"'And if those days were not limited, there would no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be limited. Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or, 'He is there,' do not believe it. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and they shall present great signs and wonders, in order to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have foretold it to you. Therefore, if they say to you, 'Come and see! He is in the wilderness'; do not go forth. 'Come and see! He is in the secret chambers'; do not believe it. For as the light of day, which comes forth from the east and shines as far as the west, so also shall the coming of the Son of man be. For wherever the carcass may be, there will the eagles be gathered together.'
"'But 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 the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.'
"'Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branches have already become tender, and it puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. In like manner also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Truly I say to you, this generation shall in no wise pass away until all these things have taken place. The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away. But concerning that day, and the hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.'
"'Now as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it also be at the coming of the Son of man. For as in the days that were before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark; And they were not aware until the Flood came and took them all away; so shall it also be at the coming of the Son of man. Then two shall be in the field; one shall be taken, and one shall be left; Two women shall be grinding at the mill; one shall be taken, and one shall be left. Watch, therefore, because you do not know in what hour your Lord is coming.'
"But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have been watching, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore, you also be ready. For the Son of man is coming at a time that you do not think. Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his lord has set over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his property. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, 'My lord delays his coming,' And shall begin to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken, The lord of that servant will come in a day that he does not expect, and in an hour that he does not know. And he shall cut him asunder and shall appoint his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 24:3-51, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
The last and most solemn denunciation of Jerusalem had been uttered, the last and most terrible prediction of judgment upon the Temple spoken, and Jesus was suiting the action to the word. It was as if He had cast the dust off His Shoes against 'the House' that was to be 'left desolate.' And so He quitted for ever the Temple and them that held office in it.
They had left the Sanctuary and the City, had crossed black Kidron, and were slowly climbing the Mount of Olives. A sudden turn in the road, and the Sacred Building was once more in full view. Just then the western sun was pouring his golden beams on tops of marble cloister and on the terraced courts, and glittering on the golden spikes on the roof of the Holy Place. In the setting, even more than in the rising sun, must the vast proportions, the symmetry, and the sparkling sheen of this mass of snowy marble and gold have stood out gloriously. And across the black valley, and up the slopes of Olivet, lay the dark shadows of these gigantic walls built of massive stones, some of them nearly twenty-four feet long. Even the Rabbis, despite their hatred of Herod, grow enthusiastic, and dream that the very Temple-walls would have been covered with gold, had not the variegated marble, resembling the waves of the sea, seemed more beauteous.
It was probably as they now gazed on all this grandeur and strength, that they broke the silence imposed on them by gloomy thoughts of the near desolateness of that House, which the Lord had predicted. One and another pointed out to Him those massive stones and splendid buildings, or speak of the rich offerings with which the Temple was adorned. It was but natural that the contrast between this and the predicted desolation should have impressed them; natural, also, that they should refer to it - not as matter of doubt, but rather as of question. Then Jesus, probably turning to one - perhaps to the first, or else the principal - of His questioners, spoke fully of that terrible contrast between the present and the near future, when, as fulfilled with almost incredible literality, not one stone would be left upon another that was not upturned.
In silence they pursued their way. Upon the Mount of Olives they sat down, right over against the Temple. Whether or not the others had gone farther, or Christ had sat apart with these four, Peter and James and John and Andrew are named as those who now asked Him further of what must have weighed so heavily on their hearts. It was not idle curiosity, although inquiry on such as subject, even merely for the sake of information, could scarcely have been blamed in a Jew. But it did concern them personally, for had not the Lord conjoined the desolateness of that 'House' with His own absence? He had explained the former as meaning the ruin of the City and the utter destruction of the Temple. But to His prediction of it had been added these words:
'Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.'
In their view, this could only refer to His Second Coming, and to the End of the world as connected with it.
Irrespective of other sayings, in which a distinction between these two events is made, we can scarcely believe that the disciples could have conjoined the desolation of the Temple with the immediate Advent of Christ and the end of the world. For, in the very saying which gave rise to their question, Christ had placed an indefinite period between the two. Between the desolation of the House and, their new welcome to Him, would intervene a period of indefinite length, during which they would not see Him again. The disciples could not have overlooked this; and hence neither their question, nor yet the Discourse of our Lord, have been intended to conjoin the two. It is necessary to keep this in view when studying the words of Christ; and any different impression must be due to the exceeding compression in the language of Matthew, and to this, that Christ would purposely leave indefinite the interval between 'the desolation of the house' and His own Return.
The disciples could not have conjoined the desolation of the Temple with the immediate Advent of Christ into His Kingdom and the end of the world. Their question to Christ was twofold: When would these things be? and, What would be the signs of His Royal Advent and the consummation of the 'Age?' On the former the Lord gave no information; to the latter His Discourse on the Mount of Olives was directed. On one point the statement of the Lord had been, so novel as almost to account for their question. Jewish writings speak very frequently of the so-called 'sorrows of the Messiah'. These were partly those of the Messiah, and partly - perhaps chiefly - those coming on Israel and the world previous to, and connected with, the coming of the Messiah. There can be no purpose in describing them in detail, since the particulars mentioned vary so much, and the descriptions are so fanciful. But they may generally be characterized as marking a period of internal corruption and of outward distress, especially, of famine and war, of which the land of Palestine was to be the scene, and in which Israel were to be the chief sufferers.
As the Rabbinic notices which we possess all date from after the destruction of Jerusalem it is, of course, impossible to make any absolute assertion on the point; but, as a matter of fact, none of them refers to desolation of the City and Temple as one of the 'signs' or 'sorrows' of the Messiah. It is true that isolated voices proclaimed that fate of the Sanctuary, but not in any connection with the triumphant Advent of Messiah; and, if we are to judge from the hopes entertained by the fanatics during the last siege of Jerusalem, they rather expected a Divine, no doubt Messianic, interposition to save the City and Temple, even at the last moment. When Christ, therefore, proclaimed the desolation of 'the house,' and even placed it in indirect connection with His Advent, He taught that which must have been alike new and unexpected.
This may be the most suitable place for explaining the Jewish expectation connected with the Advent of the Messiah. Here we have first to dismiss as belonging to a later period, the Rabbinic fiction of two Messiahs: the one, the primary and reigning, the Son of David; the other, the secondary and warfaring Messiah, the Son of Ephraim or of Manasseh. The earliest Talmudic reference to this second Messiah dates from the third century of our era, and contains the strange and almost blasphemous notices that the prophecy of Zechariah, concerning the mourning for Him Whom they had pierced, referred to Messiah the Son of Joseph, Who would be killed in the war of Gog and Magog; and that, when Messiah the Son of David saw it, He 'asked life' of God, Who gave it to Him.
It is scarcely matter for surprise, that the various notices about the Messiah, Son of Joseph, are confused and sometimes inconsistent, considering the circumstances in which this dogma originated. Its primary reason was, no doubt, controversial. When hardly pressed by Christian argument about the Old Testament prophecies of the sufferings of the Messiah, the fiction about the Son of Joseph as distinct from the Son of David would offer a welcome means of escape. Besides, when in the Jewish rebellion under the false Messiah 'Bar Kokhba' ('the Son of a Star' ) the latter succumbed to the Romans and was killed, the Synagogue deemed it necessary to rekindle Israel's hope, that had been quenched in blood, by the picture to two Messiahs, of whom the first should fall in warfare, while the second, the Son of David, would carry the contest to a triumphant issue.
