The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 24:15-35

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 18, 2018

Mat 24:15 When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand.

When, therefore you shall see,” &c. “Therefore,” would seem not so much to express a conclusion, as a continuation of the discourse, and to indicate that our Redeemer was passing on to another topic, or to another sign of the “end,” concerning which they questioned Him. Having described or pointed out the signs, common to the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the world, indifferently, in the foregoing, He now proceeds to give the distinctive signs of the destruction of Jerusalem, in reply to the first question, “When shall these things be?” as far as verse 29; and then, He commences to give the distinctive marks of the approaching destruction of the world, to the close of the chapter. In giving the signs of both indifferently in the foregoing, our Redeemer wishes to impress upon us the dreadful nature of the evils and woes that shall befall the wicked at the end of the world; since, of these, the shocking evils inflicted on Jerusalem, the bare recital of which, even at this remote period, makes us shudder, were but a mere figure—evils, the very sight of which, forced Titus, this hardened man of blood, at the head of the iron legions of Rome, stretching forth his hands, to invoke Heaven as witness, that he was in no way responsible for these unutterable woes. (Josephus de Bel. Jud. Lib. v. c. 10, &c.)

The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet.” In these words, there is allusion to Daniel (9:27), “there shall be in the temple abomination of desolation: and the desolation shall continue even to the consummation, and to the end,” because, the temple, no matter what efforts may be made, never can be rebuilt. In 12:11, “the abomination unto desolation shall be set up,” &c., Daniel speaks of the end of the world, whereas in 9:27, he speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, to which our Redeemer distinctly refers here. Commentators are greatly divided as to what “the abomination of desolation,” means. Those who say, there is allusion here to the end of the world, (Irenæus, &c.), mean by it, Antichrist, who “shall sit in the temple of God … as if he were God” (2 Thess. 2:4). But, it is clear from St. Luke (21:20), where, for “abomination of desolation,” we read, “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about with an army, then know that the desolation thereof is at hand,” that our Redeemer distinctly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which He here gives a premonitory sign in reply to the question of the disciples; and, moreover, in the passage quoted from Daniel, there is no allusion to the reign of Antichrist, but only to the desolation of Jerusalem; hence, various interpretations of the words, in connexion with this event, are given. By it, some understand, the statue of Cæsar, placed by Pilate, in the temple; or, the equestrian statue of Adrian, which, St. Jerome tells us, was placed in the sanctum sanctorum. But, although a statue or idol was an abomination with the Jews (see 1 Mach. 1:57, where the Greek for, “abominable idol of desolation,” is the same as here, βδέλυγμα τῆς έρημώσεως), and the words, “standing in the holy place,” would suit this interpretation; still, neither statue could be referred to, as a sign of the devastation of Jerusalem. For, the placing of Cæsar’s statue happened before our Redeemer spoke these words (if it was placed there at all by Pilate, which is questioned by some, as Josephus says nothing about it), and that of Adrian was placed there after the destruction of Jerusalem, and could not, therefore, serve as a warning, to leave a city that was to be destroyed. Hence, some commentators understand by it, the army of the Romans, who, in approaching and entering Jerusalem, in a hostile spirit, would not hesitate to display their idols on their banners, and offer sacrifice to their gods. These things were an abomination to the Jews, and this abomination portended desolation and utter ruin. And they would “stand on the holy place,” that is, Jerusalem, which the Evangelist calls, the holy city (4:5). It was such as yet, not having been yet wholly abandoned by God. This refers to the time of Cœstius Gallus, prefect of Syria, who surrounded Jerusalem with an army; but afterwards, raised the siege, and retired inglorious from before the walls of Jerusalem. It could not refer to the final destruction, under Titus, as then, there was no opportunity for escaping. Others, by “abomination of desolation,” understand, the occupation of the temple by seditious Jews and turbulent malefactors (the Zealots), who got possession of the temple at the time of Cœstius, and held it for three years and a half, in spite of the Jews themselves, until its final destruction by Titus. These made the sacred enclosures of the holy house, a place of carnage and a citadel of defence. They were guilty of the greatest atrocities within its walls, and filled the different halls with pools of innocent blood, sparing neither priests nor people. (Josephus de Bel. Jud., Lib. iv. c. 3, 5, 6, &c.) This seems to be the most probable interpretation, because these really stood in the temple, as Daniel predicted. They profaned it, and committed atrocities there, and this was both the sign and immediate cause of its destruction. For, had they given it up, the Romans would have spared it. Perhaps, however, it might be better to understand the words, of the Roman invading army, and of the Jewish Zealots, who defended the temple. For, the besiegers and defenders of Jerusalem were an abomination. The Romans, on account of their idols; the Zealots, on account of their crimes, and the carnage they were guilty of. Both stood in the holy place, where they “ought not” (Mark 13:14). (The Hebrew for holy place means, “super alam”—“above the wing,” or extremity of Jerusalem and the temple, “there shall be desolating abominations.”) Both stood at the extremity of Jerusalem and the temple; nay, in the very temple. The Zealots, who made it a citadel, and its halls, places of carnage; the Romans, by undermining, burning, consuming it, and slaughtering the Jews there like cattle, and introducing their standards, adorned with, images, of their false gods. The union of both the former interpretations in this one, will fully explain the entire passage; particularly, if we understand it, of the attack of Cœstius, which preceded that of Titus, and of the defence made against him by the Zealots. The Hebrew of the Prophet Daniel, which has “abominations” in the plural, would seem to refer to the abomination on the part of the Romans, and that on the part of the Jews themselves. It was in consequence “of an old tradition among the Jews, that the city would be destroyed, whenever the hands of the Jews themselves would profane their temple” (Josephus, Lib. v. c. 2), that many of the better classes among the Jews fled from Jerusalem, as from a sinking vessel, after the withdrawal of Cœstius; and relying on the same tradition, but particularly on the prophetic warning of our Lord, the Christians, and among them, St. Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, who lived till the time of Trajan, fled to the territories of king Agrippa, and to the city of Pella in particular, beyond the Jordan.

