From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 15 to 28                           Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 2:  Chapters 23 to 24)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

 

 

Condemnation Was Due the Pharisees for Often Binding Interpretations of Scriptural Obligations Which They Would Not Fulfill Themselves--Not to Mention Being Full of Arrogance As Well (Matthew 23:1-12):  1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat.  Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.

“They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long.  They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ 

‘But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.  And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.  11 The greatest among you will be your servant.  12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            23:1     Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples.  The reference to the presence of His disciples tells us not only the fact that they are present but conveys that they too have something important to learn from what is being said.  As we read the words that follow, that message is two fold:  (1)  Don't play the hypocrite; whatever you expect others to do, be ready to do yourself as well; (2)  Don't be arrogant and full of yourself--as apostles you have more real spiritual authority than any of these foolish teachers have but that doesn’t justify you falling into the same ego traps either.

 

            23:2     saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  Both the scribes (who copied the Torah and wrote legal documents) and the Pharisees claimed to represent Mosaical tradition in the current age.  They sat “in Moses’ seat” of judgment and decision making, so to speak:  They read his words; they made clear his message; they explained its contemporary application.

            Sidebar:  Note the mention of only the Pharisees.  For all the religio-political power of the Sadducees, it seems that they had no real interest in teaching the meaning of the Mosaical system.  As such they had power over others and had no particular strong interest in scripturally justifying their beliefs. 

 

            23:3     Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.  Jesus does not challenge their right to teach Moses.  Nor does He challenge that, by and large, they performed the interpretive function reasonably well.  Hence the crowd should follow their teachings when they were accurate representations of the Torah rather than give a blanket rejection of it.  On the other hand, the scribes and Pharisees did not practice the doctrine they knew so well.  Hence their hypocritical behavior must be avoided at all costs. 

            Although Jesus does not develop the linkage, He had earlier rebuked them for their traditions being used as an excuse to avoid the plain demands of scripture (15:1-9).  This ties in well with the current discussion as well:  it was through those misguided traditions that they found the excuses to avoid carrying out the teaching of the texts.  The cultivation and spread of these traditions had become at least as important as the scriptures they were supposedly based on.

 

            23:4     For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.  These people found no difficulty in discovering “heavy burdens,” severe obligations that would be difficult to comply with and hard to carry out.  Are these the product of their valid exegesis or of their own evolved traditions?  In a “real world” context, it didn’t actually matter:  Either way, through the use of their reasoning power they found excuses to avoid doing even the least of the most strenuous demands that they imposed so freely upon others.  They ignored the fundamental demand of God for consistency:  Never impose on others what you are unwilling to do yourself.  If “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18) doesn’t include this what does it include?     

 

            23:5     But all their works they do to be seen by men.   They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.  Their entire attitude toward other people was flawed.  Their behavior was characterized not so much by a determination to do what was right but to be observed and respected by others for their supposed piety.  Since phylacteries (containers with texts of four key scriptures) were typically worn during prayer, scribes and Pharisees made sure theirs were extra large so they would be even more conspicuous. 

            The hem on their garment was supposed to be clearly observable so they made those larger too.  If they had had printed Bibles back then, you can be certain they would have had the largest and most expensively bound ones that could be purchased.

            Sidebar:  Although the colored borders on the garments would be worn at all times, the phylacteries were impractical during times of physical labor.  These were expected to be worn--beginning at age thirteen--during times of prayer in general and if one did not do that, then at least during morning prayers. 

 

            23:6     They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues.  When it came time to eat they expected the most prestigious and comfortable places at the feasts.  After all they were the Leaders.  When it came time to worship, they wanted the most desired and prestigious seats available there as well.  After all, if they didn’t get them others might fall into the trap of thinking they were mere nobodies rather than someone very important.  This Must Never Happen!  After all, didn’t they “deserve” these honors because of their superb piety and loyalty to God?

            Sidebar on the typical physical structure of first century synagogues--Edersheim in his Life and Times of Jesus provides a description and it is summarized by the Pulpit Commentary:  It was built of stone, with an entrance generally on the south, and so arranged that the worshippers might direct their prayers towards Jerusalem.  In the center was placed the lectern of the reader; the women's gallery was at the north end. 

            “ ‘The inside plan is generally that of two double colonnades, which seem to have formed the body of the synagogue, the aisles east and west being probably used as passages.  At the south end, facing north, is a movable ark, containing the sacred rolls of the Law and the prophets.  Right before the ark, and facing the people, are the seats of honor, for the rulers of the synagogue and the honorable’ [= most prestigious or important, rw].’ 

            “These were the places for which the Pharisees contended, thinking more of gaining these, where they could sit enthroned in the sight of the congregation, than of the Divine worship which nominally they came to offer (compare [the warning in] James 2:2-3 [for Christians not to act in such a manner]).” 

 

            23:7     greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’  When it came to public recognition they expected others to greet them with a respectful double “Rabbi, Rabbi” in recognition of their elite status.  It is suspected that this relish for titles only became popular about the time of Jesus’ birth.  At least some rabbis recognized the foolishness involved for the Talmud includes the adage, “Love the work but hate the title.”  From the broad verbal brush that Jesus uses, this kind of humility must have been uncommon at His time. 

 

            23:8     But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.  Titles can get in the way of service and the title itself can become an end all and be all.  Rather than run that risk--so widely evidenced among the religious leadership of His own time--Jesus rebukes the use of the term Rabbi and wants it to be laid aside.  Only one teacher was actually needed and it wasn’t the rabbi, it was He Himself.  If such “title mongering” is bad from the individual standpoint, it is also bad from the collective one as well:  After all, they were, in a profound sense, all equal:  “you are all brethren.”

 

            23:9      Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.  Substituting other honorifics to assuage one’s pride wasn’t any more acceptable than using “Rabbi.”  Expecting to be called “father” and accepted as the superior of others in a father-son spiritual relationship fitted a certain self-centered mentality extremely well.  Jesus rebuked such language and reminded them that the One true spiritual Father--the only one that actually counted--was in heaven.

            When one had been spiritually benefited by another the language was quite natural.  But when you turn language that is only appropriate between two specific individuals into a mere title for preachers, teachers, scholars, or church office holders in general you have transformed it from an accurate description into an empty epithet.  Jesus would have nothing of it. 

            Sidebar:  For the use of “father” as a description of the relationship to a prophet see 2 Kings 2:12 and 6:21.  When Paul used the language he used it as a self-describer of his relationship to converts rather than an expression he expected them to use of him--a profound difference (1 Corinthians 4:15).   

 

            23:10     And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.  Even such a simple term as “Teacher” should not be twisted into an egocentric self-serving rhetorical title either.  There was to be one ultimate authoritative teacher and that was Christ Himself.  Jesus does not claim that everyone who uses such language has this kind of mindframe, but He regards it as so inherently dangerous and cultivating of our worst human instincts that He wishes to eliminate the usage entirely.

 

            23:11     But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  Oh, yes, there would be those who would be greater than others in God’s kingdom.  But the basis of this would not be self-arrogated position or the demanding of recognition for the position one occupies.  Rather it was to grow out of actual service to others.  So the one who wished to be regarded as the “greatest” would be the one that worked the hardest to benefit everyone else.  The honor would be continually earned, not claimed as a perpetual right.  And by living the role rather than grabbing the title, the title dissolves into an irrelevancy.  The service rendered becomes the only important thing.

