At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: When you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place; (he that readeth, let him understand;) then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take anything out of his house; and he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. And woe to them that are with child, and that give suck, in those days. But pray that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath: for there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been found from the beginning of the world until now neither shall be: and unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved; but for the sake of the elect, those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say to you: Lo, here is Christ, or there; do not believe him; for there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold I have told it to you beforehand: if therefore they shall say to you: Behold He is in the desert, go ye not out; behold He is in the closets, believe it not. For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty; and He shall send His angels with a trumpet and a great voice, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. And from the fig tree learn a parable: when the branch thereof is now tender, and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh. So you also, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is nigh even at the doors. Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
Ver. 15. Abominationem desolationis. Greek: Bdelugma tes eremoseos. The same words are in the Septuagint, Daniel ix. See St. Jerome on this place, and St. John Chrysostom, hom. lxxvi. and lxxvii. in Matt.
Ver. 16. Then let those. It is well known that this prophecy was verified to the letter, in the destruction of Jerusalem. For, as the Roman army advanced, all the Christians who were in the province, forewarned by divine admonition, retired to a distance, and crossing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella, situated in Trachonitis, and became subjects of king Agrippa, who was in amity with the Romans. (St. Remigius)
Ver. 17. Not come down, into the house. They had no occasion, as Mauduit and others seem to suppose, to throw themselves from the roof, for the Jews had usually stairs on the outside of their houses. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 20. In the winter: an inconvenient season for flying away. — Or on the sabbath, when it was lawful to travel only about a mile. (Witham) — Pray to God that you may be enabled to escape those evils, and that there may be no impediment to your flight. (Estius, in different location)
Ver. 22. No flesh: a Hebraism for no person; denoting that no one would have escaped death, had the war continued. (Witham) — All the Jews would have been destroyed by the Romans, or all the Christians by Antichrist. (Maldonatus) — From this place, Jesus Christ foretells the coming of Antichrist, and forewarns Christians of latter ages, to guard all they can against seduction.
15. "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16. Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17. Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house. 18. Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."
Chrys.: As above He had obscurely intimated the end of Jerusalem; He now proceeds to a more plain announcement of it, citing a prophecy which should make them believe it.
Jerome: That, “Let him that readeth understand,” is said to call us to the mystic understanding of the place. What we read in Daniel is this; “And in the midst of the week the sacrifice and the oblation shall be taken away, and in the temple shall be the abomination of desolations until the consummation of the time, and consummation shall be given upon the desolate.” [Dan 9:27, septuagint]
Aug., Ep. 199, 31: Luke, in order to shew that the abomination of desolation foretold by Daniel had reference to the time of the siege of Jerusalem, repeats these words of our Lord, “When ye shall see Jerusalem encompassed by armies, then know ye that its desolation draweth nigh.” [Luke 21:20]
Pseudo-Chrys.: Whence I think that by the abomination of desolation, He means the army by which the city of the holy Jerusalem was desolated.
Jerome: Or it may be understood of the statue of Caesar, which Pilate set up in the temple; or of the equestrian statue of Adrian, which stood to the present time in the very Holy of Holies. For, according to the Old Scripture, an idol is called ‘abomination;’ “of desolation” is added, because the idol was set up in the desolated and deserted temple.
Chrys.: Or because he who desolated the city and the temple placed his statue there. He says, “When ye shall see,” because these things were to happen while some of them were yet alive. Wherein admire Christ’s power, and the courage of the disciples, who preached through those times in which all things Jewish were the object of attack. The Apostles, being Jews, introduced new laws in opposition to the Roman authority. The Romans conquered countless thousands of Jews, but could not overcome twelve unarmed unprotected men. [marg. note: Chrys., Hom. lxxvi] But because it had often happened to the Jews to be recovered in very desperate circumstances, as in the times of Sennacherib and Antiochus, that no man might look for any such event now, He gave command to His disciples to fly, saying, “Then let them which, are in Judaea flee to the mountains.”
Remig.: And this we know was so done when the fall of Jerusalem drew near; for on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, [marg. note: Euseb., H. E., iii. 5] miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans.
Chrys.: Then to shew how inevitable the evils that should come upon the Jews, and how infinite their calamity, He adds, “And let him which is on the housetop, not come down to take any thing out of his house,” for it was better to be saved, and to lose his clothes, than to put on a garment and perish; and of him who is in the field He says the same. For if those who are in the city fly from it, little need is there for those who are abroad to return to the city. But it is easy to despise money, and not hard to provide other raiment; but how can one avoid natural circumstances? How can a woman with child be made active for flight, or how can she that gives suck desert the child she has brought forth? “Woe,” therefore, “to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days;” to the one, because they are encumbered, and cannot easily fly, bearing about the burden of the womb; to the other, because they are held by compassion for their children, and cannot save with them those whom they are suckling.
Origen: Or because that will not be a time of shewing pity, neither upon them who are with child, nor upon them who are suckling, nor upon their infants. And as speaking to Jews who thought they might travel no more upon the sabbath than a sabbath-day’s journey, He adds, “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath.”
Jerome: Because in the one the severity of the cold prevents your flight to the deserts, and your lurking in mountains and wilds; in the other, you must either transgress the Law, if you will fly, or encounter instant death if you will stay.