Maldonatus understands by, “the abomination of desolation,” or, “the abominable or horrid desolation,” the desolation itself; and he says it was not given as a sign, by any means, of the desolation, since it could not be a sign of itself. Our Redeemer gave, as a sign, the surrounding of Jerusalem by an army. For, Maldonatus holds, that our Redeemer used both phrases, “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about by an army” (Luke 21:20)—which was a sign of impending destruction—and, “when you shall see the abomination of desolation,” &c. When you witness these two events, then you are to conclude, that the prophecy of Daniel, regarding the utter ruin of Jerusalem, is fulfilled. According to him, the words of this verse, “when you see the abomination,” &c., are not connected with the words of next verse, “then, they that are in Judea,” &c., nor is their sense any way suspensive or dependent on them. The sentence concludes fully with the words of this verse, “he that readeth, let him understand.” The interpretation, however, which makes them dependent on the following verse, is the one more commonly adopted. Hence, the words mean: “When you shall see Jerusalem surrounded with an army,” viz., of Cœstius, and immediately after, or in connexion with it, an abominable band of brigands establish themselves in the temple, or, “the holy place,” “where they should not” (Mark 13:14). Then, “he that reads, let him understand,” that is, whoever has sense, let him understand that the words of Daniel (9:27), “and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation,” &c., are fulfilled. Some interpreters (Patrizzi, Lib. 1, cap. 1, de Ev. M., §§ 2, &c.), understand these to be the words, not of our Lord, but of the Evangelist, encouraging the faithful to understand the verification of the words of Daniel. In this interpretation, the words are parenthetical, containing an allusion to the words of Daniel (9:25), and the sense of the foregoing suspended until the sentence is completed in the next verse, thus: “When you shall see,” &c., verse 15 (he that heareth let him understand), “then, they that are in Judea,” &c., verse 16.

Mat 24:16 Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains:

Then,” when you shall see all this happening, it shall be a signal for you to escape, with all haste, for your lives. “Those who are in Judea,” where Jerusalem is situated. It includes all the land of Israel and Galilee, which were first destroyed by Vespasian. “Fly to the mountains,” places difficult of access, and a safe retreat from an enemy. St. Luke (21:21) adds, “and those who are in the midst thereof depart out; and let those who are in other countries not enter into it.” Maldonatus refers, “then,” to all the preceding signs, viz., when you shall hear of wars, &c., and see the other signs of the devastation of Jerusalem, “then,” fly with as much speed as possible.

Mat 24:17  And he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house: 

House-top,” is allusive to the flat roofs of the houses in Judea, where the people used to walk, &c. The houses were provided with two staircases—one inside; the other, outside on the street. By the latter, or, as some suppose, over the flat roofs of the other houses, to the city walls, they are recommended to fly. “Let him not come down,” &c. Descending in the most expeditious way possible, let him make no delay, by entering the house, to take anything out of it for his approaching flight. Let him busy himself only about the most expeditious way of accomplishing his escape.

Mat 24:18  And he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. 

He that is in the field,” whether walking or labouring, “let him not go back to take his coat,” however necessary for his journey; but, let him fly as quickly as possible, in whatever costume he may chance to be at the time. In southern countries, husbandmen, when at work, used to leave their upper garments, the cloak and coat, at home.

The words of this, and of the preceding verses, 16 and 17, are proverbial or hyperbolical forms of expression, conveying the imminent nature of the danger, and the necessity of immediate and speedy flight, as well as the magnitude of the evils that were approaching, since men should sacrifice everything sooner than encounter or endure them. Although six months elapsed between the raising of the siege, by Cœstius, and the march of Vespasian into Galilee, and a still longer period between it and the siege of Jerusalem, by Titus; still, this would be very short, when we consider the lingering delays that oftentimes embarrass those who are leaving their beloved country for ever. Hence, our Redeemer urges them to the greatest expedition and haste in their flight, on their beholding the signs He gives them of the ruin and unutterable woes that were to befall the unhappy Jerusalem.

St. Luke (21:22) adds, as the cause of all this urgent admonition—“For, these are the days of vengeance, that all things may be fulfilled, that are written,” in the book of Daniel, and the other prophets, concerning the ruin of Jerusalem, and the vengeance to be inflicted on the Jews, for all the just blood they shed, from that of Abel downwards.

Mat 24:19  And woe to them that are with child and that give suck in those days.

Those who are with child, or that give suck,” cannot fly with sufficient speed; nor can they leave their charge behind, as easily as those can, who leave their money, &c., on account of the strong natural affection of a mother for her offspring. They shall be, therefore, caught and butchered by the Romans. Our Redeemer selects them, in preference to the aged and decrepit; both, because, of the happiness and ease they are wont to enjoy, and which shall now be converted into the greatest tribulation; and also to show the fearful havoc and indiscriminate slaughter that shall take place, since the pregnant and nursing women, who are ordinarily spared in war, shall meet with no mercy from the Romans. Perhaps, also, he alludes to the straits to which some unhappy mothers were to be reduced in the siege of Jerusalem, when, as we learn from Josephus, they devoured their own children, to appease hunger.

Mat 24:20  But pray that your flight be not in the winter or on the sabbath. 