In general, we must here remember that there is a difference between three terms used in Jewish writings to designate that which is to succeed the 'present dispensation' or 'world', although the distinction is not always consistently carried out. This happy period would begin with 'the days of the Messiah'. These would stretch into the 'coming age' , and end with 'the world to come' - although the latter is sometimes made to include the whole of that period. The most divergent opinions are expressed of the duration of the Messianic period. It seems like a round number when we are told that it would last for three generations. In the fullness discussion on the subject, the opinions of different Rabbis are mentioned, who variously fix the period at form forty to one, two, and even seven thousands years, according to fanciful analogies.
Where statements rest on such fanciful considerations, we can scarcely attach serious value to them, nor expect agreement. This remark holds equally true in regard to most of the other points involved. Suffice it to say, that, according to general opinion, the Birth of the Messiah would be unknown to His contemporaries; that He would appear, carry on His work, then disappear - probably for forty-five days; then reappear again, and destroy the hostile powers of the world, notably 'Edom,' 'Armilos,' the Roman Power - the fourth and last world-empire (sometimes it is said: through Ishmael). Ransomed Israel would now be miraculously gathered from the ends of the earth, and brought back to their own land, the ten tribes sharing in their restoration, but this only on condition of their having repented of their former sins. According to the Midrash, all circumcised Israel would then be released from Gehenna, and the dead be raised - according to some authorities, by the Messiah, to Whom God would give 'the Key of the Resurrection of the Dead.' This Resurrection would take place in the land of Israel, and those of Israel who had been buried elsewhere would have to roll under ground - not without suffering pain - till they reach the sacred soil. Probably the reason of this strange idea, which was supported by an appeal to the direction of Jacob and Joseph as to their last resting-place, was to induce the Jews, after the final desolation of their land, not to quit Palestine.
This Resurrection, which is variously supposed to take place at the beginning or during the course of the Messianic manifestation, would be announced by the blowing of the great trumpet. It would be difficult to say how many of these strange and confused views prevailed at the time of Christ; which of them were universally entertained as real dogmas; or from what source they had been originally derived. Probably many of them were popularly entertained, and afterwards further developed - as we believe, with elements distorted from Christian teaching.
We have now reached the period of the 'coming age'. All the resistance to God would be concentrated in the great war of Gog and Magog, and with it the prevalence of all wickedness be conjoined. And terrible would be the straits of Israel. Three times would the enemy seek to storm, the Holy City. But each time would the assault be repelled - at the last with complete destruction of the enemy. The sacred City would now be wholly rebuilt and inhabited. But oh, how different from of old! Its Sabbath-boundaries would be strewed with pearls and precious gems. The City itself would be lifted to a height of some nine miles - nay, with realistic application of Isaiah 49:20, it would reach up to the throne of God, while it would extend from Joppa as far as the gates of Damascus! For, Jerusalem was to be the dwelling-place of Israel, and the, resort of all nations.
But more glorious in Jerusalem would be the new Temple which the Messiah was to rear, and to which those five things were to be restored which had been wanting in the former Sanctuary; the Golden Candlestick, the Ark, the Heaven-lit fire on the Altar, the Holy Spirit and the Cherubim. And the land of Israel would then be as wide as it had been sketched in the promise which God had given to Abraham, and which had never before been fulfilled - since the largest extent of Israel's rule had only been over seven nations, whereas the Divine promise extended it over ten, if not over the whole earth.
Strangely realistic and exaggerated by Eastern imagination as these hopes sound, there is connected with them, a point of deepest interest on which, as explained in another place, remarkable divergence of opinion prevailed. It concerns the Services of the rebuilt Temple, and the observance of The Law in Messianic days. One party here insisted on the restoration of all the ancient Services, and the strict observance of the Mosaic and Rabbinic Law - nay, on its full imposition on the Gentile nation. But this view must have been at least modified by the expectation, that the Messiah would give a new Law. But was this new Law to apply only to the Gentiles, or also to Israel? Here again there is divergence of opinions.
According to some, this Law would be binding on Israel, but not on the Gentiles, or else the latter would have a modified or condensed series of ordinances (at most thirty commandments). But the most liberal view, and, as we may suppose, that most acceptable to the enlightened, was, that in the future only these two festive seasons would be observed: The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Esther (or else that of Tabernacles), and that of all the sacrifices only thank-offerings would be continued. Nay, opinion went even further, and many held that in Messianic days the distinctions of pure and impure, lawful and unlawful, as regarded food, would be abolished. There can be little doubt that these different views were entertained even in the days of our Lord and in Apostolic times, and they account for the exceeding bitterness with which the extreme Pharisaic party in the Church at Jerusalem contended, that the Gentile converts must be circumcised, and the full weight of the yoke of the Law laid on their necks. And with a view to this new Law, which God would give to his world through the Messiah, the Rabbis divided all time into three periods: the primitive, that under the Law, and that of the Messiah.
It only remains briefly to describe the beatitude of Israel, both physical and moral, in those days, the state of the nations, and, lastly, the end of that 'age' and its merging into 'the world to come'. Morally, this would be a period of holiness, of forgiveness, and of peace. Without, there would be no longer enemies nor oppressors. And within the City and Land a more than Paradisiacal state would prevail, which is depicted in even more than the usual realistic Eastern language. For that vast new Jerusalem (not in heaven, but in the literal Palestine) Angels were to cut gems 45 feet long and broad (30 cubits), and place them in its gates; the windows and gates were to be of precious stones, the walls of silver, gold, and gems, while all kinds of jewels would be strewed about, of which every Israelite was at liberty to take. Jerusalem would be as large as, at present, all Palestine, and Palestine as all the world. Corresponding to this miraculous extension would be a miraculous elevation of Jerusalem into the air.
And it is one of the strangest mixtures of self-righteousness and realism with deeper and more spiritual thoughts, when the Rabbis prove by references to the prophetic Scriptures, that every event and miracle in the history of Israel would find its counterpart, or rather larger fulfilment, in Messianic days. Thus, what was recorded of Abraham would, on account of his merit, find, clause by clause, its counterpart in the future: 'Let a little water be fetched,' in what is predicted in Zechariah 14:8; 'wash your feet,' in what is predicted in Isaiah 4:5; 'rest yourselves under the tree,' in what is said in Isaiah 4:4; and 'I will fetch a morsel of bread,' in the promise of Psalm 72:16.
But by the side of this we find much coarse realism. The land would spontaneously produce the best dresses and the finest cakes; the wheat would grow as high as palm-trees, nay, as the mountains, while the wind would miraculously convert the grain into flour, and cast it into the valleys. Every tree would become fruit-bearing; nay, they were to break forth, and to bear fruit every day; daily was every woman to bear child, so that ultimately every Israelitish family would number as many as all Israel at the time of the Exodus. All sickness and disease, and all that could hurt, would pass away. As regarded death, the promise of its final abolition was, with characteristic ingenuity, applied to Israel, while the statement that the child should die an hundred years old was understood as referring to the Gentiles, and as teaching that, although they would die, yet their age would be greatly prolonged, so that a centenarian would be regarded as only a child. Lastly, such physical and outward loss as Rabbinism regarded as the consequence of the Fall, would be again restored to man.
