bethania, whence, after refection, He retired to Mount Olivet, which was just nigh, where He “spent the night” (Luke 21:37), most likely, in prayer and preparation for His approaching Passion. It may be, on this occasion, that on His way to Bethania, and wearied from His labours, and weak from fasting during the day, He sat on Mount Olivet; or that, after partaking of supper, He returned to spend the night, and then sat down, “over against the temple” (Mark 13:3), of which He had a full view from Mount Olivet. This happened, according to some (Maldonatus), on the fourth day (viz., Wednesday) after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. According to others (Jansenius, &c.), on the third. The view of the temple, recalled to the minds of His disciples His prophecy relating to its destruction. Possibly, also, our Redeemer, in viewing the temple, may have again spoken of its coming destruction. “The disciples came to Him privately.” Mark (13:3) says, only four of them did so. It may be, that these four alone spoke and questioned Him, with the concurrence of the rest. This they did “privately,” away from the multitude. Others interpret, “privately” (A. Lapide), apart from the other disciples. These four referred to, who were most intimate with Him, question Him on this very delicate subject, which it was most dangerous to speak of publicly, lest it should reach the Scribes. St. Stephen’s death is owing to a charge of his having spoken on this subject (Acts 6:14).

Tell us,” to whom you are accustomed to disclose what you do not wish to make known to all, “when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign?” &c. Mark (13:5) and Luke (21:7) have only—1st. “When shall these things be?” which have been so often prophesied by Thee, regarding the destruction of Jerusalem; and 2ndly. “The sign when all these things shall be begin to be fulfilled,” regarding Thy glorious coming; whereas, St. Matthew has, for the second question, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the consummation of the world?” Hence, some commentators, with St. Jerome, divide this latter question in St. Matthew into two, and say, the question of the disciples was threefold—1. The time of this menaced ruin of the temple; 2. Its sign; 3. The sign of the end of the world. It seems most probable, that the second question in St. Matthew is the same as that in Mark and Luke. The disciples imagined, from the parables of our Lord (Matt. 22:1, &c.; Luke 19:12), that the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the temple, would take place simultaneously with the destruction of the world; after which, they supposed our Redeemer’s glorious reign would commence. On the latter point, their ideas were of a very carnal character. Hence, they proposed two questions: the first regarded the destruction of Jerusalem, which they supposed would take place at His glorious coming; the second, the signs of those events, which they supposed to be near at hand. Our Redeemer first answers the second question, regarding the signs of His coming; and the question of the time in the next place.

4. There is a great diversity of opinion among commentators, regarding the meaning of the several parts of this chapter, and the events to which they refer. Some refer them to the destruction of Jerusalem; others, to the destruction of all things at the end of the world. St. Chrysostom, whose opinion is adopted by Jansenius Gandav. (Concord, c. cxxii.), understands the chapter, as far as verse 23 exclusively, to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem; and all that preceded that event, as recorded by Josephus and Eusebius, perfectly squares with what our Redeemer says here, as far as verse 23, not even excepting the preaching of the Gospel (verse 14), to the entire world, which, St. Chrysostom asserts, took place before the year 70, the period of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Others, with St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and Ven. Bede, whose opinion is preferred by Maldonatus, hold, that our Redeemer treats, as far as verse 23, of both the destruction of Jerusalem and that of the world, without distinguishing one from the other; and that, from the text, we must see to which He may specially refer in any particular verse. For, as the questions of the Apostles confusedly referred to both, our Redeemer answers their questions as they proposed them, not wishing to separate His allusion to the end of the world distinctly from His allusion to the end of Jerusalem, lest, after the destruction of the temple, the Apostles and His followers might rest too secure, in respect to the distant approach of the Day of Judgment. It may be, that our Redeemer connects the description of the Day of Judgment with the destruction of Jerusalem, and speaks indifferently of both, in order to convey to us, that the woes and dreadful sufferings of the Jews, at the taking of Jerusalem, were a type and the prelude of the evils which shall fall upon the wicked, the enemies of God, during the persecuting reign of Antichrist, at the approach of the final destruction of the earth. In truth, the precursory signs regarding “false prophets,” &c., which indicated the near approach of the ruin of Jerusalem, shall also usher in the Day of Judgment. (Apoc. 10, &c.) This latter opinion seems very likely. The predictions regarding the two events are so closely interwoven in some passages, and the expressions and imagery employed, in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, so applicable to the Day of Judgment, that we may fairly hold, that in the passage where He may primarily and directly refer to the former event, He, in a secondary sense, alludes to the latter. This secondary, or implied sense, is, by no means, unusual in prophetical writings, in which two subjects, a primary and subordinate one, are treated of simultaneously, the same words being applied to both.

Take heed,” are words of earnest caution. “That no one seduce you,” from My faith from the law of God, from the Gospel. Before giving the precursory signs which His disciples were desirous of ascertaining, probably, out of curiosity, and from a desire of knowing how soon they were to be made sharers in His glorious kingdom, of which they still conceived carnal notions, our Redeemer forewarns them of the evils and dangers they should expect to occur, that thus they might not be moved when they saw them come to pass, as He had predicted. These are, the appearance of false teachers and impostors—wars and other calamities—persecution and several temptations, as well from false brethren as from impostors; finally, the dreadful carnage and misery which would be suffered in the actual ruin of the city, to avoid which, those who are in Judea should fly and betake themselves elsewhere.

5. “Many will come in My name, saying I am Christ.” Such were Theodas, to whom Gamaliel refers (Acts 5:36). Such was the Egyptian impostor mentioned by Josephus (Lib. 2, Bel. c. 12; Acts 21:38); Simon Magus (Acts 8), called “the power of God,” who gave himself out as the Blessed Trinity, and by his incantations, succeeded at Rome in having a statue erected for himself on the Tiber, with the inscription, “Simoni, Deo Magno.” Such, in fine, were the entire swarm of heretics who then appeared, and are called by St. John, “many Antichrists.” These gave themselves out for Christs, because they pretended to have in view to free the people from the yoke of tyranny, to become their saviours and liberators, which was the office of Christ. Instead of this, they only brought on them speedy destruction and utter ruin.

And shall seduce many,” particularly from among the Jews, who, having rejected Christ, who came in the name of His Father, will receive and adhere to the impostors who came of themselves, unsent. History testifies how this was verified at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem; and to it St. Luke refers, when he says (21:8), “And the time is at hand; go ye not, therefore, after them.” No doubt, the same shall be true of the period of the end of the world. Then, shall Antichrist work wonders, to seduce them that perish. (2 Thess. 2:9, 10, &c.)

6. “And you shall hear of wars,” &c. For “and,” the Vulgate has “enim,” “for,” and the Greek, δε, “but.” If the Vulgate reading be adopted, “for,” has reference to what follows; as if He said: See that you be not troubled, because of your “hearing of wars, &c. In the Greek, it is a digression to another precursory sign. Our Redeemer having warned them against being seduced from the path of justice by the blandishments of false teachers, now cautions them against being turned aside by the fear of evil. “Wars,” tumults, seditions, &c., and what is more embarrassing and terrifying, “rumours of wars.” This was literally verified at the destruction of Jerusalem. The history of the wars and bloodshed among the Jews, which preceded the final destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, as well in Jerusalem itself, as in the provinces, is given by Josephus (Lib. 2 de Bello, Jud. to the end of Lib. 7). The same shall happen, no doubt, at the end of the world (Apocalypse). So that this second sign applies to the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.

For, these things must come to pass,” not from absolute necessity; but, as a matter of consequent necessity, like scandals, heresies, &c., considering the malice of man, on the one hand; and the decrees of God, drawing good out of the evil, which He permits, on the other. “These things,” wars, and rumours of wars. Why, then, should men be disturbed or turned aside from the straight path, by events which cannot be avoided, that must come to pass by a just judgment of God?

But the end is not yet,” that is, the end of the evils, which are to fall on Jerusalem. Greater ones still are to follow, or, “the end” of the world, which is to be preceded by the wars of Antichrist. (St. Jerome, Theophylact, &c.) The word, “end,” may, probably, refer to both, one being the type and precursor of the other.

7. “For, nation shall rise against nation.” This shall occur at the end of the world. History testifies how it did happen previous to the ruin of Jerusalem (Josephus de Bello, Lib. 2, de Bello, cc. 11–25; Hegesippus Lib. 2, cc. 11–17). St. Jerome, Ven. Bede, St. Augustine, &c., say, that as our Redeemer had been asked by His Apostles in an indistinct sort of way about the end of Jerusalem and the end of the world, so, He replies to both indistinctly, mixing up one with the other. This He does as far as verse 15, in order that the Apostles and the faithful would be kept in a state of suspense, and be always prepared for both events. Then, from verse 15 to verse 29, He treats exclusively of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the signs that shall precede it. From that, to the close of the chapter, He treats of the phenomena that shall precede and usher in the end of the world.

And there shall be pestilences, and famines,” &c. That the Jews suffered famine before the final destruction of Jerusalem, is attested by Josephus (Lib. 20, Antiq. c. 2, 3); the same also appears from Acts 11:28, &c. “Pestilences” are a concomitant of famine. Although Josephus says nothing of it; still, it is what commonly happens. “Earthquakes in places,” that is, in different places. The only record we have of any earthquakes before the destruction of Jerusalem, is that left by Eusebius in Chronicon, relative to an earthquake which, in the reign of Nero, occurred at Rome, whereby three cities in Asia were destroyed. Josephus, who makes mention of famine in Judea, which, pestilence usually accompanies, is silent regarding the occurrence of any earthquake there, probably, being intent on recording more signal calamities.

We have all these signs repeated in latter times, pointing out, that the world is now growing old, and approaching its end, as the repeated attacks of illness warns the patient, who grows weaker after each, that he is to expect his end to be arriving.