As in the preceding, He refers to two classes of persons; so here he refers to two periods of time, unsuited for flight. “In winter,” the state of the weather, and of the roads, render flight very troublesome and inconvenient. “Or on the Sabbath,” when the converted Jews, although the Mosaic ceremonies were then abolished, would still observe the law, regarding a Sabbath-day’s journey, and would, under no circumstances, transgress it, although, in cases of necessity, or danger of life, this did not oblige; still, some Jews did not admit even this exception. At this time, the converted Jews were permitted, though not bound, to observe the Mosaic ceremonies, and our Redeemer here speaks in accommodation to their well-known feelings on the matter. The words of this verse mean: Pray to God, that you may escape these dreadful evils, and that nothing may obstruct your flight; and they also convey to us, by a familiar illustration, an idea of the menaced calamities, which would be such, that they should fervently pray for any circumstances that might mitigate their severity. St. Luke tells us the reason (21:23), “For, there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon the people.” History fully testifies to the fearful fulfilment of this sad prediction (Josephus, de Bel. Jnd., Lib. 3–7).

Mat 24:21  For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. 

For there shall be great tribulation,” &c. St. Augustine says (Epistle 8), that while it would be difficult to determine, from St. Matthew or St. Mark, whether there was reference here to the Day of Judgment or to the siege of Jerusalem, St. Luke determines it as referring to the latter, just as he clearly points out what “the abomination of desolation” refers to. He explains in what these dreadful evils shall consist: “they shall fall by the edge of the sword … Jerusalem shall be trodden down,” &c. (21:24.) The word, “for,” shows it refers to the foregoing. It is assigned as a reason for their rapid flight.

Great tribulation, such was not from the beginning of the world, nor shall be.” Any one who reads the account, given by Josephus, of the dreadful and almost incredible calamities which befell the unhappy Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem, may clearly see how this was fulfilled. And although, it may be, that during the persecuting reign of Antichrist, the sufferings may be more general; yet, hardly shall any fall so heavily, in point of horror and intensity, on any particular race or people, as those are said to be which were inflicted on the Jews. Moreover, the tribulation of the faithful, under Antichrist, shall not be such a tribulation of vengeance as that of the Jews. For, as their crime of Deicide, coupled with their obstinate resistance to grace, and their monstrous ingratitude, far exceeded the guilt of any other nation; so, was the vengeance more severe. Hence, even the punishment inflicted on Sodom, in this life, which was but a type of that inflicted on it, in the other, was not so severe as the protracted misfortunes inflicted on the Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem, which were only a feeble type of the eternal misfortunes in store for these miserable and ungrateful Deicides, who invoked the blood of the Son of God “on themselves, and on their children.”

Mat 24:22  And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened. 

Unless these days,” employed in the siege of Jerusalem, “had been shortened,” and rendered fewer, than the anger of the Romans called for, and the iniquities of the Jews merited, for which no punishment, however protracted or intense, was too severe, “no flesh,” no person from out the Jewish nation, “should be saved,” from utter ruin and destruction. Had the Romans met with greater resistance and delay, and had they endured more hardships and sufferings, for any protracted time, as the natural strength and powerful fortifications of Jerusalem would give grounds to apprehend, the likelihood is, that, not only would every living soul within the precincts of Jerusalem be put to the sword; but, by a general edict, which would be carried out cheerfully by all other peoples throughout the earth, by whom the Jews were held in hatred, the Romans, then all-powerful, would decree the utter extirpation of the Jews, and abolish for ever the name of Jew, throughout the entire earth, almost all then subject to the dominion of Rome. Hence, there would be no Jews from whom “the elect” would be descended. The words, “no flesh,” refer to the Jews exclusively. From this we see, how God ordains everything for the good of His elect.

But for the sake of the elect,” those whom God had, by His eternal decree, elected to grace and glory among the Jews, whether these living and converted, or those to be afterwards converted, or to be born in course of time of the Jews then existing. “But for the sake of the elect,” lest the merciful decrees and designs of God on them should be frustrated, “those days shall be shortened.” St. Mark says (13:20), “But, for the sake of the elect, which He (the Lord) hath chosen, He hath shortened these days.” In truth, such was the strength of Jerusalem, that, were it not, that the Zealots were blinded by Divine justice, to destroy the stores of provisions, which would have served for years (Josephus, Lib. 6, c. 1), and were also seized with unusual fear to abandon their strong fortifications, and weaken, by their cruel carnage and bloodshed, the strength of the city, Jerusalem might have held out for years against the Romans. Hence, Josephus (Lib. 3, c. 11), and elsewhere, attributes the success of the Romans to the interposition of God. And the same historian informs us (Lib. 7, c. 16), that Titus, on entering the stronghold of Sion, and beholding the strength of the place, declared, it was God that assisted the Romans, who could not otherwise succeed; and going round, and, seeing the ramparts filled with corpses, raising his hands, he called God to witness, that this was none of his doing. Hence, he refused a golden crown, presented to him by the neighbouring nations, stating, that not he, but God, who was angry with the Jews, was the cause of these wonderful successes (Baronius, a.d. 72, ex Philostrate).

St. Chrysostom (in Matth. 77), extols the Providence of God, who makes the three other Evangelists, who did not live till the siege of Jerusalem, the narrators of these events. St. John, who survived it, says nothing of it, in order to strengthen our faith in the predictions of our Redeemer. And, doubtless, it was with the same providential design, God employed Josephus, himself a Jew, and no Christian, to chronicle the fulfilment of these predictions, so minute in details. The words of this verse, although directly and immediately meant for the time preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, apply also to the persecution of Antichrist, who shall be allowed to “tread under foot the holy city” (Apoc. 11:2), that is, the Church of Christ, “two and forty months,” that is, three years and a half; “and, to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Apoc. 13:7). His persecuting reign, which would destroy the whole human race, and would seduce almost all, shall be shortened to the above period of three and one-half years, “for the sake of the elect.”