It would be easy to multiply quotations even more realistic than these, if such could serve any good purpose. The same literalism prevails in regard to the reign of King Messiah over the nations of the world. Not only is the figurative language of the prophets applied in the most external manner, but illustrative details of the same character are added. Jerusalem would, as the residence of the Messiah, become the capital of the world, and Israel take the place of the (fourth) world-monarchy, the Roman Empire. After the Roman Empire none other was to rise, for it was to be immediately followed by the reign of Messiah. But that day, or rather that of the fall of the (ten) Gentile nations, which would inaugurate the Empire of Messiah, was among the seven things unknown to man. Nay, God had conjured Israel not to communicate to the Gentiles the mystery of the calculation of the times.
But the very origin of the wicked world-Empire had been caused by Israel's sin. It had been (ideally) founded when Solomon contracted alliance with the daughter of Pharaoh, while Romulus and Remus rose when Jeroboam set up the worship of the two calves. Thus, what would have become the universal Davidic Rule had, through Israel's sin, been changed into subjection to the Gentiles. Whether or not these Gentiles would in the Messianic future become proselytes, seems a moot question. Sometimes it is affirmed; at others it is stated that no proselytes would then be received, and for this good reason, that in the final war and rebellion those proselytes would, from fear, cast off the yoke of Judaism and join the enemies.
That war, which seems a continuation of that Gog and Magog, would close the Messianic era. The nations, who had hitherto given tribute to Messiah, would rebel against Him, when He would destroy them by the breath of His mouth, so that Israel alone would be left on the face of the earth. The duration of that period of rebellion is stated to be seven years. It seems, at least, a doubtful point, whether a second or general Resurrection was expected, the more probable view being, that there was only one Resurrection, and that of Israel alone, or, at any rate, only of the studious and the pious, and that this was to take place at the beginning of the Messianic reign. If the Gentiles rose at all, it would only be immediately again to die.
Then the final Judgment would commence. We must here once more make distinction between Israel and the Gentiles, with whom, nay, as more punishable than they, certain notorious sinners, heretics, and all apostates, were to be ranked. Whereas to Israel the Gehenna, to which all but the perfectly righteous had been consigned at death, had proved a kind of purgatory, from which they were all ultimately delivered by Abraham, or, according to some of the later Midrashim, by the Messiah, no such deliverance was in prospect for the heathen nor for sinners of Israel. The question whether the fiery torments suffered (which are very realistically described) would at last end in annihilation, is one which at different times received different answers, as fully explained in another place.
At the time of Christ the punishment of the wicked was certainly regarded as of eternal duration. Rabbi José, a teacher of the second century, and a representative of the more rationalistic school, says expressly, 'The fire of Gehinnom is never quenched.' And even the passage, so often (although only partially) quoted, to the effect, that the final torments of Gehenna would last for twelve months, after which body and soul would be annihilated, excepts from this a number of Jewish sinners, specially mentioned, such as heretics, Epicureans, apostates, and persecutors, who are designated as 'children of Gehenna'. And with this other statements agree, so that at most it would follow that, while annihilation would await the less guilty, the most guilty were to be reserved for eternal punishment.
Such, then, was the final Judgment, to be held in the valley of Jehoshaphat by God, at the head of the Heavenly Sanhedrin, composed of the elders of Israel. Realistic as its description is, even this is terribly surpassed by a passage in which the supposed pleas for mercy by the various nations are adduced and refuted, when, after an unseemly contention between God and the Gentiles - equally shocking to good taste and blasphemous - about the partiality that had been shown to Israel, the Gentiles would be consigned to punishment. All this in a manner revolting to all reverent feeling. And the contrast between the Jewish picture of the last Judgment and that outlined in the Gospel is so striking, as alone to vindicate (were such necessary) the eschatological parts of the New Testament, and to prove what infinite distance there is between the Teaching of Christ and the Theology of the Synagogue.
After the final judgment we must look for the renewal of heaven and earth. In the latter neither physical nor moral darkness would any longer prevail, since the Yetser haRa, or 'Evil impulse,' would be destroyed. And renewed earth would bring forth all without blemish and in Paradisiacal perfection, while alike physical and moral evil had ceased. Then began the 'Olam habba,' or 'world to come.' The question, whether any functions or enjoyments of the body would continue, is variously answered. The reply of the Lord to the question of the Sadducees about marriage in the other world seems to imply, that materialistic views on the subject were entertained at the time. Many Rabbinic passages, such as about the great feast upon Leviathan and Behemoth prepared for the righteous in the latter days, confirm only too painfully the impression of grossly materialistic expectations. On the other hand, passages may be quoted in which the utterly unmaterial character of the 'world to come' is insisted upon in most emphatic language. In truth, the same fundamental divergences here exist as on other points, such as the abode of the beatified, the visible or else invisible glory which they would enjoy, and even the new Jerusalem. And in regard to the latter, as indeed to all those references to the beatitudes of the world to come, it seems at least doubtful, whether the Rabbis may not have intended to describe rather the Messianic days than the final winding up of all things.
To complete this sketch of Jewish opinions, it is necessary, however briefly, to refer to the Pseudepigraphic Writings, which, as will be remembered, expressed the Apocalyptic expectancies of the Jews before the time of Christ. But here we have always to keep in mind this twofold difficulty: that the language used in works of this kind is of a highly figurative character, and must therefore not be literally pressed; and that more than one of them, notably IV. Esdras, dates from post-Christian times, and was, in important respects, admittedly influenced by Christian teaching. But in the main the picture of Messianic times in these writings is the same as the presented by the Rabbis. Briefly, the Pseudepigraphic view may be thus sketched.
Of the so-called 'Wars of the Messiah' there had been already a kind of prefigurement in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, when armed soldiery had been seen to carry on warfare in the air. This sign is mentioned in the Sibylline Books as marking the coming end, together with the sight of swords in the starlit sky at night, the falling of dust from heaven, the extinction of the sunlight and appearance of the moon by day, and the dropping of blood from the rocks. A somewhat similar, though even more realistic, picture is presented in connection with the blast of the third trumpet in IV. (II.) Esdras. Only that there the element of moral judgment is more clearly introduced. This appears still more fully in another passage of the same book, in which, apparently in connection with the Judgment, the influence of Christian teaching, although in an externalised form, may be clearly traced. A perhaps even more detailed description of the wickedness, distress, and physical desolation upon earth at that time, is given in the Book of Jubilees.
At last, when these distresses have reached their final height, when signs are in the sky, ruin upon earth, and the unburied bodies that cover the ground are devoured by birds and wild beasts, or else swallowed up by the earth, would God send 'the King,' Who would put an end to unrighteousness. Then would follow the last war against Jerusalem, in which God would fight from heaven with the nations, when they would submit to, and own Him. But while in the Book of Enoch and in another work of the same class the judgment is ascribed to God, and the Messiah represented as appearing only afterwards, in the majority of these works the judgment or its execution is assigned to the Messiah.