 

            23:12     And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.  Those who insist upon their “obvious” importance above others will land up being humbled.  In real life we find this happening as people laugh at the pretensions of those who claim to know so much more than others or to be so much more important--and yet everyone recognizes their shallowness.  Likewise, we find the humble but persistent hard workers receiving respect for their cooperativeness, friendship, and helpfulness.  Yet even if this does not happen inevitably in this life, the great day of ultimate equity occurs in the final judgment.

 

 

Condemnation Was Due the Pharisees for Their Religious Pretense that Discouraged Others from Doing Right and Encouraged Them to Imitate Their Faults (Matthew 23:13-15):  13 “But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven!  For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in!  [Although the wording is found in other gospels, it is omitted in Matthew by  ancient manuscripts usually regarded as accurate:  14 “Woe to you experts in the law, and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You devour widows’ houses and for show you pray long prayers!  Therefore you will receive the greater condemnation.”] 

15 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves!     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

           

            23:13     “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.  The scribes and Pharisees claimed to be the defenders of God’s will.  They passionately wanted the kingdom of heaven--provided it matched what they anticipated. 

            Yet with the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus the opportunity to prepare to go in had come and how had they reacted?  They didn’t like the teaching so they refused to heed it and they did their level best to discourage and stop others from doing so as well.  Why, that heretic Jesus even cast out demons by the power of the devil (Matthew 9:34).  The “hypocrisy,” then, grows out of the discrepancy between what they said they believed and what they did when the opportunity came to practice it:  Long on words; short on substance. 

            This is the first of eight condemnations (“woes”) that the Lord presents.  These “woes” surely reflect not only the strongest disapproval but also a profound sorrow that those who so passionately wanted to be religiously right could so mess up their spirituality. 

 

            23:14     Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.  Many scribes and Pharisees were open to the charge of not only playing the hypocrite to gain elevated respect from others, but even to taking advantage of those who respected them.  Oh they could chant out an impressive lengthy prayer, but of what value was this if they were misusing their influence to rip off widows of their possessions and wealth?  In mistreating these widows they were defying what their very Law taught them:  God “administers justice for the fatherless and widows” (Deuteronomy 10:18); “cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow” (Deut. 27:19).

            Sidebar:  Although a number of translations include this verse (such as Holman, NASB, and WEB) others do not (such as GW, NET, and Weymouth) since the textual evidence from ancient manuscripts is not quite as conclusive as many wish.  

 

            23:15     “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.  The scribes and Pharisees would travel far and wide in order to bring a convert into their movement--either from within Judaism or even from outside it:  “Proselyte” normally refers to such non-Jewish converts, but in this context the use of it to refer to converts from “unenlightened” forms of Judaism would also make full conceptual sense--and probably much easier to produce. 

            So they unquestionably were willing to put themselves to a great deal of trouble and effort to enlarge their faction.  It was important to them and their lives.  Yet having converted the person, they feed him such a line of distorted reasoning that they land up making him “twice” as bad in behavior and attitude as themselves. 

            Instead of saving him from Hell, they make him even more deserving of it than they were.  Perhaps the reasoning is that the second generation of a movement will apply the principles more consistently:  if those principles were erroneous to begin with, they will then get even further from the truth.  In contrast, those who had converted them had the restraints of upbringing and earlier teaching to at least partially restrain their own excess. The next generation does not.

 

 

Condemnation Was Due the Pharisees for Their False Distinctions that Allowed One to Escape Their Commitments (Matthew 23:16-22):  16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple is bound by nothing.  But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.’  17 Blind fools!  Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

18 “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing.  But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath.’  19 You are blind!  For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it.  22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            23:16     “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.  The reasoning of such people was full of holes.  For example take the matter of oaths and swearing.  Swearing by the temple only resulted in a non-binding commitment.  Swearing by its gold, however, meant that there was no way out of the promise. 

            The “gold” could refer to either of three things or all of them combined:  Either the golden vessels in the temple--the candlestick, etc.; or the gold with which the doors and other parts of the temple were covered; or the gold in the treasury” (Barnes Notes).  Most seem to opt for the donations given to or stored in the temple.

 

            23:17     Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?  What else can a person be who does not recognize that the true reason the gold can be given greater honor or priority comes from the fact that it is a part of God’s temple?  It is therefore “sanctified” (= separated) to His service as regular gold is not.  Gold does not make itself more important; where it is does that and, therefore, that location has to be more important than the gold itself.

 

            23:18     And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.  Nor was this gold the only case of specious fine distinctions that did not really exist:  If one swore by the altar then the oath was “nothing” and could safely be repudiated.  On the other hand if the oath was by the offering on the altar then one was obligated to fully carry out the commitment.  (This altar was huge:  some thirty feet long and equally wide--2 Chronicles 24:1.)

           

            23:19     Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?  This valuing the gift on the altar as greater than the altar itself fails the same test as that of thinking the gold is greater than the temple:  Isn’t it the fact that it is being offered on the altar and therefore “sanctified” (set apart) for the honor of God in a sense that no regular animal would be?  Without the altar the animal is nothing; even without the animal the altar is superior in inherent importance and holiness.

            There is a horrible arrogance underlying their reasoning.  “They esteemed their own gifts more highly than the Divine institution.”  (Bengel’s Gnomen)

 

            23:20     Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.  Another reason why swearing by the sacrifice is not superior:  swearing by the altar inherently carries with it swearing by anything that might be on it.  If there is anything on it, the two then go together as an interlocked whole. 

 

            23:21     He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.  Pledging truth and fulfilling commitments by swearing by the Temple invokes not merely the structure itself but the Holy Being who dwells there (1 Kings 8:13) . . . receives sacrifices of honor, recognition, and praise there . . . and who receives the blood of atonement once a year in the Holy of Holies.  The same principle that the greater sanctifies the lesser applies to heaven as well. . . .

 

            23:22     And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.  Anytime one commits to a course of action by appealing to heaven, one is simultaneously swearing by the throne of God that is located there (cf. Matthew 5:34) . . . and even by God who uses that throne.  And the sacredness of the commitment comes not from the place that is invoked (heaven) but from the fact that both God and His throne are present.

 

 

Condemnation Was Due the Pharisees Because They Exulted in Obeying the Technicalities of Divine Law While Ignoring or Minimizing Things That Were Far More Important (Matthew 23:23-28):  23 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness!  You should have done these things without neglecting the others.  24 Blind guides!  You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  26 Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!

27 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean.  28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            23:23     “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.  Being alert to the “technicalities” of the Divine law is in no way wrong.  There was nothing improper in assuring that the correct tithe was paid of difficult to tithe items such as “mint and anise and cumin.”  (They were so small or numerous that it was very difficult to determine the total amount present.)  Being obsessed with them to the exclusion of more important matters is far different however.

            In this case the three fundamental demands of “justice and mercy and faith” were relegated to secondary importance.  Observing the “technicalities” was praiseworthy, but never at expense of ignoring greater principles. To use a modern analogy, one was icing on the cake and the other was the cake itself.  Or to give a more extreme example:  It's somewhat like being sure to give every Sunday at church . . . while omitting to be faithful to your spouse on weekdays.

            Sidebar:  A tithe of everything can easily be read into Leviticus 27:30--“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s.  It is holy to the Lord.”  That this does not refer to the seed itself but the product  grown from the seed can easily be argued on the basis of Deuteronomy 14:23.  There the required tithe seems to be related only to the latter--“And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.”