Mat 24:23  Then if any man shall say to you, Lo here is Christ, or there: do not believe him. 

Some commentators say, that our Redeemer here pauses to treat distinctly of the events, that are to occur after the ruin of Jerusalem, and between that period and the end of the world; and that He refers, in a particular way, to what shall take place before the end of the world, of which the ruin of Jerusalem was a type and figure. (Maldonatus, Jansenius, &c.) Others hold, that He continues to treat of the events, that are to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, and of those which are to precede the Day of Judgment, indifferently—the former being a type of the latter—as far as verse 29, where He directly and specially treats of the events connected with the Day of Judgment.

It would seem, that the words of our Redeemer, as far as verse 29, apply to the time preceding the siege of Jerusalem, and may be easily explained regarding it. They can be also explained of the events that are to take place, before the final end of all things, prefigured by what preceded the ruin of Jerusalem. Hence, it could be maintained, that, in the following six verses, our Redeemer treats of both events.

Then,” that is, during the wars of the Romans, preceding the siege of Jerusalem. It may also refer to the period intervening between the taking of Jerusalem and the end of the world; and particularly to the time approaching the last end of all things; and, although thousands of years may elapse between both events, still, it may be said to have happened “then;” taking into account the measure of time with God, with whom “a thousand years are as one day” (2 Peter 3:8); “a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday,” &c. (Psa. 89) And our Redeemer, when addressing the Apostles, and, through them, the faithful of all succeeding ages (for, St. John, alone, among them, lived till even the time of the destruction of Jerusalem), speaks in such a way, as to leave them uncertain as to the near approach of the Day of Judgment, thus to keep them always in readiness for its approach. Hence, although “then,” were referred to the period of the general judgment, it could be explained as above; in the same way as the advocates of the other opinion are forced to explain the words, “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). But, in this verse, I would take “then” to refer immediately and directly to the times preceding the capture of Jerusalem, without excluding the other in a secondary and subordinate sense. “If any man shall say to you,” My faithful followers, who shall be alive then; for, the Apostles shall be dead, Lo! here is Christ,” who is come to save and liberate His people from all their evils; “or there, do not believe Him.” The Jews were aware that the time of the Messiah was at hand, from the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jacob, regarding the passing of the sceptre from the tribe of Juda. Hence, some flattering Vespasian said, that he, as the conqueror of Judea, was the Messiah. (Suetonius in Vespas.) Others, flattered Herod in the same way. Each of the three leaders of the Jewish factions then at Jerusalem, Eleazar, son of Simon; John, son of Levi; and Simon, son of Goria, gave himself out for the Messiah. So did a certain impostor, in the reign of Adrian, who wished to be called Barchochabas. Son of the Star, as if he were the star referred to in the words, “orietur stella in Jacob.”

This shall most clearly take place in the days of Antichrist also. “Do not believe him,” that is, do not hearken to any such false rumours, so injurious to the true Messiah, whom you believe Me to be. These are words of warning, addressed to such of the faithful as might have been slow in attending to the admonitions of our Redeemer, about leaving Judea, and might have lingered at Jerusalem, or the neighbouring places, until it would be too late to betake themselves to flight.

Mat 24:24  For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. 

He tells them not to believe such false statements, and that such statements shall be circulated, our Redeemer assures us. “For, there shall arise false Christs,” men who shall pretend to be Christ, the Saviour of their people; “and false prophets,” who shall aid these impostors, by proclaiming among the people, as their agents and instruments of seduction, that they are the true Christ. As Christ had His true prophets to prepare the people for His coming, so shall these false Christs have their false prophets too.

And shall work great signs,” &c. By the aid of magic, they shall perform great prodigies, as the seal of their mission and teaching. They shall perform these false miracles, by the aid of the demon, the father of lies, “insomuch as to deceive,” by their plausibility, “(if possible) even the elect.” By “elect,” are meant, those elected to final and eternal happiness. Although the “elect” are not impeccable, and may (as they sometimes freely do) fall away from faith and grace during life; still, considering the infallible purpose of God’s decree, predestinating them to final glory, to be attained by the free exercise of good works, and the free co-operation with His efficacious graces, it is not possible, they would continue in sin, or die in sin. God’s infallible purpose of Divine election shall so guard, guide, protect, and assist their free will by His efficacious graces, that, though they may be and are free to sin, and to persevere in sin to the end (for “not to be able to sin, is not a gift of this life, but the reward of the other,” says St. Augustine, (de corruptione et gratia, c. 11), still, they will not sin always unto the end; but, they will freely repent, if in sin, and dio in God’s grace and favour. Hence, the perseverance of the elect is necessary, not by an absolute necessity, or in sensu diviso; but, by a kind of moral necessity, in sensu composito; and, supposing the Divine decree predestinating them, necessitate, as logicians say, non consequentis; sed consequentiæ. None of God’s elect shall perish; “no one can snatch them out of His hand” (John 10:28).

The words, “to deceive (if possible) the elect,” show the magnitude of the temptation; and how it shall tell upon others. This shall be particularly true of the times of Antichrist. (2 Thess. 2:9; Apoc. 13:13, &c.)

Mat 24:25  Behold I have told it to you, beforehand. 

