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The reason of this urgency is explained by Jose-
phus. After Titus sat down before Jerusalem, he
isurrounded the city with a wall, which was finished
in three days, so that none could escape ; and fac-
tions were by that time become so violent, that none
were allowed to surrender. The party called zea-
lots, who in their zeal for the law of Moses, and in
the hope of receiving deliverance from heaven,
thought it their duty to resist the Romans to the
last extremity, put to death all who attempted to
desert, and thus assisted the enemy in enclosing an
immense multitude within this devoted city. With
what gracious foresight does the divine prophet
guard his followers against this complication of
evils, and repeat his warning in the most striking
words, in order to convince all who paid regard to
what he said, that their only safety lay in flight !

A second circumstance by which our Lord marks
this siege, is the unparalleled distress that was then
to be endured. " Then shall be great tribulation,
such as was not since the beginning of this world to
this time ; no, nor ever shall be." It is a very
strong expression, of itself sufficient to distinguish
this prophecy from conjecture. And the expression,
strong as it appears, is so strictly applicable to the
subject, that we find almost the same words in Jose-
phus, who certainly did not copy them from Jesus.
" In my opinion," he says, ** all the calamities which
ever were endured since the beginning of the world


were inferior to those which the Jews now suffered.
Never was any city more wicked, and never did any
city receive such punishment. Without was the
Roman army, surrounding their walls, crucifying
thousands before their eyes, and laying waste their
country : within were the most violent contentions
among the besieged, frequent bloody battles between
different parties, rapine, fire, and the extremity of
famine. Many of the Jews prayed for the success
of the Romans, as the only method to deliver them
from a more dreadful calamity, the atrocious vio-
lence of their civil dissensions."

A third circumstance mentioned by our Lord, i&
the shortening of the siege. Josephus computes that
there fell, during the siege, by the hands of the Ro-
mans, and by their own faction, 1,100,000 Jews>
Had the siege continued long» the whole nation would
have perished. But the Lord shortened the days
for the elect's sake : the elect, that is, in scripture
language, the Christians, both those Jews within
the city, whom this fulfilment af the words of Jesus
was to convert to Christianity, and those Christians
who, according to the directions of their Master,
had fled out of the city at the approach of the Ro-
man army, and were then living in the mountains.
Ilie manner in which the days were shortened is
most striking^ Vespasian committed the conduct of
(he siege to Titus, then a young man, impatient of
resistance, jealous of the honour of the Roman army,
and in haste to return from the conquest of an ob-
scure province to the capital of the empire. He
prosecuted the siege with vigour ; he invited the be-
sieged to yield, by offering them peace ; and he tried
to intimidate them, by using, contrary to his na-


lure, every species of cruelty against those who fell
into his hands. But all his vigour, and all his arts,
would have been in vain, had it not been for the
madness of those within. They fought with one
another ; they burned, in their fury, magazines of
provisions sufficient to last them for years ; and they
deserted with a foolish confidence strong holds, out
of which no enemy could have dragged them. Af-
ter they had thus delivered their city into his hands,
Titus, when he was viewing it, said, " God has been
upon our side. Neither the hands nor the machines
of men could have been of any avail against those
towers. But God has pulled the Jews out of them,
that he might give them to us." It was impossible
for Titus to restrain the soldiers, irritated by an
obstinate resistance, from executing their fury against
the besieged. But his native clemency spared the
Jews in other places. He would not allow the se-
nate of Antioch, that city in which the disciples
were first called Christians, to expel the Jews ; for
where, said he, shall these people go, now that
we have destroyed their city? Titus was the ser-
vant of God to execute his vengeance on Jerusalem.
But when the measure of that vengeance was ful-
filled, the compassion of this amiable prince was
employed to restrain the wrath of man. " The Lord
shortened the days."