 

            23:24     Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!  Ranking ceremonialism above morality had resulted in alertness to the tiniest technicality but blindness to the far more important matters of spirituality.  It was the equivalent of assuring that one avoided ceremonial uncleanness by carefully straining gnats from the water but, due to preoccupation with such minutiae, landing up eating a ceremonially unclean camel (Leviticus 11:4) and not even noticing it.

 

            23:25     “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.  Externalism was the typical fault of such people.  They would give every outward appearance of being moral and upright but inside they were willing to do anything that did not spoil the outward image of sanctity.  The two evils pointed out are sins against others (“extortion”--“greed,” in many translations) and degrading oneself (“self-indulgence”).  Always being sure of carrying out the formalities of their religion, of course.  As if that would magically cause God to overlook the inner moral rot the formalities were supposed to--somehow--“cover up.”

 

            23:26     Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.  In truth both the inside and the outside needed to be equally unsoiled ethically in order for full cleanness to be present.  These folk rationalized that so long as “public appearances” were kept up, all the weaknesses would be overlooked.  They might well be--by those around us in society who are unaware of what we are privately doing.  But God is always aware of both.  From Him there is no hiding.

            Furthermore if our inner nature does not want to be self-controlled and restrained, how can this avoid seeping out into our visible behavior as well?  As the Proverbist (4:23) reminded his reader, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”  Or as the NIV correctly brings out the point being made:  “for everything you do flows from it.”  

 

            23:27     “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  How does one most tellingly describe the difference--and the importance of the difference--between mere outward piety and inward purity?  It's hard to imagine a more powerful image than this one:  Jesus appeals to the example of whitewashed tombs of His day--they look as clean and impressive as humanly possible.  They are regularly maintained (“whitewashed”) to assure that--and to avoid any one becoming ceremonially unclean by accident by touching them (Numbers 19:16).  Yet inside they contain nothing but bones and are considered “unclean” by one and all--for death and decay inherently convey that image.

 

            23:28     Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  In the moral equivalent to a “nice-looking” (= “whitewashed”) tomb with a decaying body inside, these hypocrites give every external appearance of being “righteous” (= morally outstanding).  But there is a vast gap between what they want others to think of them and their actual inner nature which consists of blatant inconsistency (= “hypocrisy”) and contempt for moral and ethical inhibitions (= “lawlessness”).  These they have permitted to grow strong in their hearts and practice.

 

           

Condemnation Was Due the Pharisees for They Cherished the Delusion That They Were Spiritually Superior to Their Ancestors.  Yet Those Had Persecuted and Killed the Prophets of God While They Themselves Would Be Willing to Repeat the Same Behavior (Matthew 23:29-36):  29 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  32 Fill up then the measure of your ancestors!  33 You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?    

34 “For this reason I am sending you prophets and wise men and experts in the law, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  36 I tell you the truth, this generation will be held responsible for all these things!  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            23:29     “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous.  The scribes and Pharisees were careful to honor those recognized as deceased heroes of their faith.  Hence they built tombs for the prophets (indicating that at least some already had developed “traditional” burial spots) and they even decorated monuments built in honor of the righteous (perhaps synagogues constructed in behalf of pious relatives; alternatively, making the prophet tombs even more visually impressive).

            Sidebar:  Wiser minds among both Jews and Gentiles recognized that this was not the best way to honor such men--“They might have learnt something from the saying of a teacher of their own in the Jerusalem Talmud, that ‘there is no need to adorn the sepulchers of the righteous, for their words are their monuments.’  In somewhat of the same strain wrote the Roman historian:  ‘As the faces of men are frail and perishable, so are the works of art that represent their faces; but the form of their character is eternal, and this we can retain in memory, and set forth to others, not by external matter and skill of art, but by our own character and acts’ (TacitusAgricola, c. 46).”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            23:30     and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’  Their attitude toward those who had lived before was one of assured superiority.  If they had been around in those days they would never have struck a blow against the prophets.  A delusion not unknown in our own age as we view the mistakes and tragedies of the past.  We can see their mistakes far easier than we can see our own--or our own attitudes and prejudices that lead to such excess.

 

            23:31     “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  In an allusion to the old “like father/like son” argument, Jesus throws back at them a legitimate charge based upon their admission that evils had been done by their ancestors:  “by disclaiming that you would have acted like them, you are still admitting that you are their children (= descendents).”  But if you are--and still remain vulnerable to normal human weaknesses--then you are conceding that you will act in a similar manner.  Indeed, we expect no less because we anticipate the children acting out the patterns of thinking and behavior they had seen in their parents.  (This isn’t inevitable, but it surely is where the highest probability lies!)

 

            23:32     Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.  Jesus throws out a challenge:  You are like an empty container.  Fill it up with the full measure of the guilt your fathers had in their excesses against the prophets.  Not that He wants them to; but He knows full well that their attitudes and prejudices leave them no choice but to strike down the One they can't dominate.

            There is a certain limit to iniquity; when this is reached, punishment falls.  The metaphor is derived from a full cup, which a single drop more will make overflow.  This added drop would be the death of Christ and the persecution of His followers.  Then vengeance must follow (compare Genesis 15:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).”  (Pulpit Commentary)  This logically leads us to what is mentioned next. . . .

 

            23:33     Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?  In their unscrupulousness and lack of restraint against enemies, they act like nothing short of a bunch of poisonous snakes.  Since they claim piety while refusing to accept the moral restrictions of piety, how do they expect to escape Hell itself?

            How many scribes and Pharisees were like this?  We must remember that Jesus was addressing and describing those in Jerusalem in particular--the ones who had just engaged in a series of verbal jousts to discredit Him.  Those who had sent out their compatriots on various occasions (or approved of them going) to check on Jesus’ doings and criticize/undermine Him when He was in other regions.  Those most likely to be tied in with the self-serving elements that dominated the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. 

            Because these were characteristics of a significant minority and of those who had been tangling with Him out of dishonorable motives, He was dealing fairly and justly with His foes.  On the other hand, we have no reason to believe that He would have dealt in such a blanket manner if the type of Pharisees He was encountering had acted differently.  It was their behavior and faults He was concerned with and not that they carried the label of “Pharisee.”

            Sidebar:  Note the similarity to the condemnation delivered earlier by John the Baptist--“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  (Matthew 3:7).  

 

            23:34     Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes:  some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city.  Although Jesus has also spoken of “scribes” as doctrinal and moral failures, He here makes plain that all “scribes” are not in His mind any more than all Pharisees:  He speaks of how he would send the people His own “scribes” and His own “wise men” (which is what the Pharisees thought they were in regard to scriptural interpretation). 

            The earlier reference to the murder of the prophets turns out to be doubly relevant for history would repeat itself:  the “prophets, wise men, and scribes” Jesus would send would be physically punished in their synagogues, driven from city to city, and some killed, and others crucified.  In other words Jesus Himself will not be the only one railroaded into death by crucifixion or other means.

 

            23:35     that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  The brazen excesses of verse 34 would justify the responsibility for “all the righteous blood” ever shed coming upon those who duplicated such folly in the current age.  Abel was the first person murdered who was “righteous;” in a similar manner the last person martyred in the Jewish arrangement of Old Testament books was the prophet Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22.

