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Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,
ANNOTATIONS AND REFLECTIONS.
It was foretold by the prophet Malachi, that there would be a great and dreadful day of the LORD, in which all the wicked shall be consumed. Joel also alluded to it, when he predicted the effusion of the HOLY SPIRIT; and our LORD himself frequently referred to these prophecies, and expressly foretold the punishment and rejection of the Jews; particularly in the parables of the fig-tree, of the ten servants, the wicked husbandmen, and the marriage-feast. His blasting the barren fig-tree was an emblem to the same effect.
In his last severe reprehension of the Scribes and Pharisees our LORD declared, that upon the Jews of that generation should come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias; and he then lamented, that their house would be left to them desolate, or their habitation laid even with the ground.
On his disciples' desiring to be informed when these things which he foretold would come to pass, our Lord checked their curiosity; but told them what signs would precede, and how to preserve themselves from the impending destruction; and gave them a particular caution to beware of false CHRISTS and false prophets, as he had formerly done to the multitude in his sermon on the Mount.
The event soon proved, that this was an affectionate and necessary admonition, intended to preserve his disciples and the Jews from the danger of follow
ing deceitful and seditious leaders: for about a year after his crucifixion, Simon Magus pretended to be some great one, and to have the power of God; and a number of impostors successively arose, who persuaded the multitude of Jerusalem to follow them into the desarts, pretending that they could display evident, wonders and signs through the power of GoD: and even at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, false prophets fatally prevailed on many, who might have escaped the conflagration, to stay in the Temple, under pretence that they would receive signs of deliverance till they perished in the flames.
The next circumstances mentioned by our LORD, as preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, are wars, rumours of wars, &c. This in a short time began to he fulfilled; for about the third year after our LORD's death, Herod Antipas engaged in a war with Aretas king of Arabia Petræa, in which he was vanquished. After this the Jews had a variety of intestine divisions, and many contests with the neighbouring states, in which great numbers of them were slain. Sometimes they were terrified with rumours of wars, which after putting them in great fear, came to nothing. They were frequently exposed, on account of their turbulent conduct, to the resentment of the Romans, who attacked them in all places; by which that part of our LORD's prophecy was fulfilled, wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. The Jewish nation was compared to a dead carcase, and the Romans to eagles, birds of prey, that feed on dead carcases. There was a peculiar propriety in the comparison, as the Roman standard was an eagle.
* See p. 313.
Our LORD foretold, that there would be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes. History informs us, that there were some very remarkable ones between the time of the prediction and the destruction of Jerusalem, by which many of the Jews died. Our LORD also predicted, that there would be fearful signs in the heavens; and both the Jewish historian Josephus, and Tacitus, a Roman historian of great credit, relate, that there were wonderful prodigies observed before the taking of the city. But these, our LORD informed his disciples, were only the beginnings of sorrows, for the end was not yet.
Having foretold what distresses would happen to the Jews, our LORD acquainted his disciples, that though they would not share the above calamities with the Jews, they would not be exempt from sufferings, and informed them what they were to expect.
We have read the completion of these predictions in the history of the Apostles, and in what manner their persecutions proved testimonies to the truth of their doc. trine, &c. There were, besides what are mentioned in the Acts, some dreadful persecutions of the Christians under the emperor Nero, in which St. Peter and St.
Paul (as has been related) lost their lives.
At that time, if a man was possessed of every human virtue, it was crime enough if he were a Christian; so true were our SAVIOUR'S Words, that his followers should be hated of all nations for his name's sake.
Our LORD also predicted, that there would be apostates and traitors among their own brethren; and that many would fall off from their faith, on account of persecution. Of this there are some instances recorded by St. Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy; and Tacitus relates, that à multitude of Christians were convicted and executed
through the information of others, who were intimidated by the dangers which threatened them.
That the disciples might not apprehend from these misfortunes, that all the followers of CHRIST should be cut off, he assured them, that whoever should to the last, without fear or shame, profess faith in him and love to the brethren, should be saved. This promise had a double reference, first to eternal salvation in heaven (the certain portion of those who died martyrs), and also to a signal act of Providence at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, by which the Christians were preserved from that dreadful calamity.
Our LORD foretold, that before the total end of the Jewish state, his Gospel should be preached in all the world, in order that all nations might be convinced, that the Jews deserved those heavy judgments which were inflicted upon them, for crucifying the LORD of glory.
The short account lately given of the travels of the Apostles shews, that the Gospel was preached in all parts of the known world, and that it gained ground even in the most considerable parts of the Roman empire. One of the first Christian writers, who was a contemporary and fellow-labourer with St. Paul, says of him in particular, "that he was a preacher both in the east and in the west; that he taught the whole world righteousness, and travelled as far as the utmost borders of the west." And if such were the labours of one Apostle, what must have been the united labours of them all! It appears, indeed, from the writers of the history of the church, that before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Gospel was not only preached in the Lesser Asia, Greece, and Italy, but was likewise propagated as far northward as Scythia, as far southward as Ethiopia, as far eastward as Parthia and India, and as far westward as Spain and Britain.
Our LORD having described the signs which were to be the forerunners of the destruction of Jerusalem, men. tioned a circumstance which they were to regard as a token, that this great event was just at hand; namely, the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place. This prediction has been variously applied by commentators, but our LORD certainly knew its true import; and we find, that the abomination of desolation signified a heathen army besieging the HOLY CITY. The Roman army is called the abomination for its ensigns and images, which were so to the Jews; and the abomination of desolation, as it was to desolate and lay waste JERUSALEM. The Holy Place meant the city, and a certain compass of ground around it.
Our LORD warned all who consulted their own safety to flee unto the mountains, which they had opportunities of doing. He counselled them to flee as precipitately as possible, and if they were on the house-top not to come down. The houses of the Jews were flat on the top for them to walk upon, and had usually stairs on the outside, by which they might ascend and descend without coming into the house. These flat-roofed houses usually formed terraces from one end of the city to the other, which terraces terminated in gates; therefore those who were walking on them, might easily pursue their course along the tops of the houses, and escape out of the city-gate.
It is very easy to perceive, why our LORD pronounced wo to those who were with child or had young infants, as they could not make so hasty a flight as others, nor so well endure the miseries of famine, and the other hardships of a siege. The reason why they should pray that their flight might not be in the winter is also obvious, as the hardness of the season, the badness of the roads, and the shortness of the days, would be great impedi.