A fourth circumstance is, the number of false
Christs, men, of whom we read in Josephus, who,
both during the siege and after it, kept up the spi-
rits of the people, and rendered them obstinate in
their resistance, by giving them hopes that the Mes-
siah was at hand to deliver them out of all their ca-
lamities. The greater the distress was, the people


were the more disposed to catch at this hope ; aiuf,
therefore, it was necessary for our Lord to warn his
disciples against being deluded by it.

The last circumstance is, the extent of this dis-
tress. Our Lord has employed a bold figure. But
the boldest of his figures are always literally true :
" As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shin-
eth even unto the west, so sliall also the coming of
the Son of man be : For wheresoever the carca-se is,
there shall the eagles be gathered together." The
Koman army, who were at this time the servants
of the Son of man, entered on the east side of Judea,
and carried their devastation westward ; so that, in
this grand image, the very direction of the ruin, as
well as the suddenness of it, is painted : and it ex-
tended to every place where Jews were to be found.
A gold or silver eagle, borne on the top of a sjiear,
belonged to every legion, and was always carried
alono- with it. Wheresoever the carcase — the Jew-
ish people who were judicially condemned by God —
Was, there were also those eagles. There was no
part of Judea, says Joseph us, which did not partake
of the miseries of the capital ; and his history of the
Jewish war ends with numbering the thousands who
fell in other places of the world also by the Roman

,'^' 1 have thus led you, as particularly as appears to
me to be necessary, through the prophecy of our
Lord respecting the signs, which announced the de-
struction of Jerusalem, and the circumstances which
attended the siegie ; and I wish now to fix your at-
tention upon a particular prediction interwoven in
this prophecy, concerning the progress of Christian-
ity previous to that period, both because the sub-
ject renders it interesting, and because the place


which our Lord has given it in this prophecy, opens
a most instructive and enlarged view of the economy
of the divine dispensations.

C. The prediction is — " And this gospel of the
kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a
witness to all nations, and then shall the end" of the
Jewish state *' come."

We find our Lord always speaking with confidence
of the establishment of his religion in the world. It
is a confidence which could not reasonably be inspir-
ed by any thing he beheld : multitudes following him
out of curiosity, but easily oftbnded, and at length
demanding his crucifixion-— a few unlearned, feeble
men, affectionately attached indeed to his person,
but with very imperfect apprehensions of his religion,
and devoid of the most likely instruments of spread-
ing even their own apprehensions through the world
— a world v/jiicli hated him while he lived, and which
lie knew was to hate his disciples after his death — a
world, consisting of Jews, wedded to their own reli-
gion, and abhorring his doctrine as an impious at-
tempt to supei^sede the law of Moses ; and of hea-
thens, amongst whom the philosophers, full of their
own \<nsdom, despised the simplicity of the gospel>
and the vulgar, devoted to childish abominable su-
perstitions, and averse from the spiritual worship of
the gospel, were disposed to execute the vengeance
of jealous malignant deities upon a body of men who
refused to offer incense at their altars — a world, too,
in which every kind of vice abounded — in which
the passions ofmen demanded indulgence, and spurn-
ed at the restraint of the holy commandment of Je-
sus. Yet, in these circumstances, w^itli such obsta-
cles, our Lord, conscious of his divine character, and


knowing that the Spirit was given to him without
measure, foretels, with perfect assurance, that his
gospel shall be preached in all the world. Had he
fixed no time, this prophecy, bold as it is, might have
been regarded as one of the acts by which an impos-
tor tries to raise the spirits of his followers ; and we
should have heard it said, that, instead of a mark of
the spirit of prophecy, there was here only the saga-
city of a man, who, aware of the wonderful revolu-
tions in the opinions and manners of men, trusting
that, in some succeeding age, after other systems
had, in their turn, been exploded, his system might
become fashionable, had ventured to say, that it
should be preached in all the world, and left the age
which should see this publication to convert an in-
definite expression into an accomplished prophecy.
But here is nothing indefinite — a pointed, precise de-
claration, which no impostor, who was anxious about
the success of his system, would have hazarded, and
concerning the truth of which, many of that genera-
tion amongst whom he lived remained long enough
upon earth to be able to judge. The end, by the
connection of the words with the context, means the-
conclusion of the age of the law ; and it is still more
clearly said, in the 13th chapter of Mark, in the
middle of the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusa-
lem, " But the Gospel must first be published to all
nations." Now, the destruction of Jerusalem hap-
pened within forty years after the death of our Sa-
viour, so that we are restricted to this space of time
in speaking of the fulfilment of the prophecy. We
learn from the book of Acts, that many thousands
were converted soon after the day of Pentecost, and
ihat devout Jews out of every nation under heaven