St. Luke (21:11), adds—“and terrors from heaven, and there shall be great signs.” These are to precede the end of the world (Apoc. 8 and 9; see also verse 29 of this chapter). They also preceded the destruction of Jerusalem. For instance, a terrible comet, in the form of a sword, hung over Jerusalem for twelve months before its destruction. During the assemblage of the people at the Pasch, a bright mid-day light shone for half an hour at night, in the temple, and voices were heard in the temple, crying out, “Let us remove hence.” The Oriental gate of the temple, which twenty men could hardly move, opened of its own accord, during the dead hour of night. In the air were seen armed bands, chariots, and fighting. Four years before the commencement of the Jewish war, while Jerusalem yet enjoyed profound peace and abundance, a poor plebeian husbandman, named Jesus, the son of Ananias, at the Feast of Tabernacles, began suddenly to cry out, “A voice from the east; a voice from the west; a voice from the four winds; a voice against Jerusalem and against the temple; a voice against the bridegroom, and against the bride; a voice against all the people.” This was his unceasing cry day and night, as he passed through the lanes and streets of the city. Some persons of rank, unable to endure words of such bad omen, caused him to be apprehended and scourged. At every stroke, he repeated, in a plaintive and doleful tone, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem When Jerusalem was besieged by Titus,” his predictions were found to be verified. He then went round the walls of the city and began to cry, “Woe, woe to the city; woe to the people; woe to the temple;” on which, having added, “Woe to myself,” he was killed by a stone discharged from one of the engines of the enemy (Josephus, Lib. vi. c. 5, de Bel. Jud.; Eusebius, Lib. 3, Histor c. 8)

8. Greater evils still shall succeed, of which the preceding are but the premonitory symptoms. The Greek word for sorrow (ωδινων), means, the throes of childbirth. The idea is, that the calamities spoken of, compared with those which are to follow, are just like the premonitory symptoms of approaching childbirth, compared with the acute throes of parturition. This is an illustration quite familiar, and frequently to be met with in SS. Scripture. And, in truth, whosoever reads the account of the calamities which occurred in the actual sacking of Jerusalem, when on it fell “all the just blood shed since that of Abel.” &c. (23:35), see Josephus, Lib. 6 and 7, de Belle can see how this was verified. The same applies also to the precursory signs that shall precede, and the dreadful evils that shall take place at the destruction of the world, when a just God shall discharge the full vial of His wrath on the devoted heads of His guilty enemies.

9. Having cautioned them against being disturbed by the evils that shall happen others, our Redeemer now forewarns them against the evils that may happen themselves, lest they might imagine that they themselves would be free from calamities, so that when these things would happen, they might not be disturbed. For, hitherto, they were only thinking of the joys of His glorious kingdom.

Then they shall deliver you up to be afflicted,” that is, men shall so afflict you in divers ways, that you would seem to be given over to tribulation.

Shall put you to death,” &c. The history of the infant Church, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, informs us how the Apostles and the faithful were persecuted, and put to death, and hated, for the name of Christ, both by Jews and Gentiles. These things happened even before the menaced evils had fallen on Jerusalem. For, St. John was the only one of the Apostles who survived its destruction. Hence, St. Luke says (21:12), “but, before all things, they will lay their hands on you,” &c. It is observed, that St. Matthew does not so minutely or circumstantially detail the evils which were to befall the Apostles, as is done by St. Luke and St. Mark; but this is accounted for, as St. Matthew had done so already, (10:17. &c.)

The same shall happen before the end of the world, in the persecuting reign of Antichrist, whose persecution, preceded by those remarkable ones commenced under Nero, shall be the last and the most dreadful that the Church had ever encountered.

10. “Many shall be scandalized,” &c. From fear of death or persecution, they shall apostatize from the faith. Many Christians, in the early period referred to, had abandoned the faith, and from faithful brethren, became enemies and false brethren, betraying their nearest friends, to gain the favour of the great, and hated one another. This intestine war is referred to by St. Paul (2 Cor. 11), a falsis fratribus. Others understand it of Pagans, who, seeing the persecution endured by the Christians, “shall be scandalized,” alienated from the faith, so that “a brother shall betray a brother unto death … and children shall rise up against their parents” (Mark 13:12). “Hate one another,” has reference, probably, to the hatred of apostates for their former associates, even when they did not go the length of betraying them.

11. “False prophets.” By these are meant the heretics, who sprang up in the very midst of the persecutions of the Church. These, while they confess the true Christ, and pretend to be teachers sent by God, shall, pretending to act in His name, disseminate error. Of such St. Paul complains. (2 Cor. 11; Philip. 3; Gal. 4, &c.) So does St. Peter (2 Peter 2); and St. John terms them Antichrists. St. Paul predicts their coming (Acts 20:30). Among these false prophets, might be counted Ebion, Cerinthus, the Nicolaites, and the whole swarm of the early Gnostics. In latter times, Luther, Calvin, and last of all, Antichrist.

12. This is another great evil. In consequence of the prevalence, and superior force of iniquity, that is, of the persecutions of tyrants, of infidelity, of heresy, of the hatred borne the faithful, of the seduction by “false prophets,” &c., “the charity of many shall grow bold.” By “charity,” is commonly understood, Christian charity, the love of God, in the first place, from whom they will revolt, having begun before to love Him by faith. To such, St. Paul refers, “erunt homines seipsos amantes,” &c. (2 Tim. 2) To this charity he refers, “quis nos separabit a charitate Christi?” (Rom. 8) It also embraces the love of our neighbour. Those who had hitherto the charity to relieve their Christian brethren will, owing to the pressure of persecution, refuse all assistance, lest they might appear as Christians themselves. Of this we have an example (2 Tim. 4:16), where St. Paul says, he was forsaken by all his former friends. Our Redeemer forewarns His Apostles of all this, in order to strengthen them against these trials, whenever they might occur. The words of this verse seem to be the conclusion, or rather, the brief repetition, of what was asserted in verses 10, 11.

13. “Shall persevere.” The Greek, υπομεινας, means, enduring, bearing up against trials; which is more clearly expressed by St. Luke (21:19), “in patientia vestra,” &c. (ὑπομονῆ). “Shall persevere” in the faith and charity of Christ, “unto the end” of the persecution, or rather end of his life, so as to endure patiently these trials, shall obtain eternal salvation. From this it appears, that “the charity” in the preceding refers to the charity of God, the loss of which entails eternal death; whosoever shall not persevere in it, “shall not be saved.” The words of this verse also show, that by “charity growing cold,” is meant the entire loss of charity, since it is contrasted with that perseverance which alone insures eternal life. Our Redeemer having, in the preceding, fortified them against the evils from without, on the part of infidels (v. 9), and from within, on the part of the false brethren (vv. 10, 11), now conseles them with the assurance, that their patient endurance and perseverance to the end in these trials shall insure their salvation, which is expressed by St. Luke in another form, “in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras,” that is, shall save your souls. The word for “patience,” (υπομονη), in St. Luke (21:19), is the same as that for “persevere,” here (ὕπομεινας).

14. The Redeemer gives the fifth sign, to meet an objection which might tacitly present itself on the part of the Apostles, as if they said: If the world be thus confused, and the obstacles to our preaching the Gospel so great, why then send us forward to preach? Our Redeemer tells them, that, notwithstanding these obstacles, the Gospel shall be preached, and that successfully, before the end shall come. Hence, relying on the Divine promise, they should vigorously persevere—undervaluing all obstacles—in preaching “this Gospel of the kingdom,” which announces the opening of “the kingdom of heaven,” by the blood and redemption of Christ, so long shut against men.

For a testimony,” &c. So that this preaching of the Gospel shall serve as a testimony to all the Gentile nations, of the paternal providence, love, and solicitude of God for their salvation, through Christ, who omitted no means of insuring it. The universal preaching of it, notwithstanding the opposing obstacles, shall confirm their faith in God’s power, and thus be a “testimony,” and shall render them inexcusable, if they reject it; or, it may mean, that it will serve as a testimony of the love of God for the Jews, to whom salvation was offered in the first instance by Christ, which they, having obstinately and perfidiously rejected, the Gospel was, in consequence, transferred to the nations who were substituted for them in the favour of God. It would be made clearly known to the entire world, that the Jews wore justly abandoned on account of their multiplied crimes, which culminated in the murder of His eternal Son, and the persecution of His servants. The former seems to be the more probable opinion, which understands “testimony,” of the clear proof, which the preaching of the Gospel, in the midst of insuperable obstacles, among the Gentiles, would give them of God’s power, and of the Divine origin of the Gospel thus preached. This would confirm and strengthen their faith.

It is disputed whether reference is here made to the destruction of Jerusalem, or to the end of the world. It most likely refers to both. Our Redeemer conseles His Apostles with the assurance, that before the menaced evils shall fall on the unhappy Jerusalem, the Gospel shall be preached throughout the world. That this was done, we are assured by St. Paul (Rom. 1:8; 10:18; Col. 1:5, 6, 23). In all these passages, the Apostle says the Gospel was preached throughout the world, in the sense that it reached the principal portions of the then known world; and if we bear in mind how much St. Paul himself did, to how many countries he preached the Gospel (Rom. 15:19), it is not to be wondered at that the Apostles, who were animated with the same spirit, should, after parcelling out the world for the theatre of their labours, have preached the faith through all the parts of the then known world. This happened before the ruin of Jerusalem, when the Apostles wore all dead except St. John. Hence, the words can apply to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the same shall be true of the end of the world. The evils which preceded the ruin of Jerusalem, the carnage, bloodshed, and dreadful calamities which occurred at it, are but a type of another end; of the still greater calamities and evils of every kind, which shall precede the Day of Judgment, and shall occur on it. The word “end,” then, refers to the end of Jerusalem, and the end of the world, of which the former, with all its circumstances, was a very expressive type.

Then the end.” How soon after the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world, in a limited sense, the end of Jerusalem was to come, or after it is preached in a more perfect and extended sense, the end of the world was to take place, our Redeemer does not say; but, neither event was to occur until the Gospel was preached throughout the world, in a limited sense, as regarded the end of Jerusalem, and in a more extended and perfect sense, embracing all parts of the world successively, as regards the end of all things. God wished to have the Gospel preached throughout the nations, before the utter destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews; because, He did not wish utterly to abandon one people till He had adopted to Himself another, through the preaching of the Gospel. And, moreover, He wished, by this means, to make known to the entire world the impiety and ingratitude of the Jews, which drew down upon them the signal chastisements of heaven; and this event would be calculated to confirm the faith of the Gentile world. He wished it to be preached in a most extended and Catholic sense, to all the nations, before the end of the world, out of His infinitely merciful desire to reject no nation, however barbarous, but to offer to all the means of salvation. It is, then, better to understand our Redeemer as referring, in the first fourteen verses of this chapter, both to the end of the world and to the end of Jerusalem indifferently, as well as to the events which were to occur at both. Hardly any event or circumstance recorded in the first fourteen verses that will not apply to both, the one being intended to be a type and forerunner of the other.