 

            23:36     Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.  Jesus’ threat/warning--the language surely is intended to carry aspects of both--was not intended as some far distant phenomena.  It was to happen to “this generation,” a theme elaborated on at length in the description of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 in the following chapter.

 

 

Jesus Lamented Over the Sufferings Jerusalem Would Have to Endure Because of the Rejection of Him Encouraged by Their Religious Leadership (Matthew 23:37-39):  37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you!  How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!  38 Look, your house is left to you desolate!  39 For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            23:37     “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  Jesus felt tender toward the city of Jerusalem.  He felt like a hen toward her chicks.  Yet instead of acting similarly kind and affectionate, Jerusalem remained the city that would willingly accept the stoning of the prophets sent to her--whether in ancient times or Jesus’ own (think of Stephen, Acts 7:54-58).  Kindness and concern is reciprocated with violence and repression.  What had happened before was going to happen yet again to Jesus and His followers.  As the result. . . .

 

            23:38     See!  Your house is left to you desolate.  In light of their brazenness to act--or tolerate the acting out of such extremes, their “house” is going to be left to their descendants as “desolate.”  The “house” in Jerusalem--the unique “house”--was the temple.  Furthermore it was the building complex Jesus was currently speaking in.  Again, He lays the foundation for the discussion of the destruction of Jerusalem that will be elaborated upon at length in the following chapter. 

            Sidebar:  The destruction of the temple carried with it the idea of the rejection of the people who tolerated or actively caused these anti-Christian adversities to occur.  This is not the first time that the unfaithful had turned on the faithful:  “II have forsaken My house, I have left My heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies.  My heritage is to Me like a lion in the forest; it cries out against Me; therefore I have hated it.  My heritage is to Me like a speckled vulture; the vultures all around are against her.  Come, assemble all the beasts of the field, bring them to devour!” (Jeremiah 12:7-9)  As in Jesus’ day the apostasy had been encouraged by the religious and political leaders (verses 10-13). 

 

            23:39     for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’  Jesus will vanish from the visible world.  His enemies would no more see Him until they were so driven to despair that they would cry out about how “blessed” is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Driven by disaster and catastrophe they will recognize that they stand in need of Divine deliverance and assistance. 

            Alas, but even then, though the need is recognized, there will be no understanding that it can only come through the Jesus the power brokers had crucified.  And the masses--including countless thousands from outside Jerusalem--had allowed them to get away with it unpunished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

 

 

The Tumultuous Times the World and Christianity Will Endure Before the Jerusalem Temple Is Destroyed (Matthew 24:1-14):  1 Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings.And he said to them, “Do you see all these things?  I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another.  All will be torn down!

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen?  And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many.  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these things are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you.  You will be hated by all the nations because of my name.  10 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another.  11 And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, 12 and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold.

13 “But the person who endures to the end will be saved.  14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

--New English Translation (for comparison)

             

 

            24:1     Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  Jesus had lamented to the crowds the terrible disaster He saw in the future (Matthew 23:37-39) and here He explains to the apostles more of the scale of the disaster.   There are three possibilities:  One is that they thought He was pronouncing doom on His foes--“your house is left to you desolate” (vs. 38) . . . interpreted as meaning either the religious movements opposed to Him or even the masses of people in the city or land.  The second possibility is that they understood the threat well enough, but it seemed “an academic rather than practical one” . . . for they were so awed by their surroundings they simply could not “absorb” the possibility that this impressive place would be destroyed any time in the foreseeable future.  The third option is that they are implicitly arguing, “this is simply too beautiful and important to ever be destroyed”

            Whichever way it was, they pointed out to Him from a distance the various “buildings” in the Temple complex.  Although in a sense the Temple was one “house” (singular) since it was collectively devoted to one purpose, it was actually composed of a number of associated internal “buildings” as well and it is more precise to speak of it as a “temple complex” as we have done several times previously.  And they were visually impressive; they were one of the top architectural wonders of the age and some of the stones involved were sixty feet long.

            Sidebar on the magnificence of the Temple:  One of the older classic commentaries--Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (mid-1700s)--provides an able summary from the Talmud and other ancient sources:  “The Jews give very great encomiums [i.e., praise] of the second temple, as repaired by Herod; and it was undoubtedly a very fine structure.  They say that he built the house of the sanctuary, ‘an exceeding beautiful building:’ and that he repaired the temple in beauty ‘greatly exceeding’ that of Solomon’s.  They moreover observe that ‘he who has not seen the building of Herod has never seen a beautiful building.’  With what is it built? says Rabbah, with stones of green and white marble.  And there are others say, that it was built with stones of spotted green and white marble.

            “These, very likely, were the stones the disciples pointed to and admired; and were of a prodigious size, as well as worth.  Some of the stones were, as Josephus says, ‘forty-five cubits long, five high, and six broad.’  Others of them, as he elsewhere affirms, ‘were twenty-five cubits long, eight high, and twelve broad.’  And he tells us, in the same place, that there were ‘in the porches, four rows of pillars:  the thickness of each pillar was as much as three men, with their arms stretched out, and joined together, could grasp; the length twenty-seven feet, and the number of them an hundred and sixty-two, and beautiful to a miracle.’

            “At the size of those stones, and the beauty of the work, it is said Titus was astonished, when he destroyed the temple; at which time his soldiers plundered it, and took away ‘the gifts,’ with which it is also said to be adorned.  These were rich and valuable things which were dedicated to it, and either laid up in it, or hung upon the walls and pillars of it, as it was usual in other temples.  These may intend [= include] the golden table given by Pompey and the spoils which Herod dedicated; and particularly the golden vine, which was a gift of his; besides multitudes of other valuable things which were greatly enriching and ornamental to it.”  

   

            24:2     And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things?  Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  The apostles were thinking in terms of its magnificent appearance.  Jesus looks at all the grandeur and is sadden by how the dedicated and hard labor of four decades will all go to waste . . . for all of this splendor would be totally destroyed.  They saw current glory; He saw future destruction and disaster.

            Sidebar:  What is left of that Temple today is called the “Western Wall” but was actually never part of the Temple structure itself.  Rather it was part of the retaining wall that surrounded the Temple Mount and helped support the structure.

 

            24:3     Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  They would have been less than human if they had not wondered when this almost-impossible-to-imagine event would occur.  In addition they wanted to know what would be “the [outward] sign of Your coming”--not the second coming, for they had been profoundly unwilling to accept the idea even of His death much less His return.  Hence the idea would probably be the sign of His coming into His promised kingdom . . . or of it--and His own--triumph. 

            Such would mark “the end of the age” (= era, dispensation of time) that had previously existed; a new era would be unleashed upon the earth.  Not necessarily when it chronologically occurred, but at least that point when it would become obvious that Judaism was no longer a competitor to the religion of Jesus’ followers.  Where the failure of one and the triumph of the other would be inescapable for honest eyes to ignore. 

            They may conceive of this as two questions:  (1) the destruction of the temple and the end of the current age; (2) the beginning of the kingdom age and Christ’s victory.  Alternatively, it may all be one question in their minds:  They may consider the destruction of the temple as so age-ending that it and the coming triumph of Christ’s kingdom must be either synonymous chronologically or at least closely linked in time of occurrence.  The end result is essentially the same in either case.   