were witnesses of the miraculous effusion of the Holy-
Ghost. These men, all of whom were amazed, and
some of whom were converted, by what they saw,
could not fail to carry the report home, and thus
prepared distant nations for receiving those who
were better qualified, and more expressly commis-
sioned, to preach the gospel. After the death of
Stephen, there arose a great persecution against the
church at Jerusalem, which by this time had multi-
plied exceedingly ; and they ** were scattered abroad
through the regions of Judea and Samaria ; and they
travelled as far as Phoenice, and Cyprus, and Anti-
och ; and the hand of the Lord was with them, and
a great number believed."* The book of Acts is
chiefly an account of the labours of the Apostle Paul ;
and we see this one apostle, to adopt the words of a
fellow-labourer of his, a preacher both in the East,
and to the utmost boundaries of the West, planting
churches in Asia and Greece, and travelling from
Jerusalem to Illyricum, a tract which has been com-
puted to be not less than 2000 miles. If such were
the labours of one, what must have been accomplish-
ed by the journeyings of all the twelve, who, taking
different districts, went forth to fulfil the last com-
mand of their master, by being his witnesses to the
uttermost ends of the earth. The Apostle Paul
says, in his epistle to the Romans, " that their faith
was spoken of throughout all the world ;" and to the
Colossians, " that the word which they had heard
was by that time preached to every creature." We
know certainly that Paul preached the gospel in
Rome : and such was the effect of his preaching, that.


Acts viii. 1 ; xi. IQ, 20.


seven years before the destruction of Jerusalem, Ta-
citus says there was an immense number of Christ-
ians in that city.* From the capital of the world
the knowledge of Christianity was spread, like all
the improvements in art and science over the world;
that is, according to the common sense of the phrase,
throughout the Roman empire. When the whole
known world was governed by one prince, the com-
munication was easy. In every part of the empire
garrisons were stationed — roads were opened — mes-
sengers were often passing — -and no country then
discovered was too distant to hear the gospel of the
kingdom. It is generally agreed, that within the
forty years which I mentioned, Scythia on the north,!
India on the east, Gaul and Egypt on the west, and
iEthiopia on the south, had received the doctrine of
Christ : and we know that the island of Britain,
which was then regarded as the extre)nity of the
earth, the most remote and savage province, was
frequently visited during that time by Roman em-
perors and their generals. It is even said that the
gospel was preached publicly in London ten years
before the destruction of Jerusalem. As far, then,
as our information goes, whether we collect it from
the book of Acts, from the occasional mention made
by heathen historians of a subject upon which they
bestowed little attention, or from the concurring tes-
timony of the oldest Christian historians, the word
of Christ was literally fulfilled ; and you have, in the
short space of time to which he limits the fulfilment
of this word, a striking proof of his prophetic spi-

* Tacit. Ann. lib. xv. 44. -


But it 18 not enough to attend to the fulfilment of
this prophecy. The place which it holds, and the
manner in which it is expressed, suggest to us some-
thing further. The gospel, at whatsoever time it
be published, is a witness to those who hear it, of
the being, the providence, and the moral govern-
ment of God. But, as it is said, " it shall be preach-
ed to all the world, for a witness to all nations, and
then shall the end come," we are led to consider
that particular kind of witness which the preaching
of the gospel, before the end of the Jewish state, af-
forded to all nations ; and it is here, I said, that
there opens to us a most instructive and enlarged
view of the economy of the divine dispensations.

