As yet we have found no break in the continuity of the discourse, - not the faintest indication that any transition has taken place to any other subject or any other period. The narrative is perfectly homogeneous and consecutive, and flows on without diverging to the right hand or to the left.
The same is equally true with respect to the section now before us. The very first word is indicative of continuity Then [To,te] rid every succeeding word is plainly addressed to the disciples themselves, for their personal warning and guidance. It is clear that our Lord gives them intimation of what would shortly come to pass, or at least what they might live to witness with their own eyes. It is a vivid representation of what actually occurred in the last days of the Jewish commonwealth. The unhappy Jews, and especially the people of Jerusalem, were buoyed up with false hopes by the specious impostors who infested the land and brought ruin upon their miserable dupes. Such was the infatuation produced by the boasting pretensions of these impostors, that, as we learn from Josephus, when the temple was actually in flames a vast multitude of the deluded people fell victims to their credulity. The Jewish historian states:
' Of so great a multitude, not one escaped. Their destruction Was caused by a false prophet, who hall on that day proclaimed to those remaining in the city, that "God commanded them to go up to the temple, there to receive the signs of their deliverance." There were at this time many prophets suborned by the tyrants to delude the people, by bidding them wait for help from God, in order that there might be less desertion, and that those who were above fear and control might be encouraged by hope. Under calamities man readily yields to persuasion but when the deceiver pictures to him deliverance from pressing evils, then the sufferer is wholly influenced by hope. Thus it was that the impostors and pretended messengers of heaven at that time beguiled the wretched people., (6)
Our Lord forewarns His disciples that His coming to that judgment- scene would be conspicuous and sudden as the lightning-flash, which reveals itself and seems to be everywhere at the, same moment. 'For,' He adds, ' wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together; that is, wherever the guilty and devoted children of Israel were found, there the destroying ministers of wrath, the Roman legions, -would overwhelm them.
(d) The arrival of the 'end,' or the catastrophe of Jerusalem.
MATT. xxiv. 29 31.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mark xiii. 24-27
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Luke x xi. 25-28.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
Here also the phraseology absolutely forbids the idea of any transition from the. subject in hand to another. There is nothing to indicate that the scene has shifted, or a new topic been introduced. The section before, us connects itself most distinctly with the ' great tribulation' spoken of in ver. 21 of Matt. xxiv., and it is inadmissible to suppose any interval of time in the face of the adverb ' immediately ' But the scene of the 'great tribulation' is undeniably Jerusalem and Judea (ver. 15, 16), so that no break in the subject of the discourse is allowable. Again, in ver. 30, we read that 'all the tribes of the land shall mourn,' referring evidently to the population of the land of Judea; and nothing can be more forced and unnatural than to make it include, as Lange does, 'all the races and peoples' of the globe. The restricted sense of the word (gh) [=land] in the New Testament is common ; and when connected, as it is here, with the word 'tribes', its limitation to the land of Israel is obvious. This is the view adopted by Dr. Campbell and Moses Stuart, and it is indeed self- evident. We find a similar expression in Zech. xii. 12--'All the families [tribes] of the land,'- where its restricted sense is obvious and undisputed. The two passages are in fact exactly parallel, and nothing could be more misleading than to understand the phrase as including 'all the races of the earth.' The structure of the discourse, then, inflexibly resists the supposition of a change of subject. Time, place, circumstances, all continue the same. It is therefore with unfeigned wonder that we find Dean Alford commenting in the following fashion : ' All the difficulty which this word [immediately - e.uqe,wj) has been supposed to involve has arisen from confounding, the fulfillment of the prophecy with it's ultimate one. The important insertion ver. 23,24, in Luke xxi.. shows us that be " tribulation " [qliyij] includes o.rgh. e,n tw/ law tou,tw (wrath upon this people), which is yet being inflicted, and the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, still going on; and immediately after that tribulation, which shall happen when the cup of Gentile iniquity is full, and when this gospel shall have hem preached it all the world for a witness, and rejected by the Gentiles, shall the coming of the, Lord Himself happen. . . . (The expression in Mark is equally indicative of a considerable interval -- in those days after that tribulation.) The fact of His coming and its attendant circumstances being known to Him, but the exact time unknown, He speaks without regard to the interval, which would be, employed in His waiting till all things are put under His feet,' etc. (7)
It may be said that in this comment there are almost as many errors as words. Indeed, it is not the explanation of a prophecy so much as an independent prophecy of the commentator himself. First, there is the groundless hypothesis of it double sense, it partial and an ultimate fulfilment, for which there is no foundation in the text, but which is a mere arbitrary and gratuitous supposition. Next, we have it 'tribulation,' not 'shortened,' as the Lord declares, but protracted so as be 'still going on' in the present day. Then the word 'immediately ' is made to refer to a period not yet come, so that between ver. 28 and ver. 29, where the unassisted eye can perceive no trace of any line of transition, the critic intercalates an immense period of more than eighteen centuries, with the possibility of an indefinite duration in addition. Still further we have an implied contradiction of St. Paul's statement that the gospel was preached 'in all the world' (Col. i. v. 23), and the assumption that the gospel is to be rejected by the Gentiles. Then the commentator finds that St. Mark suggests a 'considerable interval,' whereas he expressly says In those very days after that tribulation' [en ekeinaij taij hmeraij meta thn qliyin ekeinhn] -precluding the possibility of any interval at all, and lastly we have what appears like an apology for the veracity of the prediction, on the ground that our Lord, not, knowing the exact time when His coming would take place, ' speaks without regard to the, interval,' etc.
It is obvious, that if this is the way in which Scripture is to be interpreted, the ordinary laws of exegesis must be thrown aside as useless. He is the best interpreter who is the boldest guesser. Is there any ancient book which a grammarian would treat after this fashion? Would it not be pronounced intolerable and uncritical if such liberties were taken with Homer or Plato ? Would it not have been a mockery to propound such riddles to the disciples as an answer to their question, 'When shall these things be ?