In the land thus restored to Israel, and under the rule of King Messiah, the new Jerusalem would be the capital, purified from the heathen, enlarged, nay, quite transformed. This Jerusalem had been shown to Adam before his Fall, but after that both it and Paradise had been withdrawn from him. It had again been shown to Abraham, to Moses, and to Ezra. The splendor of this new Jerusalem is described in most glowing language. Of the glorious Kingdom thus instituted, the Messiah would be King, although under the supremacy of God. His reign would extend over the heathen nations. The character of their submission was differently viewed, according to the more or less Judaic standpoint of the writers. Thus, in the Book of Jubilees the seed of Jacob are promised possession of the whole earth; they would 'rule over all nations according to their pleasure; and after that draw the whole earth unto themselves, and inherit it for ever.'
In the 'Assumption of Moses' this ascendency of Israel seems to be conjoined with the idea of vengeance upon Rome, although the language employed is highly figurative. On the other hand, in the Sibylline Books the nations are represented as, in view of the blessings enjoyed by Israel, themselves turning to acknowledge God, when perfect mental enlightenment and absolute righteousness, as well as physical well-being, would prevail under the rule and judgeship (whether literal or figurative) of the Prophets. The most 'Grecian' view of the Kingdom, is, of course, that expressed by Philo. He anticipates, that the happy moral condition of man would ultimately affect the wild beasts, which, relinquishing their solitary habits, would first become gregarious; then, imitating the domestic animals, gradually come to respect man as their master, nay, become as affectionate and cheerful as 'Maltese dogs.' Among men, the pious and virtuous would bear rule, their dignity inspiring respect, their terror fear, and their beneficence good will. Probably intermediate between this extreme Grecian and the Judaic conception of the Millennium, are such utterances as ascribe the universal acknowledgment of the Messiah to the recognition, that God had invested Him with glory and power, and that His Reign was that of blessing.
It must have been remarked, that the differences between the Apocalyptic teaching of the Pseudepigrapha and that of the New Testament are as marked as those between the latter and that of the Rabbis. Another point of divergence is, that the Pseudepigrapha uniformly represent the Messianic reign as eternal, not broken up by any further apostasy or rebellion. Then would the earth be renewed, and this would be followed, lastly, by the Resurrection. In the Apocalypse of Baruch, as by the Rabbis, it is set forth that men would rise in exactly the same condition which they had borne in life, so that, by being recognized, the reality of the Resurrection would be attested, while in the re-union of body and soul each would receive its due meed for the sins committed in their state of combination while upon earth. But after that a transformation would take place: of the just into the Angelic splendor of their glory, while, on view of this, the wicked would correspondingly fade away.
Josephus states that the Pharisees taught only a Resurrection of the Just. As we know that such was not the case, we must regard this as one of the many assertions made by that writer for purposes of his own - probably to present to outsiders the Pharisaic doctrine in the most attractive and rational light of which it was capable. Similarly, the modern contention, that some of the Pseudepigraphic Writings propound the same view of only a Resurrection of the Just, is contrary to evidence. There can be no question that, according to the Pseudepigrapha, in the general Judgment, which was to follow the universal Resurrection, the reward and punishment assigned are represented as of eternal duration, although it may be open to question, as in regard to Rabbinic teaching, which of those who had been sinners would suffer final and endless torment.
The many and persistent attempts, despite the gross inconsistencies involved, to represent the teaching of Christ concerning 'the Last Things' as only the reflection of contemporary Jewish opinion, have rendered detailed evidence necessary. When, with the information just summarized, we again turn to the questions addressed to Him by the disciples, we recall that (as previously shown) they could not have conjoined, or rather confounded, the 'when' of 'these things' - that is, of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple - with the 'when' of His Second Coming and the end of the 'Age.' We also recall the suggestion, that Christ referred to His Advent, as to His disappearance, from the Jewish standpoint of Jewish, rather than from the general cosmic view-point of universal, history.
As regards the answer of the Lord to the two questions of His disciples, it may be said that the first part of His Discourse is intended to supply information on the two facts of the future: the destruction of the Temple, and His Second Advent and the end of the 'Age,' by setting before them the signs indicating the approach or beginning of these events. But even here the exact period of each is not defined, and the teaching given intended for purely practical purposes. In the second part of His Discourse the Lord distinctly tells them, what they are not to know, and why; and how all that was communicated to them was only to prepare them for that constant watchfulness, which has been to the Church at all times the proper outcome of Christ's teaching on the subject. This, then we may take as a guide in our study: that the words of Christ contain nothing beyond what was necessary for the warning and teaching of the disciples and of the Church.
The purely practical character of the Discourse appears from its opening words. They contain a warning, addressed to the disciples in their individual, not in their corporate, capacity, against being 'led astray.' This, more particularly in regard to Judaic seductions leading them after false Christs. Though in the multitude of impostors, who, in the troubled times between the rule of Pilate and the destruction of Jerusalem, promised Messianic deliverance to Israel, few names and claims of this kind have been specially recorded, yet the hints in the New Testament, and the references, however guarded, by the Jewish historian, imply the appearance of many such seducers. And their influence, not only upon Jews, but on Jewish Christians, might be the more dangerous, that the latter would naturally regard 'the woes,' which were the occasion of their pretensions, as the judgements which would usher in the Advent of their Lord. Against such seduction they must be peculiarly on their guard. So far for the 'things' connected with the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish commonwealth. But, taking a wider and cosmic view, they might also be misled by either rumors of war at a distance, or by actual warfare, so as to believe that the dissolution of the Roman Empire, and with it the Advent of Christ, was at hand. This also would be a Misapprehension, grievously misleading, and to be carefully guarded against.
Although primarily applying to them, yet alike the peculiarly Judaic, or, it might be even Christian, and the general cosmic sources of misapprehension as to the near Advent of Christ, must not be limited to the times of the Apostles. They rather indicate these twofold grounds of misapprehension which in all ages have misled Christians into an erroneous expectancy of the immediate Advent of Christ: the seductions of false Messiahs, or, it may be, teachers, and violent disturbances in the political world. So far as Israel was concerned, these attained their climax in the great rebellion against Rome under the false Messiah, Bar Kokhba, in the time of Hadrian, although echoes of similar false claims, or hope of them, have again and again roused Israel during the night of these any centuries into brief, startled waking. And, as regards the more general cosmic signs, have not Christians, in the early ages watched, not only the wars on the boundaries of the Empire, but the condition of the state in the age of Nero the risings, turmoils, and threatenings; and so onwards, those of later generations, even down to the commotions of our own period, as if they betokened the immediate Advent of Christ, instead of marking in them only the beginning of the birth-woes of the new 'Age?'
From the warning to Christians as individuals, the Lord next turns to give admonition to the Church in her corporate capacity. Here we mark, that the events now described must not be regarded as following, with strict chronological precision, those referred to in the previous verses. Rather is it intended to indicate a general nexus and partly after, those formerly predicted. They form, in fact, the continuation of the 'birth-woes.' This appears even from the language used. Thus, while Matthew writes: 'Then' (tote at that time) ' shall they deliver you up,' Luke places the persecutions 'before all these things;' while Mark, who reports this part of the Discourse most fully, omits every note of time, and only emphasizes the admonition which the fact conveys. As regards the admonition itself, expressed in this part of the Lord's Discourse, we notice that, as formerly to individuals, so now to the Church, two sources of danger are pointed out: internal from heresies ('false prophets') and the decay of faith, and external, from persecutions, whether Judaic and from their own kindred, or from the secular powers throughout the world.