15. “When, therefore you shall see,” &c. “Therefore,” would seem not so much to express a conclusion, as a continuation of the discourse, and to indicate that our Redeemer was passing on to another topic, or to another sign of the “end,” concerning which they questioned Him. Having described or pointed out the signs, common to the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the world, indifferently, in the foregoing, He now proceeds to give the distinctive signs of the destruction of Jerusalem, in reply to the first question, “When shall these things be?” as far as verse 29; and then, He commences to give the distinctive marks of the approaching destruction of the world, to the close of the chapter. In giving the signs of both indifferently in the foregoing, our Redeemer wishes to impress upon us the dreadful nature of the evils and woes that shall befall the wicked at the end of the world; since, of these, the shocking evils inflicted on Jerusalem, the bare recital of which, even at this remote period, makes us shudder, were but a mere figure—evils, the very sight of which, forced Titus, this hardened man of blood, at the head of the iron legions of Rome, stretching forth his hands, to invoke Heaven as witness, that he was in no way responsible for these unutterable woes. (Josephus de Bel. Jud. Lib. v. c. 10, &c.)

The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet.” In these words, there is allusion to Daniel (9:27), “there shall be in the temple abomination of desolation: and the desolation shall continue even to the consummation, and to the end,” because, the temple, no matter what efforts may be made, never can be rebuilt. In 12:11, “the abomination unto desolation shall be set up,” &c., Daniel speaks of the end of the world, whereas in 9:27, he speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, to which our Redeemer distinctly refers here. Commentators are greatly divided as to what “the abomination of desolation,” means. Those who say, there is allusion here to the end of the world, (Irenæus, &c.), mean by it, Antichrist, who “shall sit in the temple of God … as if he were God” (2 Thess. 2:4). But, it is clear from St. Luke (21:20), where, for “abomination of desolation,” we read, “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about with an army, then know that the desolation thereof is at hand,” that our Redeemer distinctly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which He here gives a premonitory sign in reply to the question of the disciples; and, moreover, in the passage quoted from Daniel, there is no allusion to the reign of Antichrist, but only to the desolation of Jerusalem; hence, various interpretations of the words, in connexion with this event, are given. By it, some understand, the statue of Cæsar, placed by Pilate, in the temple; or, the equestrian statue of Adrian, which, St. Jerome tells us, was placed in the sanctum sanctorum. But, although a statue or idol was an abomination with the Jews (see 1 Mach. 1:57, where the Greek for, “abominable idol of desolation,” is the same as here, βδέλυγμα τῆς έρημώσεως), and the words, “standing in the holy place,” would suit this interpretation; still, neither statue could be referred to, as a sign of the devastation of Jerusalem. For, the placing of Cæsar’s statue happened before our Redeemer spoke these words (if it was placed there at all by Pilate, which is questioned by some, as Josephus says nothing about it), and that of Adrian was placed there after the destruction of Jerusalem, and could not, therefore, serve as a warning, to leave a city that was to be destroyed. Hence, some commentators understand by it, the army of the Romans, who, in approaching and entering Jerusalem, in a hostile spirit, would not hesitate to display their idols on their banners, and offer sacrifice to their gods. These things were an abomination to the Jews, and this abomination portended desolation and utter ruin. And they would “stand on the holy place,” that is, Jerusalem, which the Evangelist calls, the holy city (4:5). It was such as yet, not having been yet wholly abandoned by God. This refers to the time of Cœstius Gallus, prefect of Syria, who surrounded Jerusalem with an army; but afterwards, raised the siege, and retired inglorious from before the walls of Jerusalem. It could not refer to the final destruction, under Titus, as then, there was no opportunity for escaping. Others, by “abomination of desolation,” understand, the occupation of the temple by seditious Jews and turbulent malefactors (the Zealots), who got possession of the temple at the time of Cœstius, and held it for three years and a half, in spite of the Jews themselves, until its final destruction by Titus. These made the sacred enclosures of the holy house, a place of carnage and a citadel of defence. They were guilty of the greatest atrocities within its walls, and filled the different halls with pools of innocent blood, sparing neither priests nor people. (Josephus de Bel. Jud., Lib. iv. c. 3, 5, 6, &c.) This seems to be the most probable interpretation, because these really stood in the temple, as Daniel predicted. They profaned it, and committed atrocities there, and this was both the sign and immediate cause of its destruction. For, had they given it up, the Romans would have spared it. Perhaps, however, it might be better to understand the words, of the Roman invading army, and of the Jewish Zealots, who defended the temple. For, the besiegers and defenders of Jerusalem were an abomination. The Romans, on account of their idols; the Zealots, on account of their crimes, and the carnage they were guilty of. Both stood in the holy place, where they “ought not” (Mark 13:14). (The Hebrew for holy place means, “super alam”—“above the wing,” or extremity of Jerusalem and the temple, “there shall be desolating abominations.”) Both stood at the extremity of Jerusalem and the temple; nay, in the very temple. The Zealots, who made it a citadel, and its halls, places of carnage; the Romans, by undermining, burning, consuming it, and slaughtering the Jews there like cattle, and introducing their standards, adorned with, images, of their false gods. The union of both the former interpretations in this one, will fully explain the entire passage; particularly, if we understand it, of the attack of Cœstius, which preceded that of Titus, and of the defence made against him by the Zealots. The Hebrew of the Prophet Daniel, which has abominations” in the plural, would seem to refer to the abomination on the part of the Romans, and that on the part of the Jews themselves. It was in consequence “of an old tradition among the Jews, that the city would be destroyed, whenever the hands of the Jews themselves would profane their temple” (Josephus, Lib. v. c. 2), that many of the better classes among the Jews fled from Jerusalem, as from a sinking vessel, after the withdrawal of Cœstius; and relying on the same tradition, but particularly on the prophetic warning of our Lord, the Christians, and among them, St. Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, who lived till the time of Trajan, fled to the territories of king Agrippa, and to the city of Pella in particular, beyond the Jordan.

Maldonatus understands by, “the abomination of desolation,” or, “the abominable or horrid desolation,” the desolation itself; and he says it was not given as a sign, by any means, of the desolation, since it could not be a sign of itself. Our Redeemer gave, as a sign, the surrounding of Jerusalem by an army. For, Maldonatus holds, that our Redeemer used both phrases, “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about by an army” (Luke 21:20)—which was a sign of impending destruction—and, “when you shall see the abomination of desolation,” &c. When you witness these two events, then you are to conclude, that the prophecy of Daniel, regarding the utter ruin of Jerusalem, is fulfilled. According to him, the words of this verse, “when you see the abomination,” &c., are not connected with the words of next verse, “then, they that are in Judea,” &c., nor is their sense any way suspensive or dependent on them. The sentence concludes fully with the words of this verse, “he that readeth, let him understand.” The interpretation, however, which makes them dependent on the following verse, is the one more commonly adopted. Hence, the words mean: “When you shall see Jerusalem surrounded with an army,” viz., of Cœstius, and immediately after, or in connexion with it, an abominable band of brigands establish themselves in the temple, or, “the holy place,” “where they should not” (Mark 13:14). Then, “he that reads, let him understand,” that is, whoever has sense, let him understand that the words of Daniel (9:27), “and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation,” &c., are fulfilled. Some interpreters (Patrizzi, Lib. 1, cap. 1, de Ev. M., §§ 2, &c.), understand these to be the words, not of our Lord, but of the Evangelist, encouraging the faithful to understand the verification of the words of Daniel. In this interpretation, the words are parenthetical, containing an allusion to the words of Daniel (9:25), and the sense of the foregoing suspended until the sentence is completed in the next verse, thus: “When you shall see,” &c., verse 15 (he that heareth let him understand), “then, they that are in Judea,” &c., verse 16.

16. “Then,” when you shall see all this happening, it shall be a signal for you to escape, with all haste, for your lives. “Those who are in Judea,” where Jerusalem is situated. It includes all the land of Israel and Galilee, which were first destroyed by Vespasian. “Fly to the mountains,” places difficult of access, and a safe retreat from an enemy. St. Luke (21:21) adds, “and those who are in the midst thereof depart out; and let those who are in other countries not enter into it.” Maldonatus refers, “then,” to all the preceding signs, viz., when you shall hear of wars, &c., and see the other signs of the devastation of Jerusalem, “then,” fly with as much speed as possible.

17. “House-top,” is allusive to the flat roofs of the houses in Judea, where the people used to walk, &c. The houses were provided with two staircases—one inside; the other, outside on the street. By the latter, or, as some suppose, over the flat roofs of the other houses, to the city walls, they are recommended to fly. “Let him not come down,” &c. Descending in the most expeditious way possible, let him make no delay, by entering the house, to take anything out of it for his approaching flight. Let him busy himself only about the most expeditious way of accomplishing his escape.

18. “He that is in the field,” whether walking or labouring, “let him not go back to take his coat,” however necessary for his journey; but, let him fly as quickly as possible, in whatever costume he may chance to be at the time. In southern countries, husbandmen, when at work, used to leave their upper garments, the cloak and coat, at home.

The words of this, and of the preceding verses, 16 and 17, are proverbial or hyperbolical forms of expression, conveying the imminent nature of the danger, and the necessity of immediate and speedy flight, as well as the magnitude of the evils that were approaching, since men should sacrifice everything sooner than encounter or endure them. Although six months elapsed between the raising of the siege, by Cœstius, and the march of Vespasian into Galilee, and a still longer period between it and the siege of Jerusalem, by Titus; still, this would be very short, when we consider the lingering delays that oftentimes embarrass those who are leaving their beloved country for ever. Hence, our Redeemer urges them to the greatest expedition and haste in their flight, on their beholding the signs He gives them of the ruin and unutterable woes that were to befall the unhappy Jerusalem.

