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III. And what, the sign when all these shall be concluded, or, of the conclusion of the world ?"
For so may the three branches of the enquiry be completed from the joint accounts of the three evangelists; Luke supplying the sign of the first ; and Mark the sign of the last; both omitted by Matthew. See the foregoing note.
That this is a correct interpretation of the whole enquiry, in. volving three distinct questions, may be inferred from our Lord's oracular response, containing three distinct answers to each; as given most fully and collectively, by Matthew, in the xxiv, and xxv. chapters, which ought not to have been separated : Luke and Mark chiefly noticing and explaining his answer to the first question, as of most importance to that generation ; more slightly mentioning his answer to the second ; and omitting his answer to the last; which they only notice incidentally elsewhere.
We shall, therefore, proceed to state the substance of these answers in order.
1. SIGNS OF THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM.
1 Sign. Many pretenders to be Christ, impostors, false Christs, or Antichrists, saying, that the season of redemption is at hand; who shall deceive many, Matt. xxiv. 5, Mark xiii. 6, Luke xxi. 8.
2. Wars, rumours of wars, and unsettlements, but the end of Jerusalem not yet, Matt. xxiv. 6, 7, Mark xiii. 7, 8, Luke xxi.
3. Great famines, pestilences and earthquakes in divers places; fearful and great signs from heaven, first to happen. All these the beginning of woes, Matt. xxiv. 7, 8, Mark xiii. 8, 9, Luke xxi. 11, 12.
4. Tribulation and persecution of the disciples, by Synagogues, Governors and Kings; trials, scourgings and executions, for CHRIST's sake. Promise of divine support, of utterance and wisdom to confute their adversaries.
5. Apostacy of many disciples ; parents, children, relations and friends, hating, betraying, and informing against each other to death, Matt. xxiv. 10, Mark xiii. 12, Luke xxi. 16.
6. The disciples, hated by all for CHRIST's sake. (But a hair of their heads should not perish,) Matt. xxiv. 9, Mark xiii. 13, Luke xxi. 17, 18.
7. Many false prophets who should deceive many, Matt. xxiv. 11.
8. Prevalence of iniquity and lukewarmness of the many in the Christian Religion, Matt. xxiv. 12. (But the patient endurer to the end should be saved,) Matt. xxiv. 13, Mark xiii. 13, Luke xxi. 19, Heb. x. 36.
9. THE GOSPEL to be preached to all the Gentiles throughout the world; and then, the end of Jerusalem, Matt. xxiv. 14; compare x. 23, Mark xiii. 10; comp. Rom. x. 18, Col. i. 22, 23.
10. The sign of Daniel the prophet to be fulfilled, in the abomination of desolation, seen standing in the Holy place; or the desolation of Jerusalem nigh, when they should see the city surrounded by Roman encampments, Matt. xxiv. 15, Mark xiii. 14, Luke xxi. 20. (Their speedy flight from Jerusalem and Judea to the mountains, recommended to the disciples; and not to enter into the city from the country, during these days of rengeance,) Matt. xxiv. 16-20, Mark xiii. 15–18, Luke xxi. 21, 22.
11. Great and unprecedented tribulation in the land of Judea, and wrath upon the people of the Jews, who should be slain with the sword, and led captive to all nations. And Jerusalem to be trampled by the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled [in turn,] (Dan. viii. 13,) Matt. xxiv. 21, Mark xii. 19, Like xxi. 23, 24. (But these days [of war) to be shortened by THE LORD, for the Elect's sake,) Matt. xxiv. 22, Mark xiii. 20.
12. False Christs and false prophets, proposing signs and wonders; saying, that Christ is come [to restore again the kingdom to Israel, Luke xvii. 20, xix. 11, Acts i. 6,] and is here, or is there; [hiding] in the desert, or in the secret chambers. (The disciples forewarned not to believe nor follow them, neither to seek Him at that premature season,) Matt. xxiv. 23 -26, Mark xiii. 21-23, Luke xxi. 23.
Most remarkably and exactly were all these signs or prognostics fulfilled, before, and during the Jewish war, till the desolation of Judea by Adrian.
1, 7, 12. These three signs began, proceeded, and ended with false Christs and false Prophets; of which there were many, during that disastrous period, (1 John iv. 1,) as we learn from Josephus.
Theudas, an impostor, persuaded a great multitude to follow him to the river Jordan, promising to divide the river, and give them an easy passage across it; but Fadus, the Roman governor, sent a troop of horse against them, who slew many, dispersed the rest, and beheaded Theudas, about A.D. 48, Joseph. Ant. xx. 4, 1.
Several impostors and deceivers persuaded the people to follow them into the desert, where they proposed to shew them manifest signs and wonders, but Felix, the Roman governor, punished, and brought them back, about A.D. 57, Ant. xx. 7,6.
Soon after, about A.D. 58, an Egyptian false Prophet, led 4000 of the Sicarii, or “ Assassins” into the desert, and from thence to Mount Olivet, promising, that they should see the walls of Jerusalem fall down at his command, and that they should then destroy the Roman garrison, and recover their liberty. But the citizens joined Felix, who slew 400 of them, and took 200 prisoners; the Egyptian himself escaped, and was seen no more, Acts xxi. 38, Antiq. xx. 7, 6, Bell. Jud. ï. 13, 5. For these public services, Felix was complimented by the orator Tertullus, Acts xxiv. 3.