But, along with these two dangers, two consoling facts are also pointed out. As regards the persecutions in prospect, full Divine aid is promised to Christians - alike to individuals and to the Church. Thus all care and fear may be dismissed: their testimony shall neither be silenced, nor shall the Church be suppressed or extinguished; but inward joyousness, outward perseverance, and final triumph, are secured by the Presence of the Risen Savior with, and the felt indwelling of the Holy Spirit in His Church. And, as for the other and equally consoling fact: despite the persecution of Jews and Gentiles, before the End comes the Gospel would be preached to all nations. This, then, is really the only sign of 'the End' of the present 'Age.'
From these general predictions, the Lord proceeds, in the third part of this Discourse, to advertise the Disciples of the great historic fact immediately before them, and of the dangers which might spring from it. In truth, we have here His answer to their question, 'When shall these things be?' not, indeed, as regards the when, but the what of them. And with this He conjoins the present application of His general warning regarding false Christs, given in the first part of this Discourse. The fact of which He now, in this third part of His Discourse, advertises them, is the destruction of Jerusalem. Its twofold dangers would be - outwardly, the difficulties and perils which at that time would necessarily beset men, and especially the members of the infant-Church; and, religiously, the pretensions and claims of false Christs or prophets at a period when all Jewish thinking and expectancy would lead men to anticipate the near Advent of the Messiah. There can be no question, that from both these dangers the warning of the Lord delivered the Church.
As directed by him, the members of the Christian Church fled at an early period of the siege. of Jerusalem to Pella, while the words in which He had told that His Coming would not be in secret, but with the brightness of that lightning which shot across the sky, prevented not only their being deceived, but perhaps even the record, if not the rise of many who otherwise would have deceived them. As for Jerusalem, the prophetic vision initially fulfilled in the days of Antiochus would once more, and now fully, become reality, and the abomination of desolation stand in the Holy Place. This, together with tribulation to Israel, unparalleled in the terrible past of its history, and unequalled even in its bloody future. Nay, so dreadful would be the persecution, that, if Divine mercy had not interposed for the sake of the followers of Christ, the whole Jewish race that inhabited the land would have been swept away.
The Age of the Gentiles, 'the end of the Age,' and with it the new allegiance of His now penitent people Israel; 'the sign of the Son of Man in heaven,' perceived by them; the conversion of all the world, the Coming of Christ, the last Trumpet, the Resurrection of the dead - such, in most rapid sketch, is the outline which the Lord draws of His Coming and the End of the world.
It will be remembered that this had been the second question of the disciples. We again recall, that the disciples did not, indeed, could not have connected, as immediately subsequent events, the destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming, since he had expressly placed between them the period - apparently protracted - of His Absence, with the many events that were to happen in it - notably, the preaching of the Gospel over the whole inhabited earth. Hitherto the Lord had, in His Discourse, dwelt in detail only on those events which would be fulfilled before this generation should pass. It had been for admonition and warning that He had spoken, not for the gratification of curiosity. It had been prediction of the immediate future for practical purposes, with such dim and general indication of the more distant future of the Church as was absolutely necessary to mark her position in the world as one of persecution, with promise, however, of His Presence and Help; with indication also of her work in the world, to its terminus ad quem - the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom to all nations on earth.
More than this concerning the future of the Church could not have been told without defeating the very object of the admonition and warning which Christ had exclusively in view, when answering the question of the disciples. Accordingly, what follows in ver. 29, describes the history, not of the Church - far less any visible physical signs in the literal heavens - but, in prophetic imagery, the history of the hostile powers of the world, with its lessons. A constant succession of empires and dynasties would characterize politically - and it is only the political aspect with which we are here concerned - the whole period after the extinction of the Jewish State. Immediately after that would follow the appearance to Israel of the 'Sign' of the Son of Man in heaven, and with it the conversion of all nations (as previously predicted), the Coming of Christ, and, finally, the blast of the last Trumpet and the Resurrection.
From this rapid outline of the future the Lord once more turned to make present application to the disciples; nay, application, also, to all times. From the fig-tree, under which, on that spring afternoon, they may have rested on the Mount of Olives, they were to learn a 'parable.' We can picture Christ taking one of its twigs, just as its softening tips were bursting into young leaf. Surely, this meant that summer was nigh - not that it had actually come. The distinction is important. For, it seems to prove that 'all these things,' which were to indicate to them that it was near, even at the doors, and which were to be fulfilled ere this generation had passed away, could not have referred, to the last signs connected with the immediate Advent of Christ, but must apply to the previous prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish Commonwealth. At the same time we again admit, that the language of the Synoptists seems to indicate, that they had not clearly understood the words of the Lord which they reported, and that in their own minds they had associated the 'last signs' and the Advent of Christ with the fall of the City. Thus may they have come to expect that Blessed Advent even in their own days.
It is at least a question, whether the Lord, while distinctly indicating these facts, and intended to remove the doubt and uncertainty of their succession from the minds of His disciples. To have done so would have necessitated that which, in the opening sentence of the Second Division of this Discourse, He had expressly declared to lie beyond their ken. The 'when' - the day and the hour of His Coming - was to remain hidden from men and Angels. Nay, even the Son Himself - as they viewed Him and as He spake to them - knew it not. It formed no part of His present Messianic Mission, nor subject for His Messianic Teaching. Had it done so, all the teaching that follows concerning the need of constant watchfulness, and the pressing duty of working for Christ in faith, hope, and love - with purity, self-denial, and endurance - would have been lost. The peculiar attitude of the Church: with loins grit for work, since the time was short, and the Lord might come at any moment; with her hands busy; her mind faithful; her face upturned towards the Sun that was so soon to rise; and her ear straining to catch the first notes of heaven's song of triumph - all this would have been lost! What has sustained the Church during the night of sorrow these many centuries; what has nerved her courage for the battle, with steadfastness to bear, with love to work, with patience and joy in disappointments - would all have been lost! The Church would not have been that of the New Testament, had she known the mystery of that day and hour, and not ever waited as for the immediate Coming of her Lord and Bridegroom.
And what the Church of the New Testament has been, and is, that her Lord and Master made her, and by no agency more effectually than by leaving undetermined the precise time of His return. To the world this would indeed become the occasion for utter carelessness and practical disbelief of the coming Judgment. As in the days of Noah the long delay of threatened judgment had led to absorption in the ordinary engagements of life, to the entire disbelief of what Noah had preached, so would it be in the future. But that day would come certainly and unexpectedly, to the sudden separation of those who were engaged in the same daily business of life, of whom one might be taken up ('received'), the other left to the destruction of the coming Judgment.