St. Luke (21:22) adds, as the cause of all this urgent admonition—“For, these are the days of vengeance, that all things may be fulfilled, that are written,” in the book of Daniel, and the other prophets, concerning the ruin of Jerusalem, and the vengeance to be inflicted on the Jews, for all the just blood they shed, from that of Abel downwards.

19. “Those who are with child, or that give suck,” cannot fly with sufficient speed; nor can they leave their charge behind, as easily as those can, who leave their money, &c., on account of the strong natural affection of a mother for her offspring. They shall be, therefore, caught and butchered by the Romans. Our Redeemer selects them, in preference to the aged and decrepit; both, because, of the happiness and ease they are wont to enjoy, and which shall now be converted into the greatest tribulation; and also to show the fearful havoc and indiscriminate slaughter that shall take place, since the pregnant and nursing women, who are ordinarily spared in war, shall meet with no mercy from the Romans. Perhaps, also, he alludes to the straits to which some unhappy mothers were to be reduced in the siege of Jerusalem, when, as we learn from Josephus, they devoured their own children, to appease hunger.

20. As in the preceding, He refers to two classes of persons; so here he refers to two periods of time, unsuited for flight. “In winter,” the state of the weather, and of the roads, render flight very troublesome and inconvenient. “Or on the Sabbath,” when the converted Jews, although the Mosaic ceremonies were then abolished, would still observe the law, regarding a Sabbath-day’s journey, and would, under no circumstances, transgress it, although, in cases of necessity, or danger of life, this did not oblige; still, some Jews did not admit even this exception. At this time, the converted Jews were permitted, though not bound, to observe the Mosaic ceremonies, and our Redeemer here speaks in accommodation to their well-known feelings on the matter. The words of this verse mean: Pray to God, that you may escape these dreadful evils, and that nothing may obstruct your flight; and they also convey to us, by a familiar illustration, an idea of the menaced calamities, which would be such, that they should fervently pray for any circumstances that might mitigate their severity. St. Luke tells us the reason (21:23), “For, there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon the people.” History fully testifies to the fearful fulfilment of this sad prediction (Josephus, de Bel. Jnd., Lib. 3–7).

21. “For there shall be great tribulation,” &c. St. Augustine says (Epistle 8), that while it would be difficult to determine, from St. Matthew or St. Mark, whether there was reference here to the Day of Judgment or to the siege of Jerusalem, St. Luke determines it as referring to the latter, just as he clearly points out what “the abomination of desolation” refers to. He explains in what these dreadful evils shall consist: “they shall fall by the edge of the sword … Jerusalem shall be trodden down,” &c. (21:24.) The word, “for,” shows it refers to the foregoing. It is assigned as a reason for their rapid flight.

Great tribulation, such was not from the beginning of the world, nor shall be.” Any one who reads the account, given by Josephus, of the dreadful and almost incredible calamities which befell the unhappy Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem, may clearly see how this was fulfilled. And although, it may be, that during the persecuting reign of Antichrist, the sufferings may be more general; yet, hardly shall any fall so heavily, in point of horror and intensity, on any particular race or people, as those are said to be which were inflicted on the Jews. Moreover, the tribulation of the faithful, under Antichrist, shall not be such a tribulation of vengeance as that of the Jews. For, as their crime of Deicide, coupled with their obstinate resistance to grace, and their monstrous ingratitude, far exceeded the guilt of any other nation; so, was the vengeance more severe. Hence, even the punishment inflicted on Sodom, in this life, which was but a type of that inflicted on it, in the other, was not so severe as the protracted misfortunes inflicted on the Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem, which were only a feeble type of the eternal misfortunes in store for these miserable and ungrateful Deicides, who invoked the blood of the Son of God “on themselves, and on their children.”

22. “Unless these days,” employed in the siege of Jerusalem, “had been shortened,” and rendered fewer, than the anger of the Romans called for, and the iniquities of the Jews merited, for which no punishment, however protracted or intense, was too severe, no flesh,” no person from out the Jewish nation, “should be saved,” from utter ruin and destruction. Had the Romans met with greater resistance and delay, and had they endured more hardships and sufferings, for any protracted time, as the natural strength and powerful fortifications of Jerusalem would give grounds to apprehend, the likelihood is, that, not only would every living soul within the precincts of Jerusalem be put to the sword; but, by a general edict, which would be carried out cheerfully by all other peoples throughout the earth, by whom the Jews were held in hatred, the Romans, then all-powerful, would decree the utter extirpation of the Jews, and abolish for ever the name of Jew, throughout the entire earth, almost all then subject to the dominion of Rome. Hence, there would be no Jews from whom “the elect” would be descended. The words, “no flesh,” refer to the Jews exclusively. From this we see, how God ordains everything for the good of His elect.

But for the sake of the elect,” those whom God had, by His eternal decree, elected to grace and glory among the Jews, whether these living and converted, or those to be afterwards converted, or to be born in course of time of the Jews then existing. “But for the sake of the elect,” lest the merciful decrees and designs of God on them should be frustrated, “those days shall be shortened.” St. Mark says (13:20), “But, for the sake of the elect, which He (the Lord) hath chosen, He hath shortened these days.” In truth, such was the strength of Jerusalem, that, were it not, that the Zealots were blinded by Divine justice, to destroy the stores of provisions, which would have served for years (Josephus, Lib. 6, c. 1), and were also seized with unusual fear to abandon their strong fortifications, and weaken, by their cruel carnage and bloodshed, the strength of the city, Jerusalem might have held out for years against the Romans. Hence, Josephus (Lib. 3, c. 11), and elsewhere, attributes the success of the Romans to the interposition of God. And the same historian informs us (Lib. 7, c. 16), that Titus, on entering the stronghold of Sion, and beholding the strength of the place, declared, it was God that assisted the Romans, who could not otherwise succeed; and going round, and, seeing the ramparts filled with corpses, raising his hands, he called God to witness, that this was none of his doing. Hence, he refused a golden crown, presented to him by the neighbouring nations, stating, that not he, but God, who was angry with the Jews, was the cause of these wonderful successes (Baronius, A.D. 72, ex Philostrate).

St. Chrysostom (in Matth. 77), extols the Providence of God, who makes the three other Evangelists, who did not live till the siege of Jerusalem, the narrators of these events. St. John, who survived it, says nothing of it, in order to strengthen our faith in the predictions of our Redeemer. And, doubtless, it was with the same providential design, God employed Josephus, himself a Jew, and no Christian, to chronicle the fulfilment of these predictions, so minute in details. The words of this verse, although directly and immediately meant for the time preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, apply also to the persecution of Antichrist, who shall be allowed to “tread under foot the holy city” (Apoc. 11:2), that is, the Church of Christ, “two and forty months,” that is, three years and a half; “and, to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Apoc. 13:7). His persecuting reign, which would destroy the whole human race, and would seduce almost all, shall be shortened to the above period of three and one-half years, “for the sake of the elect.”

23. Some commentators say, that our Redeemer here pauses to treat distinctly of the events, that are to occur after the ruin of Jerusalem, and between that period and the end of the world; and that He refers, in a particular way, to what shall take place before the end of the world, of which the ruin of Jerusalem was a type and figure. (Maldonatus, Jansenius, &c.) Others hold, that He continues to treat of the events, that are to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, and of those which are to precede the Day of Judgment, indifferently—the former being a type of the latter—as far as verse 29, where He directly and specially treats of the events connected with the Day of Judgment.

It would seem, that the words of our Redeemer, as far as verse 29, apply to the time preceding the siege of Jerusalem, and may be easily explained regarding it. They can be also explained of the events that are to take place, before the final end of all things, prefigured by what preceded the ruin of Jerusalem. Hence, it could be maintained, that, in the following six verses, our Redeemer treats of both events.

Then,” that is, during the wars of the Romans, preceding the siege of Jerusalem. It may also refer to the period intervening between the taking of Jerusalem and the end of the world; and particularly to the time approaching the last end of all things; and, although thousands of years may elapse between both events, still, it may be said to have happened “then;” taking into account the measure of time with God, with whom “a thousand years are as one day” (2 Peter 3:8); “a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday,” &c. (Psa. 89) And our Redeemer, when addressing the Apostles, and, through them, the faithful of all succeeding ages (for, St. John, alone, among them, lived till even the time of the destruction of Jerusalem), speaks in such a way, as to leave them uncertain as to the near approach of the Day of Judgment, thus to keep them always in readiness for its approach. Hence, although “then,” were referred to the period of the general judgment, it could be explained as above; in the same way as the advocates of the other opinion are forced to explain the words, “IMMEDIATELY after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). But, in this verse, I would take “then” to refer immediately and directly to the times preceding the capture of Jerusalem, without excluding the other in a secondary and subordinate sense. “If any man shall say to you,” My faithful followers, who shall be alive then; for, the Apostles shall be dead, “Lo! here is Christ,” who is come to save and liberate His people from all their evils; “or there, do not believe Him.” The Jews were aware that the time of the Messiah was at hand, from the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jacob, regarding the passing of the sceptre from the tribe of Juda. Hence, some flattering Vespasian said, that he, as the conqueror of Judea, was the Messiah. (Suetonius in Vespas.) Others, flattered Herod in the same way. Each of the three leaders of the Jewish factions then at Jerusalem, Eleazar, son of Simon; John, son of Levi; and Simon, son of Goria, gave himself out for the Messiah. So did a certain impostor, in the reign of Adrian, who wished to be called Barchochabas. Son of the Star, as if he were the star referred to in the words, “orietur stella in Jacob.”

This shall most clearly take place in the days of Antichrist also. “Do not believe him,” that is, do not hearken to any such false rumours, so injurious to the true Messiah, whom you believe Me to be. These are words of warning, addressed to such of the faithful as might have been slow in attending to the admonitions of our Redeemer, about leaving Judea, and might have lingered at Jerusalem, or the neighbouring places, until it would be too late to betake themselves to flight.

24. He tells them not to believe such false statements, and that such statements shall be circulated, our Redeemer assures us. “For, there shall arise false Christs,” men who shall pretend to be Christ, the Saviour of their people; “and false prophets,” who shall aid these impostors, by proclaiming among the people, as their agents and instruments of seduction, that they are the true Christ. As Christ had His true prophets to prepare the people for His coming, so shall these false Christs have their false prophets too.