Festus, his successor, sent, soon after, an armed force against a deceiver, who had led several persons into the desert, promising them deliverance; and destroyed the deceiver and his adherents, Ant. xx. 7, 10.
During the burning of the temple itself, A.D. 70, a false Prophet seduced about 6000 persons to go up on the portico of the outer temple, promising, that God would send them signs of deliverance; but the Roman soldiers, in their fury, set fire to the portico, and destroyed them all. And Josephus further remarks, that many false Prophets, during the siege, were suborned by the seditious tyrants, to promise the people assistance from God, in order to prevent them from deserting; in which they were but too successful; for as he judiciously remarks,“ When the deceiver promises relief from pressing calamities, then the sufferer becomes full of hope," Bell. Jud. vi. 5, 2.
The last and most mischievous of these false Christs or impostors, was the noted Barchochab, “Son of the Star," a title which he assumed, as fulfilling Balaam's famous prophecy, Numb. xxiv. 17; and was patronized by the celebrated Rabbi Akiba. His bloody rebellion, in which he and his abettors were destroyed by Adrian, brought about the desolation of Judea, and total expulsion of the Jews, A.D. 135.
2. The second sign was, wars and rumours of wars, and unsettlements. Accordingly, a war broke out about A.D. 36, between Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, and Aretas, king of Arabia Petrea, in which Herod's army was destroyed, Ant. xviii. 6, 1. This was in their neighbourhood. The great Roman and Parthian empires and their dependencies, were engaged in constant wars with each other during this turbulent period. See Usher's Annals, A. D. 51. In Nero's reign there was a rumour that the Parthians intended to invade Syria and Palestine, and the presidents and tetrarchs of both were ordered to obey the Roman general Corbulo, Sueton. Nero, 39. And most remarkable were the unsettlements of those two great empires; no less than four Roman emperors, Nero, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius being slain in the course of eighteen months.
3. The third sign was no less exactly fulfilled. A remarkable famine, foretold by the prophet Agabus, prevailed throughout Judea, in the reign of Claudius Cesar, A.D. 44, Acts xi. 28; and it lasted till the administration of Tiberius Alexander, the successor of Fadus, about A.D. 50, Joseph. Ant. xx. 4, 2.
A remarkable pestilence was noticed by Tacitus at Rome, in the autumn of A.D. 65, after the martyrdom of Paul and Peter, which swept away 30,000 persons, according to Suetonius, Nero, 39.
There were also great earthquakes in divers places. Tacitus speaks of an earthquake at Rome, and another at Apamea in Syria, A.D. 51; another, which threw down Laodicea, and shook Colosse and Hierapolis, in Asia Minor, A.D. 60; another, which overthrew Pompeii and Herculaneum, in Campania, accompanied with a tremendous eruption of lava and ashes from Mount Vesuvius, A.D. 62, Annal. xii. 43, 58, xiv. 27, xv. 22.
Some extraordinary signs in the heavens, and other portents are noticed by Josephus and Tacitus *, as immediately preceding the war: 1. A star resembling a sword, or a comet, ap
Evenerant prodigia, quæ neque hostiis neque votis piare fas habet gens superstitioni obnoxia, religionibus adversa. Viæ per cælum concurrere acies, rutilantia arma, et subito nubium igne collucere templum. Eapassæ repente delubri fores, et audita major humana vox, “excedere Deos :" simul ingens motus excedentium. Quæ pauci in metum trahebant, &c. Hist. v. 13.
peared over the city for a year together. 2. At the feast of the passover, April 8, A.D. 65, at the ninth hour of the night, or three hours after midnight, so great a light shone round the altar and the temple, that it seemed to be clear day; and this continued for half an hour. 3. A few days after that festival, on May 21, before sunset, chariots and troops in armour were seen carried upon the clouds, and surrounding cities; which, says he, almost exceeds belief, and might seem fabulous, had it not been related by the eye-witnesses. This could not have been an aurora borealis, as some have imagined, because it was seen in the day time. 4. At the ensuing feast of Pentecost, as the priests, during their watch, were going by night into the inner court of the temple, they first felt, as they said, a shaking, accompanied with a noise, and after that, a voice of a multitude, saying, Let us pass over from hence, (uetasawwuev EVTEVOɛv.) “Some of these prodigies,” says Josephus,“ the people interpreted as they liked, others they set at nought, until they were convicted of infatuation, both by the capture of their country, and by the destruction of themselves,” Bell. Jud. VI. 5, 3, 4. What a critical commentary does Josephus furnish upon our LORD's prophecies, though he does not name them! iv. 5, vi. 8. These several signs were also fulfilled with equal exactness, as shewn in the foregoing history.
9. The ninth sign, the preaching of the Gospel throughout the known world, before the catastrophe of Jerusalem, is noticed by Paul, Col. i. 23, Romans x. 18, and shewn in the foregoing history.
II. SIGNS OF CHRIST'S PRESENCE AT THE
These naturally follow the false signs proposed by the false prophets, saying, that CHRIST was actually come, and hiding in the desert, or in the secret chambers.
1. The true presence of CHRIST in glory, as Daniel's son OF MAN, in his day of revelation, is to be sudden, and universally conspicuous; like lightning shining from the east to the west, from one end of heaven to the other, Matt. xxiv. 27, Luke xvii. 24.
2. Before he is to be revealed, there is to be an immense and