But this very mixture of the Church with the world in the ordinary avocations of life indicated a greater danger. As in all such, the remedy which the Lord would set before us is not negative in the avoidance of certain things, but positive. We shall best succeed, not by going out of the world, but by being watchful in it, and keeping fresh on our hearts, as well as our minds, the fact that he is our Lord, and that we are, and always most lovingly, to look and long for His Return. Otherwise twofold damage might come to us. Not expecting the arrival of the Lord in the night-time (which is the most unlikely for His Coming), we might go to sleep, and the Enemy, taking advantage or it, rob us of our peculiar treasure. Thus the Church, not expecting her lord, might become as poor as the world. This would be loss. But there might be even worse.
According to the Master's appointment, each one had, during Christ's absence, his work for Him, and the reward of grace, or else the punishment of neglect, were in assured prospect. The faithful steward, to whom the Master had entrusted the care of His household, to supply His found faithful, be rewarded by advancement to far larger and more responsible work. On the other hand, belief on the delay of the Lord's Return would lead to neglect to the Master's work, to unfaithfulness, tyranny, self-indulgence and sin. And when the Lord suddenly came, as certainly he would come, there would be not only loss, but damage, hurt, and the punishment awarded to the hypocrites. Hence, let the Church be ever on her watch, let her ever be in readiness! And how terribly the moral consequences of unreadiness, and the punishment threatened, have ensued, the history of the Church during these eighteen centuries has only too often and too sadly shown.
Parable of the Ten Virgins
Sunday, April 2
"'Then shall the kingdom of heaven be compared to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. The ones who were foolish took their lamps, but they did not take oil with them; But the wise took oil in their vessels along with their lamps. Now when the bridegroom was gone a long time, they all became drowsy and slept. But in the middle of the night there was a cry: 'Look, the bridegroom is coming! Go out to meet him.' Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there not be enough for us and for you. But instead, go to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.''
"'And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. And afterwards the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' But He answered and said, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch, therefore, for you do not know the day nor the hour in which the Son of man is coming.'" (Matthew 25:1-13, HBFV)
As might have been expected, the Parables concerning the Last Things are closely connected with the Discourse of the Last Things, which Christ had just spoken to His Disciples. In fact, that of the Ten Virgins, which seems the fullest in many-sided meaning, is, in its main object, only an illustration of the last part of Christ's Discourse. Its great practical lessons had been: the unexpectedness of the Lord's Coming; the consequences to be apprehend from its delay; and the need of personal and constant preparedness. Similarly, the Parable of the Ten Virgins may, in its great outlines, be thus summarized: Be ye personally prepared; be ye prepared for any length of time; be ye prepared to go to Him directly.
If the union of the Ten Virgins for the purpose of meeting the Bridegroom, and their claims to enter in with Him - which are, so to speak, the historical data and necessary premisses in the Parable - point to the Church, the main lessons of the Parade are the need of individual, personal, and spiritual preparation. Only such will endure the trial of the long delay of Christ's Coming; only such will stand that of an immediate summons to meet the Christ.
It is late at even - the world's long day seems past, and the Coming of the Bridegroom must be near. The day and the hour we know not, for the bridegroom has been far away. Only this we know, that it is the Evening of the Marriage which the Bridegroom had fixed, and that his word of promise may be relied upon. Therefore all has been made ready within the bridal house, and is in waiting there; and therefore the Virgins prepare to go forth to meet Him on His Arrival. The Parable proceeds on the assumption that the Bridegroom is not in the town, but somewhere far away; so that it cannot be known at what precise hour He may arrive. But it is known that He will come that night; and the Virgins who are to meet Him have gathered - presumably in the house where the Marriage is to take place - waiting for the summons to go forth and welcome the Bridegroom.
The common mistake, that the Virgins are represented in verse 1 as having gone forth on the road to meet the Bridegroom, is not only irrational - since it is scarcely credible that they would all have fallen asleep by the wayside, and with lamps in their hands - but incompatible with the circumstance, that at midnight the cry is suddenly raised to go forth and meet Him.
In these circumstances, no precise parallel can be derived from the ordinary Jewish marriage-processions, where the bridegroom, accompanied by his groomsmen and friends, went to the bride's house, and thence conducted the bride, with her attendant maidens and friends, into his own or his parents' home. But in the Parable, the Bridegroom comes from a distance and goes to the bridal house. Accordingly, the bridal procession is to meet Him on His Arrival, and escort Him to the bridal place. No mention is made of the Bride, either in this Parable of in that or the Marriage of the King's Son. This, for reasons connected with their application: since in the one case the Wedding Guests, in the other the Virgins, occupy the place of the Bride. And here we must remind ourselves of the general canon, that, in the interpretation of a Parable, details must not be too closely pressed. The Parables illustrate the Sayings of Christ, as the Miracles His Doings; and alike the Parables and the Miracles present only one or another, not all the aspects of the truth.
Another archaeological inquiry will, perhaps, be more helpful to our understanding of this Parable. The 'lamps' - not 'torches' - which the Ten Virgins carried, were of well-known construction. They bear in Talmudic writings commonly the name Lappid, but the Aramaised from the Greek word in the New Testament also occurs as Lampad and Lampadas. The lamp consisted of a round receptacle for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer - the Beth Shiqqua - which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, on which it was borne aloft. According to Jewish authorities, it was the custom in the East to carry in a bridal procession about ten such lamps. We have the less reason to doubt that such was also the case in Palestine, since, according to rubric, ten was the number required to be present at any office or ceremony, such as at the benedictions accompanying the marriage-ceremonies. And, in the peculiar circumstances supposed in the Parable, Ten Virgins are represented as going forth to meet the Bridegroom, each bearing her lamp.
The first point which we mark is, that the Ten Virgins brought, presumably to the bridal house, 'their own lamps.' Emphasis must be laid on this. Thus much was there of personal preparation on the part of all. But while the five that were wise brought also 'oil in the vessels ' [presumably the hollow receptacles in which the lamp proper stood], the five foolish Virgins neglected to do so, no doubt expecting that their lamps would be filled out of some common stock in the house. In the text the foolish Virgins are mentioned before the wise, because the Parable turns to this. We cannot be at a loss to interpret the meaning of it. The Bridegroom far away is Christ, Who is come for the Marriage-Feast from 'the far country' - the Home above - certainly on that night, but we know not at what hour of it.
The ten appointed bridal companions who are to go forth to meet Him are His professed disciples, and they gather in the bridal house in readiness to welcome His arrival. It is night, and a marriage-procession: therefore, they must go forth with their lamps. All of them have brought their own lamps, they all have the Christian, or say, the Church-profession: the lamp, in the hollow cup on the top of the pole. But only the wise Virgins have more than this - the oil in the vessels, without which the lamps cannot give their light. The Christian or Church-profession is but an empty vessel on the top of a pole, without the oil in the vessels. The foolishness of the Virgins is that they had omitted to bring their oil, is thus indicated in the text:
they brought their own lamps, but not their own oil. This (as already explained), probably, not from forgetfulness - for they could scarcely have forgotten the need of oil, but from the wilful neglect, in the belief that there would be a common stock in the house, out of which they would be supplied, or that there would be sufficient time for the supply of their need after the announcement that the Bridegroom was coming. They had no conception either of any personal obligation in this matter, nor that the call would come so suddenly, nor yet that there would be so little interval between the arrival of the Bridegroom and 'the closing of the door.' And so they deemed it not necessary to undertake what must have involved both trouble and carefulness, the bringing their own oil in the hollow vessels in which the lamps were fixed.