 

            24:4     And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you.  These events are of such a nature that the modern fishermen’s expression “can of worms” would aptly apply:  It opens the door to all types of conjecture and theory and much of it can be totally misleading.  Hence Jesus warns them against the danger of deception in their looking for the fulfillment of His words.  Since His “coming” and the destruction are linked (rightly) in their minds, He selects an obvious aspect to emphasize. . . .  

 

            24:5     For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.  The warning implies that Jesus will no longer be present--alluding to the fact that He would have been executed and would not be physically present.  Unwilling to accept this they could have thought that the words meant that due to opposition, He would “disappear” to unknown places for a period before returning.  Whatever their assumption, the fact was that in the future “many” would claim to be Christ and they would successfully deceive large numbers.

            “I am the Christ” is most easily read as a literal reference to Jesus personally.  Less likely, this can be modified by “come in My name” to indicate that they would be coming teaching in His name (i.e., by His authority).  Those, in every age, have been far more numerous than those with the brazenness to claim to actually be Jesus. 

            It was not until the Second Jewish Revolt (A.D. 120) that we have any surviving historical references to such, but that may only speak to our lack of adequate historical documentation for the period.  However some have take 1 John 2:18 as a reference to such delusionary folk:  even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.”   

 

            24:6     And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  It would be a time of tumult; the world would be ready to explode.  “Wars and rumors of wars” would reach their ears:  These would not be ones directly affecting them, but repeated reports coming from a distance.  Even so this would naturally be alarming--virtually any war can mushroom and spread in unexpected directions.  Such events “destabilized” society, introducing severe uncertainty and fear about the future. 

            The end of the “world” as we use it of the climatic ending of all earth time is not under discussion.  Jesus has made clear He is talking about the “end” of the Temple, since that is the subject under discussion (verse 2).  This will not come at the first outbreak of a war nor the first rumor of war that reaches them.  They are but the grim prelude of the bloodbath that they will eventually witness.

 

            24:7      For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  In other words, repeated wars would occur.  There would even be famines and some ancient texts add “pestilences”--a not uncommon outgrowth of famines that have weakened the population.  These can be companions of warfare or occur independently. 

            There would be “earthquakes” in scattered places as well.  It would seem as if nature herself had also declared war upon the human race.  Even those not directly involved will be emotionally affected by the worry produced by repeated news of one terrible problem after another.  How else could it be?

            Sidebar:  Although one could go into great detail on where and when such phenomena occurred, the quickest relatively brief summary would be the words of TacitusHistories in which he especially stresses the period beginning in the 40s of the first century:  I enter upon a work fertile in vicissitudes, stained with the blood of battles, embroiled with dissensions, horrible even in the intervals of peace.  Four princes slain by the sword; three civil wars, more with foreign enemies, and sometimes both at once; prosperity in the East, disasters in the West; Illyricum disturbed; the Gauls ready to revolt; Britain conquered, and again lost; Sarmatians and Suevians conspiring against us; the Dacians renowned for defeats given and sustained; the Parthians almost aroused to arms by a counterfeit Nero.  Italy afflicted with calamities unheard of, or recurring only after a long interval; cities overwhelmed or swallowed up in the fertile region of Campania; Rome itself laid waste by fire, the most ancient temples destroyed, the very capitol burned by its own citizens.”  (Quoted by Pulpit Commentary) 

            When interpreting both this chapter and the book of Revelation it is both useful and desirable to keep in mind that the decades after Christ’s death and, especially as we get into the 60s, were tumultuous not just in the narrower area of geographic Palestine but in many other places in the Roman empire as well. 

 

            24:8     All these are the beginning of sorrows.  It is unquestionably terrible for those directly affected but the economic and emotional concerns will build as one tragedy is added to another.  It is no longer a time of stability but one of repeated “sorrow”--anguish and pain, both physical and emotional.  Yet even when it has multiplied itself time and time again the horrible thing is that the worst is yet to occur.  Today we might say, “You haven’t seen anything yet!”

            Sidebar:  The word “sorrows” literally is the one for those pains associated with giving birth.  A new spiritual and temporal world is being born.  

 

            24:9     “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.  So far the phenomena are ones that would affect all in the society or, at least, be the concern of all in a given region.  But events would also affect disciples even more intimately than merely being part of that broader grouping.  In addition to the underlying societal instability, they would be targeted for punishment and even death because of their faith. 

            Widespread hatred of their discipleship would be common no matter which of the “nations” that made up the Roman empire that they happened to live in.  Quite possibly they would be blamed for the temporal disasters going on around them as well.  Certainly such guilt was dumped upon the Christian community in Rome after the Great Fire of 64 A.D. as the Emperor sought someone to blame it on to escape the suspicion that he personally lay behind it.

 

            24:10     And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  The general disruption in society and the attack on the church would have a corrosive effect on group morale within the believing community.  Many would be so upset at things that they would be “offended” (“fall away” or the equivalent in most translations).  This would not only harm themselves, of course, but some would be so stripped of faith and confidence that they would even betray Christians who remained loyal to the cause.  Others might not go that far but still fall into hatred of their former coreligionists as if they somehow bore responsibility for the disruptions that were affecting everyone.

            Sidebar:  Some would do this out of personal disillusionment with faith.  Others would do so out of pressure.  Hence of the Great Fire of 64 A.D. Tacitus writes, “First those who were seized who confessed that they were Christians; and then on their information a vast multitude was convicted.” 

 

            24:11     Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  In this time of internal church disarray and external confusion, false prophets would have their field day.  Instability; uncertainty; economic and social worries.  An ideal time for such bent souls to prosper.  They would arise and “deceive many:  church members?  Unbelievers?  Probably both are in mind.  Gullibility knows no lines of faith, gender, or ethnicity.  Their target--traditional Jews or Christians would vary--but their spiritual delusions and false claims would find a ready market.   

 

            24:12     And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  Because of this widespread contempt for law--in the ethical sense both of violating law and ignoring it) the love of many for God and Jesus would not only diminish but actually “grow cold.”  It would no longer represent an important factor in their nature or interests.  The underlying image is that of a fire which once burnt hot and warm but which now has been reduced even beyond the token warmth of the cooling ashes.

            Sidebar:  A good number of translations take “many” not just as a numerical reference but as a euphemism for “most” believers falling into this trap (GW, NASB, NIV for example).

 

            24:13     But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  Failure was not inevitable even in this time of despair.  Those who refused to give in to hopelessness--those who refused to allow external pressures and examples to weaken their faith but persisted in loyally enduring--these would ultimately be saved.  This was true both temporally (because they would flee the endangered Jerusalem when it was clearly time to) and spiritually as well (they would stay loyal to the Lord in spite of the stress and problems imposed by the surrounding world). 

 

            24:14      And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.  Even in this time of chaos and many becoming weak and falling away, the gospel cause would still not be silenced or destroyed.  That “gospel of the kingdom” would be successfully preached throughout the entire known world.  That message would be a “witness” to the world both of its sin and of the future.  Only after this widespread preaching was accomplished, would “the end” under discussion by Jesus (the fall of Jerusalem) actually come to pass.

            The apostles were given a world wide preaching charge by the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20), which they proceeded to fulfill:  the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians 1:23).  “ . . . [T]he word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (1:5-6).