I have foretold it to you,” that is, to such of My followers as shall be then alive, in order to guard against them, and to stimulate His followers to flight, so far as the ruin of Jerusalem was in question; and by good works, to make sure their election, since, it is only on the prevision of good works is founded God’s predestinating decree; and should anyone grow remiss, on account of supposing, that he was of the elect (of which no one can be absolutely certain in this life, without a revelation), such a person would give good grounds for supposing, that he is not of the elect. Moreover, if one were certain he was elected, this should be no reason for sinning; on the contrary, he should, by obeying God’s Commandments, manifest his gratitude, and increase the treasure of merit and degree of happiness in store for him.

Mat 24:26  If therefore they shall say to you, Behold he is in the desert: go ye not out. Behold he is in the closets: believe it not. 

He more fully explains the words of verse 23, “here, or there.” By mentioning two places, the most opposite—the open desert, and the inmost recesses of a house—he wishes to convey, that, no matter in what place, or in what character, any such pretender should appear, he is not to be heeded. Some say, the word, “desert,” where this false Messiah was supposed to gather his forces, to free his people, has reference to Simon, the son of Goria, who, after collecting immense multitudes of every class, in deserted and mountainous places, after reducing Idumea to subjection, was admitted into Jerusalem, and tyrannically oppressed the citizens. The word, “closets,” is thought to have reference to Eleazar and John, the leaders of the Zealots, who, before the destruction of Jerusalem, successively got possession of the interior of the temple. (Josephus de Bel. Lib. vi. &c.)

Mat 24:27  For as lightning cometh out of the east and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the cowling of the Son of man be. 

In order to guard you against the deceitful wiles of these impostors, take this for a certain sign of My second coming, which alone the faithful can expect—since, they believe in My first coming already—it shall not be confined to any one place, or obscure locality; it shall not be, like My first coming, in humility, confined to an hidden corner of Judea, and the obscurity of night; but, like the lightning of heaven, which at once appears brilliant, effulgent, and dazzling, at the same moment, in the opposite parts of the heavens; so shall My coming be sudden, glorious, and seen from afar, visible to the entire earth, dazzling all mankind by its splendour and brilliancy, when it shall make itself known, not merely in one part of the earth, but throughout the vast expanse of the heavens, so that it shall convince the world at once, of the truth of My appearance. Whosoever, therefore, shall appear in any one place, or corner, and pretend to be the Messiah, is convicted, from this sign, of being an impostor. Perhaps, these words are also intended to correct the carnal notions, which the Apostles formed of the glorious coming of our Redeemer, whose kingdom, they imagined, would commence in Judea. Our Redeemer, on the contrary, conveys to them, that it would be heavenly, and all celestial, different altogether from what they imagined it would be.

Mat 24:28  Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. 

The words of this verse are supposed by many to be allusive to the passage of (Job 39:30), where, treating of the eagle, God says, “wheresoever the carcass shall be, she is immediately there.” By some the words are supposed to be a Hebrew proverb, conveying, that no very great exertion or labour is needed for uniting those that are naturally united, and have a natural and irresistible tendency towards each other. He compares Himself to the carcass (the Greek for body is, πτωμα, a dead body), on account of His death, endured for our sakes, to procure glory for us, like that of His own glorified body. He compares His elect to “eagles,” because, as the eagle, this noble and royal bird, harmlessly escapes the lightning, so shall the elect escape unhurt, and stand in great constancy amidst the woes and lightnings of the last day. Moreover, as the eagles scent from an incredible distance, a dead body, and are carried aloft through space in quest of it, so, shall the elect be borne aloft in the air to meet Christ (1 Thess. 4:16), the great centre of attraction. To this St. Luke alludes (17:36).

The words of this verse would seem to be an answer to an implied complaint which might arise in the minds of His Apostles, viz., if Thy reign be thus brilliant, heavenly and passing, like the lightning, how can we enjoy it? He says, that His elect shall be permanently gathered to Him, so as to remain with Him, to enjoy Him. As the eagle, which is instinctively attracted to a carcass, floats aloft in air, crossing seas to enjoy it; so, shall they, after the resurrection from the tomb, renovated in youth like the eagle, be drawn to Him to enjoy Him, to feast with Him, and continue with Him for ever. The words, according to the Greek, ὅπου γαρ το πτωμα, &c., “for, where the body is,” &c., may be also regarded as illustrative, in a certain sense, of the preceding. They are a proverbial form of expression, showing, that a thing cannot be concealed. For, as the eagles scent their prey from afar, and make towards it; so, My glorious coming into the world shall not be hidden, but known to all. Wherefore, the faithful, like eagles of acutest sense, shall perceive My Divine presence, shall be attracted towards Me, and refreshed by My glory for ever. Hence, then, there shall be no need to inquire where is Christ; since, His coming shall be conspicuous and known to the entire world. Our Lord compares His elect to “eagles;” because, the reprobate shall not be borne aloft to meet the Judge, nor attracted to Him. They shall be reluctantly forced to appear at judgment.

St. Hilary infers from this verse, that our Redeemer will judge mankind in the place where His sacred body was raised on the cross, buried, and rose again. Thither shall all mankind proceed to be judged, near Jerusalem, in the valley of Josaphat, as the Prophet Joel teaches (Joel 3:2).

Mat 24:29  And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of heaven shall be moved. 

