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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 24:1–51]

AS Jesus was leaving the Temple some of His disciples called His attention to the rich materials of which it was built. But He told them that the day would soon come when there should not be left one stone upon another of that gorgeous edifice. They asked Him when these things should come to pass, and what signs should precede the end of the world. He said to them:

“When you shall see Jerusalem compassed about with an army, then know that the desolation thereof is at hand. Then let those that are in Judæa flee to the mountains. And he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. There shall be wrath upon this people. They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captives into all nations. Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles till the times of the nations be fulfilled.

“Many will come in My name, saying: ‘I am Christ’, and they shall seduce many. You shall hear of wars and rumours of wars; nation shall rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places. These are but the beginning of sorrows. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world. And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And upon the earth, distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves; men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world.

“Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn; and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty. 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 part of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away.”

“Watch therefore”, said our Lord in conclusion, “praying at all times that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The Destruction of Jerusalem. Our Lord’s discourse forms a wonderful prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the world, and the signs which were to herald both. The destruction of Jerusalem took place thirty-seven years after our Lord spoke these words (A. D. 70), and the circumstances of it were exactly those foretold by Him. A Jewish priest, by name Josephus, who was an eye-witness of the sad events, has in his seven books of “The Jewish War” described the siege, conquest and destruction of the holy city, as well as the signs which preceded them; and all the world can know by his description that our Lord’s prophecy was exactly fulfilled.

Among the signs which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, the following are quoted. According to the Acts of the Apostles several false prophets appeared in Jerusalem; first Theudas, and after him an Egyptian. In the year 64, when Nero was emperor, a great persecution of the Christians broke out, in which, among many others, SS. Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom. Throughout the Roman empire princes were murdered; and there raged civil wars, plagues, pestilences, and earthquakes which swallowed up whole towns. For an entire year a comet, in the form of a sword, was to be seen over Jerusalem. The great iron door of the Temple, which it took twenty men to move on its hinges, opened one night of itself. On the Feast of Pentecost the priests heard mysterious voices in the night, saying: “Let us depart”.

In the year 65, the Jews in Jerusalem rose up in open rebellion against the Roman government, and put to the sword the Roman garrison. The emperor Nero then sent his able general, Vespasian, to subdue the Jews. In the course of three years Vespasian conquered all the strong places of Judæa, and was on the point of marching on Jerusalem itself, when he was chosen emperor, and returned home, resigning the command of the army to his son Titus. Meanwhile the Christians in Jerusalem, mindful betimes of our Lord’s warnings, fled to Pella in Peræa (see Map).

In the interval civil war broke out in Jerusalem, and three powerful parties were fighting against each other. The principal citizens were executed or assassinated. Bloodshed took place in the streets, and even in the outer courts of the Temple. A part of the city was reduced to ruins, and thousands lost their lives. Each party destroyed the supplies of the others, and thus provisions which might have sustained the inhabitants for several years were lost. In the spring of the year 70 Titus appeared with his army, and pitched his camp before the city. Earth-works were thrown up, and a breach was made in the third or outer wall by the battering-rams of the Romans. After this outer wall had been destroyed, Titus succeeded, notwithstanding the gallant resistance of the Jews, in overthrowing the second wall, and then, after a hard fight of four days, he made his way into the city, and took possession of Fort Antonia, in spite of the heroic defence made by its garrison. By this time the famine in the city was very great. The siege had begun at the time of the Pasch, when Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims, so that at the time that the enemy surrounded the city, there were more than a million people within its walls. Some of them tried to steal out at night to search for herbs and roots, but such as were surprised were scourged and crucified by the Romans, and before long the crosses on which they were put to death stood like a forest round the Roman camp. To prevent any attempt at escape from the doomed city, and to ensure its reduction by starvation, Titus caused a wall to be built all round it. The famine was so great, that the inhabitants devoured the most loathsome things, old leather, mouldy hay, and even cow-dung. One mother killed and ate her own child! Added to the famine, there raged a devastating plague, and in the course of seven weeks no less than 716,000 dead bodies were carried away or thrown over the walls into the enemy’s camp.

After the storming of Fort Antonia, the attack was directed against the mount on which the Temple was built. After vain efforts to take the Temple by storm, Titus commanded that its gates and colonnade of cedar wood should be set on fire. He wished to save the actual Temple, but, in the excitement of the battle, a soldier threw a burning brand into the Sanctuary, and soon the glorious Temple was a heap of ruins. The fight was so furious that blood flowed literally in streams down the steps of the Temple. Finally, the upper city on Mount Sion was taken. Every Jew whom the conquerors met was cut down, and the houses with their inhabitants within were burnt. For two days and two nights the conflagration lasted, and on the third day nothing remained of the holy city but a heap of ashes.

Over a million people perished during the siege, and 97,000 were carried away into captivity and slavery. The ruins of the city and of the Temple were cleared away and the ground levelled. As our Lord foretold, there did not remain one stone upon another. And the Jews were scattered over the face of the earth.

In the year 363 A. D., the Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, wished to rebuild the Temple, in order to bring to nought the prophecy of Jesus; but an earthquake shattered what foundations remained, and fire was vomited from the earth, killing many heathen and Jewish workmen and making the place unapproachable; so that the work had to be given up. Not long afterwards Julian was killed in an expedition against the Persians, and he died with these words on his lips: “Galilean (meaning our Lord), Thou hast conquered.”

The Divinity of Jesus Christ. His prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem, which was so exactly fulfilled, is a proof of His Divinity, for only God could foreknow all that would occur both before and at the destruction of the holy city.

The End of the World. The exact fulfilment of our Lord’s words about the destruction of Jerusalem is a pledge that what He foretold about the end of the world and His second coming will be equally fulfilled. The signs which will precede the end of the world will be similar to those which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem: wars, sedition, and earthquakes. The Gospel will first be preached to all nations (although our Lord does not say that all will accept it); but there will be a great apostasy before the end of the world: false Christs and false prophets shall appear, and many shall be seduced. The laws of the universe will be upset, and then shall be seen the Cross in the heavens, and the Divine Judge will come in power and glory. All the dead will be called from their graves to appear before Him, and heaven and earth shall pass away—or be changed. “The fashion of this world passeth away”, says St. Paul (1 Cor. 7:31); while St. Peter writes thus: “For we look for new heavens and a new earth according to His promises” (2 Pet. 3:13). God will not destroy either heaven or earth, and then create a new heaven and a new earth, but He will transform and renew them.

The Justice of God. This is revealed to us by the terrible judgment which overtook Jerusalem and the unbelieving Jews.

The Grace of Perseverance. “He that shall persevere to the end he shall be saved.” The end—the death of individuals, is, as far as the time of it is concerned, quite as much a secret as is the end of the world. Blessed is he whom death does not come upon unawares, in a state of sin. As a man dies, so will he appear before the judgment-seat of God at the Last Day. We ought to pray very earnestly for the grace of final perseverance; for this most important of all graces can only be obtained by prayer.

APPLICATION. Our Lord Himself points out the application which we ought to make of this prophetic discourse of His: “Watch and pray!” We must not spend our lives carelessly and frivolously like those who do not believe, but we must be watchful and always prepared for death. We must be on our guard against the drowsiness of tepidity and the deadly sleep of mortal sin. Are you not lax in the service of God? Is not your love for Him cold? Pray fervently: “From sudden and unprepared death, O Lord, deliver me!”








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