 

 

When It Is Time to Flee Jerusalem and Anywhere Near It, Do So Promptly and Without Delay (24:15-22):  15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation—spoken about by Daniel the prophet—standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), 16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.  17 The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house, 18 and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 

19 “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days!  20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.  21 For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen.  22 And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved.  But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”  --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            24:15     “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand).  This “holy place” could be Palestine itself or Jerusalem in particular.  However standing above both as uniquely the “holy place” was, of course, the Jewish Temple.  If referring to the city, the description could refer to the Romans defiling the countryside and then the city (and the nearby region) by both their bloody conquest and their idolatry.  If of the Temple in particular, then of their worshipping one of their gods within it after the rebellion was suppressed.  (This is the most likely meaning.) 

            The Daniel text in mind is found in 9:26-27 of that book:  “. . . And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.  The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. . . . He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering, and on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.” 

            Sidebar:  A good section of contemporary opinion was fully aware of how the Zealot seizing of the Temple during the war and turning it into a bastion for their cause (and excesses) also resulted in the defiling of the place.  Josephus wrote of how, “They caused the fulfillment of the prophecies against their own country; for there was a certain ancient saying that the city would be taken at that time . . . for sedition would arise, and their own hands would pollute the Temple of God.”  (Quoted by Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)   

 

            24:16     “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  When those in the broader region “saw” these things happening or about to happen--either literally or through the reports of those who had--it was time to flee into the mountains for refuge.  Staying behind invited quick or slow death.  Flight was the one option offering the potential for safety.  Note that the instruction does not just cover those in Jerusalem itself; it was the path of prudence for anyone close to the danger to flee further away.

            The mountains would have caves to dwell in and small out of the way communities as well.  Distance from Jerusalem as well as the terrain would minimize the risk of slaughter or being forced into work projects helping the invaders.

 

            24:17     Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.  It would be a time for city dwellers not to hesitate.  Any community that stood in the Roman way was going to be quickly conquered if it resisted or subjected to a siege that it was inevitably going to lose.  As soon as word came of the Romans being near it was time to use the outer stairs of the house, get down to the street from the level roof top, and leave the town far behind.  Don’t even take time to grab any cherished possessions.  The risk of delay is too great.  (Although Jesus is speaking of the Jerusalem area in particular, it is hard to imagine that He did not regard the principle as applicable to any other significantly sized community that was in the path of the Roman army.) 

 

            24:18     And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  Not everyone would be working in the city when the Romans drew near.  If one was working in the field, one left the outer garment aside in a convenient location--or at home--while one went out and did the work.  As soon as one heard the approach of the Romans it would be too risky to even return to grab the clothes.  Worry about picking up additional attire later.  For the moment, the priority was to save one’s life.  This implies a situation so dire that the alternatives are basically “run--or die.  Your choice.”

 

            24:19     But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  It would be a miserable time for the pregnant and those with nursing children.  The former’s pregnancy would slow down the flight to a crawl.  Imagine the difficulty of fleeing from imminent danger if you are six months pregnant!

            Furthermore if one is nursing, the startled cry of the baby could alert the Romans to your presence.  For that matter anxiety could easily reduce the milk flow to little or nothing, imperiling the child's life. 

            “Woe” was upon those who were in either condition:  They had done no wrong themselves, but they stood in danger of perishing because of wrong done to and by others.  It would be a time of no mercy even for those who might otherwise be exempted from enemy wrath.

            Sidebar:  Deuteronomy 28:52-58 pictures in vivid language the slow death and destruction that could occur in families left in a city during a siege.  Flight at least gave you some chance of surviving, however slim.

 

            24:20     And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.  Winter would provide lousy conditions during which to flee.  The rivers would be swollen and the roads muddy.  The weather would be unruly.  The nights would be long and chilly.

            Flight on the Sabbath day had its human complications as well:  city gates would be closed.  The more orthodox might even interfere and hinder your leaving the city in the name of the day’s “sanctity”--your own efforts to save your and your family’s life being compromised if they do. 

            And then there were the severe distance limits imposed by the “Sabbath day journey” concept--that short distance would still leave you in the path of the invader.  You might well violate it, but if you took your religious practice seriously, you would still be haunted by a certain guilt no matter how essential it was.  Hence both weather and the holy Sabbath itself represented potentially great additional hindrances to survival.

 

            24:21     For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  The tribulation they would go through would be unprecedented since creation itself and would never again be repeated.  The reference could be subjective in nature:  it would be perceived as such and as impossible to repeat.  Alternatively, it would quite literally be unprecedented:  After all, Herod's Temple was the last Divinely approved temple ever to be built; it would be destroyed and never be rebuilt with Divine approval--hence an event that, by its nature, had not happened before and would never happen again.

            The Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges provides this concise summary of the scale of the horror in its remarks on this verse:  No words can describe the unequalled horrors of this siege.  It was the Passover season, and Jews from all parts were crowded within the walls.  Three factions, at desperate feud with each other, were posted on the heights of Sion and on the Temple Mount.  These only united to fling themselves at intervals upon the Roman entrenchments, and then resumed their hate. 

            “The Temple-courts swam with the blood of civil discord, which was literally mingled with the blood of the sacrifices.  Jewish prisoners were crucified by hundreds in view of their friends, while within the city the wretched inhabitants were reduced by famine to the most loathsome of food and to deeds of unspeakable cruelty. 

            Jerusalem was taken on the 10th August, A.D. 70.  1,100,000 Jews perished in the siege, 100,000 were sold into slavery.  With the fall of Jerusalem Israel ceased to exist as a nation.  It was truly the end of an aeon.”

 

            24:22     And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.  Unless the length of the war were reduced, the survival of anyone in the area of conflict was endangered.  But at least this would be one catastrophe that would be escaped:  for the sake of God’s people (= “elect’s sake”) the length of the war would be shortened.

            The specification that this would occur “for the elect’s sake” could mean that it occurred in response to the prayers of Christians.  Think the principle of James 5:16b (“the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”) magnified by the thousands of Christians praying for it.  Also the reference could mean it was for their benefit:  they themselves might inadvertently stumble into the line of fire and even if they didn’t their non-believing kinsmen who were in the besieged area would be in ongoing constant danger so long as the war lasted.

            Sidebar on the human element in the shortening through decisions made by both the Romans and the rebels holding Jerusalem--The Benson Commentary concisely sums up briefly several key ones:  Titus himself was desirous of putting a speedy end to the siege, having Rome, and the riches and pleasures there, before his eyes.  Some of his officers proposed to him to turn the siege into a blockade, and since they could not take the city by storm, to starve it into a surrender; but he thought it not becoming to sit still with so great an army; he feared lest the length of the time should diminish the glory of his success.  The besieged, too, helped to shorten the days, by their divisions and mutual slaughters; by burning their provisions, which would have sufficed for many years, and fatally deserting their strongest holds, where they could never have been taken by force, but by famine alone. 

            “Indeed, Jerusalem was so well fortified, and so well fitted to sustain a longer siege, that it could not have been taken in so short a time by the enemy without, had it not been for the factions and seditions within.  Titus himself could not but ascribe the success to God, as he was viewing the fortifications after the city was taken.  His words to his friends were very remarkable.  ‘We have fought,’ said he, ‘with God on our side, ο Θεος ην ο των δε ερυματων Ιουδαιους καθεκων, it is God who hath pulled the Jews out of these strong holds; for what could the hands of men, or machines, do against these towers?’ ” 

 

 

Although Fake Messiahs Will Arise Before the Destruction of the Temple, Nothing Will Stop the “Son of Man” from Coming in Judgment on the City (Matthew 24:23-31):  23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him.  24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  25 Remember, I have told you ahead of time.  26 So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him.  27 For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.  30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            24:23     “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it.  War creates the desperate search for instant solutions . . . for redeemers . . . for a way out.  But it would not be the time for the reappearance of the Christ of Nazareth.  Nor for their delusional military Christ/Redeemer either.  So if they heard reports that Christ was present in either sense, they were to reject them. 