Immediately after the tribulation of these days.” This refers, according to those who hold, that in the preceding verses our Redeemer is treating of the time preceding the end of the world, to the persecutions by “false Christs and false prophets,” especially Antichrist. According even to those, who hold, that in the preceding, He is treating of the incredible woes, that, from several sources, are to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, the word, “immediately,” is to be explained in the sense given already to “then,” in verse 23, that the interval between the taking of Jerusalem and the end of the world, of which there is question in this verse, however long, in a human point of view, and according to human calculations, is, according to God’s view and measure, but an instant. (2 Peter 3:8; Psa. 89). Hence, in the New Testament, the whole term of the New Law is termed, “the last hour.” St. Peter says, the end of all “is at hand” (1 Ep. 4:7). Even in human calculations it is very short for each individual, since it virtually takes place for each one at death, when his eternal doom is sealed. Moreover, by “immediately,” our Redeemer means to convey, that no other remarkable change in religion, which would concern the faithful, is to occur between the ruin of Jerusalem and the end of all things. Hence, in the early ages, many imagined the Day of Judgment to be at hand, which forced St. Paul to correct this error. (2 Thess. 2 &c.)

The sun shall be darkened,” &c. This shall occur before the coming of the Judge (Luke 21:25–27; Joel 2:21). Many understand those words, in a metaphorical and spiritual sense, to refer to the Church and her condition, to the events that shall take place in her, and the persecutions she shall endure, at the end of the world. But, by comparing St. Luke (21:25–27) with St. Matthew, it is quite clear, the words are to be understood literally, of the physical and stupendous phenomena, which shall take place both in the skies and on the earth, previous to the glorious coming of Christ to judgment. The sun shall withhold its light, as happened at the death of Christ. It shall become “black as sackcloth of hair” (Apoc. 11:12). As its first light pointed out a newly created world; so, shall its darkness indicate the final end of the same. “The signs in the sun and the moon and the stars” (Luke 21:25), are what is here referred to by St. Matthew, about the darkening of the sun, &c. “The moon shall not give her light.” She shall have none to give, on account of the darkness of the sun, from which she borrows her light; “she shall be as blood” (Apoc. 6:12).

The stars shall fall from heaven;” that is, they shall be so obscured from the sight of men, that they would seem to fall from heaven (Isaias 13:10). Besides, this may be understood literally; because comets and other stars generated in the air shall fall (Joel 2:30; Apoc. 6:13). St. Augustine (de Civit. Dei, c. 24), says: “Ignited exhalations, like to stars, shall be discharged from sky to earth, more wonderfully than happens now.”

And the powers of heaven shall be moved.” By these, are commonly understood, the heavenly bodies or stars, which are frequently termed in SS. Scripture, “militia cœli, the army or host of heaven.” (Deut. 17:3; 4 Kings 17:16; 21:3–5; Isa. 24:21, &c.; Jer. 8:2, &c.) These “shall be moved,” from their place, and shall cease to perform their usual courses and functions, of giving light, heat, &c. According to this class of interpreters, these words express, in a general way, what is expressed in a particular way, in the preceding words, “the sun shall be darkened, the moon refuse her light,” &c. The same idea is repeated in this verse, in a general way, for greater emphasis’ sake. On seeing these different signs and changes, which shall precede the coming of the Judge, men shall be seized with fear and consternation, at the prospect of the evils that are about to fall upon the world. Others, by “the moving of the powers of heaven,” understand, an extraordinary movement and agitation of the entire machine of the heavens, a shaking of their very foundations and hinges, as it were, which, by their disorderly movement, shall exhibit symptoms of an expiring world. It is the idea conveyed by Job, when he says, “the pillars of heaven tremble at His nod” (Job 26:11). These “powers” are called “the poles of the world” (Prov. 8:26). The same idea is conveyed by St. Peter (2 Peter 3:10), “the heavens shall pass away with great violence.” Estius understands, by the “moving of the powers of the heavens,” the ceasing of the heavens to exert any influence on the earth, so that on the earth, and in the condition of the seasons, we shall witness the most strange changes; we shall see the summer, cold; and the winter, hot. The signs in the heavens shall be accompanied with corresponding signs in the sea, on the earth, and in the elements—all calculated to inspire men with dread and terror. The opinion, which understands, by “powers,” the Angels, meaning the same as the words, cœli cœlorumque virtutes, is now commonly rejected as utterly improbable.

Mat 24:30  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. And then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. 

And then,” immediately after the preceding signs. “The sign of the Son of man.” The most commonly received interpretation, understands this of the cross of our Redeemer, which alone could be termed, “the sign” (τὸ σημεῖον), His certain, well-known standard, whereby He achieved the victory over death and hell, and merited glory for Himself and us. Hence, the Church chaunts, in the Office of the Holy Cross, “hoc signum crucis erit in cœlo, cum Dominus ad judicandum venerit.” It was by the cross He was known, and rendered celebrated throughout the world. This standard of the cross shall be borne aloft by angels before the Judge descending to pass judgment, as a trophy of victory, as the royal ensign of power and authority. Thus shall it be shown, that by His cross, Christ merited glory and judiciary power, that those are ungrateful and inexcusable, who spurned the charity which He displayed when He submitted to be crucified for the salvation of all; now, the humble followers of the cross shall be seated with Him; and its enemies hurled to the abyss of hell. Whether the real cross, on which Christ died, shall appear, after its several parts have been collected and united by the power of God; or, merely an image or resplendent figure of it, formed in the air, is disputed. The latter opinion seems, to some, the more likely, as thus we shall avoid the useless multiplication of miracles, in the collection of the scattered particles of the wood of the true cross. Besides, the word, “sign,” favours this latter view. Some commentators hold the opinion, which, however, does not exceed the bounds of probability, as the SS. Scripture and the Church are silent upon it, that the other instruments of our Saviour’s Passion—the nails, the scourges, the thorns, &c., shall also appear with the cross on that day, shining resplendent in the heavens.

