This morning we conclude our study of the Olivet Discourse. In this discourse the Lord is answering His disciple's questions about the destruction of the temple, His parousia, and the end of the Jewish age.
Up to this point we have seen that the Olivet discourse of Yeshua is one connected and continuous prophecy, all of which was to take place, according to our Lord's prediction, before the existing generation would pass away.
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 ESV
In our text for this morning, we encounter a passage deemed by many commentators to concern the whole human race and the consummation of all things. They contend that it cannot be understood as referring to Jerusalem or Israel only. It is their assessment that this passage seems to take a wider range because it reads like the judgment of all nations and not of a city or a country. It encompasses the world and a final consummation and not just the passing crisis of Israel and Jerusalem.
But this is not a new section that introduces a new subject; it is an integral part of the prophecy against Israel. This text deals with the judgment of Israel and the end of the Jewish age. Although this passage contains parabolic elements, it is not a parable.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Matthew 25:31-32 ESV
This text is connected with what goes before. This is apparent by the language used. If we compare this text with Matthew 24:30-31, we see that he is talking about the same thing.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:30-31 ESV
In both texts, we see the Son of man coming in glory with His holy angels for the purpose of judgment. The text in Matthew 24:30-31 has a very clear time statement within it:
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 ESV
The Lord's coming in glory with his angels, for the purpose of judgment, was to occur in the lifetime of those to whom He spoke. Matthew 25:31-46 is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the end of the Jewish age. It is not a new topic but is simply an elaboration of Jerusalem's judgment.
It deserves particular notice that the description of the coming of the Son of Man in his glory corresponds in all points with that in Matthew 16:27-28 where Yeshua expressly stated that it would be witnessed by some of those to whom the prediction was made.
For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:27-28 ESV
When we compare the two texts, we see the following:
- In both passages the subject referred to is the same--the coming of the Son of Man, the Parousia.
- In both passages, Yeshua is described as coming in glory.
- In both passages, He is attended by the holy angels.
- In both passages, He comes as a King, "coming in His kingdom" and sitting "on his glorious throne."
- In both passages He comes in judgment.
- In both passages, the judgment is represented as, in some sense, universal. "He shall reward every man." "Before him shall be gathered all the nations."
- In Matthew 16:28, it is expressly stated that this coming in glory was to take place in the lifetime of some then present. This fixes the time of the Parousia within the limit of a human life, thus being in perfect accord with the period defined by our Lord in His prophetic discourse. "This generation shall not pass away."
I think that we can clearly see that the coming of the Son of man in Matthew 25:31-32 is identical with that referred to in Matthew 24:30-31 and 16:27-28—the coming some of the disciples were to live to witness. Our text is clearly speaking of a first-century event. This judgment took place in A.D. 70. The destruction of Jerusalem, the coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the judgment are all connected in Scripture. Notice the similarity of our text to Matthew 13:40-43.
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
At the end of the (Jewish) age the Son of Man returned with His angels to judge the wicked and reward the righteous. We see from verse 43 that this is also a time of resurrection. Verse 43 of Matthew 13 is a quotation of Daniel 12.
"At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:1-3 ESV
Verse 1 speaks of the great tribulation of Matthew 24:21, a time of deliverance for the elect of God. We see this same idea in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV.
since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua.
Verse 2 of Daniel 12 tells us that at this time the resurrection would take place. Those resurrected are either given everlasting life or everlasting contempt. We see this same idea in our text in Matthew 25. Verse 3 of Daniel 12 is the verse that is quoted in Matthew 13. Thus, the coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 25:31 is the same as His coming in Matthew 13:41, both of which reflect the event spoken of by Daniel in 12:1-3. This all happened in A.D. 70 and was manifest by Jerusalem's destruction.
Verse 31 of Matthew 25 states that "Then He will sit on his glorious throne." This is not a literal throne; it expresses the idea that He will come as a king and judge. In Matthew 20:21, two of the disciples asked Yeshua to grant them the right to sit on His right hand and left hand "in the Kingdom." The parallel passage in Mark 10:37 says that they asked to sit with Him "in your glory." The kingdom is the glory of Yeshua! Thus, if Yeshua came in his glory, He came in his kingdom.
