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The surprise and astonishment which this predi&tion pro. duced, upon the minds of the Disciples, who entertained the most splendid ideas, of the prosperity of their nation, under the reign of their Messiah, may easily be conceived ; and it is represented in a very natural and lively manner, by the questions which, upon this occasion, they immediately put to our Lord.
So contrary was this predi&tion, to every idea which, as Jews, they had been accustomed to entertain, that they could not help exclaiming,~When shall these things be? and, if they must be ; for that, as hath already been noticed, is the ellipsis, to be supplied—what shall be the sign of thy coming; and of the end of the world
If a careful attention had been paid by Critics and Commentators to the circumstances and situation of the Disciples, at the period when this conversation arose, and particularly, to the sentiments which they then held, concerning the nature
*s such a calamitous event. Its preservation would rather have been the " theme of a sagacious pretender to Prophecy. I will not here insist uponi do the strength of this fortress, both natural and artificial, which the Jewish “ Historian has represented, as one of the most impregnable which had ever “ been erected in the World. Even the Conqueror, surveying it in Ruins, * and discovering that it could uut, if skilfully defended, have been shaken, " by military engines---nor stormed by the most intrepid hosts, acknow“ ledged the absolute incompetence of human instruments, and ascribed “ its demolition to the manifest interference of God. Independently of " these considerations; it must have been evident, in the age of our “ Saviour, that whatever might be the fate of the City and of its inhabitants, “ in consequence of the stubborn hostility of the Jews and the inveterate fury
i of the Romans ; it would be the common object, both of the Victors and " the Vanquished, to save this venerable building from destruction.
“ The Jews, trusting in their mistaken interpretation of the antient Pro“ phets, considered their Temple placed under the immediate protection of " the, Almighty, as secure from mortal violence, and immoveable as the “ ground on which it stood. So infatuated were they, by this blind confi“ dence, that when their City was given up for plunder to the Legions, they “ rushed, secure of safety, into the burning Ailes of the Sanctuary, and thou" sands perished in the Ruins.
“ If we examine the Annals of the Romans, we shall discover, that “ during the period of their grandeur and prosperity, which long preceded “ the fall of Jerusalem, when the spirit of Rivalship no longer prevailed, " which in the earlier ages of the Republic had occasioned the destruction of “ Corinth, Carthage, and Numantia; it was the custom of that great people, “ to preserve intire, the stupendous monuments of their victories. The “ chief Cities of the conquered Kingdoms were permitted to flourish as “ tributaries of Rome. The works of elegant art alone, with which they “ were inriched, were carried away, to grace the triumph of the General and
of the Messiah's Kingdom; it would have been impossible to have mistaken their meaning, when they said to Jesus, what, shall be the sign of thy coming? But, it hath, most unfortunately happened, from not attending to these circumstances, that this, and the parallel chapters of Mark and Luke, in which, the prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, is recorded, have much divided the opinions of Divines, and furnished too much reason, for the objection of the Historian. of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and of the. learned University Preacher., · The difficulties attending the subject of these chapters, are very ably stated, by the latter of these Writers, in the following terms ;-Speaking of the xxivth Chapter of St. Matthew, he says, “ It is a chapter in which a Prophecy of the De. * struction of Jerusalem is entangled with, an apparen " real prediction, of the approaching dissolution of the 66 world.”
And he very justly says that, “ The various and * opposite methods which Theologians have adopted to remove
" adotn the Capital of the Empire. Thus Alexandria, the Emporium of " Egypt, Athens, the seat of sciervee; and the splendid and opulent Cities
of Asia Minor, continued entire, after their subjugation and contributedt
to the glary and prosperity of their Conquerors. In addition to the above ", argument, let it be remembered, as another strong reason for the probable 4. preservation of the Temple, that it was the uniform policy of the Romans " to sespect the religious prejudices of the conquered countries. Só accom* modating were their naxims of universal toleration, that within the regions 6 of Palestine, in compliance with the wishes of its inhabitants, they everr " lowered their Imperial Eagles and desisted from their design of erecting to the statue of tive Snipexor, in the sanctuary of Jehovah.. So powerful was
the influence of this principle among their Commawders, at the period of “ which we are speaking, that the illustrious. Chicks who conducted the “ siege of Jerusalem, manifested !a most ardent anxiety for the preservation " of the Temple. At the commencement of his: military operations, he
repeatedly solicited the Jews to save the magnificent. building; and " again, atike storming of the City, when a brand had been thrown within " the Pile, by toe hand of a soldier, he instantly commanded his Legions to 5. extinguish the flames. It. was natural, therefore, to suppase, that even " under the most extraordinary and desperate circumstances, they would be ** nidroed, in conformity with their 'usual priuciples of toleration, to pre6 serve the Temple of Jerusalem.