And then shall all the tribes,” that is, all the impious and infidels, who refused to receive our Lord, or obey His Commandments, and the Jews particularly, of whom it is said, “videbunt in quem transfixerunt” (John 19:37). The elect cannot be referred, to. Far from mourning, those who conformed their lives to the model of Christ suffering on the cross, shall be filled with ineffable joy and consolation. “They shall, then, stand in great constancy,” viz., the just, “who love His coming” (1 Tim. 4:8). When, then, it is said, “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn,” there is an example of what logicians term, distributio pro generibus singulorum, and not pro singulis generum. The Greek word for “mourn” (κοψονται), conveys the idea of striking their breasts. The words of this verse are allusive to Zacharias (12), as appears from Apocalypse (1:7). The passage from Zacharias, most likely, referred to the wailing of the faithful Jews over the death of Christ, to which their sins gave occasion, according to St. Jerome. Still, it is, by accommodation, applied by our Redeemer to the unavailing wailings of the infidels, on beholding Christ, whom they slew and rejected; just as the words which St. John (19:37), quotes from Zacharias (12:10), “and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced,” although originally referring to the faithful Jews, who were to regard our Redeemer in a spirit of faith, and upon whom was poured out “the spirit of grace and of prayer” (Zacharias 12:10), are, by accommodation, applied to the unbelieving Jews, who shall, on the last day, behold Him exhibiting His wounds; so, that having before refused voluntarily to believe in Him and bewail His death, they shall then be forced to look on Him involuntarily, and indulge in unavailing regrets.

And they shall see,” immediately after the preceding signs, “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” These words are allusive to Daniel (7:13), “ecce in nubibus quasi filius hominus veniebat.” After our Lord had ascended, and had been taken up by the Angels in a cloud into heaven, it was said by them, “sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis rum,” &c. (Acts 1:11.) He shall come now, a second time, clothed with human nature, not, however, retaining its mortality or infirmities; but, “in the clouds of heaven,” which shall symbolize His glory, by their brightness, and serve as a triumphal car, on which He shall appear seated. No longer shall He appear in lowliness, or poverty, or debasement, as at His first coming; but, “with much power and majesty.” The Greek is, with “much power and glory.” His power will be seen from the resuscitation of all the dead, at His sole word of command; from their suddenly assembling in one place; from His irrevocably passing sentence on all, according to their deserts; from His receiving the homage of every creature, in heaven, earth, and hell, including angels, men, and devils, who shall acknowledge Him as their Lord and Judge. His “glory,” or “majesty,” shall appear from the glorious brightness of His body; from the hosts of Angels accompanying Him, and heralding in His approach; from His appearing seated on the clouds of heaven; and from the sounds of trumpets; from the thunders, lightning, and earthquakes which shall precede His coming (Apoc. 6:15, 16).

Mat 24:31  And he shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. 

Send His Angels,” &c. Similar is the description (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:15, 16). He says, “His Angels,” to convey, that He is their Lord and Master; they, His messengers.

With a trumpet and a great voice.” Whether this shall be a real trumpet or not is disputed. The most commonly received opinion is, that it refers to a noise, louder than thunder, which, by the instrumentality of Michael and the other Angels, the Son of God shall cause to reverberate throughout creation. Its effect shall be, to rouse the dead from their long slumber, owing to the efficacious power of God. The word, “and,” means, that is, “a great voice,” the latter words being explanatory of the former. In the Greek it is, “with a trumpet of great voice.” What words shall be uttered by it, is uncertain. It is commonly supposed, that it shall distinctly announce the words, “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment,” or the words, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet Him” (26:6). Others suppose the passage to simply mean, that by the efficacious power and will of God, the dead shall rise from their tombs, and be awakened from their long sleep, as those who are asleep are roused by the noise of a loud trumpet. The former is most likely. This trumpet, which shall proclaim the descent of the Son of God to final judgment, had been prefigured in the Old Testament; in the first place, by that which proclaimed the majesty of God when promulgating His law on Mount Sinai; again, by the trumpets with which the people were wont to be summoned by the Priests to the Tabernacle of the Covenant. (Num. 10, &c.) The sound of trumpets is usually employed to usher in the approach of kings and great princes. The metaphor is borrowed from war, where a trumpet is employed to gather the soldiers, and terrify the enemy; here, it is conveyed, that the sound of trumpets shall be employed to announce the approach and majesty of the Sovereign Judge, to gather the human race, and inspire the enemies of God with terror and alarm.

And they shall gather together His elect from the four winds,” that is, from the four quarters of the earth, east, west, north, and south, the principal points from which the winds blow. The words, “from the four winds,” are a Hebrew form, denoting, all quarters of the globe. The “winds,” according to the Hebrew notions, denoted not only the cardinal points of the heavens; but, they also marked the regions, in the direction from which any of them blew.

From the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost boundaries,” &c. The Greek word for “farthest parts,” and “utmost boundaries,” is the same, ακρων; απʼ ἄκρων οὐρανων ἕως ἄκρων, &c. It denotes, from the utmost part of the earth, to the utmost part of heaven (απʼ ἄκρου γης ἕως ακρου ουρανου), as St. Mark has it (13:27). The phrase is but a fuller and more explanatory repetition of the preceding. It signifies, the extreme points of the heavens farthest asunder, such as east and west, right and left, including all the intermediate space—not so fully expressed in the preceding words—where the earth and sky would seem to meet. From all parts under heaven shall the elect be gathered; not carried by Angels, as was the Prophet Habacuc (Dan. 14:35); but, in virtue of the glorious gift of agility, they shall be, at once, transported into the air to meet the Judge. Similar are the phrases (Deut. 4:32), “From one end of heaven to the other end thereof.” Also in the Psalm (18:7), “His going out is from the end of heaven; and His circuit even unto the end thereof” that is, from the extreme cast to the extreme point of the west. The reprobate, being devoid of this gift of agility, shall be carried by Angels, like Habacue. “And He shall send His Angels, and they shall gather all scandals from His kingdom.” But, having addressed Himself to his disciples, in order to console them, He makes mention only of “the elect.” Some commentators think the words contain an allusion to the souls of the just, which shall be transferred from the highest heavens, to reanimate their resuscitated bodies, and shall proceed to the place of judgment. The former interpretation is, however, the more probable, as it accords better with the words of St. Mark, and the allusion to “the four winds.”

