Matt. 24; Luke 21.
T. B. Baines.
Christian Friend, vol. 7, 1880, p. 151.
Two things are familiar to most attentive readers of Scripture. Who has not observed the variations often occurring in the accounts of the same event given by the different evangelists? These variations, over which the infidel ignorantly trumpets as proofs of their human imperfection, are to the believer among the clearest marks of their divine perfection. The object of the Spirit, who records the same event or the same discourse with these striking variations, is to bring out in each case a different phase of truth; and in all instances the variation in the narrative or the report is in divine harmony with the scope of the various gospels He has indited.
A second thing, obvious to careful readers, is that many, if not most, prophecies have a double fulfilment. David and Solomon were each, in different ways, types of Christ. Hence many prophecies, especially in the Psalms, while referring directly to them, point forward, in a far fuller and more important sense, to the Lord, whom they partially foreshadowed. So, too, the prophecies about Babylon, while foretelling the capture of the city by Cyrus, have clearly a wider range, carrying us on to the final overthrow of that Gentile rule of which Babylon was the golden head.
These observations will help us to understand the variations between Matthew and Luke in their accounts of our Lord's prophecy concerning the temple and Jerusalem. In the earlier part of this prophecy (Matt. 24:4-28; Luke 21:8-24), though it is clear that the two evangelists are recording the same discourse, yet such are the differences that it is difficult to suppose they are speaking of the same event. If, however, our Lord's words have a double application, both the resemblance and the variations are at once explained. Such is actually the case. The earlier part of this prophecy refers, first to the capture of Jerusalem by Titus, and then to the troubles preceding the coming of the Son of man. The Spirit led Luke to record all that related to the former event, and Matthew all that related to the latter. In two reports of the same discourse thus given there must clearly be a close resemblance of arrangement and language; some expressions, applicable to both events, common to both narratives; others, much alike, yet varied to harmonise with the object which each reporter had in view; others again, occurring in one and omitted in the other, according as they bear, or do not bear, on his general design. Such are the resemblances and differences found in a comparison of the two passages before us.
Indeed the questions which draw forth the discourse, as related by the two evangelists, are very different. In Matthew, Jesus had just spoken of the Jews' house being left desolate, and of His own departure till they should receive Him as coming "in the name of the Lord." Then, being pointed to the temple, He foretells its ruin, on which the disciples ask, "When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?" Here the leading thought is as to "the end of the age," and the Lord's reappearance after His predicted withdrawal. In Luke, however, Jesus has not been speaking of His departure or return, but simply foretelling the overthrow of the temple. He is therefore asked, "When shall these things be? And what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?" The disciples are therefore asking about two quite distinct things. No doubt they really asked about both, but here in the question, as afterwards in the prophecy, Luke confines his report to matters relating to the destruction of the temple, while Matthew, in harmony with the context and his usual dispensational character, gives attention chiefly to the later events connected with the Lord's return and the end of the age.
But if, it may be objected, our Lord is, in Matthew's report, speaking of events in distant ages, how could He use the second person, saying, "Take heed that no man deceive you;" and again, "Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars"? In the first place the words had a present application, as seen in Luke, and were therefore spoken in the second person, which form is naturally retained even where the remoter application is more prominent. Again, the disciples, in asking about the Lord's return and the end of the age, were regarded as Jews asking about their own national affairs, so that this form of address was perfectly suitable. Men constantly speak of "our victories," or "our prospects," in referring to the deeds or prospects of their countrymen in past or future generations. And if such a mode of speech is intelligible in ordinary discourse, in prophecy it is not only intelligible, but habitual. Thus Isaiah says, "Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord." (Isa. 61:5-6.) Everybody knows that this does not mean the Jews of Isaiah's day, but of far-distant generations, and yet nobody finds any difficulty from the prophet's writing in the second person. The same principle will apply to our Lord's discourse.
There is evidently a great resemblance between the condition of things accompanying the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, to which Luke refers, and the final troubles of the Jews, to which Matthew refers. The features which have long since become history as to the earlier events will re-appear in the later. False Christs, wars, commotions, and fearful natural phenomena, are common to both periods. In the first few verses, therefore (Luke 21:8-11; Matt. 24:4-8), there is but slight variation between the reports. The only material differences are that in Luke, whose thoughts were on events but few years distant, our Lord is recorded to have said that "the time draweth near," while Matthew, who refers to the later fulfilment of the prophecy, omits these words; and again that Matthew says the false Christ "shall deceive many," alluding to the great national apostacy at the end of the age, whereas Luke, while giving the warning, records no such prediction, for the Christians in Jerusalem were in fact not deceived by the pretensions of the impostors who arose at the time of the revolt against Rome.