How could they know of partial and ultimate fulfilments, and double senses? and what effect could be produced in their minds, but titter perplexity and bewilderment? We cannot help protesting against such treatment of the words of Scripture, as not only unscholarly and uncritical, but in the highest degree presumptuous and irreverent.
But, it is answered, the character of our Lord's language in this passage necessitates. As application to a grand and awful catastrophe which is still future, and can be properly understood of nothing less than the total dissolution of the fabric of the universe, and the mid of all things. How can any one pretend it is said, that the sun has been darkened, that the moon has withdrawn her light, that the stars have fallen from heaven, that the Son of man has been seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ? Did such phenomena occur at the destruction of Jerusalem, or can they apply to anything else than the Enid consummation of all things?
To argue in this strain is to lose sight of the very nature and genius of prophecy. Symbol and metaphor belong to the grammar of prophecy, as every reader of the Old Testament prophets must know. Is it not reasonable that the doom of Jerusalem should be depicted in language as glowing and rhetorical as the destruction of Babylon, or Bozrah, or Tyre? How then does the prophet Isaiah de scribe the downfall of Babylon ?
'Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel tooth with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate : and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of a. For Me skin of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not their light : the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, awl /he moon shall not cause her light to shine. . . . I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place' (Isa. xiii. 9. 10, 13).
It will at once be seen that the imagery employed in this passage is almost identical with that of our Lord. If these symbols therefore were proper to represent the fall of Babylon why should they be improper to set forth a still greater catastrophe -- the destruction of Jerusalem ?
Take another example. The prophet Isaiah announces the desolation of Bozrah, the capital of Edom, in the following language :
' The mountains shall be melted with the blood of the slain. . . . All the host of heaven shall be dissolved and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll : and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from my vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold it - shall come down upon Idumea,' etc. (Isa. xxxiv. 4, 5.)
Here again we have the very imagery used by our Lord in His prophetic discourse ; And if the fate of Bozrah might properly be described in language so lofty, why should it be thought extravagant to employ similar terms in describing the fate of Jerusalem ?
Again, the prophet Micah speaks of a 'coming of the Lord ' to judge and punish Samaria and Jerusalem -- a coming to judgment which had unquestionably taken place long before our Saviour's time, -- and in what magnificent diction does he represent this scene !
'Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high Oar, of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be as wax before the fire, and as Me waters that arc poured down a steep place' (Micah i. 3, 4).
It would be easy to multiply examples of this characteristic quality of prophetic diction. Prophecy is of the nature of poetry, and depicts events, not in the prosaic style of the historian, but in the glowing imagery of the poet. Add to this that the Bible does not speak with the cold logical correctness of the Western peoples, but with the tropical fervour of the, gorgeous East. Yet it would be improper to call such language extravagant or overcharged. The moral grandeur of the events which such symbols represent may be most fitly set forth by convulsion; and cataclysms in the natural world. Nor is it necessary to construct a grammar of symbolology and End an analogue for every sacred hieroglyphic, by which to translate each particular metaphor into its proper equivalent, for this would be to turn prophecy into allegory. The following observations on the figurative language of Scripture are judicious. What is grand in nature is used to express what is dignified and important among men, ---the heavenly bodies, mountains, stately trees, kingdoms or those in authority. . . . Political changes are represented by earthquakes, tempests, eclipses, the turning of waters and seas into blood.' (8)
The conclusion then to which we are irresistibly led, is, that the imagery employed by our lord in His prophetic discourse is not inappropriate to the dissolution of the Jewish state and polity which took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. It is appropriate, both as it is in keeping with the acknowledged style of the ancient prophets, and also because the moral grandeur of the event is such as to justify the use of such language in this particular case.
But we may go further than this, and affirm that it is not only appropriate as applied to the destruction of Jerusalem, but that this is its true and exclusive application. We find no vestige of an intimation that our Lord had any ulterior and occult signification in view. But we do find that there is scarcely a feature in this sublime and awful description which He Himself had not already anticipated, and fixed in its application to a particular event and a particular time. Let the reader carefully compare the description in the passage before us, of 'the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory' (Matt. xxiv. 30) (9), with our Lord's declaration (Matt. xvi. 27)- 'For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels,'- an event which He expressly affirms would be witnessed by some of His disciples then living. Again, the sending forth of His angels to gather together His elect, corresponds exactly with the representation of what would take place in the 'harvest,' at the end of the won, as described in the parables of the tares and the dragnet (Matt. xii. 41-50)- 'The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.' 'So shall it be at the end of the age [won]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire.' Here the prophecy and the parable represent the self- same scene, the self-same period : they alike speak of the close of the won or age, not of the end of the world, or material universe ; and they alike speak of that great judicial epoch as at hand. How plainly does St. Luke, in his record of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, represent the great catastrophe as falling within the lifetime of the disciples : 'And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads ; for your redemption draweth nigh' (Luke xxi. 28). Were not these words spoken to the disciples, who listened to the discourse ? Did they not apply to them ? Is there anywhere even a suspicion that they were meant for another audience, thousands of years distant, and not for the eager group who drank in the words of Jesus ? Surely such a hypothesis carries its own refutation in its very front.
But, its if to preclude even the possibility of misconception or mistake, our Lord in the next paragraph draws around His prophecy a line so plain and palpable, shutting it wholly within a limit so definite and distinct, that it ought to be decisive of the whole question.
(e) The Parousia to take place before the passing away of the existing generation.
MATT. xxiv. 32-31.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
MARK xiii. 28-30.
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.
Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.
LUKE xxi. 29-32.
And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.