Mat 24:32  And from the fig tree learn a parable: When the branch thereof is now tender and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh. 

And from the fig-tree learn a parable.” “Parable,” here means, an illustration. The fig-tree was very common in Judea; and hence, any allusion to it, or illustration borrowed from it, was quite intelligible. Whenever it put forth its leaves, it was a sign that summer was nigh. This is accounted for on physical grounds, and is known from experience. St. Luke (21:30), says, “when they now shoot forth their fruit.” But, by “fruit,” he means, the young shoots and leaves, the same as is here expressed by St. Matthew.

Mat 24:33  So you also, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is nigh, even at the doors. 

Know that it is nigh even at the doors.” What “it” refers to, what it is that is, “at their doors,” would not be so clear were it not that St. Luke clearly expresses it. It is, their redemption, their perfect exemption from all evils and fears, when in the full enjoyment of God’s glorious and heavenly “kingdom” (Luke 21:28–31). “It” does not refer to the coming of the Son of man. For, among “all these things,” already described, “the sign of the Son of man appearing in heaven,” is mentioned. Hence, it refers to the near or immediate approach of their redemption, when, after the reprobate shall be in great terror and alarm, and shall weep, His elect may “look up and lift up their heads” (Luke 21:28), at the prospect of hearing the consoling invitation, to “come and take possession of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world,” which is to succeed these precursory signs, already described. This is the perfect redemption of the glorified sons of God, after which inanimate creation itself sighs and groans, like a mother longing to be delivered from the painful throes of childbirth (Rom. 8:19–22).

Mat 24:34  Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. 

Amen I say to you, that this generation shall not pass,” &c. What, “this generation,” refers to, is not easily seen. Some understand by it, with St. Jerome, the human race, and particularly, the Jewish people, whom our Redeemer frequently calls, “this generation” (Luke 17:25; Matt. 23:36). And our Redeemer’s object would be, if we limit the word to the Jewish people, to convey, that while other nations and tribes and peoples would pass away, before the Day of Judgment, without a vestige of them being left, the Jewish people would be preserved, as a testimony of their foolish expectation of their Messiah, according to the false conceptions they had regarding Him; and also, as an argument of God’s mercy, in calling them at the end of the world, to the faith, by sending one “from Sion, who would turn away iniquity from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). His object in saying it, if we understand the words of the human race, would be, to assure us, that the world would not end till all these things would happen, so certain was His assertion; and this is conveyed in words of the following verse: “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” &c. Others, with St. Chrysostom, understood, “this generation,” of the new generation of faithful believers, begotten by Christ; as if He said: that, no matter what evils would arise, what persecutions it had to encounter, the Christian religion would continue for ever to flourish on earth, until the Church militant would exchange her state for that of the Church triumphant. Others say, that it refers to the generation of men whom He was addressing; and, then, these give “all these things” a restricted meaning. As in the preceding, our Redeemer had been referring to the precursory signs and accompanying events, both of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the Day of Judgment—the former being a type and figure of the latter—these expositors confine “all these things” to the signs and events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened, before all the generation He then addressed, had passed away, that is, they happened in the lifetime of some of them. The chief objection to this interpretation is, that it restricts, without any seeming justification, the words, “all these things,” to only a part of the things referred to, viz., those relating to the destruction of Jerusalem. It might, perhaps, be said, that as the signs and events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, were types of those which shall precede, and take place on, the Day of Judgment, all shall take place on the former occasion, viz., the events relating to Jerusalem, literally; and those having reference to the Day of Judgment, typically, during the lifetime of some men, who were living at the time our Redeemer uttered those words.

Others, by generation (γενεαν) understand age, or period of time, thereby meaning, the period of time which was to elapse between Christ’s first and second coming, which is termed the last age of the world, and hence, termed by St. John, “the last hour,” and by St. Paul, “the ends of the world” (1 Cor. 10:11), being the last period of time within which any remarkable change in religion shall take place, until the end of all shall arrive. Hence, the words may mean, all these things shall happen, before the final end of this age on which we have entered shall have arrived. The coming of the Son of man shall put an end to the age on which we have entered. No other remarkable religious change shall take place until His final coming.

Mat 24:35  Heaven and earth shall pass: but my words shall not pass.

Heaven and earth shall pass away” as to their present external form, “transit figura hujus mundi” (1 Cor. 7:31); but, not as to substance; for, they shall be transformed into a “new heaven and a new earth.” “But My words shall not pass,” without being fully accomplished. The words may also moan, sooner shall the heavens—which, “He hath established for ever, and for ages of ages” (Psa. 148:6)—and the earth, “which standeth for ever” (Eccles. 1:4); sooner shall these things, which the Scripture itself describes as eternal and immoveable, pass away, than My words be unaccomplished. This meaning is fully warranted by the words of St. Luke (16:17), “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one tittle of the law to fail.”

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