« PreviousContinue »
who wrote it about the time these things began to be accomplished, and wished to direct the attention of Christians to this prophecy.
16. Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains.
There is here a reference to the case of Lot, who, when he departed from Sodom, fled for security to the mountains. In like manner, Christ exhorts the inhabitants of Judæa to flee to the mountains, when they saw Jerusalem encompassed with armies: for there would be no security for them in any place to which the Roman army could come. They were directed to do this also with the greatest expedition, which is here represented by several strong figures.
17. Let him which is on the housetop not come down, to take any thing out of his house.
The roofs of the houses in Judæa were not like ours, but flat, and used for walking and retirement. From these roofs there were stairs to descend, on the outside, without coming into the house. As a man who is in danger of being immediately arrested comes not down into the house, to carry away with him any of the furniture, but descends by the shortest way, and flees for his life; so let him do, who observes these signals of approaching calamity.
18. Neither let him which is in the field return back, to take his clothes.
The Jews, when they set themselves to work in the field, laid aside their cloak or upper garment, as an incumbrance; but so great was the speed which our Lord would have them use, on the present occasion, that he exhorts them not to turn back to fetch it, although lying near them in the field.
19. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days.
As nothing but the speediest flight could save them from destruction, Christ laments over the condition of those who, by such hindrances as those here mentioned, would be prevented from escaping. Thus he endeavours to convince his disciples of the necessity of an immediate retreat, as soon as the signs before recited should appear.
20. But But pray ye, "and pray ye," that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath-day.
To represent to them the necessity of a speedy flight, he urges them to pray that it might not be in the winter, when the shortness of the day, the badness of the roads and the great cold, would prevent them from travelling fast, or endanger their lives: nor on the sabbath, when their superstitious regard to that day would prevent them from going far; a sabbath-day's journey being no more than two miles. The climate of Judæa, although very warm in summer, was subject to a very considerable degree of cold in winter, on account of the great rains which fell at that season. Hence we read in Ezra x. 9. that the people in a public assembly held in the open air at that time of the year, trembled for the great rain; and William of Tyre informs us, that the troops of Saladine, after a defeat in the country of Judæa, perished through cold*.
21. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
These words must be limited to the people of whom Christ is here speaking, the Jews; and then they will signify, that the calamities undergone by them were unparalleled in their history; and will remain so. The evils arising from their own distractions and intestine fury, which were the principal source of their calamities,
*Harmer's Obs. Vol. i. p. 21.
were peculiar to this time. From Josephus, who has written a minute account of the siege, we learn that the fury of the opposite factions within the city was so great, that they filled all places, even the temple itself, with continual slaughters; nay, to such a pitch did their madness rise, that they destroyed the very granaries of corn which should have sustained them, and burnt the magazine of arms which should have defended them. By this means, when the siege had lasted but two months, a famine began to rage, which reduced them to such extremities, that mothers ate their own children. From the beginning of the siege to the taking of the city, there were destroyed, by faction, by famine, by pestilence, and by the enemy, no less than eleven hundred thousand in Jerusalem. To these must be added, two hundred and thirty-seven thousand four hundred and ninety, of whom express mention is made by this historian as being destroyed in other places; besides innumerable others, not subject to calculation, who were swept away by fatigue, famine, disease, and every kind of wretchedness and violence. The number of captives, throughout the whole war, was ninety-seven thousand.
22. And except those days should. be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elects' sake those days shall be shortened.
By the elect we are here to understand the Jewish 7 nation, who are called God's chosen or elect people. Thus the prophet Isaiah, when speaking of Cyrus, xlv. 4, says, "for Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name;" and the meaning of this verse is, that so fast were the Jews destroyed, that if their calamities had continued but a little longer, the whole nation would have been exterminated; but that God, out of regard to the people whom he had chosen from all nations to be his own, shortened the period of their sufferings, that a remnant
might be saved, for accomplishing the future purposes of his Providence; or the elect may here signify Christians, who are often called the elect, or chosen people of God, in the New Testament, as the Jews are in the Old. In this sense the word elect seems to be used a little below, in the 24th verse. If this should be the true interpretation, then the meaning will be, that God spared the Jews, by shortening the period of their calamities, for the sake of the benefit which Christians should derive from the existence and testimony of this people; which many writers have shewn to be very valuable.
23. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo here is Christ, or there, believe
24. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show, rather, "give*," great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.--Christians themselves.
Christ had foretold the appearance of false Christs, in verse the 5th of this chapter, as the distant signs and forerunners of the destruction of Jerusalem: he now mentions it as the immediate attendant of that event; he also says that they should undertake the double office of being Christs, or deliverers of the people from the Romans, and prophets, or inspired persons; and that they should propose great wonders or miracles, in confirmation of the justness of their claims. In all these particulars, the truth of Christ's prediction is proved by the testimony of Josephus, the Jewish historian: for according to him, there were several persons who pretended to divine inspiration, some years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and at that period, inducing peo
They did not really perform or exhibit them; but only promised or undertook to produce such signs.
ple to follow them, by promises of working miracles; one of them, Theudas, saying that he would dry up the river Jordan; and another, that he would cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down*. The nearer the Jews were to destruction, so much the more did these impostors multiply, and so much the more easy credit did they find with those who were willing to have their miseries softened by hope. Even during the conflagration of the temple, a false prophet encouraged the people with pretended miraculous signs of deliverance. The Jewish Christians themselves were very unwilling to give up all hope of deliverance from their subjection to the Romans; this accounts for the language of Christ, when he speaks of the danger which the elect were in of being deceived by these impostors; and shows his wisdom and goodness in forewarning them against trusting to the fallacious promises of persons who affirmed confidently that they were divinely raised up, to accomplish such a deliverance.
25. Behold I have told you before.
Christ desires his disciples to recollect, that he had forewarned them of their danger, that they might be upon their guard against these impostors.
26. Wherefore, if they shall say unto you, Behold he is in the desert, go not forth; Behold he is in the secret chambers, believe it not.
Christ here mentions the very places where these deceivers would appear, and Josephus tells us that impostors, under pretence of a divine inspiration, endeavoured to introduce novelty and change, and raised the common people to such a degree of madness, that they drew them forth into the desert, pretending that God would there make them see the tokens of liberty, i. e. of being rescued from the Roman yoke. He also mentions some who appeared in the secret chambers, or places of security in the city.
* Farmer on Miracles, pp. 305, 306.