Had it not been for this early and universal
preaching, the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus
would have appeared to the world an event of the
same order with the destruction of any other city.
They might have talked of the obstinacy of the be-
sieged — of the fury of the conquerors — of the unex-
ampled distress which was endured ; but it would
not have appeared to them that there was in all this
any thing divine, any other warning than is sug-
gested by the ordinary fortune of war. But when
the gospel was first published, it was a witness to
all nations, that in the end of the Jewish state there
was a fulfilment of the prophecy — a punishment of
infidelity — and the termination of the law of Moses.

1. It was a witness of the fulfilment of proi)liecy.
Wherever the first preachers of Christianity went,
they carried the gospels along with them, as the au-
thentic history of Him whom they preached. ^Ve
have reason to think, that in many parts of the
world the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and


Luke, were translated into the language of the
country, or into the Latin, which was generally un-
derstood, before Jerusalem was destroyed. The
early Christians, then, in the most distant parts of
the world, had in their hands the prophecy before
the event. The Roman armies, and the messengers
of the empire, would soon transmit a general ac-
count of the siege. The history of Josephus,
written and published by the order of Vespasian
and Titus, would transmit the particulars to some
at least of the most illustrious commanders in dis-
tant provinces ; and thus, while all who named the
name of Christ would learn the fact, that Jeru-
salem was destroyed, they who were inquisitive
might learn also the circumstances of the fact, and
by comparing the narration which they received^
with the prophecy of which they had been formerly
in possession, would know assuredly that he who
had uttered that prophecy was more than man.
There are still great events to happen in the his-
tory of the Christian church, which we trust will
bring to those who shall be permitted to see them
a full conviction of the divine character of Jesus.
But it was wisely ordered, that the earliest Chris-
tians should receive this prophecy long before it
came to pass, that the faith of those who had not
seen the Lord's Christ, might, at a time when edu-
cation, authority, and example, were not on the side
of that faith, be confirmed by the event ; and that
all the singular circumstances of this siege might
afford to the nations of the earth, in the beginnings
of the gospel, a demonstration that Jesus spake the

% A witness of the punishment of infidelity. The



destruction of Jerusalem was foretold, not merely to
give an example of the divine knowledge of him
who uttered the prophecy, but because the Jews de-
served that destruction. The crime which brought
it upon them is intimated in many of our Lord's
parables, and is declared clearly in other passages, so
that those who were in possession of the prophecy
could not mistake the cause. All the nations of the
earth to whom the gospel was preached, knew that
the Jews had killed the Lord Jesus with this horrid
imprecation, " His blood be upon us, and upon our
children ;" that they had rejected all the evidences of
the truth of Christianity which were exhibited in
their own land, and not content with despising the
gospel, had stirred up the minds of the heathen against
the disciples of Jesus, and appeared, so long as their
city existed, the most bitter enemies of the Christ-
ian name. The nations of the earth saw this obsti-
nacy and barbarity recompensed in the very manner
which the Author of the gospel foretold, and having
his predictions in their hands, they beheld his ene-
mies taken in the snare which he had announced.
The mighty works which he did upon earth were
miracles of piercy, by which he meant to win the
hearts of mankind. But the execution of his threat-;-
enings against a nation of enemies was a miracle of
judgment. And the vmparalleled calamities which
the Jews, according to his words, endured, were a
warning from heaven to all that heard the gospel,
not to reject the counsel of God against them-

3. A witness that, in the destruction of Jerusalem,
there was the termination of the law of Moses.
\Yhile many Jews persecuted the Chi-istians, there