The next section of the prophecy, in both accounts (Luke 21:12-19; Matt. 24:9-14), foretells the sufferings of the faithful, and though both periods are marked by great persecutions, there is a far wider difference in the reports of this part of the discourse than of the former. Matthew, speaking of the persecution of the faithful witnesses before Christ's advent, says, "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations" (or "all the Gentiles") "for my name's sake." (v. 9.) This is what the believing Jews will suffer on account of their testimony to the coming Messiah in the last days; but it would be incorrect as an account of what the early Christians endured. They were not hated by the Gentiles as Gentiles, but by all men, whether Jews or Gentiles; and indeed their chief sufferings and persecutions came from the Jews. To these sufferings our Lord refers in Luke, where the description is far more general. "But before all these things, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my mine's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony." (vv. 12, 13.) Comparing this passage with Matthew, there are two important differences. The persecution in Matthew is contemporaneous with the wars and disturbances previously spoken of, for our Lord says, "Then, shall they deliver you up to be afflicted." In Luke, however, the persecution spoken of precedes the fightings and commotions which had been mentioned in the earlier verses, and our Lord's language is, "But before all these things shall they lay their hands on you." This distinction is in accordance with facts. The great persecution of the Christians by the Jews was not during the civil wars which ended in the fall of Jerusalem, but before them, and this is the subject alluded to in Luke. On the other hand, the great persecution of the faithful Jews by the Gentiles, which is the subject spoken of in Matthew, will be during the terrible wars and convulsions preceding the Lord's glorious appearing. The second difference is that while Matthew ascribes the hostility to the Gentiles, saying, "Ye shall be hated of all the Gentiles for my name's sake," Luke speaks of a persecution arising in part at least from the Jews, for he says that they should be delivered "up to the synagogues," as well as cited before kings and rulers. He therefore adds (v. 17), "And ye shall be hated of all men (not all the Gentiles) for my name's sake."
So, too, though hatred, persecution, and betrayal are spoken of in both evangelists, the character is different. Luke is foretelling the sufferings which the early Jewish Christians should endure at the hands of their countrymen and nearest relatives, and his prophecy is simply a description of what shortly after took place, "And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death." (v. 16.) In Matthew, however, the persecution spoken of is a very different one, originating from the Gentile oppressors of the nation before the Lord's advent in power. Here, therefore, the feature of family dissension is omitted, and the prophecy simply says, "Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another." (v. 10.)
The remainder of the reports of this section of the prophecy are entirely different, each of the evangelists recording matters altogether omitted by the other. Luke says, "Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist." (vv. 14, 15.) This was a special promise given to the disciples, which we see strikingly and repeatedly fulfilled in the Acts of the Apostles. But there is nothing to show that such will be the case with the Jewish believers in the last days. They will be silenced, banished, almost destroyed, and only delivered from entire extinction by Christ's sudden and glorious appearing. In Matthew, therefore, there is nothing at all answering to this portion of the prophecy as recorded by Luke.
On the other hand, Matthew names features of the last time which have nothing corresponding with them in Luke's prophecy. He says, "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (vv. 11-13.) Here prominence is given to false prophets and their deceptions. In Luke, where the warning is intended for believers, before the siege of Jerusalem, these are not mentioned. But to the Jews awaiting Christ's return, the danger from this source will be exceedingly great, and therefore the warning is specially emphasised, and the extent of the deception specially foretold. Again, in Matthew it is predicted that "because iniquity shall abound the love of many shall wax cold; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Luke, who is recording the parts of the prophecy relating to the events before the destruction of Jerusalem, entirely omits these verses, because no such apostacy as that which is here foretold then took place. But such an apostacy will form one great feature of the days spoken of in Matthew's prophecy, when numbers, who begin to wait for the coming of the Messiah, will grow cold, and faint under the persecution and oppression to which they will then be subjected. The verse, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved," is often used to show that believers have only a conditional security depending on their own faithfulness. It has, however, nothing to do with the subject, but refers only to the Jews waiting for a national redemption before the Messiah's advent. Some of these, God's elect, will stand faithful to the end. Others, seduced by false Christs or false prophets, or wearied out with the sufferings besetting the path of the faithful, will turn aside, and perish with the unbelievers.
Again Matthew adds, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations (or all the Gentiles); and then shall the end come." (v. 14.) In Luke the "end" contemplated is the destruction of Jerusalem, and it is well known that before that event the gospel was not preached to all the Gentiles. In his report, therefore, these words are wholly omitted. But in Matthew the "end" is that about which the disciples had asked, "Christ's coming, and the end of the age." And before that event the gospel will be preached to all the Gentiles. It is not, however, the gospel of God's grace, but "the gospel of the kingdom," a term never applied to Christianity, and referring to the proclamation of the kingdom of the Messiah which will go forth before His appearing. This goes forth not merely to all nations, but to all the nations, or Gentiles, as apart from the Jews; a distinction obliterated under Christianity, but of the utmost moment when the Lord is about to establish his earthly kingdom, with Jerusalem as the centre of His government, and Israel as the head of the nations.
Thus in all details, notwithstanding the striking resemblances, the variations in the reports of the two evangelists show that they are really dealing with quite different subjects. The still more striking difference between the "abomination of desolation," and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, we must reserve for consideration in another number. T. B. B.