The words "all the nations" in verse 32 have led many to believe that this passage is not referring to the destruction of Jerusalem at the close of the Jewish age but rather to a universal and final judgment of all mankind.
Does the phrase "all the nations" jump us ahead thousands of years to a future judgment of the world? I don't think so. We know that it is not uncommon to find in Scripture universal propositions which must be understood in a qualified or restricted sense. For example, we see this in Matthew 24:22 (ESV):
And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Now, we know from our study of Matthew 24 that the tribulation was the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Roman armies. Unfortunately, the expression "no human being would be saved" has caused many to stretch the context beyond the mere inhabitants of a city or country to include the whole human race.
The phrase "all the nations" is equivalent to "all the tribes of the earth" used in Matthew 24:30.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
There is no error in designating the tribes as nations. In our Lord's time it was usual to speak of the inhabitants of Palestine as consisting of several nations. Josephus speaks of "the nation of the Samaritans" and "the nation of the Galileans"—using the very word ethnos which we find in our passage. Judea was a distinct nation that often had a king of its own. So, also, was Samaria along with Idumea, Galilee, Paraea. All of these had, at different times, princes with the title of Ethnarch, a name which signifies the ruler of a nation. Therefore, there is no violence to the language in understanding ethnos as referring to "all the nations" of Palestine or "all the tribes of the earth."
This view can be supported by the fact that the same phrase is used in the great commission:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 ESV
This commission is given to the disciples (Matthew 28:16). Did they understand this as a charge to evangelize the whole world? I don't think so. If they did understand it this way, they were negligent in acting upon it.
Professor Burton observes: "It was not until fourteen years after our Lord's ascension that St. Paul traveled—for the first time, and preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Nor is there any evidence that during that period the other apostles passed the confines of Judea."
The disciples seemed quite surprised to find out that "the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles," and that, "to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. Acts 10:45 ESV
When they heard these things, they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." Acts 11:18 ESV
When Peter was challenged as follows:
"You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them" (Acts 1:3), he didn't
appeal to the great commission by saying, "we were commanded to go to all nations." That would have been my response if I had been in his place and had viewed the great commission as a call to world evangelism.
If the phrase, "all the nations" had been understood by the disciples in its literal sense, it is difficult to imagine how they could have failed to recognize at once the universal character of the gospel, and their commission to preach it alike to Jew and Gentile. It required a distinct revelation from heaven to overcome the Jewish prejudices. Peter tells Cornelius about his vision from God.
And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. Acts 10:28 ESV
When did God show Peter that? About ten years after the great commission was given (Acts 10).
Paul, through revelation, learned the mystery "that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Yeshua through the gospel."
how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Yeshua through the gospel. Ephesians 3:3-6 ESV
The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ and in His church was a mystery which no Old Covenant saint (including the prophets) understood. It was a reconciliation accomplished by our Lord on the cross of Calvary, and the message of the apostles and prophets (including Paul), who proclaimed it. It was a message which self-righteous Jews hated intensely, and this is why the Apostle Paul found himself writing to his readers from a prison cell.
"As it has now been revealed"—there are two views about how to interpret the adverbial conjunction "hos" (as). Some take this comparative conjunction as restrictive, giving it the meaning that the mystery had been partially revealed in the Tanakh, but was fully revealed in Paul's day. But other scholars consider this comparative conjunction, "hos," to be descriptive. According to them, no revelation of this mystery was given in the Tanakh; it was revealed for the first time in the New Testament.
The form in which the calling of the Gentiles was predicted in the Tanakh led to the general impression that they were to partake of the blessings of the Messiah's reign by becoming Jews, by being as proselytes merged into the old theocracy in all of its peculiarities. It never entered into any human mind in the Old Covenant that the theocracy itself was to be abolished and a New Jerusalem was to be introduced, designed, and adapted equally for all mankind, thereby doing away with the distinction between Jew and Gentile.
