The Jews, in rebelling against the Romans, and in persecuting the Christians, were hastening to their own ruin apace, both efficiently and meritoriously, were setting both God and man against them; see 1 Thess. 2:15. Now here we have a prediction of that ruin which came upon them within less than forty years after this: we had it before, Matt. 24:15 Observe,
I. What is here foretold concerning it.
1. That the Roman armies should make a descent upon Judea, and invest Jerusalem, the holy city. These were the abomination of desolation, which the Jews did abominate, and by which they should be made desolate. The country of thine enemy is called the land which thou abhorrest, Isa. 7:16. Therefore it was an abomination, because it brought with it nothing but desolation. They had rejected Christ as an abomination, who would have been their salvation; and now God brought upon them an abomination that would be their desolation, thus spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Mark 9:27), as that by which this sacrifice and offering should be made to cease. This army stood where it ought not, in and about the holy city, which the heathen ought not to have approached, nor would have been suffered to approach, if Jerusalem had not first profaned the crown of their holiness. This the church complains of, Lam. 1:10; The heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into the congregation; but sin made the breach, at which the glory went out, and the abomination of desolation broke in, and stood where it ought not. Now, let him that readeth this, understand it, and endeavor to take it right. Prophecies should not be too plain, and yet intelligible to those that search them; and they are best understood by comparing them first with one another, and at last with the event.
2. That when the Roman army should come into the country, there would be no safety any where but by quitting the country, and that with all possible expedition. It will be in vain to fight, the enemies will be too hard for them; in vain to abscond, the enemies will find them out; and in vain to capitulate, the enemies will give them no quarter; a man cannot have so much as his life given him for a prey, but by fleeing to the mountains out of Judea; and let him take the first alarm, and make the best of his way. If he be on the house-top, trying from thence to discover the motions of the enemy, and spies them coming, let him not go down, to take any thing out of the house, for it will occasion his losing of time, which is more precious than his best goods, and will but encumber him, and embarrass his flight. If he be in the field, and there discover the approach of the enemy, let him get away as he is, and not turn back again, to take up his garment, Mark 13:16. If he can save his life, let him reckon it is a good bargain, though he can save nothing else, and be thankful to God, that, though he is cut short, he is not cut off.
3. That it would go very hard at that time with poor mothers and nurses (Mark 13:17); “Woe to them that are with child, that dare not go into strange places, that cannot shift for themselves, nor make haste as others can. And woe to them that give suck, that know not how either to leave the tender infants behind them, or to carry them along with them.” Such is the vanity of the creature, that the time may often be, when the greatest comforts may prove the greatest burthens. It would likewise be very uncomfortable, if they should be forced to flee in the winter (Mark 13:18), when the weather and ways were bad, when the roads would be scarcely passable, especially in the mountains to which they must flee. If there be no remedy but that trouble must come, yet we may desire and pray that, if it be God’s will, the circumstances of it may be so ordered as to be a mitigation of the trouble; and when things are bad, we ought to consider they might have been worse. It is bad to be forced to flee, but it would have been worse if it had been in the winter.
4. That throughout all the country of the Jews, there should be such destruction and desolation made, as could not be paralleled in any history (Mark 13:19); In those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of time; that is, of the creation which God created, for time and the creation are of equal date, unto this day, neither shall be to the end of time; such a complication of miseries, and of such continuance. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans was very terrible, but this exceeded it. It threatened a universal slaughter of all the people of the Jews; so barbarously did they devour one another, and the Romans devour them all, that, if their wars had continued a little longer, no flesh could have been saved, not one Jew could have been left alive; but in the midst of wrath God remembered mercy; and, (1.) He shortened the days; he let fall his controversy before he had made a full end. As a church and nation the ruin was complete, but many particular persons had their lives given them for a prey, by the storm’s subsiding when it did. 2. It was for the elects’ sake that those days were shortened; many among them fared the better for the sake of the few among them that believed in Christ, and were faithful to him. There was a promise, that a remnant should be saved (Isa. 10:22), and that God would not, for his servants’ sakes, destroy them all (Isa. 65:8); and these promises must be fulfilled. God’s own elect cry day and night to him, and their prayers must be answered, Luke 18:7.
II. What directions are given to the disciples with reference to it.
1. They must shift for the safety of their lives; “When you see the country invaded, and the city invested, flatter not yourselves with thoughts that the enemy will retire, or that you may be able to make your part good with them; but, without further deliberation or delay, let them that are in Judea, flee to the mountains, Mark 13:14. Meddle not with the strife that belongs not to you; let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth, but do you go out of the ship when you see it sinking, that you die not the death of the uncircumcised in heart.”
2. They must provide for the safety of their souls; “Seducers will be busy at that time, for they love to fish in troubled waters, and therefore then you must double your guard; then, if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or, Lo, he is there, you know he is in heaven, and will come again at the end of time, to judge the world, and therefore believe them not; having received Christ, be not drawn into the snares of any antichrist; for false Christs, and false prophets, shall arise,” Mark 13:22. When the gospel kingdom was in the setting up, Satan mustered all his force, to oppose it, and made use of all his wiles; and God permitted it, for the trial of sincerity of some, and the discovery of the hypocrisy of others, and the confusion of those who rejected Christ, when he was offered to them. False Christs shall rise, and false prophets that shall preach them up; or such, as, though they pretend not to be Christs, set up for prophets, and undertake to foretel things to come, and they shall show signs and lying wonders; so early did the mystery of iniquity begin to work, 2 Thess. 2:7. They shall seduce, if it were possible, the very elect; so plausible shall their pretences be, and so industrious shall they be to impose upon people, that they shall drawn away many that were forward and zealous professors of religion, many that were very likely to have persevered; for nothing will be effectual to secure men but that foundation of God which stands immovably sure, The Lord knoweth them that are his, who shall be preserved when the faith of some is overthrown, 2 Tim. 2:18, 19. They shall seduce, if it were possible, the very elect; but it is not possible to seduce them; the election shall obtain, whoever are blinded, Rom. 11:7. But, in consideration hereof, let the disciples be cautious whom they give credit to (Mark 13:23); But take ye heed. Christ knew that they were of the elect, who could not possibly be seduced, and yet he said to them, Take heed. An assurance of persevering, and cautions against apostasy, will very well consist with each other. Though Christ said to them, Take heed, it doth not therefore follow, that their perseverance was doubtful, for they were kept by the power of God; and though their perseverance was secured, yet it doth not therefore follow, that this caution was needless, because they must be kept in the use of proper means. God will keep them, but they must keep themselves. “I have foretold you all things; have foretold you of this danger, that, being fore-warned, you may be fore-armed; I have foretold all things which you needed to have foretold to you, and therefore take heed of hearkening to such as pretend to be prophets, and to foretel more than I have foretold.” The sufficiency of the scripture is good argument against listening to such as pretend to inspiration.