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THIS Course of Lectures for the present year will begin with the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew; which contains one of the clearest and most important prophecies that is to be found in the sacred writings.
The prophecy is that which our blessed Lord delivered respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, to which, I apprehend, the whole of the chapter, in its primary acceptation, relates. At the same time it must be admitted, that the forms of expression, and the images made use of, are for the most part applicable also to the day of judgment; and that an allusion to that great event, as a kind of secondary object, runs through almost every part of the prophecy. This is a very common practice in the prophetic writings, where two subjects are frequently carried on together, a principal and a subordinate one. In Isaiah there are no less than three subjects, the restoration of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, the call of the Gentiles to the Christian covenant, and the redemption of mankind by the Messiah, which are frequently adumbrated under the same figures and images, and are so blended and interwoven together, that it is extremely difficult to separate them from each other". In the same manner our Saviour, in the chapter before us, seems to hold out the destruction of Jerusalem, which is his principal subject, as a type of the dissolution of the world, which is the under-part of the representation. By thus judiciously mingling together these two important catastrophes, he gives at the same time (as he does in many other instances) a most interesting admonition
* Bishop Lowth, on Isaiah lii, 13.
to his immediate hearers the Jews, and a most awful lesson to all his future disciples; and the benefit of his predictions, instead of being confined to one occasion, or to one people, is by this admirable management extended to every subsequent period of time, and to the whole Christian world.
After this general remark, which is a sort of key to the whole prophecy, and will afford an easy solution to several difficulties that occur in it, I shall proceed to consider distinctly the most material parts of it.
We are told, in the first verse of this chapter, that "on our Saviour's departing from the temple, his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of it;" that is, to draw his attention to the magnitude, the splendour, the apparent solidity and stability of that magnificent structure. It is observable, that they advert particularly to the stones of which it was composed. In St. Mark their expression is, "See what manner of stones, and what buildings are here!" and in St. Luke they speak of the "goodly stones and gifts," with which it was adorned. This seems, at the first view, a circumstance of little importance; but it shows in a very strong light with what perfect fidelity and minute accuracy every thing is described in the sacred writings. For it appears from the historian Josephus, that there was scarce any thing more remarkable in this celebrated temple than the stupendous size of the stones with which it was constructed. Those employed in the foundations were forty cubits, that is, above sixty feet in length; and the superstructure, as the same historian observes, was worthy of such foundations, for there were stones in it of the whitest marble, upwards of sixty-seven feet long, more than seven feet high, and nine broad*.
It was, therefore, not without reason that the disciples particularly noticed the uncommon magnitude of the stones of this superb temple, from which, and from the general solidity and strength of the building, they probably flattered themselves, and meant to insinuate to their Divine Master, that this unrivalled edifice was built for eternity, was formed to stand the shock of ages, and to resist the utmost efforts of human power to destroy it. How astonished, then, and dismayed must they have been at our Saviour's answer to these triumphant ob
* Josephus de Bello Jud. lib. x, cap. v.
servations of theirs? Jesus said unto them. "See ye not all those things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down." This is a proverbial expression, used on other occasions to denote entire destruction; and, therefore, had the temple been reduced to ruins in the usual way, the prophecy would have been fully accomplished. But it so happened, that this prediction was almost literally fulfilled, and that in reality scarce one stone was left upon another. For when the Romans had taken Jerusalem, Titus ordered his soldiers to dig up the foundations both of the city and the temple*. The Jewish writers also themselves acknowledge, that Terentius Rufus, who was left to command the army, did with a ploughshare tear up the foundations of the templet; and thereby fulfilled that prophecy of Micah +, "Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field.” And, in confirmation of this remarkable circumstance, Eusebius also assures us, that the temple was ploughed up by the Romans; and that he himself saw it lying in ruins §. The evangelist next informs us, that as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, which was exactly opposite to the hill on which the temple was built, and commanded a very fine view of it from the east, his disciples came unto him privately, saying, "Tell us when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" The expressions here made use of, the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world, at the first view naturally lead our thoughts to the coming of Christ at the day of judgment, and the final dissolution of this earthly globe. But a due attention to the parallel passages in St. Mark and St. Luke, and a critical examination into the real import of those two phrases in various parts of Scripture, will soon convince a careful inquirer, that by the coming of Christ is here meant, not his coming to judge the world at the last day, but his coming to execute judgment upon Jerusalem; and that by the end of the world is to be understood, not the final consummation of all things here below, but the end of that age, the end of the Jewish
*Josephus de Bello Jud. lib. vii, cap. i, p. 170, B.