And shall work great signs,” &c. By the aid of magic, they shall perform great prodigies, as the seal of their mission and teaching. They shall perform these false miracles, by the aid of the demon, the father of lies, “insomuch as to deceive,” by their plausibility, “(if possible) even the elect.” By “elect,” are meant, those elected to final and eternal happiness. Although the “elect” are not impeccable, and may (as they sometimes freely do) fall away from faith and grace during life; still, considering the infallible purpose of God’s decree, predestinating them to final glory, to be attained by the free exercise of good works, and the free co-operation with His efficacious graces, it is not possible, they would continue in sin, or die in sin. God’s infallible purpose of Divine election shall so guard, guide, protect, and assist their free will by His efficacious graces, that, though they may be and are free to sin, and to persevere in sin to the end (for “not to be able to sin, is not a gift of this life, but the reward of the other,” says St. Augustine, (de corruptione et gratia, c. 11), still, they will not sin always unto the end; but, they will freely repent, if in sin, and dio in God’s grace and favour. Hence, the perseverance of the elect is necessary, not by an absolute necessity, or in sensu diviso; but, by a kind of moral necessity, in sensu composito; and, supposing the Divine decree predestinating them, necessitate, as logicians say, non consequentis; sed consequentiæ. None of God’s elect shall perish; “no one can snatch them out of His hand” (John 10:28).

The words, “to deceive (if possible) the elect,” show the magnitude of the temptation; and how it shall tell upon others. This shall be particularly true of the times of Antichrist. (2 Thess. 2:9; Apoc. 13:13, &c.)

25. “I have foretold it to you,” that is, to such of My followers as shall be then alive, in order to guard against them, and to stimulate His followers to flight, so far as the ruin of Jerusalem was in question; and by good works, to make sure their election, since, it is only on the prevision of good works is founded God’s predestinating decree; and should anyone grow remiss, on account of supposing, that he was of the elect (of which no one can be absolutely certain in this life, without a revelation), such a person would give good grounds for supposing, that he is not of the elect. Moreover, if one were certain he was elected, this should be no reason for sinning; on the contrary, he should, by obeying God’s Commandments, manifest his gratitude, and increase the treasure of merit and degree of happiness in store for him.

26. He more fully explains the words of verse 23, “here, or there.” By mentioning two places, the most opposite—the open desert, and the inmost recesses of a house—he wishes to convey, that, no matter in what place, or in what character, any such pretender should appear, he is not to be heeded. Some say, the word, “desert,” where this false Messiah was supposed to gather his forces, to free his people, has reference to Simon, the son of Goria, who, after collecting immense multitudes of every class, in deserted and mountainous places, after reducing Idumea to subjection, was admitted into Jerusalem, and tyrannically oppressed the citizens. The word, “closets,” is thought to have reference to Eleazar and John, the leaders of the Zealots, who, before the destruction of Jerusalem, successively got possession of the interior of the temple. (Josephus de Bel. Lib. vi. &c.)

27. In order to guard you against the deceitful wiles of these impostors, take this for a certain sign of My second coming, which alone the faithful can expect—since, they believe in My first coming already—it shall not be confined to any one place, or obscure locality; it shall not be, like My first coming, in humility, confined to an hidden corner of Judea, and the obscurity of night; but, like the lightning of heaven, which at once appears brilliant, effulgent, and dazzling, at the same moment, in the opposite parts of the heavens; so shall My coming be sudden, glorious, and seen from afar, visible to the entire earth, dazzling all mankind by its splendour and brilliancy, when it shall make itself known, not merely in one part of the earth, but throughout the vast expanse of the heavens, so that it shall convince the world at once, of the truth of My appearance. Whosoever, therefore, shall appear in any one place, or corner, and pretend to be the Messiah, is convicted, from this sign, of being an impostor. Perhaps, these words are also intended to correct the carnal notions, which the Apostles formed of the glorious coming of our Redeemer, whose kingdom, they imagined, would commence in Judea. Our Redeemer, on the contrary, conveys to them, that it would be heavenly, and all celestial, different altogether from what they imagined it would be.

28. The words of this verse are supposed by many to be allusive to the passage of (Job 39:30), where, treating of the eagle, God says, “wheresoever the carcass shall be, she is immediately there.” By some the words are supposed to be a Hebrew proverb, conveying, that no very great exertion or labour is needed for uniting those that are naturally united, and have a natural and irresistible tendency towards each other. He compares Himself to the carcass (the Greek for body is, πτωμα, a dead body), on account of His death, endured for our sakes, to procure glory for us, like that of His own glorified body. He compares His elect to “eagles,” because, as the eagle, this noble and royal bird, harmlessly escapes the lightning, so shall the elect escape unhurt, and stand in great constancy amidst the woes and lightnings of the last day. Moreover, as the eagles scent from an incredible distance, a dead body, and are carried aloft through space in quest of it, so, shall the elect be borne aloft in the air to meet Christ (1 Thess. 4:16), the great centre of attraction. To this St. Luke alludes (17:36).

The words of this verse would seem to be an answer to an implied complaint which might arise in the minds of His Apostles, viz., if Thy reign be thus brilliant, heavenly and passing, like the lightning, how can we enjoy it? He says, that His elect shall be permanently gathered to Him, so as to remain with Him, to enjoy Him. As the eagle, which is instinctively attracted to a carcass, floats aloft in air, crossing seas to enjoy it; so, shall they, after the resurrection from the tomb, renovated in youth like the eagle, be drawn to Him to enjoy Him, to feast with Him, and continue with Him for ever. The words, according to the Greek, ὅπου γαρ το πτωμα, &c., “for, where the body is,” &c., may be also regarded as illustrative, in a certain sense, of the preceding. They are a proverbial form of expression, showing, that a thing cannot be concealed. For, as the eagles scent their prey from afar, and make towards it; so, My glorious coming into the world shall not be hidden, but known to all. Wherefore, the faithful, like eagles of acutest sense, shall perceive My Divine presence, shall be attracted towards Me, and refreshed by My glory for ever. Hence, then, there shall be no need to inquire where is Christ; since, His coming shall be conspicuous and known to the entire world. Our Lord compares His elect to “eagles;” because, the reprobate shall not be borne aloft to meet the Judge, nor attracted to Him. They shall be reluctantly forced to appear at judgment.

St. Hilary infers from this verse, that our Redeemer will judge mankind in the place where His sacred body was raised on the cross, buried, and rose again. Thither shall all mankind proceed to be judged, near Jerusalem, in the valley of Josaphat, as the Prophet Joel teaches (Joel 3:2).

29. “Immediately after the tribulation of these days.” This refers, according to those who hold, that in the preceding verses our Redeemer is treating of the time preceding the end of the world, to the persecutions by “false Christs and false prophets,” especially Antichrist. According even to those, who hold, that in the preceding, He is treating of the incredible woes, that, from several sources, are to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, the word, “immediately,” is to be explained in the sense given already to “then,” in verse 23, that the interval between the taking of Jerusalem and the end of the world, of which there is question in this verse, however long, in a human point of view, and according to human calculations, is, according to God’s view and measure, but an instant. (2 Peter 3:8; Psa. 89). Hence, in the New Testament, the whole term of the New Law is termed, “the last hour.” St. Peter says, the end of all “is at hand” (1 Ep. 4:7). Even in human calculations it is very short for each individual, since it virtually takes place for each one at death, when his eternal doom is sealed. Moreover, by “immediately,” our Redeemer means to convey, that no other remarkable change in religion, which would concern the faithful, is to occur between the ruin of Jerusalem and the end of all things. Hence, in the early ages, many imagined the Day of Judgment to be at hand, which forced St. Paul to correct this error. (2 Thess. 2 &c.)

The sun shall be darkened,” &c. This shall occur before the coming of the Judge (Luke 21:25–27; Joel 2:21). Many understand those words, in a metaphorical and spiritual sense, to refer to the Church and her condition, to the events that shall take place in her, and the persecutions she shall endure, at the end of the world. But, by comparing St. Luke (21:25–27) with St. Matthew, it is quite clear, the words are to be understood literally, of the physical and stupendous phenomena, which shall take place both in the skies and on the earth, previous to the glorious coming of Christ to judgment. The sun shall withhold its light, as happened at the death of Christ. It shall become “black as sackcloth of hair” (Apoc. 11:12). As its first light pointed out a newly created world; so, shall its darkness indicate the final end of the same. “The signs in the sun and the moon and the stars” (Luke 21:25), are what is here referred to by St. Matthew, about the darkening of the sun, &c. “The moon shall not give her light.” She shall have none to give, on account of the darkness of the sun, from which she borrows her light; “she shall be as blood” (Apoc. 6:12).

The stars shall fall from heaven;” that is, they shall be so obscured from the sight of men, that they would seem to fall from heaven (Isaias 13:10). Besides, this may be understood literally; because comets and other stars generated in the air shall fall (Joel 2:30; Apoc. 6:13). St. Augustine (de Civit. Dei, c. 24), says: “Ignited exhalations, like to stars, shall be discharged from sky to earth, more wonderfully than happens now.”

And the powers of heaven shall be moved.” By these, are commonly understood, the heavenly bodies or stars, which are frequently termed in SS. Scripture, “militia cœli, the army or host of heaven.” (Deut. 17:3; 4 Kings 17:16; 21:3–5; Isa. 24:21, &c.; Jer. 8:2, &c.) These “shall be moved,” from their place, and shall cease to perform their usual courses and functions, of giving light, heat, &c. According to this class of interpreters, these words express, in a general way, what is expressed in a particular way, in the preceding words, “the sun shall be darkened, the moon refuse her light,” &c. The same idea is repeated in this verse, in a general way, for greater emphasis’ sake. On seeing these different signs and changes, which shall precede the coming of the Judge, men shall be seized with fear and consternation, at the prospect of the evils that are about to fall upon the world. Others, by “the moving of the powers of heaven,” understand, an extraordinary movement and agitation of the entire machine of the heavens, a shaking of their very foundations and hinges, as it were, which, by their disorderly movement, shall exhibit symptoms of an expiring world. It is the idea conveyed by Job, when he says, “the pillars of heaven tremble at His nod” (Job 26:11). These “powers” are called “the poles of the world” (Prov. 8:26). The same idea is conveyed by St. Peter (2 Peter 3:10), “the heavens shall pass away with great violence.” Estius understands, by the “moving of the powers of the heavens,” the ceasing of the heavens to exert any influence on the earth, so that on the earth, and in the condition of the seasons, we shall witness the most strange changes; we shall see the summer, cold; and the winter, hot. The signs in the heavens shall be accompanied with corresponding signs in the sea, on the earth, and in the elements—all calculated to inspire men with dread and terror. The opinion, which understands, by “powers,” the Angels, meaning the same as the words, cœli cœlorumque virtutes, is now commonly rejected as utterly improbable.