 

            24:24     For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  Miracles can be faked.  Even if the purported Christs and purported prophets would claim the power to work impressive “signs and wonders” they should not heed their message.  True, their message would be alluring:  even God’s people (= “the elect”) could be tempted by it.  In today's age of the internet, the capacity of outlandish delusions to gain widespread traction should surprise no one; the ancient world wasn’t without delusion mongers either.

            The New Testament alludes to various wonder workers in the book of Acts:  There was Simon of Samaria who “astonished the people . . . [with] his sorceries for a long time” until his conversion (Acts 8:9-13).  Then there was Elymas of Cyprus who was “a sorcerer, a false prophet” and opposed the teaching of the gospel by Paul (Acts 13:6-12).  Even within the Christian community there were those who would arise with “power, signs, and lying wonders” to try to mislead them (2 Thessalonians 2:9; context: verses 5-12).

 

            24:25     See, I have told you beforehand.  Jesus was warning them of these things so that they would know in advance the nature of the danger they faced; He has no intention of hiding the coming grimness from them.  By being forewarned they were mentally forearmed and, at least theoretically, better prepared to resist.  Why does it always seem so hard to do so in actual practice?  

  

            24:26     “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.  Trouble rousing fake messiahs often appeared in the “desert” where the population could go and organize a military force more or less out of sight of the authorities.  Or, a more peaceful interpretation:  A pious ascetic has arisen in the desert and those impressed by him spread the rumor that “the Messiah has come!”  All the rumors to the contrary, they would not find the true Christ there. 

            Plotters secretly building up support often hid themselves “in the inner rooms” of homes in towns so they could escape detection as well.  (Today we would say, “they plot behind closed doors.”)  Again, a more peaceful interpretation:  the rumor has arisen that somewhere in the city the Messiah is living and preparing.  But they wouldn’t find the true Christ hiding away in such a place either.

 

            24:27     For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  The fact was that when the real Messiah was carrying out His earthly judgments, they would be able to tell from one horizon to the other.  It would be obvious and clear.  Everywhere.  They would not have to search Him out.  His presence and actions would be evident to anyone with eyes to see.

            Sidebar:  Perhaps relevant to the language found here (or not):  The Roman armies enter Judea from the east and then pushed their forces westward.

 

            24:28     For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.  This coming of Christ would be like the coming of vultures over a dead animal--or human.  All would know it had happened.  To the triumphant Romans in A.D. 70, Jerusalem was like a carcass, to be picked over and consumed and any valuables stripped away.  (Eagles were routine on the Roman military standards of the invading army.  So there was a “visual” as well as a “symbolic” tie-in carried by the imagery.)

 

            24:29     “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  The trauma and horror (“tribulation”) of the period would be so dramatic that it would be like the sun itself losing its light.  And if that weren’t bad enough, as if the moon also no longer reflected any light . . . as if he stars had vanished from heaven.  Standard apocalyptic rhetoric from the Old Testament to describe the climatic fall of cities and empires.  Such as Jerusalem.  Everything previously taken for granted and as a truism of life gets “turned upside down.”

            For precedent, consider such passages as Isaiah 13:9-10:  Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it.  For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine.”

 

            24:30     Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  The “sign” (= evidence) of the presence of the “Son of Man” would be visible for all to see and it would involve His coming “with power and glory” in judgment upon a rebellious people and religious leadership.  Jesus’ enemies had thought they had triumphed over Him.  They continued to perpetuate their supremacy in Jerusalem for decades after His death, but with the destruction of the city the power of the religious establishment was irreparably broken.  Jesus had the last laugh:  No wonder they and their supporters “will mourn!”  Jesus’ movement would now be the prime credible advocate of monotheism in the ancient world for it was free of the taint of rebellion and sedition.

 

            24:31     And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  Earlier we read of how people were to flee to escape the catastrophe (verses 17-18).  Now Jesus’ people are called back from their places of refuge.  Many are likely to have survived in small communities that were widely scattered--not to mention far larger numbers in Pella in Perea some 17 miles south of the sea of Galilee:  The bulk of Jerusalem Christians are said by Eusebius to have fled there (by Divine revelation) before the war had broken out.  After the war was over, a normal collective religious (and secular) life would again be possible back in Judea itself. 

            It is, if you will, not a trumpet sound of warning that is now heard but of rejoicing for the brazen danger has passed.  The sound is telling them it is now safe to return homeward.   

 

 

Although “This Generation” Will Not Perish Before the Destruction of Jerusalem Is Fulfilled, Only the Heavenly Father Knows the Exact Timing of When All of “Heaven and Earth” Will Be Removed and Replaced (Matthew 24:32-44):  32 “Learn this parable from the fig tree:  Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.  33 So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door.  34 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

36 “But as for that day and hour no one knows it—not even the angels in heaven—except the Father alone. 

37 “For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.  38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.  39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man.  40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left.  41 There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left.

42 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  43 But understand this:  If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into.  44 Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            24:32     “Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  The fig tree contains a parable in its growth:  at a certain time of year, by the very looking at it, you can tell that summer is approaching.  Jesus had earlier encountered a fig tree that gave the appearance of flowering but was not (Matthew 21:18-19) and it has been suggested that He may well have also seen those that were while they walked along together as well. 

 

            24:33     So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!  In a similar manner to observable nature, when one can observe all the earthly phenomena He had warned of, then one could be assured that the answer to their questions (verse 3) was imminent--that the end of the temple and of that age was about to occur.  The fulfillment was, so to speak, standing at the very door ready to enter in.

 

           24:34     Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Many theories have been propounded concerning this chapter, but in my judgment this and the next two verses contain the best framework to explain what was intended by the Lord.  This generation” would see the fulfillment of “all” that Jesus had described up to now.  That fits in well with our argument that the fall of Jerusalem has been under discussion up to this point.  What comes after that section refers to what traditionally has been called the second coming of Jesus--in triumph over all earthly foes (and not just those within Judaism) . . . and to mark the physical ending of the earth and the beginning of eternal rewards.  

 

            24:35     Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  One could take the “heaven and earth passing away” as equivalent to the existing social and religious order that would cease with the destruction of Jerusalem.  “The world as they knew it” would vanish and cease to exist.  In that context, the idea would be that though Jerusalem had passed away as a place of Jewish temple worship, the existence and practice of Jesus’ teachings--His “words”--would be unaffected; its relevance would continue just as germane to spiritual well being as it had been previously.

            The context prohibits this interpretation however.  The point is that even after the cosmos that we see around us has served out its allotted historical span and is removed, Jesus’ words will still survive as an eternal reminder of what He had gone through and said.  Just as is also true of the words God delivered in the Old Testament:  “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  

 

            24:36     “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  This is a piece of information the Father has denied to all others, not even sharing it with His only Son.  But He has already shared with Him in great detail information about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  How then could this be the event in mind?  What rational reason to deny Him the knowledge that this is also the “passing away” of heaven and earth?