We have proceeded on the supposition that the oil was not carried in separate vessels, but in those attached to the lamps. It seems scarcely likely that these lamps had been lighted while waiting in the bridal house, where the Virgins assembled, and which, no doubt, was festively illuminated: Many practical objections to this view will readily occur. The foolishness of the five Virgins therefore consisted, not (as is commonly supposed) in their want of perseverance - as if the oil had been consumed before the Bridegroom came, and they had only not provided themselves with a sufficient extra-supply - but in the entire absence of personal preparation, having brought no oil of their own in their lamps. This corresponds to their conducts, who, belonging to the Church - having the 'profession' - being bridal companions provided with lamps, ready to go forth, and expecting to share in the wedding feast - neglect the preparation of grace, personal conversation and holiness, trusting that in the hour of need the oil may be supplied out of the common stock. But they know not, or else heed not, that every one must be personally prepared for meeting the Bridegroom, that the call will be sudden, that the stock of oil is not common, and that the time between His arrival and the shutting of the door will be awfully brief.
For - and here begins the second scene in the Parable - the interval between the gathering of the Virgins in readiness to meet Him, and the arrival of the Bridegroom is much longer than had been anticipated. And so it came, that both the wise and the foolish Virgins 'slumbered and slept.' Manifestly, this is but a secondary trait in the Parable, chiefly intended to accentuate the surprise of the sudden announcement of the Bridegroom. The foolish Virgins did not ultimately fail because of their sleep, nor yet were the wise reproved of it. True, it was evidence of their weakness - but then it was night; all the world was asleep; and their own drowsiness might be in proportion to their former excitement. What follows is intended to bring into prominence the startling suddenness of the Bridegroom's Coming.
The sudden cry at midnight: ' The Bridegroom cometh! ' had come with startling surprise both to the wise and the foolish Virgins; to the one class it had come only unexpectedly, but to the other also unpreparedly. Their hope of sharing or borrowing the oil of the wise Virgins being disappointed, the foolish were, of course, unable to meet the Bridegroom. And while they hurried to the sellers of oil, those that had been ready not only met; but entered with the Bridegroom into the bridal house, and the door was shut. It is of no importance here, whether or not the foolish Virgins finally succeeded in obtaining oil - although this seems unlikely at that time of night - since it could no longer be of any possible use, as its object was to serve in the festive procession, which was now past. Nevertheless, and when the door was shut, those foolish Virgins came, calling on the Bridegroom to open to them. But they had failed in that which could alone give them a claim to admission. Professing to be bridesmaids, they had not been in the bridal procession, and so, in truth and righteousness, He could only answer from within: ' Verily I say unto you, I know you not. ' This, not only in punishment, but in the right order of things.
It is not enough to be in waiting with the Church. His Coming will be far on in the night; it will be sudden; it will be rapid: be prepared therefore, be ever and personally prepared! Christ will come when least expected - at midnight - and when the Church, having become accustomed to His long delay, has gone to sleep. So sudden will be His Coming, that after the cry of announcement there will not be time for anything but to go forth to meet Him; and so rapid will be the end, that, ere the foolish Virgins can return, the door has been for ever closed. To present all this in the most striking manner, the Parable takes the form of a dialogue, first between the foolish and the wise Virgins, in which the latter only state the bare truth when saying, that each has only sufficient oil for what is superfluous. Lastly, we are to learn from the dialogue between the foolish Virgins and the Bridegroom, that it is impossible in the day of Christ's Coming to make up for neglect of previous preparation, and that those who have failed to meet Him, even though the bridal Virgins, shall be finally excluded as being strangers to the Bridegroom.
Parable of the Talents
Sunday, April 2
"'For the kingdom of heaven is like a man leaving the country, who called his own servants and delivered to them his property. Now to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one; he gave to each one according to his own ability, and immediately left the country. Then the one who had received five talents went and traded with them, and made an additional five talents. In the same way also, the one who had received two talents also gained two others. But the one who had received the single talent went and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money. Now after a long time, the lord of those servants came to take account with them. Then the one who had received five talents came to him and brought an additional five talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered five talents to me; see, I have gained five other talents besides them.' And his lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! Because you were faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.''
"'And the one who had received two talents also came to him and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; see, I have gained two other talents besides them.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! Because you were faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' Then the one who had received the single talent also came to him and said, 'Lord, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. And because I was afraid, I went and hid your talent in the earth. Now look, you have your own.''
"'His lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather what I did not scatter. Because you knew this, you were duty-bound to take my talent to the money exchangers, so that when I came, I could have received my own with interest. Therefore, take the talent from him, and give it to the one who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he shall have abundance; on the other hand, as for the one who does not have, even that which he has shall be taken from him. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.' There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 25:14-30, HBFV)
This parable follows closely on the admonition to watch, in view of the sudden and certain Return of Christ, and the reward or punishment which will then be meted out. Only that, whereas in the Parable of the Ten Virgins the reference was to the personal state, in that of 'the Talents' it is to the personal work of the Disciples. In the former instance, they are portrayed as the bridal maidens who are to welcome His Return; in the latter, as the servants who are to give an account of their stewardship.
From its close connection with what precedes, the Parable opens almost abruptly. The emphasis rests on this, that they were His own servants, and to act for His interest. His property was handed over to them, not for safe custody, but that they might do with it as best they could in the interest of their Master. He gave to each according to his capacity, in proportion as He deemed severally qualified for larger or smaller administration. Having entrusted the management of His affairs to His servants, according to their capacity, He at once went away.
Thus far we can have no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the Parable. Our Lord, Who has left us for the Father's Home, is He Who has gone on the journey abroad, and to His own servants has He entrusted, not for custody, but to use for Him in the time between His departure and His return, what He claims as His own 'goods.' We must not limit this to the administration of His Word, nor to the Holy Ministry, although these may have been pre-eminently in view. It refers generally to all that a man has, wherewith to serve Christ; for, all that the Christian has - his time, money, opportunities, talents, or learning (and not only 'the Word'), is Christ's, and is entrusted to us, not for custody, but to trade withal for the absent Master - to further the progress of His Kingdom. And to each of us He gives according to our capacity for working - mental, moral, and even physical - to one five, to another two, and to another one 'talent.' This capacity for work lies not within our own power; but it is in our power to use for Christ whatever we may have.
As each had received according to his ability, so each worked according to his power, as good and faithful servants of their Lord. If the outward result was different, their labor, devotion, and faithfulness were equal. It was otherwise with him who had least to do for his Master, since only one talent had been entrusted to him.
The prominent fact here is, that he did not employ it for the Master, as a good servant, but shunned alike the labor and the responsibility, and acted as if it had been some stranger's, and not his Lord's property. In so doing he was not only unfaithful to his trust, but practically disowned that he was a servant who had received much, two others are introduced in the Parable, who had both received comparatively little - one of whom was faithful, while the other in idle selfishness hid the money, not heeding that it as 'his Lord's.' Thus, while the second servant, although less had been entrusted to him was as faithful and conscientious as he to whom much had been given, and while both had, by their gain, increased the possessions of their Master, the third had by his conduct rendered the money of his Lord a dead, useless, buried thing.