30. “And then,” immediately after the preceding signs. “The sign of the Son of man.” The most commonly received interpretation, understands this of the cross of our Redeemer, which alone could be termed, “the sign” (τὸ σημεῖον), His certain, well-known standard, whereby He achieved the victory over death and hell, and merited glory for Himself and us. Hence, the Church chaunts, in the Office of the Holy Cross, “hoc signum crucis erit in cœlo, cum Dominus ad judicandum venerit.” It was by the cross He was known, and rendered celebrated throughout the world. This standard of the cross shall be borne aloft by angels before the Judge descending to pass judgment, as a trophy of victory, as the royal ensign of power and authority. Thus shall it be shown, that by His cross, Christ merited glory and judiciary power, that those are ungrateful and inexcusable, who spurned the charity which He displayed when He submitted to be crucified for the salvation of all; now, the humble followers of the cross shall be seated with Him; and its enemies hurled to the abyss of hell. Whether the real cross, on which Christ died, shall appear, after its several parts have been collected and united by the power of God; or, merely an image or resplendent figure of it, formed in the air, is disputed. The latter opinion seems, to some, the more likely, as thus we shall avoid the useless multiplication of miracles, in the collection of the scattered particles of the wood of the true cross. Besides, the word, “sign,” favours this latter view. Some commentators hold the opinion, which, however, does not exceed the bounds of probability, as the SS. Scripture and the Church are silent upon it, that the other instruments of our Saviour’s Passion—the nails, the scourges, the thorns, &c., shall also appear with the cross on that day, shining resplendent in the heavens.

And then shall all the tribes,” that is, all the impious and infidels, who refused to receive our Lord, or obey His Commandments, and the Jews particularly, of whom it is said, “videbunt in quem transfixerunt” (John 19:37). The elect cannot be referred, to. Far from mourning, those who conformed their lives to the model of Christ suffering on the cross, shall be filled with ineffable joy and consolation. “They shall, then, stand in great constancy,” viz., the just, “who love His coming” (1 Tim. 4:8). When, then, it is said, “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn,” there is an example of what logicians term, distributio pro generibus singulorum, and not pro singulis generum. The Greek word for “mourn” (κοψονται), conveys the idea of striking their breasts. The words of this verse are allusive to Zacharias (12), as appears from Apocalypse (1:7). The passage from Zacharias, most likely, referred to the wailing of the faithful Jews over the death of Christ, to which their sins gave occasion, according to St. Jerome. Still, it is, by accommodation, applied by our Redeemer to the unavailing wailings of the infidels, on beholding Christ, whom they slew and rejected; just as the words which St. John (19:37), quotes from Zacharias (12:10), “and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced,” although originally referring to the faithful Jews, who were to regard our Redeemer in a spirit of faith, and upon whom was poured out “the spirit of grace and of prayer” (Zacharias 12:10), are, by accommodation, applied to the unbelieving Jews, who shall, on the last day, behold Him exhibiting His wounds; so, that having before refused voluntarily to believe in Him and bewail His death, they shall then be forced to look on Him involuntarily, and indulge in unavailing regrets.

And they shall see,” immediately after the preceding signs, “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” These words are allusive to Daniel (7:13), “ecce in nubibus quasi filius hominus veniebat.” After our Lord had ascended, and had been taken up by the Angels in a cloud into heaven, it was said by them, “sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis rum,” &c. (Acts 1:11.) He shall come now, a second time, clothed with human nature, not, however, retaining its mortality or infirmities; but, “in the clouds of heaven,” which shall symbolize His glory, by their brightness, and serve as a triumphal car, on which He shall appear seated. No longer shall He appear in lowliness, or poverty, or debasement, as at His first coming; but, “with much power and majesty.” The Greek is, with “much power and glory.” His power will be seen from the resuscitation of all the dead, at His sole word of command; from their suddenly assembling in one place; from His irrevocably passing sentence on all, according to their deserts; from His receiving the homage of every creature, in heaven, earth, and hell, including angels, men, and devils, who shall acknowledge Him as their Lord and Judge. His “glory,” or “majesty,” shall appear from the glorious brightness of His body; from the hosts of Angels accompanying Him, and heralding in His approach; from His appearing seated on the clouds of heaven; and from the sounds of trumpets; from the thunders, lightning, and earthquakes which shall precede His coming (Apoc. 6:15, 16).

31. “Send His Angels,” &c. Similar is the description (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:15, 16). He says, “His Angels,” to convey, that He is their Lord and Master; they, His messengers.

With a trumpet and a great voice.” Whether this shall be a real trumpet or not is disputed. The most commonly received opinion is, that it refers to a noise, louder than thunder, which, by the instrumentality of Michael and the other Angels, the Son of God shall cause to reverberate throughout creation. Its effect shall be, to rouse the dead from their long slumber, owing to the efficacious power of God. The word, “and,” means, that is, “a great voice,” the latter words being explanatory of the former. In the Greek it is, “with a trumpet of great voice.” What words shall be uttered by it, is uncertain. It is commonly supposed, that it shall distinctly announce the words, “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment,” or the words, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet Him” (26:6). Others suppose the passage to simply mean, that by the efficacious power and will of God, the dead shall rise from their tombs, and be awakened from their long sleep, as those who are asleep are roused by the noise of a loud trumpet. The former is most likely. This trumpet, which shall proclaim the descent of the Son of God to final judgment, had been prefigured in the Old Testament; in the first place, by that which proclaimed the majesty of God when promulgating His law on Mount Sinai; again, by the trumpets with which the people were wont to be summoned by the Priests to the Tabernacle of the Covenant. (Num. 10, &c.) The sound of trumpets is usually employed to usher in the approach of kings and great princes. The metaphor is borrowed from war, where a trumpet is employed to gather the soldiers, and terrify the enemy; here, it is conveyed, that the sound of trumpets shall be employed to announce the approach and majesty of the Sovereign Judge, to gather the human race, and inspire the enemies of God with terror and alarm.

And they shall gather together His elect from the four winds,” that is, from the four quarters of the earth, east, west, north, and south, the principal points from which the winds blow. The words, “from the four winds,” are a Hebrew form, denoting, all quarters of the globe. The “winds,” according to the Hebrew notions, denoted not only the cardinal points of the heavens; but, they also marked the regions, in the direction from which any of them blew.

From the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost boundaries,” &c. The Greek word for “farthest parts,” and “utmost boundaries,” is the same, ακρων; απʼ ἄκρων οὐρανων ἕως ἄκρων, &c. It denotes, from the utmost part of the earth, to the utmost part of heaven (απʼ ἄκρου γης ἕως ακρου ουρανου), as St. Mark has it (13:27). The phrase is but a fuller and more explanatory repetition of the preceding. It signifies, the extreme points of the heavens farthest asunder, such as east and west, right and left, including all the intermediate space—not so fully expressed in the preceding words—where the earth and sky would seem to meet. From all parts under heaven shall the elect be gathered; not carried by Angels, as was the Prophet Habacuc (Dan. 14:35); but, in virtue of the glorious gift of agility, they shall be, at once, transported into the air to meet the Judge. Similar are the phrases (Deut. 4:32), “From one end of heaven to the other end thereof.” Also in the Psalm (18:7), “His going out is from the end of heaven; and His circuit even unto the end thereof” that is, from the extreme cast to the extreme point of the west. The reprobate, being devoid of this gift of agility, shall be carried by Angels, like Habacue. “And He shall send His Angels, and they shall gather all scandals from His kingdom.” But, having addressed Himself to his disciples, in order to console them, He makes mention only of “the elect.” Some commentators think the words contain an allusion to the souls of the just, which shall be transferred from the highest heavens, to reanimate their resuscitated bodies, and shall proceed to the place of judgment. The former interpretation is, however, the more probable, as it accords better with the words of St. Mark, and the allusion to “the four winds.”

32. “And from the fig-tree learn a parable.” “Parable,” here means, an illustration. The fig-tree was very common in Judea; and hence, any allusion to it, or illustration borrowed from it, was quite intelligible. Whenever it put forth its leaves, it was a sign that summer was nigh. This is accounted for on physical grounds, and is known from experience. St. Luke (21:30), says, “when they now shoot forth their fruit.” But, by “fruit,” he means, the young shoots and leaves, the same as is here expressed by St. Matthew.

33. “Know that it is nigh even at the doors.” What “it” refers to, what it is that is, “at their doors,” would not be so clear were it not that St. Luke clearly expresses it. It is, their redemption, their perfect exemption from all evils and fears, when in the full enjoyment of God’s glorious and heavenly “kingdom” (Luke 21:28–31). “It” does not refer to the coming of the Son of man. For, among “all these things,” already described, “the sign of the Son of man appearing in heaven,” is mentioned. Hence, it refers to the near or immediate approach of their redemption, when, after the reprobate shall be in great terror and alarm, and shall weep, His elect may “look up and lift up their heads” (Luke 21:28), at the prospect of hearing the consoling invitation, to “come and take possession of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world,” which is to succeed these precursory signs, already described. This is the perfect redemption of the glorified sons of God, after which inanimate creation itself sighs and groans, like a mother longing to be delivered from the painful throes of childbirth (Rom. 8:19–22).

