My Brother: – Will you please give me your views on Matthew xxiv? I am at loss to know how to present the subject in the form of a text; but I will try to let you know what I want. In the third verse it is said, As he (Jesus) sat upon the Mount of Olives, his disciples asked him privately, What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? It appears to me that from that verse to the thirty-fourth, Jesus describes and tells them what shall take place before his coming and of the end of the world. And then he tells them, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." The words, This generation shall not pass, is what is a mystery to me. The general acceptation of the word, generation, means all that were living at that time, and so I understand it. Now the query with me is, what does it mean as used in this place? This is what I want you to explain. Believe me to be your devoted friend, and, as I hope, your humble brother in the Lord. May God bless us, and give us light and understanding in his word. Farewell. - E.T. HORN.
Leak County, Miss.,
Jan. 29, 1860.
Reply. - There were three questions privately asked of the Lord by his disciples, as he sat upon the mount; our brother has embraced but two of them in his inquiry. The questions stated in the third verse are, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming? and of the end of the world?" "These things," mentioned in the first question, referred, as we understand the subject, not to the following questions, but to the things which Jesus had just told them in the second verse should come to pass; namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and its buildings. The disciples had just attempted to show him the buildings. And in reply to them, Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things namely, the buildings of the temple, and then added, "Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, "Tell us when shall these things be?" This first question must therefore have been asked in regard to the time when the things just predicted should come to pass. Why this inquiry was privately made, may be accounted for on the ground of the well known sensitiveness of the Jews, when anything was said disparagingly of the temple which they held in such veneration. As they had charged him with saying, Destroy this temple and I will rear it up again in three days, Christ had used these words when speaking of the temple of his body; but as the Jews understood him to speak of the temple which the fathers had been forty and six years in building, they were incensed at him for suggesting that it should ever be destroyed. The Jews were so exceedingly hard to admit that the temple would ever be destroyed, that we are informed by historians that when their city was besieged by the Roman army, and famine, pestilence and death raged within their walls until famishing parents feasted on the flesh of their deceased children, and even after Titus had applied the flaming torch and the devouring element was rapidly consuming the building, they would accept of no peaceful negotiations but persisted in their belief that God would avert the blow, and preserve the temple, and deliver the city. The buildings of the temple were nevertheless doomed to destruction, and not one stone should remain on another. It is not strange that the disciples should feel desirous to know when these things should be; and therefore they asked him who only could inform them of the matter. In his reply to this first question, Jesus told the disciples of many things that should accompany the fulfillment of his fearful prediction; but, as a final answer to the first question, he told them distinctly that, "This generation should not pass away until all should be fulfilled." We understand the term generation, here used, as our brother Horn does, to mean those who were at that time living; some should live to see the fulfillment of what he had said on this subject; and this was actually the case; there were those then living who did not see death till all these things were accomplished.
The second question was, "And what shall be the sign of thy coming?" Some have understood this question as relating to his coming in the last day, to raise the dead and judge the world, and some have supposed it to embrace only his coming in the execution of this judgment on Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple. But to us it seems that his answer to this inquiry clearly presents his coming to occupy his throne, to set up his gospel kingdom, gather in his saints, and to make himself known to them as their risen, glorified and reigning King, as he had frequently said to them that in this wise he would certainly come. I go, he says, to receive a kingdom, and will return to you again. And as he told his apostles, When the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye that have followed me in the regeneration, shall also sit up twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Was it not probable that in the expectation of these things the disciples would seek to know clearly as possible what should be the sign of his coming? At all events they inquired of him, and he told them of many things that should indicate the near approach of that coming. On the signs of his coming, we have not time now to dwell; but like the first question, this second is also settled by the emphatic declaration, this generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled. This declaration being made in the thirty-fourth verse, is a conclusion of his answer of the first and second questions; must include them both, and expressed the certainty that the overthrow of Jerusalem, and also the coming of Jesus in power and great glory, as the King of Zion, should both transpire while some who were then living should continue to live on the earth. The apostles themselves who were to occupy the thrones of judgment in his gospel kingdom, were then living and reckoned in that generation, and certainly they did live to witness his coming to organize and preside over his kingdom. But in his answer to the third and last question, he does not, as we read the chapter, say, This generation shall not pass away until the end of the world I shall be accomplished, but he says, Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father only. The day and hour of the end of the world, in whatever sense we understand him here to speak, is not a matter of revelation; it is only known to the Father, and must be regarded as among the secret things which belong to God, and which we have no right to meddle with; while things which are revealed (by the Word and Spirit) belong to us and to our children. While therefore every subject published in the Bible, belongs, as revelation from God, to us and to our children, and it is our privilege and duty to search them, and strive with all the saints to know what is their dazzling height, their awfully profound depth, and to know the love of God that surpasses the narrow limits of our understanding, it is not lawful for us to go beyond what God has revealed.
"Not Gabriel asks the reason why,
Nor God the reason gives,
Nor dares the favored angel pry
Between the folded leaves."
It is enough, but not too much, for us to examine prayerfully the unfolded and constantly unfolding leaves of that blessed book which the Lion of the tribe of Judah has unsealed, and given as a volume of revelation. Therefore, to the law and to the testimony; if any speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
We do not attempt to fix the application of the "end of the world," as here used, to the final dissolution of nature; for, from what follows in this and the next chapter, we have long believed that the "end of the world" here intended to be the end of the Jewish economy, which was simultaneous with the coming of Christ in his kingdom, as set forth in the foregoing remarks. But as that subject is not fairly embraced in our brother's inquiry, we will leave it, at least, for the present.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y., March 1, 1860.