And now the second scene opens with the Lord returning to reckon with his servants. The notice of the long absence of the Master not only connects this with the Parable of the Ten Virgins, but is intended to show that the delay might have rendered the servants who traded more careless, while it also increased the guilt of him, who all this time had not done anything with his Master's money. And now the first of the servants, without speaking of his labor in trading, or his merit in 'making' money, answers with simple joyousness that he had gained five talents.
We can almost see his honest face beaming with delight, as he points to his Master's increased possession. His approval was all that the faithful servant had looked for, for which he had toiled during that long absence. And we can understand, how the Master welcomed and owned that servant, and assigned to him meet reward. The latter was twofold. Having proved his faithfulness and capacity in a comparatively limited sphere, one much greater would be assigned to him. For, to do the work, and increase the wealth of his Master, had evidently been his joy and privilege, as well as his duty. Hence also the second part of his reward - that of entering into the joy of his Lord - must not be confined to sharing in the festive meal at His return, still less to advancement from the position of a servant to that of a friend who shares his Master's lordship. It implies far more than this: even satisfied heart-sympathy with the aims and gains of his Master, and participation in them, with all that thus conveys.
A similar result followed on the reckoning with the servant to whom two talents had been entrusted. We mark that, although he could only speak of two talents gained, he met his Master with the same frank joyness as he who had made five. For he had been as faithful, and labored as earnestly as he to whom more had been entrusted. And what is more important, the former difference between the two servants, dependent on greater or less capacity for work, now ceased, and the second servant received precisely the same welcome and exactly the same reward, and in the same terms, as the first.
Surely, then, if not after death, yet in that other 'dispensation,' there must be work to do for Christ, for which the preparation is in this life by faithful application for Him of what He has entrusted to us - be it much or little. This gives quite a new and blessed meaning to the life that now is - as most truly and in all its aspects part of that into which it is to unfold. No; not the smallest share of 'talents,' if only faithfully used for Christ, can be lost, not merely as regards His acknowledgement, but also their further and wider employment. And may we not suggest, that this may, if not explain, yet cast the halo of His purpose and Presence around what so often seems mysterious in the removal of those who had just attained to opening, or to full usefulness, or even of those who are taken from us in the early morn of youth and loveliness. The Lord may 'have need' of them, where or how we know not - and beyond this working-day and working-world there are 'many things' over which the faithful servant in little may be 'set,' that he may still do, and with greatly enlarged opportunities and powers, the work for Christ which he had loved so well, while at the same time he also shares the joy of his Lord.
It only remains to refer to the third servant, whose sad unfaithfulness and failure of service we already, in some measure, understand. Summoned to his account, he returned the talent entrusted to him with this explanation, that, knowing his Master to be a hard man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering (the corn) where He did not winnow, he had been afraid of incurring responsibility, and hence hid in the earth the talent which he now restored.
It needs no comment to show that his own words, however honest and self-righteous they might sound, admitted dereliction of his work and duty as a servant, and entire misunderstanding as well as heart-alienation from his Master. He served Him not, and he knew Him not; he loved Him not, and he sympathized not with Him. But, besides, his answer was also an insult and a medacious pretext. He had been idle and unwilling to work for his Master. If he worked it would be for himself. He would not incur the difficulties, the self-denial, perhaps the reproach, connected with his Master's work. We recognize here those who, although His servants, yet, from self-indulgence and wordliness, will not do work for Christ with the one talent entrusted to them - that is, even though the responsibility and claim upon them be the smallest; and who deem it sufficient to hide it in the ground - not to lose it - or to preserve it, as they imagine, from being used for evil, without using it to trade for Christ. The falseness of the excuse, that he was afraid to do anything with it - an excuse too often repeated in our days - lest, peradventure, he might do more harm than good, was now fully exposed by the Master.
Confessedly, it proceeded from a want of knowledge of Him, as if He were a hard, exacting Master, not One Who reckons even the least service as done to Himself; from misunderstanding also of what work for Christ is, in which nothing can ever fail or be lost; and, lastly, from want of joyous sympathy with it. And so the Master put aside the flimsy pretext. Addressing him as a ' wicked and slothful servant, ' He pointed out that, even on his own showing, if he had been afraid to incur responsibility, he might have 'cast' (a word intended to mark the absence of labor) the money to 'the bankers,' when, at His return, He would have received His own, ' with interest. ' Thus he might, without incurring responsibility, or much labor, have been, at least in a limited sense, faithful to his duty and trust as a servant.
The reference to the practice of lodging money, at interest, with the bankers, raises questions too numerous and lengthily for full discussion in this place. The Jewish Law distinguished between 'interest' and 'increase' , and entered into many and intricate details on the subject. Such transactions were forbidden with Israelites, but allowed with Gentiles. As in Rome, the business of 'money-changers' and that of 'bankers' seem to have run into each other. The Jewish 'bankers' bear precisely the same name.
In Rome very high interest seems to have been charged in early times; by-and-by it was lowered, till it was fixed, first at 8½, and then at 4 1/6, per cent. But these laws were not of permanent duration. Practically, usury was unlimited. It soon became the custom to charge monthly interest at the rate of 1 per cent a month. Yet there were prosperous times, as at the close of the Republic, when the rate of interest was so low as 4 percent; during the early Empire it stood at 8 per cent. This, of course, in what we may call fair business transactions. Beyond them, in the almost incredible extravagance, luxury, and indebtedness of even some of the chief historical personages, most usurious transactions took place (especially in the provinces), and that by people in high position (Brutus in Cyprus, and Seneca in Britain). Money was lent at 12, 24, and even 48 per cent.; the bills bore a larger sum than that actually received; and the interest was added to the capital, so that debt and interest alike grew.
In Greece there were regular State banks, while in Rome such provision was only made under exceptional circumstances. Not unfrequently the twofold business of money-changing and banking was combined. Such 'bankers' undertook to make payments, to collect moneys and accounts, to place out money at interest - in short, all the ordinary business of this kind. There can be no question that the Jewish bankers of Palestine and elsewhere were engaged in the same undertakings, while the dispersion of their race over the world would render it more easy to have trusted correspondents in every city. Thus, we find that Herod Agrippa borrowed from the Jewish Alabarch at Alexandria the sum of 20,000 drachms, which was paid him in Italy, the commission and interest on it amounting to no less than 8 1/2 per cent. (2,500 drachms).
We can thus understand the allusion to 'the bankers,' with whom the wicked and unfaithful servant might have lodged his lord's money, if there had been truth in his excuse. To unmask its hollowness is the chief object of this part of the Parable. Accordingly, it must not be too closely pressed; but it would be in the spirit of the Parable to apply the expression to the indirect employment of money in the service of Christ, as by charitable contributions. But the great lesson intended is, that every good and faithful servant of Christ must, whatever his circumstances, personally and directly use such talent as he may have to make gain for Christ. Tried by this test, how few seem to have understood their relation to Christ, and how cold has the love of the Church grown in the long absence of her lord!
But as regards the 'unprofitable' servant in the Parable, the well-known punishment of him that had come to the Marriage-Feast without the wedding-garment shall await him, while the talent, which he had failed to employ for his master, shall be entrusted to him who had shown himself most capable of working. We need not seek an elaborate interpretation for this