34. “Amen I say to you, that this generation shall not pass,” &c. What, “this generation,” refers to, is not easily seen. Some understand by it, with St. Jerome, the human race, and particularly, the Jewish people, whom our Redeemer frequently calls, “this generation” (Luke 17:25; Matt. 23:36). And our Redeemer’s object would be, if we limit the word to the Jewish people, to convey, that while other nations and tribes and peoples would pass away, before the Day of Judgment, without a vestige of them being left, the Jewish people would be preserved, as a testimony of their foolish expectation of their Messiah, according to the false conceptions they had regarding Him; and also, as an argument of God’s mercy, in calling them at the end of the world, to the faith, by sending one “from Sion, who would turn away iniquity from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). His object in saying it, if we understand the words of the human race, would be, to assure us, that the world would not end till all these things would happen, so certain was His assertion; and this is conveyed in words of the following verse: “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” &c. Others, with St. Chrysostom, understood, “this generation,” of the new generation of faithful believers, begotten by Christ; as if He said: that, no matter what evils would arise, what persecutions it had to encounter, the Christian religion would continue for ever to flourish on earth, until the Church militant would exchange her state for that of the Church triumphant. Others say, that it refers to the generation of men whom He was addressing; and, then, these give “all these things” a restricted meaning. As in the preceding, our Redeemer had been referring to the precursory signs and accompanying events, both of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the Day of Judgment—the former being a type and figure of the latter—these expositors confine “all these things” to the signs and events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened, before all the generation He then addressed, had passed away, that is, they happened in the lifetime of some of them. The chief objection to this interpretation is, that it restricts, without any seeming justification, the words, “all these things,” to only a part of the things referred to, viz., those relating to the destruction of Jerusalem. It might, perhaps, be said, that as the signs and events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, were types of those which shall precede, and take place on, the Day of Judgment, all shall take place on the former occasion, viz., the events relating to Jerusalem, literally; and those having reference to the Day of Judgment, typically, during the lifetime of some men, who were living at the time our Redeemer uttered those words.

Others, by generation (γενεαν) understand age, or period of time, thereby meaning, the period of time which was to elapse between Christ’s first and second coming, which is termed the last age of the world, and hence, termed by St. John, “the last hour,” and by St. Paul, “the ends of the world” (1 Cor. 10:11), being the last period of time within which any remarkable change in religion shall take place, until the end of all shall arrive. Hence, the words may mean, all these things shall happen, before the final end of this age on which we have entered shall have arrived. The coming of the Son of man shall put an end to the age on which we have entered. No other remarkable religious change shall take place until His final coming.

35. “Heaven and earth shall pass away” as to their present external form, “transit figura hujus mundi” (1 Cor. 7:31); but, not as to substance; for, they shall be transformed into a “new heaven and a new earth.” “But My words shall not pass,” without being fully accomplished. The words may also moan, sooner shall the heavens—which, “He hath established for ever, and for ages of ages” (Psa. 148:6)—and the earth, “which standeth for ever” (Eccles. 1:4); sooner shall these things, which the Scripture itself describes as eternal and immoveable, pass away, than My words be unaccomplished. This meaning is fully warranted by the words of St. Luke (16:17), “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one tittle of the law to fail.”

36. He says, “of that day and hour,” meaning, thereby, a defined fixed period—rather than, “of that year, month, or age;” because, from the foregoing premonitory signs, men could know the year or period of the year, within which it would take place, just as no one knows the precise day or hour of his death, although, from certain premonitory symptoms, it could be easily seen within what time he would die. Having given the general signs of His coming, as far as was expedient to be made known to us, our Redeemer, in order to repress any further undue curiosity, which might be inconsistent with that state of uncertainty regarding our future condition in which His providence desires us all to be kept, tells His Apostles, that no being on earth or heaven, except God, knows the precise moment or hour of His coming. Hence, His Apostles should not take it amiss, if that was not communicated to them, which was hidden from the very Angels of heaven. In St. Mark (13:32), it is said, “neither the Angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father knows of that hour or day,” the meaning of which, as regards “the Son,” is, that although Christ had the fulness of all knowledge as God; and all knowledge was communicated to Him as man, at the Incarnation; for, “all things were delivered to Him by the Father” (11:27), still, He did not know the hour nor the day of the end of all things, as Legate sent by God, so as to communicate the knowledge of it to others. Christ knew it, for whenever any essential attribute is attributed to any Person of the Trinity, creatures alone are excluded; that is to say, those alone are excluded who possess not the same nature. It is different when there is question of what are termed Notional Attributes, such as, begetting and being begotten, each peculiar to the Persons of the Trinity. But, as creation and the knowledge of it, although, as an act of Providence, by appropriation, attributed to the Father, is still common to the Blessed Trinity; so also is the destruction of the world, and the knowledge regarding it common to the Trinity. However, Christ knows it not as Legate; because, in virtue of His office, He is not to communicate it to us. Just as St. Paul, who discovered wisdom among the perfect, still, among the Corinthians, “knew only Christ, and Him crucified,” this being the only knowledge He deemed fit to communicate to them. In a similar sense, He says of the sons of Zebedee (20:23): “It is not Mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by My Father.” But that He had the full knowledge of all things, we know. For, “in Him were concealed all the treasures of knowledge, and of wisdom” (Col. 2:3). God has wisely concealed this from us, in order to keep us always prepared, while daily expecting His coming. And our Redeemer represses any undue feeling of curiosity regarding further or more precise knowledge, by telling them, that no created being, either in heaven, or on earth, can know anything more definite. Nay that He Himself did not know it as Legate, so us to communicate it to others.

37. “As it was in the days of Noe, so shall the coming of the Son of man be.” As the deluge came suddenly upon an incredulous world, wholly unprepared for it, and unconsciously and listlessly involved in the pursuit of pleasure, and their ordinary worldly business; so, shall the coming of the Son of man find worldlings indulging in good cheer, in pleasure, and engrossed in their ordinary worldly business.

St. Luke (17:28) introduces the destruction of Sodom in the days of Lot, as a further illustration.

38. “Eating and drinking.” It may be, He taxes them with excessive indulgence in these things. “Marrying and giving”—their daughters—“in marriage.” Most likely, our Redeemer does not here charge them with the crimes which provoked the fearful chastisement of the Deluge. The foregoing words are merely intended to show the supine security they enjoyed, their state of unconcern, and absorption in worldly business, and indulgence in pleasure, while on the eve of dreadful destruction.

39. “And they knew not,” that is, although Noe, the preacher of justice, had warned them of their impending danger; still, “they knew not,” they did not care to know; they culpably and incredulously closed their ears and eyes against all they saw and heard.

Till the flood came and swept them all away,” destroying every living creature under heaven, save Noe, and those that were with him in the ark.

So shall the coming of the Son of man be,” sudden and unexpected. This has reference to the wicked and unbelieving, as it is to them alone, the above allusion to the Deluge also applies. This is clearly expressed by St. Paul (1 Thess. 5), where, referring to the sudden approach of the day of the Lord, he tells us, “The day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night. For, when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them,” &c.

A question here naturally presents itself: How could men indulge in pleasures in the midst of the evils, wars, pestilences, earthquakes, &c., and the several other phenomena, such as the darkening of the sun, the roaring of the sea, &c., that shall precede the final end of all things, the consideration of which shall make men “wither away for fear?” &c. (Luke 21:26.) The reply generally given is, that after the wars of Antichrist and the other evils, which shall take place in his time, a respite and, as it were, a short period of peace and rest, shall be given to the earth, as is supposed by St. Jerome. During that period, the wicked shall proceed with their ordinary temporal occupations, and indulge in their ordinary pleasures in perfect and fancied security; and then the immediate premonitory signs, through which commences the destruction of the earth, shall suddenly come upon them. Besides, even during the persecuting reign of Antichrist, the wicked shall prosper in the ruin and destruction of the good; while the latter shall be in sorrow, the former shall rejoice. On them, the destruction of the world shall come unexpectedly. “The coming of the Son of man,” involves the precursory signs that are immediately to usher in the final destruction of all things.

40, 41. “Then, two shall be in the field,” &c. As St. Matthew refers to the coming of our Lord in the day time, he instances classes of persons placed in circumstances suited to the day time, such as labouring in the field, and grinding at the mill. And as St. Luke (17:34), refers to the event as happening in the night time; so, he instances circumstances suited to night, such as sleeping in bed, and working at the mill—the ordinary occupation of female slaves (Exod. 11:5)—at night, as well as in day time. Our Redeemer wishes to convey, that His coming shall be not only sudden and unexpected; but, that it shall make an eternal separation between the good and the bad, out of every order, whether slave or free, even from amongst those who are most intimately connected. Of these on the day of Christ’s coming, “one shall be taken,” and carried to meet the Judge in the air; “the other shall be left,” for reprobation, to be the prey of demons, and eternal fire. Others, give these words an opposite signification, to mean, “one shall be taken” by the demons for destruction and reprobation, on account of his wicked life; the other shall be spared, left unhurt, in reward for his good works and holy life. It is difficult to determine which is the true meaning. Mauduit has a short dissertation on the words of St. Luke (17:37): “Wheresoever the body shall be, thither will the eagles also be gathered together,” which he interprets in a sense quite the reverse of the common one, according to which, the words are understood as having reference to the elect (“the eagles”) gathered, or rather attracted, to meet Christ, whose glorious body shall, on that day, bear the marks of the wounds inflicted on Him for our sakes. In the dissertation referred to, Mauduit adopts the latter interpretation of the words, “left, and taken.” “Left,” safe, unhurt, according to him; “taken,” destroyed, become the prey of merciless demons, which are represented in SS. Scripture as “birds of prey,” that come down to destroy the good seed planted in the heart of man; and the eagles or vultures viewed as birds of prey, aptly represent the unclean spirits, who dwell in the air, whence they descend to wage their fiendish war with mankind.