+ Chap. iii, 12.
Matt. xxiv, 4, 5; xvi, 28;
+ See Whitby, in loc.
Euseb. Dem. Evang. lib. vi, 13. See Mark xiii, 4; Luke xxi, 7; John xxi, 22.
state and polity, the subversion of their city, temple, and government*.
The real questions, therefore, here put to our Lord by the disciples were these two:
First, At what time the destruction of Jerusalem was to take place; "Tell us when shall these things be?" Secondly, What the signs were that were to precede it; "What shall be the sign of thy coming?"
Our Lord in his answer begins first with the signs, of which he treats from the fourth to the thirty-first verse inclusive.
The first of these signs is specified in the fifth verse, Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
This part of the prophecy began soon to be fulfilled; for we learn from the ancient writers, and particularly from Josephus, that, not long after our Lord's ascension, several impostors appeared, some pretending to be the Messiah, and others to foretel future events. The first were those whom our Lord here says, should come in his name, and were therefore false Christs. The others are alluded to in the eleventh verse, under the name of false prophets: "Many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many." Of the first sort were, as Origen informs ust, one Dositheus, who said that he was the Christ foretold by Moses; and Simon Magus, who said he appeared among the Jews as the Son of God; besides several others alluded to by Josephus.
The same historian tells us, that there were many false prophets, particularly an Egyptian, who collected together above thirty thousand Jews, whom he had deceived; and Theudas, a magician, who said he was a prophet, and deceived many; and a multitude of others, who deluded the people, even to the last, with a promise of help from God. And in the reign of Nero, when Felix was procurator of Judæa, such a number of these im
* The word awv (here translated the world) frequently means nothing more than an age, a certain definite period of time. See Matt. xxiv, 6-14; Mark xii, 7; Luke xxi, 9, compared with verse 20; Hebrews ix, 26.
+ Origen adv. Cels. lib. i et vi.
+ De Bell. Jud. lib. i, p. 705.
§ Jos. Antiq. lib. xx, cap. vi, et cap. iv, sect.i, ed. Huds.
postors made their appearance, that many of them were seized and put to death every day*.
The next signs pointed out by our Lord are these that follow: "Ye shall hear of wars, and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet: for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places: all these are the beginning of
That there were in reality great disturbances and commotions in those times, that there were not only rumours of wars, but wars actually existing, and continued dissensions, insurrections, and massacres among the Jews, and other nations who dwelt in the same cities with them, is so fully attested by all the historians of that period, but more particularly by Josephus, that to produce all the dreadful events of that kind, which he enumerates, would be to transcribe a great part of his history. It is equally certain, from the testimony of the same author, as well as from Eusebius, and several profane historians, that there were famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. It is added in the parallel place by St. Luket, "that fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven." And accordingly Josephus, in the preface of his history of the Jewish war, and in the history itself, enumerates a great variety of astonishing signs and prodigies, which he says preceded the calamities that impended over the Jews, and which he expressly affirms, in perfect conformity to our Saviour's prediction, were signs manifestly intended to forebode their approaching destructiont. And these accounts are confirmed by the Roman historian Tacitus, who says, that many prodigies happened at that time; armies appeared to be engaging in the sky, arms were seen glittering in the air, the temple was illuminated with flames issuing from the clouds, the doors of the temple suddenly burst open, and a voice more than human was heard," that the gods were departing ;" and soon after a great motion, as if they were departing §.
Jos. Antiq. lib. xx, cap. vii, sect. v, p. 892. + Luke xxi, 11. Jos. Promm. sect. xi, p. 957; De Bell. Jud. lib. vi, cap. v, sect. iii, p. 1281-2; et lib. vii, cap.xxx.
Tacitus, lib. v, p. 25, ed. Lips.