were others who attempted by reasoning, to impose
upon them an observance of the law of Moses. They
said that it was impious to forsake an institution
confessedly of divine original, and that no subsequent
revelation could diminish the sanctity of a temj^le
built by God, or abolish the oiferings which he had
required to be presented there. You find this rea-
soning most ably combated in the Epistles of Paul,
and particularly in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But
the arguments of the apostle did not completely
counterbalance the evil done by the Judaizing teach-
ers, to the cause of Christ. Many were disturbed by
the sophistry of these men in the exercise of their
Christian liberty ; and many were deterred from em-
bracing the gospel, by the fear of being brought under
the yoke of the Jewish ceremonies. Some signal
interposition of Providence was necessary to disjoin
the spiritual universal religion of Jesus from the
carnal local ordinances of the law of Moses, and to
afford entire satisfaction to the minds of those who
wished for that disjunction. The destruction of Je-
rusalem was that interposition ; and the general pub-
lication of the gospel before that event, led men both
to look for it as the solution of their doubts, and to
rest in it after it happened, as the declaration from
heaven that the ceremonial law was finished. The
service of the temple could not continue after one
stone of the temple was not left upon another ; the
tribes could no longer assemble at Jerusalem after
the city was laid in ruins ; and that bondage, under
which the Jewish nation wished to bring the Christ-
ians, ceased after the Jews were scattered over the
face of the earth.

And thus we are enabled, by the place which this


prophecy holds, to mark a bL^autifiil consistency, and
a mutual dependency in the revelations with which
God hath favoured the world, — the manifold wisdom
of God conspicuous in the whole economy of religion.
The Almighty committed to Abraham and his de-
scendants the hope of the Messiah, and the law was
a school-master to bring men to Christ. "When he
who was the end of the law appeared, he appealed to
Moses and the prophets as testifying of him, and he
claimed the character of that prophet whom they
had announced. But the purpose of the law being
fulfilled by his appearance, it was no longer neces-
sary that the preparatory dispensation with its ap-
purtenances should continue. He gave notice, there-
fore, of the conclusion of the age of the law, and as
that age began and was conducted with visible sym-
bols of divine jjower, so with like symbols it was
finished. The declaration of these symbols, publish-
ed to the world in the Gospels, prevented them from
looking upon the event with the astonishment of ig-
norance, and taught them to connect this awful end-
ing of the one age with the character of that age
which then commenced. Having seen a j^eriod
elapse sufficient for the faith of Christ to gain pro-
selytes in many countries, they saw the temple of Je-
rusalem by an interposition which was the literal ful-
filment of the words of Christ taken down, and were
thus assured that the hour was indeed come at which
ancient prophets had more obscurely hinted, and
which .Tesus had declared in express words as not
very distant, when men were not to worship the Fa-
ther at Jerusalem, but when the true worshi})pers,
every one from his place, should worship God in
VOL. 1. Q


spirit and in truth. The effect of the event, thus
interpreted by the prophecy, was powerful and in-
stantaneous. It furnished the earliest Christian fa-
thers with an unanswerable argument against the
Judaizing teachers : it solved the doubts of those
who were stumbled by their reasonings : it removed
one great objection which the Gentiles had to the
gospel : and v*^hen the wall of partition was thus re-
moved, numbers were " turned from idols to serve
the living God."

7. I mentioned as the next subject of the predic-
tions of Jesus, the condition of the Jewish nation
subsequent to the destruction of their city.

You may mark first the immediate consequences
of the siege. *' Immediately after the tribulation of
those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon
shall not give her liglit, and the stars shall fall from
heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be sha-
ken; and tlien shall appear the sign of the Son of Man
in heaven." It seems to be plain that these expressions
point to the consequences of the siege, for they are
thus introduced, " Immediately after the tribulation
of those days," i. e. the distress endured during the
siege; and as if on purpose to show us that the event
pointed at was not very distant, it is said a few
verses after, " This generation shall not pass till all
these things be fulfilled." To perceive the propriety
of using such expressions in this place, you will re-
collect that symbolical language of which we spoke
formerly, — dictated by necessity in early times, when
the conceptions and the words of men were few, —
retained in after times partly from habit, and i)artly
to render speech more significant, — universally used,
in eastern countrics,-^and abounding in the writings.


of the prophets, who, speaking under the influence
of inspiration, full of the events which they foretold,
and elevated above the ordinary tone of their minds,
employ a richness and pomp of imagery which ex-

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 32)