In light of these texts, it seems reasonable to give the phrase, "all the nations," a restricted sense and to limit it to the nations of Palestine. In this sense it fits well with the words of our Lord in:
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:23 ESV
They were commissioned to preach the gospel to Israel and Yeshua told them that they would not reach all of its cities before the Son of Man came in His parousia.
And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:33-34 ESV
God's elect are represented under the common image of His "sheep." God's sheep are blessed in that they now take their inheritance. The kingdom was prepared for God's elect from the foundation of the world. Those who come to God for salvation come because they have been chosen by Him from eternity past.
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love Ephesians 1:4 ESV
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first-fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
The Judge tells them that the kingdom was prepared for them, that is designed for them or appointed for them from the beginning. God has no new plan.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Matthew 25:35-40 ESV
We see here that the destiny of the righteous and the wicked is determined by their treatment of those Christ calls "my brothers." There is nothing said here about faith. The judgment is based on acts of love toward the distressed brothers of Christ. It is not surprising that this text causes much perplexity both to theologians and general readers.
William Barclay writes "This is one of the most vivid parables Jesus ever spoke, and the lesson is crystal clear—that God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need."
Is this the doctrine of Paul? Is this the ground of justification before God set forth in the New Testament? Are we to conclude that the everlasting destiny of the whole human race, from Adam to the last man, will finally turn on their love and sympathy towards the persecuted and suffering brothers of Christ? Not according to the teaching of the New Testament.
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Yeshua, Romans 3:24 ESV
The Greek word used here for "gift" is dorea. It means gratuitously (lit. or fig.)—without a cause, freely. "Are justified by his grace as a gift"—the word "grace" is the Greek word charis which means "unmerited favor, or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving." In the phrase "by his grace as a gift," the idea of "free" is redoubled to show that our justification is all of God. Nothing in this act of justification belongs to or proceeds from man.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:28 ESV
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Romans 4:5 ESV
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:6 ESV
The clear teaching of the New Testament is that salvation is by grace through faith alone. Yet this text in Matthew 25 seems to be saying that judgment is based upon works. The difficulty is easily and completely solved if we regard this judicial transaction as the judgment of Israel at the close of the Jewish age. It is the rejected King of Israel who is the judge, and it is the hostile and unbelieving generation of Jews, the last and worst of the nation, that is arraigned before His tribunal.
so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Matthew 23:35-39 ESV
As those first-century Jews responded to Christ's disciples or "brothers" and aligned themselves with their distress and afflictions, they aligned themselves with the Messiah whom they preached. The acceptance or rejection of the disciples was based upon their acceptance or rejection of Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel. Saul persecuted Christians because he did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah. In attacking them, he was attacking Christ.
And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Yeshua, whom you are persecuting. Acts 9:5 ESV
The people designated as "these brothers of mine" are representatives of Christ Himself. They are evidently the disciples of our Lord in whom He hungered, and thirsted, was naked, sick, and in prison. All this is in perfect harmony with the words of Christ to His disciples when He sent them forth to preach:"
These twelve Yeshua sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Matthew 10:5-7 ESV
They were called to preach the gospel of the kingdom to Israel. Those of Israel who did not receive their words would receive a judgment worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:14-15 ESV
Yeshua warns them that Israel hated Him, and so it would also hate them.
It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. Matthew 10:25 ESV
Yeshua told them that their reception or rejection would be His reception or rejection.
"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." Matthew 10:40-42 ESV
Because the Jews hated Christ, they mistreated His followers. Those who believed in Christ were kind in their treatment of His disciples. Thus, judgment is based upon faith or rejection of Yeshua as the Messiah.
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:41-46 ESV
Whom is Yeshua addressing here? Those on the left? Who are those on the left? They are the goats. Throughout Yeshua's ministry, He described Himself as their good shepherd and the people who followed Him were His sheep. Sheep are known to be defenseless and reliant upon a shepherd for care, protection, and direction. Unlike sheep, goats are known for being headstrong, self-reliant, and independent. According to the text who are the goats? They are those who go to eternal punishment. They are unbelievers. Universalism is wrong because some people are goats and they go to eternal punishment. The main presupposition of universalism is that God loves everybody. Does the Bible teach that God loves everybody? NO, it does not!