            However this kind of reference makes perfect sense if the physical world were to last millenniums rather than years--far beyond the temporal fate of the city of Jerusalem.  Hence it makes quite logical sense if the text now shifts from A.D. 70 to the end of the cosmos, but nowhere near as much if Jesus was being denied information about the destruction that was to occur in only a few decades. 

           

            24:37     But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  The days of Noah’s finishing of the ark will have a significant parallel to the time of Jesus’ Final Coming.  Although we commonly call this Jesus’ “Second Coming,” “Final Coming” is probably the better description:  Surely He will have come in temporal judgment on civilization many times by then since it is hardly probable that He will permit brazen evil to prosper but so long before coming down hard upon its excesses.  Furthermore this coming is one depicted as coming without the threatening signs of war that we found in regard to the fall of Jerusalem.  It may be in the “quiet” aftermath of one or after an extended period of peace. 

            One might try to salvage the “Jerusalem only” reading of the text by arguing that verses 37-44 deal with how people are trying to carry on their normal lives when they are overwhelmed by what confronts them.  The clear unexpectedness of this event--without any hints of external warning signs--argues against it. 

            On the other hand the warning to the apostles to be alert and faithful (verses 42, 44) could reasonably be introduced in defense of a 70 A.D. date for would a date later than that be of much relevance to a discussion of their personal faithfulness--unless, of course, a goodly number would not die until after that event.   

            The “other side of the coin”--making the warning germane to a further distant event--is that they needed to stay faithful because no one had any idea when this coming would occur and therefore the warning was relevant to them and other first century Christians as well both before and after.  We know it did not come during their lifetimes; they did not know whether it would and since Jesus did not either, how else was the Lord to word the caution?  The most they could deduce from what is said in this section is that the event would come in a period of relative or general peace and that does not fit the years immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem.       

 

            24:38     For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.  Although it was obvious that Noah was building an ark, no one was moved by that implicit warning of Divine justice--nor by any teaching/preaching he surely did in response to questions about it:  Note his description as “a preacher of righteousness” in 2 Peter 2:5.   So ancient history will be repeating itself as people go about their normal business of “eating and drinking” and getting married.  This seems a world apart from the pre-70 atmosphere of tumult and war.

 

            24:39     and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Just like those in Noah’s day did not recognize that there was danger until the flood began--oh, they may have heard Noah’s words of warning but it was all folly to them--those living at the time of Jesus’ final coming will also not recognize that it is about to occur until it actually does so.  There are no warning signs given while the presence of an abundant number had been a characteristic preparing the people for the earlier A.D. 70 catastrophe.

 

            24:40     Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  At this time the redeemed may be anywhere.  The first category given are those in the field doing their harvesting or planting.  The redeemed will be taken from there.  In the resurrection day the physically dead will be “taken” from the ground and all faithful believers will be taken up to heaven:  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4). 

            And we might also remember the words of Jesus in John 14:3:  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you [or:  take you, ESV, NIV] to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  Hence everyone else can rightly be pictured as being “left.”

            If these verses are interpreted as referring to the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem, then the idea would be strictly temporal:  Those “taken” are those taken by the Roman soldiers into either short term involuntary service or outright slavery.  Those “left” would be those who avoid or escape that danger. 

 

            24:41     Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Even in an agricultural society, there is much more to do than is done just in the fields themselves.  Some of them are gender related, as in the women grinding the grain for meals to eat.  The term “mill” refers to “the ordinary hand-mill with a handle fixed near the edge of the upper stone, which is turned by two women.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

           

            24:42     Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  For this coming they were to “watch” for they would have no idea when it would come upon them--a theme repeated in verse 44.  Again a vivid contrast to the catastrophe of 70 A.D., the preceding warning “signs” of which had been narrated at great length and in great detail.

 

            24:43     But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  If a person is expecting danger, one makes sure to be prepared.  The home owner was going to be alert and armed if he knew the exact time when a thief was going to break in.  Those awaiting the Lord need to be similarly alert on an ongoing basis against spiritual and moral danger as they await His coming.  Unlike the homeowner, they don’t know the timing of the event.  Therefore they have to always be prepared. 

 

            24:44     Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  Dramatic and traumatic events will not be unfolding to provide a warning.  It will come without such distressing foreshocks.  The world would look calm and tranquil and be viewed as peaceful and non-threatening.

 

 

A Truth They Need to Remember:  Only the Faithful Servant Who Lives As One Should Will Be Rewarded (Matthew 24:45-51):  45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time?  46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes.  47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions.

48 “But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, 51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            24:45     “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?  Continuing the theme of the Final Coming of the “Son of Man,” the remainder of the chapter is devoted to wise leadership in God’s “household” and the coming punishment if one abuses one’s position.  Leadership in that household is given to those who give the appearance of being “faithful and wise” and the judgment described is to see how their behavior either confirmed or repudiated that evaluation and bestowal of trust.

            Responsibility is a widely sought honor; answerability is a far different matter.  Being a church leader involves having both.

 

            24:46     Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.  If that servant/leader lives up to the Master’s anticipations, he will be “blessed” when the time of judgment and evaluation finally occurs.  As Paul wrote the Corinthians about how they should “consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).  This is true of apostles, elders, and anyone else who exercises any form of religious authority over others.

 

            24:47     Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.  The servant will, in human terms, be given a “promotion.”  Instead of being over only the “household” (verse 45), authority is now given over “all” of the master’s various “goods” and possessions.  The application to our future role in heaven would seem to be that even there “work” (of some constructive kind) will continue and that we will have open to us even greater responsibilities than we had “earthside.”

 

            24:48     But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming.’  “Promotion” is the favorable scenario of what will happen, but there is nothing requiring that things turn out in such a positive manner.  What if the leading servant decides that it doesn’t matter what kind of behavior is exhibited?  After all, the Master is far away and much time has passed.  There is every reason to believe that he “is delaying his coming.”  The modern adage describing such attitudes (since about 1600!) is, “When the cat is away the mice will play.”

 

            24:49     and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards.  Out of that mind frame of unanswerability grows abuse.  In terms of a household of antiquity it meant that the leading servant could physically neglect, exploit, and ill-treat the other servants.  It meant that he would spend time getting drunk with other over-indulgers instead of carrying out the necessary household duties that were his responsibility.  The owner will return “one day . . . some day--maybe” is the mind frame.  Answerability and potential “punishability” is pushed out of his (or her!) brain.

 

            24:50     the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of.  A leading servant who acts that way is still going to get his comeuppance.  The Master will come and without any of the forewarning necessary to set things in order.  Although the reality of the unexpected arrival of a superior is common enough in our own age, remember that in the first century rapid communication was a matter of weeks rather than minutes.  The next person walking into town might well be some important individual who has been out of town for months or years.  There was no way to know.  But . . . if enough time goes by, often this kind of common prudence gets forgotten.

 

            24:51     and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In a temporal kingdom this betrayal of responsibility could easily result in exactly this kind of retribution--he would be killed and his body cast into the burial ground of the despised.  In its spiritual equivalent, literal death does not occur, as we can see from the description given next:  though the pain and punishment of being cut “in two” is presented as his due, we also read that he survives what that represents since there is then personal “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Sorrow and frustration at pain?   Sorrow and frustration at missed opportunities?  Either way (or both) the result is despair over things that can never be righted.  The time for that is long gone!