But, at what precise time, the circumstances here referred to by our Redeemer, shall take place, is not easily seen, particularly as all men shall have been dead at the time our Redeemer will make His appearance. And, even admitting that some might survive till the very Day of Judgment, it is not easy to see how they can be unconcerned, either in the field, or in bed, or at the mill, after the fearful precursory signs that shall usher in the Day of Judgment. The most probable answer is, that our Redeemer refers to the time that shall precede the signs which immediately usher in the Day of Judgment, as if He said, the darkening of the sun, and the other horrible appearances, shall come on you unexpectedly. “On that night,” or darksome time, “two shall be in one bed: the one shall be taken,” &c. (Luke 17:34) Some commentators, with Cajetan, say, that the men of those days shall pay no heed to the signs of coming judgment, and, like the men in the days of Noe, will attend to their ordinary concerns, and not do penance. But this is not very likely, as regards Christians; and, moreover, the precursory signs shall inspire men with such terror—“men withering away for fear”—that it would be impossible for them to attend to their ordinary occupations in life. (Luke 21:26)

St. Augustine understands the words in a spiritual sense, as referring to the different classes of men. Those “in one bed” (Luke 17:34), refer to men free from all concern. Those “grinding at the mill,” to those actively engaged in worldly business. Those in the field,” to the prelates of the Church, labouring in the field of the Lord.

This entire discourse of our Redeemer has for object, to inspire His Apostles, and all His followers, with sentiments of humility and salutary fear, arising from the terrible and mysterious separation He shall make; and of vigilance, owing to the uncertainty of the time of His coming. The words of these verses convey to us, that from every position in life, from the highest to the lowest, this dreadful and mysterious selection shall be made.

In the interpretation of those commentators, who understand the foregoing of the coming of our Lord to preach the Gospel, the words are quite intelligible; at the preaching of the New Law, some will embrace it, others reject it. “One will be taken” to embrace the Gospel, others left and reprobated from the same (Pere Lallemont).

42. This is the conclusion which our Redeemer derives from the foregoing; and in it is insinuated, that His reason for leaving us in a state of uncertainty, in regard to the time of His coming, is, in order to keep us always vigilant in expectation of it. He illustrates this in the following example. St. Mark (13:33, &c.), adds, “and pray ye,” in order to show us, that our vigilance and personal exertions, of themselves, shall avail nothing; they must be sustained by God’s grace and providence. St. Luke, after warning men against the obstacles to vigilance (21:34), adds, “praying at all times” (v. 36). St. Augustine (Epist. 80) observes, that these words apply to all men, even those who shall have died before the Day of Judgment; because, the Son of God comes at death, when the Day of Judgment virtually takes place for each one. For, the condition of all, on the last day, shall depend on the state they may be found in at death, “quod in die Judicii futurum est omnibus, hoc in singulis, die mortis impletur” (St. Jerome).

Because you know not at what hour,” &c., contains an allusion to the conduct of servants, who are always on the watch for the arrival of their master, about the time of whose coming they may be uncertain. The sentence, in order to convey its meaning accurately, should be arranged as follows: “Because, therefore, you know not … watch.” Our Redeemer does not speak of bodily watching, but of mental vigilance, ever keeping the coming of the Lord in mind, and acting accordingly, which is conveyed in verse 44. “Be ready,” or prepared, on that day, by being in a state in which we would wish the Lord to find us, viz., a state of grace.

43. This illustration shows the vigilance we should employ, while expecting the coming of our Lord. In it, our Redeemer, at the same time, conveys a tacit censure on the indifference of men, in regard to the paramount concern of eternal salvation compared with their vigilant care and solicitude, when there is question of temporal and passing interests.

At what hour.” The Greek, φυλακῆ, means, watch, or, hour of the night, in allusion to the military divisions of the night, into four watches, or principal hours, for relieving guard (Luke 12:38). In this verse, our Redeemer compares the unexpected suddenness of His approach to that of a thief breaking into the house of one off his guard.

By “thief,” some understand, the devil, who always endeavours to break into our house, that is, our bodies. By his wicked inspirations, and criminal pleasures, he desires to deprive them of the costly and precious ornaments of sanctifying grace.

St. Mark (13:35), expresses this more circumstantially. “Watch ye, therefore,” for you know not when the Lord of the house cometh; at even, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning,” which may be understood, of the several stages of man’s life. In several passages of SS. Scripture, the coming of our Lord is compared to the unexpected approach of the midnight thief. (Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10, &c.)

In the Greek, instead of, “he knew,” “would watch,” “would not suffer,” it is in the past, “if he had known,” “would have watched,” “would not have suffered,” according to which reading, the example proposed refers to a householder, who, for want of due vigilance, had actually been robbed, and his house broken into, by the nightly robber, whose slothful example, therefore, we should be careful not to imitate; but, rather, be always on the watch, for fear of incurring the like misfortune, in reference to our eternal salvation.

44. “Therefore.” In order to complete the connexion of this with the preceding verse, and see the force of our Redeemer’s conclusion, the following sentence, which is implied, must be expressed: “But because no householder can know the precise time of the robber’s stealthy approach, he must, therefore, be always on the watch, if he wish to guard his house.” Therefore, as your condition of uncertainty is somewhat similar to that of the householder referred to, as regards “the coming of the Son of man,” you must be always ready, if you wish to secure the salvation of your souls, and escape the ruin symbolized by that of the householder in question.

45. “Who thinkest thou,” &c. The order of the sentence should be this: “What servant, whom his lord hath set over his family, to give them meat, in due season, is faithful and wise?” This question was asked, on the occasion of St. Peter questioning our Redeemer (Luke 12:40), if the foregoing parable, regarding vigilance, was intended for the Apostles, as well as for the rest of the faithful. For, it would seem, the Apostles fancied they had privileges and exemptions, which would not permit certain things, addressed to the multitude, to apply to them.

Our Redeemer’s reply, which is put in an interrogative form, for greater emphasis’ sake, corrects this error and conveys, that, as regards the Apostles, and all placed in charge of others, they have need of greater vigilance still, than others, and of greater prudence and fidelity, in the interests of their master; this interrogative form, as St. Chrysostom remarks, conveys, that such faithful servants are very rarely met with. Those placed in charge of others, should bear in mind, that they are “servants” of another, and not themselves masters. “Faithful,” so as not to deceive; “prudent,” so as not to be deceived. “Faithful,” in seeking the interests of their master, and the good of their fellow-servants, not their own; “prudent,” in employing the most efficacious means for this end. “Faithful,” in not refusing their fellow-servants their due measure of food; “prudent,” in distributing it properly, according to each one’s wants and requirements. “Faithful,” in not converting to their own use, what belongs to their fellow-servants; “prudent,” in disposing of these means in due time.

Both qualities are absolutely required in those placed in authority, especially in those charged with the spiritual care of souls. Without “prudence,” “fidelity” may prove injurious; and without “fidelity,” “prudence” would degenerate into cunning selfishness. Hence, they should unite the cunning of the serpent with the simplicity of the dove. This applies, as St. Chrysostom remarks, to temporal rulers also. It applies to the rich of this world, no less than to the doctors and pastors of the Church. To both is confided the stewardship of treasures of different kinds, which they should dispense with fidelity and prudence. And, as if to remind them, that they are mere stewards (Luke 12:42), our Lord calls the servant in question, “a steward.”

Meat in season,” which is expressed by St. Luke (12:42), “measure of wheat in due season,” is allusive to the custom among masters, of appointing a head slave, or steward, to give out monthly rations, the allotted portions of food, to their fellow-slaves.

In the foregoing, our Redeemer refers, not to the prudence of the flesh, which is death; but, to the prudence of the Spirit, which is life (Rom. 8:6).

46, 47. He pronounces, “Blessed,” that servant whom, at His coming, He shall find persevering in the faithful and prudent discharge of the stewardship confided to him. He is “blessed,” because, his master will not only place him over his fellow-servants, but, “over all his goods,” as if to share with him His own supreme power, dominion, and happiness, and make him a partner and associate, as Pharaoh did in regard to the faithful Joseph. These latter words convey the idea, of the sovereign felicity and happiness of the saints, and their never-ending remuneration in glory. They point out the more abundant honour and glory, which Christ will bestow on His faithful ministers, beyond the rest of the elect, when returning to judge the world, He shall make them His assessors, in judging the rest of mankind.

48. Having pointed out the office and rewards of the good steward, our Redeemer proceeds to describe the vices and punishment of the faithless and wicked servant. He particularizes two leading vices, viz., the oppression of his fellow-servants, given in charge to him; and the abuse of his master’s goods, in extravagance and in the indulgence of illicit pleasures. Against these vices, St. Peter cautions the prelates of the Church (1 Pet. 5:2).

If that evil servant,” that is, that servant whom his master shall have placed over his fellow-servants, forgetful of his duty, having become “evil” and wicked.

Shall say in his heart,” that is, shall think within himself, “My lord is long a coming,” that is, has deferred his coming.

49. “And shall begin to strike his fellow-servants,” for whom, as servants of the same household and occupation, having the same relation to their common master, he should entertain feelings of humanity.

And shall eat and drink,” &c., that is, squander in luxurious living, in society, where he should but seldom appear, the goods which should be expended in works of mercy to the poor, vying with the worldly rich in pomp and worldly show. This is very applicable to worldly-minded ministers of religion.

50. At a day and hour, when he may not expect it, shall come the master of that wicked servant, who forgot that he had a master to whom he was, one day, to be accountable, whose goods he dissipated, whose servants he maltreated, acting more as a cruel, oppressive master himself, than as a kind, humane fellow-servant.

51. “Shall separate him.” The Greek word, διχοτομήσει—literally, shall cut in two—may either mean, that He will have him literally slain, and cut in two, the just punishment of faithless slaves; or, have him separated from the rest of his household, and confined to prison, with other wicked servants.

And appoint his portion with the hypocrites”—(St. Luke 12:46, “with unbelievers”)—may either refer to unfaithful servants; and this is expressed here by “hypocrites,” these faithless slaves, who serve to the eye of their master, and pretend fidelity in his presence, but, loiter and misspend their time in his absence. This is the meaning of the word, if we adhere to the parable throughout. Or, the words, “unbeliever” and “hypocrite,” may express, those whom the wicked servant represents, viz., the unbeliever, who is condemned to hell for unbelief; and the wicked Christian, who is condemned for his hypocrisy and wicked life. It is not unusual for our Redeemer, at the close of a parable, to use expressions which are only applicable to the subject which the parable is introduced to illustrate, just as the punishment of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” is that of the persons whom the wicked servant only figuratively represents.








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