As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Romans 9:13 ESV
One of the most popular beliefs of our day is that God loves everybody. But the idea that God loves everybody is a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers, or the Puritans will be searched in vain for any such concept. The fact is that the love of God is a truth for the saints only. Not once in the four gospels do we read of the Lord Yeshua telling sinners that God loved them. In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God's love is never referred to at all. Does that seem odd to you? But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of the truth.
Those who trust in Christ are blessed and enter the kingdom. Those who reject Christ are punished by being eternally separated from Christ— "depart from me." Their destiny is "eternal fire"—the image employed here is used to express extreme suffering. I do not think that the fire is literal. The truth intended to be taught here is not the manner of suffering, but the duration, certainty, and intensity of it.
Notice here that the eternal fire was prepared for the Devil and his angels. Since the Devil and his angels are spirits, the fire could not be literal.
Notice in verse 44 that the goats call Him Lord. This is the fulfillment of:
and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:11 ESV
Please notice the contrast in verse 46:
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:46 ESV
"Eternal punishment"—the original word here translated "punishment" means torment or suffering inflicted for crime. The noun is only used one other place in the New Testament—1 John 4:18, "fear involves punishment." The verb from which the noun is derived is used twice in 2 Peter 2:9 (ESV).
And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. Acts 4:21 ESV
then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment
This word teaches us that the wicked will be punished. Here we have a comparison between eternal punishment and eternal life. The word "eternal" is the same in both cases. "Eternal" is from the Greek aionios from aion. It means "existing at all times, perpetual, pertaining to an unlimited duration of time." People argue that if the righteous get eternal life then the wicked get eternal punishment. This is true, but what does "eternal punishment" mean? As we see from the Scriptures, the punishment is death.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
Yeshua said they "shall not perish." He did not say that they will not go to hell or that they will not suffer throughout eternity. It says that they will not perish. It is the opposite of eternal life. It is the opposite of life which is death.
What the wicked get is eternal death. It is talking about the result of the action and not the action itself. The punishment is death and that is eternal. The destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire is permanent. It is a punishment that cannot be reversed. The act of punishing will come to an end, but the consequences will last for eternity.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV
Here, those perishing are the non-elect:
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:24 ESV
So, the contrast is between those who are "perishing" and those who are "being saved."
The Bible teaches that the reward of believers is everlasting life while the punishment of the wicked is just as the Scriptures state—death or the opposite of life. Because the wicked will have no escape from death, it is indeed an eternal punishment.
We have here not the final judgment of the whole human race but that of the guilty nation or nations of Palestine who rejected their King and despitefully treated and slew His messengers. Their day of doom was now near at hand. This being so, the entire prophecy on the Mount of Olives is seen to be one homogeneous and connected whole. It is a clear, consecutive, and historically truthful representation of the judgment of the Theocratic nation at the close of the age or Jewish period.
A universal judgment in our future is entirely unnecessary, those who have died since A.D. 70 already know where they will spend eternity. When a person dies, his spirit either immediately enters heaven or it perishes. What purpose, then, would there be of a final judgment?
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 ESV
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 ESV
Those who do not believe in Yeshua the Christ will not see life; they are under the wrath of God. Believers have already passed from death to life and will not come into judgment. Believers will stand before Christ to give an account of what they have done in the body and to receive rewards.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
The bema (judgment seat) was well known to the Corinthians. Believers will be judged in a review of their works for the purpose of rewards.