“ From these considerations, it must necessarily be inferred that to a Jew; * during the reign of Tolverfus, ilie demolition of that sacred Edifice, muse “ have appeared absolutely impossible: and, even if its possibility had ** been admitted, that its demolition by a Roman Army, must have appeared
singularly improbable, as that people seemed to be engaged, by the strongest ** mouves to favour its preservation.” Se Richards's Bampton Lectures,
an objection, which is too obvious to be overlooked, form, - it must be confessed, a very considerable presumption that an adequate solution of the difficulty has not hitherto
discovered, and that the objection, is founded on the " basis of truth.” In confirmation of this opinion, he farther adds that, " Some interpreters imagine that the Pro• phecy relates, entirely to the ruin of the Jewish nation: “ Others, by the convenient introduction of types and double
senses, preserve in it, a reference throughout to the con65 summation of all things :-Some have contended that it “ partly belongs to the former and partly to the latter ; but " what portions of it, are applicable to the one, and what to G4 the other, they cannot ascertain ;--while a few have ven"6 tured to assert that it represents the final Judgment,
as immediately subsequent to the Jewish Calamities." See Edwards's Sermon on the Predi&tions of the Apostles, pages
Mr. Kett, the learned and ingenious Author of, a well timed, and interesting publication, entitled, History the Interpreter of Prophecy, is of opinion, that the enquiry of the Disciples related to three different Events; for having quoted St. Mark's account, he says,
• The parallel passages si of Matthew and Luke plainly indicate that this enquiry ss respected the destruction of Jerusalem--the second coming “ of our Lord, and the end of the world; events which,” says he, “ they possibly expected would happen together, and s'to which the reply of our Lord evidently refers," Vol. I. page 199.
Mr. King, the pious, but eccentric Author, of Morsels of Criticism, appears to have conceived, that the chapter relates to all the three Events ; for he says, “ First, we find our “ Lord gives a general Answer, which applies equally to all " three Events." Then he gives a particular answer to the " first questions and lastly, as particular an answer to the 56 second ; and after that, he assumes the general consideration « of the sudden manner in which every one of these tremensó dous events were to come to pass ; and concludes with adi 66 monitions.” See page 252,
Dr. Priestly, in his Fast Sermon, February 28, 1794, says, 66 To me it appears, not improbable, that several circumstances, “ in our Saviour's Prophecy, concerning the destruction of * Jerusalem, and the desolation of Judea, relate to this great
hi and more distant period,” (i. e. to the restoration of the
Jews), 5 for it was delivered in answer to a question put to “: him by his Disciples, which respected both the events, on 66 the idea of their being co-incident.” See pages 14, 16.
But, perhaps, there is no instance, in the annals of the Christian world, of the difficulties in which learned men have been involved, in the consideration of the meaning of our Lord's prediction, more remarkable than that of Mr. Houghton, the ingenious Author of two Sermons
this subject ; for, having pointed out, what he conceives to be differences, in the accounts of the Evangelists, he says,
" From these dif. « ferences among the Evangelists, it is evident that they “ spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the end of the “ World, promiscuously, and consequently that they con5 sidered these two Advents, as one and the same.". Again
“ Mark and Luke, while evidently discoursing of " the calamities of the Jews, seem to rise, by a sudden tran“ sition, from the period of the Jewish state to that of the
world itself, and describe the coming of our Saviour, in “ terms nearly similar, and equally sublime, with those of “ Matthew ; yet all, with one consent, refer the the whole go to that present generation." See pages 225, 226.
While the most zealous and able advocates of Christianity consider these chapters in such a light; it is impossible for any one to be surprized, that it should be inferred that the objection of the Historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, so often mentioned, is founded on the basis of truth. It is equally impossible not to perceive the absolute necessity of re-examining, with a critical and minute attention, the true meaning of these chapters, and of endeavouring to rescue them, from the charge of obscurity, at least, if not of
predicting what the records of more than seventeen Centuries, have proved to be false.
Upon predicting the entire destruction of the magnificent Temple at Jerusalem—the surprize and astonishment of the Disciples is sufficiently indicated, by the questions which they put to Jesus, and if regard had been paid to the whole tenor of the Gospel history ; it could not have been doubted, that that surprize and astonishment arose, from their not being able to comprehend how their expectation of the coming of the Messiah was to be realized. Jesus had, already, told them, that they should not have gone over the Cities of Israel
ere the Son of Man the Messiah.came, and that there were some among them who should not taste of death till they saw the Son of Man the Messiah coming in his Kingdom. And now he tells them of most awful event which could never have entered into their minds to be compatible with the coming of the Messiah, to wit, that Jerusalem should be totally destroyed. In these circumstances, was it possible for them, upon the common principles of human nature, to have refrained from asking, as they did what shall be the sign of thy coming, with a particular reference to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah? If they had not asked this question, would not this part of the Gospel History, have been essentially defective, from the Disciples not having acted as men, in their circumstances, would have been compelled to have done ? for, it must be observed, that there does not appear to be, any thing, in the preceeding part of the History, which can lead to the slightest suspicion, either that their sentiments, were, at all, altered, upon the subject-or that they had yet attained the satisfaction, which they wished for, that Jesus had yet appeared in that Character! Upon the contrary--their subsequent enquiry--when he would restore the Kingdom to Israel, and the declaration that some of them, after the death of Jesus, actually made--that they trusted it had been he who should have redeemed Israel, are, if any thing can be, demonstrations, that, at this period, they still expected that he would declare himself, as the Messiah.
In the present instance, however, there is no necessity for such reasoning as this ; for the internal evidence, arising from the answer of our Lord, to the questions of the Disciples is, of itself, fully sufficient to establish, this important proof, of the genuine authenticity, of this part of the History. Deeply sensible of the effect which so terrible a denuntiation upon every thing which, as Jews, they held most dear upon Earth, must necessarily have had, upon their minds; and thoroughly satis from the circumstances of the case, as well as from the nature of their Questions, what lay nearest to their hearts, to wit, the expectation of his coming as the Messiah, and their extreme anxiety to have this awful prediction reconciled with those expectations his benevolent attention, to the pecu. liarity of their situation, led him to make it, his first and prin. cipal care, to guard them against withdrawing their confidence from him, whom, till then, they had looked up to, as the