We have here the application of this prophetical sermon; now learn to look forward in a right manner.
I. “As to the destruction of Jerusalem, expect it to come very shortly; as when the branch of the fig-tree becomes soft, and the leaves sprout forth, ye expect that summer will come shortly, Mark 13:28. When second causes begin to work, ye expect their effects in their proper order and time. So when ye see these things come to pass, when ye see the Jewish nation embroiled in wars, distracted by false Christs and prophets, and drawing upon them the displeasure of the Romans, especially when ye see them persecuting you for your Master’s sake, and thereby standing to what they did when they put him to death, and repeating it, and so filling up the measure of their iniquity, then say that their ruin is nigh, even at the door, and provide for yourselves accordingly.” The disciples themselves were indeed all of them, except John, taken away from the evil to come, but the next generation whom they were to train up, would live to see it; and by these instructions which Christ left behind him would be kept from sharing in it; “This generation that is now rising up, shall not all be worn off before all these things come to pass, which I have told you of, relating to Jerusalem, and they shall begin to take effect now shortly. And as this destruction is near and within ken, so it is sure. The decree is gone forth, it is a consummation determined,” Dan. 9:27. Christ doth not speak these things, merely to frighten them; no, they are declarations of God’s fixed purpose; “Heaven and earth shall pass away, at the end of time; but my words shall not pass away (Mark 13:31), not one of these predictions shall fail of a punctual accomplishment.”
II. “As to the end of the world, do not enquire when it will come, for it is not a question fit to be asked, for of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man; it is a thing at a great distance; the exact time is fixed in the counsel of God, but is not revealed by any word of God, either to men on earth, or to angels in heaven; the angels shall have timely notice to prepare to attend in that day, and it shall be published, when it comes to the children of men, with sound of trumpet; but, at present, men and angels are kept in the dark concerning the precise time of it, that they may both attend to their proper services in the present day.” But it follows, neither the Son; but is there any thing which the Son is ignorant of? We read indeed of a book which was sealed, till the Lamb opened the seals; but did not he know what was in it, before the seals were opened? Was not he privy to the writing of it? There were those in the primitive times, who taught from this text, that there were some things that Christ, as man, was ignorant of; and from these were called Agnoetae; they said, “It was no more absurd to say so, than to say that his human soul suffered grief and fear;” and many of the orthodox fathers approved of this. Some would evade it, by saying that Christ spoke this in a way of prudential economy, to divert the disciples from further enquiry: but to this one of the ancients answers, It is not fit to speak too nicely in this matter—ou dei pany akribologein, so Leontius in Dr. Hammond, “It is certain (says Archbishop Tillotson) that Christ, as God, could not be ignorant of any thing; but the divine wisdom which dwelt in our Saviour, did communicate itself to his human soul, according to the divine pleasure, so that his human nature might sometimes not know some things; therefore Christ is said to grow in wisdom (Luke 2:52), which he could not be said to do, if the human nature of Christ did necessarily know all things by virtue of its union with the divinity.” Dr. Lightfoot explains it thus; Christ calls himself the Son, as Messiah. Now the Messiah, as such, was the father’s servant (Isa. 42:1), sent and deputed by him, and as such a one he refers himself often to his Father’s will and command, and owns he did nothing of himself (John 5:19); in like manner he might be said to know nothing of himself. The revelation of Jesus Christ was what God gave unto him, Rev. 1:1. He thinks, therefore, that we are to distinguish between those excellencies and perfections of his, which resulted from the personal union between the divine and human nature, and those which flowed from the anointing of the Spirit; from the former flowed the infinite dignity of his perfect freedom from all sin; but from the latter flowed his power of working miracles, and his foreknowledge of things to come. What therefore (saith he) was to be revealed by him to his church, he was pleased to take, not from the union of the human nature with the divine, but from the revelation of the Spirit, by which he yet knew not this, but the Father only knows it; that is, God only, the Deity; for (as Archbishop Tillotson explains it) it is not used here personally, in distinction from the Son and the Holy Ghost, but as the Father is, Fons et Principium Deitatis—The Fountain of Deity.
III. “As to both, your duty is to watch and pray. Therefore the time is kept a secret, that you may be engaged to stand always upon your guard (Mark 13:33); Take ye heed of every thing that would indispose you for your Master’s coming, and would render your accounts perplexed, and your spirits so too; watch for his coming, that it may not at any time be a surprise to you, and pray for that grace which is necessary to qualify you for it, for ye know not when the time is; and you are concerned to be ready for that every day, which may come any day.” This he illustrates, in the close, by a parable.
1. Our Master is gone away, and left us something in trust, in charge, which we must give account of, Mark 13:34. He is as a man taking a far journey; for he is gone to be away a great while, he has left his house on earth, and left his servants in their offices, given authority to some, who are to be overseers, and work to others, who are to be labourers. They that have authority given them, in that had work assigned them, for those that have the greatest power have the most business; and to them to whom he gave work, he gave some sort of authority, to do that work. And when he took his last leave, he appointed the porter to watch, to be sure to be ready to open to him at his return; and in the mean time to take care to whom he opened his gates, not to thieves and robbers, but only to his Master’s friends and servants. Thus our Lord Jesus, when he ascended on high, left something for all his servants to do, expecting they should all do him service in his absence, and be ready to receive him at his return. All are appointed to work, and some authorized to rule.
2. We ought to be always upon our watch, in expectation of his return, Mark 13:35-37. (1.) Our Lord will come, and will come as the Master of the house, to take account of his servants, of their work, and of the improvement they have made. (2.) We know not when he will come; and he has very wisely kept us at uncertainty, that we might all be always ready. We know not when he will come, just at what precise time; the Master of the house perhaps will come at even, at nine at night; or it may be at midnight, or a cock-crowing, at three in the morning, or perhaps not until six. This is applicable to his coming to us in particular, at our death, as well as to the general judgment. Our present life is a night, a dark night, compared with the other life; we know not in which watch of the night our Master will come, whether in the days of youth, or middle age, or old age; but, as soon as we are born, we begin to die, and therefore, as soon as we are capable of expecting any thing, we must expect death. (3.) Our great care must be, that, whenever our Lord comes, he do not find us sleeping, secure in ourselves, off our guard, indulging ourselves in ease and sloth, mindless of our work and duty, and thoughtless of our Lord’s coming; ready to say, He will not come, and unready to meet him. (4.) His coming will indeed be coming suddenly; it will be a great surprise and terror to those that are careless, and asleep, it will come upon them as a thief in the night. (5.) It is therefore the indispensable duty of all Christ’s disciples, to watch, to be awake, and keep awake; “What I say unto you four (Mark 13:37), I say unto all the twelve, or rather to you twelve, I say unto all my disciples and followers; what I say to you of this generation, I say to all that shall believe in men, through your word, in every age, Watch, watch, expect my second coming, prepare for it, that you may be found in peace, without spot, and blameless.”