As we come to the close of the Olivet Discourse, I would like to read you a quote from J. Stuart Russell. He writes,
Before passing away from this deeply interesting prophecy it may be proper to advert to the marvelously minute fulfilment which it received, as testified by an unexceptionable witness,—the Jewish historian Josephus. It is a fact of singular interest and importance that there should have been preserved to posterity a full and authentic record of the times and transactions referred to in our Lord's prophecy; and that this record should be from the pen of a Jewish statesman, soldier, priest, and man of letters, not only having access to the best sources of information, but himself an eye-witness of many of the events which he relates. It gives additional weight to this testimony that it does not come from a Christian, who might have been suspected of partisanship, but from a Jew, indifferent, if not hostile, to the cause of Jesus.
So striking is the coincidence between the prophecy and the history that the old objection of Porphyry against the Book of Daniel, that it must have been written after the event, might be plausibly alleged, were there the slightest pretense for such an insinuation.
Though the Jewish people were at all times restless and uneasy under the yoke of Rome, there were no urgent symptoms of disaffection at the time when our Lord delivered this prediction of the approaching destruction of the temple, the city, and the nation. The higher classes were profuse in their professions of loyalty to the Imperial government: 'We have no king but Caesar' was their cry. It was the policy of Rome to grant the free exercise of their own religion to the subject provinces. There was, therefore, no apparent reason why the new and splendid temple of Jerusalem should not stand for centuries, and Judea enjoy a greater tranquility and prosperity under the aegis of Caesar than she had ever known under her native princes. Yet before the generation which rejected and crucified the Son of David had wholly passed away, the Jewish nationality was extinguished: Jerusalem was a desolation; 'the holy and beautiful house' on Mount Zion was razed to the ground; and the unhappy people, who knew not the time of their visitation, were overwhelmed by calamities without a parallel in the annals of the world.
All this is undeniable; and yet it would be too much, to expect that this will be regarded as an adequate fulfilment of our Savior's words by many whom prejudice-or traditional interpretations have taught to see more in the prophecy than ever inspiration included in it. No doubt there are some portions of this prediction which are capable of verification by human testimony. Does any one expect Tacitus, or Suetonius, or Josephus, or any other historian, to relate that 'the Son of man was seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; that He summoned the nations to his tribunal, and rewarded every man according to his works'? There is a region into which witnesses and reporters may not enter; flesh and blood may not gaze upon the mysteries of the spiritual and immaterial. But there is also a large portion of the prophecy which is capable of verification, and which has been amply verified. Even an assailant of Christianity, who impugns the supernatural knowledge of Christ, is compelled to admit that "the portion relating to the destruction of the city is singularly definite, and corresponds very closely with the actual event."
Earnest Hampden-Cook in his book, Christ Has Come, written in 1905, puts it this way:
By a process of reasoning the astronomer Adams discovered the planet Neptune before it had been seen by human eyes. He knew that there must be such a planet, because its existence was essential for the explanation of other undoubted facts. In the same way, although it cannot be proved from history that the Lord Jesus personally and visibly returned to the earth at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D., yet relying on His solemn teaching we may be morally certain that He did so return. The past Second Advent is the key to the understanding of the whole New Testament. In the light of this one event a world of mystery vanishes and a new world of truth stands revealed.
The punctual fulfilment of that part of the prophecy which comes within the field of human observation is the guarantee for the truth of the remainder, which does not fall within that sphere. We shall find in the sequel of this discussion that the events which now appear to many incredible were the confident expectation and hope of the apostolic age, and that the early Christians were fully persuaded of their reality and nearness. We are placed, therefore, in this dilemma—either the words of Jesus have failed, and the hopes of His disciples have been falsified; or else those words and hopes have been fulfilled, and the prophecy in all its parts has been fully accomplished. One thing is certain, the veracity of our Lord is committed to the assertion that the whole and every part of the events contained in this prophecy were to take place before the close of the existing generation. If any language may claim to be precise and definite, it is that which our Lord employs to mark the limits of the time within which all His words were to be fulfilled. Whatever other catastrophes, of other nations, in other ages, there may be in the future, concerning them our Lord is silent. He speaks of His own guilty nation, and of His judicial coming at the close of the age, as had been often and clearly foretold by Malachi, by John the Baptist, and by Himself.