Chrys.:. Note how this speech is directed against the Jews; for when these things were done by Vespasian, the Apostles could neither observe the Sabbath nor fly, seeing most of them were already dead, and those who survived were living in distant countries. And why they should pray for this He adds a reason, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall be.”
Aug., Ep. 199. 30: In Luke it is thus read, “There shall be great distress upon the earth, and wrath upon this people, and they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations.” [Luke 21:23] And so Josephus [marg. note: B. J. vii], who wrote the Jewish History, relates evils so great happening to this people as to seem hardly credible. Whence it was not unreasonably said, that such tribulation had never been from the beginning of creation, nor should be; for though in the time of Antichrist shall be such, or perhaps greater; yet to the Jews, of whom we must understand this, such shall never more befal. For if they shall be the first and the chief to receive Antichrist, they will then rather inflict than suffer tribulation.
Chrys.: I ask the Jews, whence came upon them so grievous wrath from heaven more woeful than all that had come upon them before? Plainly it was because of the desperate crime [τολμημα] and the denial of the Cross. But He shews that they deserved still heavier punishment than they received, when He adds, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved;” that is, If the siege by the Romans should be continued longer, all the Jews would perish; for by “all flesh,” He means all the Jewish nation, those within and those without; for the Romans were at war not only with those in Judaea, but with the whole race wherever dispersed.
Aug.: Indeed some persons seem to me not unfitly to understand by “these days” the evils themselves, as in other places of divine Scripture evil days are spoken of; not that the days themselves are evil, but the things that are done on them. And they are said to be shortened, because they are less felt, God giving us endurance; so that even though grievous, they are felt as short.
Chrys.: But that the Jews should not say that these evils came because of the preaching and the disciples of Christ, He shews them that had it not been for His disciples, they would have totally perished, “but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”
Aug.: For we ought not to doubt that when Jerusalem was overthrown, there were among that people elect of God who had believed out of the circumcision, or would have believed, elect before the foundation of the world, for whose sake those days should be shortened, and their evils made endurable. Some there are who suppose that the days will be shortened by a more rapid motion of the sun, as the day was made longer on the prayer of Jesus Name. [?]
Jerome: Not remembering that which is written. “The day continues according to thy ordinances.” [Ps 119:91] We must understand it of their being shortened not in measure, but in number, lest the faith of believers should be shaken by lengthened affliction.
Aug.: For let us not suppose that the computation of Daniel’s weeks was interfered with by this shortening of those days, or that they were not already at that time complete, but had to be completed afterwards in the end of all things, for Luke most plainly testifies that the prophecy of Daniel was accomplished at the time when Jerusalem was overthrown.
Chrys.: Observe this economy of the Holy Spirit in this, that John wrote nothing of all this, that he might not seem to be writing a history after the event; for he survived sometime the taking of Jerusalem. But these who died before it, and saw nothing of it, these write it, that the power of prophecy may shine manifestly forth.
Hilary: Or otherwise; It is a sign of His future coming that the Lord gives, when He says, “When ye shall see the abomination.” For the Prophet spoke this of the times of Antichrist; and he calls abomination that which coming against God claims to itself the honour of God. It is “the abomination of desolation,” because it will desolate the earth with wars and slaughter; and it is admitted by the Jews, and set up in the holy place, that where God had been invoked by the prayers of the saints, into that same place admitted by the unbelievers it might be adored with the worship of God. And because this error will be peculiar to the Jews, that having rejected the truth they should adopt a lie, He warns them to leave Judaea, and flee to the mountains, that no pollution or infection might be gathered by admixture with a people who should believe on Antichrist.
That He says, “Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house,” is thus understood. The roof is the highest part of the house, the summit and perfection of the whole building. He then who stands on the top of his house, i.e. in the perfection of his heart, aloft in the regeneration of a new spirit, ought not to come down to the lower desire of things of the world. “Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his coat;” i.e. He that has attained to obedience to the command, let him not return back to his former cares, to take on him again the coat of his former sins in which be once was clothed.
Aug.: For in tribulations we must beware of coming down from the spiritual heights, and yielding ourselves to the carnal life; or of failing and looking behind us, after having made some progress forwards.
Hilary: That which is said, “Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck,” is not to be taken literally as an admonition to women pregnant, but as a description of souls burdened with the weight of sin, that neither in the house, nor in the field, may escape the storm of the wrath that is in store for them. Woe also to those that are being suckled; the weak souls, that is, who are being brought to the knowledge of God as by milk, to whom it shall be woe, because they are too laden to fly, and too inexperienced to resist Antichrist, having neither escaped sin, nor partaken of the food of true bread.
Pseudo-Aug., Serm. App. 75, 2: Or, “They that are with child,” are they who covet what belongs to others; “they that give suck,” are they who have already forcibly taken that which they coveted; to them shall be “woe” in the day of judgment. “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath day;” that is,
Aug., Quaest. Ev., I, 37: that no one be found in that day in either joy or sorrow for temporal things.
Hilary: Or; That we be not taken in the frost of sins., or in discontinuance of good works, because of the soreness of the affliction; notwithstanding that for the sake of God’s elect, those days shall be shortened, that the abridgment of the time may disarm the force of the calamities.
Origen: Mystically; In the holy place of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, Antichrist, that is, false word, has often stood; let those who see this flee from the Judaea of the letter to the high mountains of truth. And whoso has been found to have gone up to the house-top of the word, and to be standing upon its summit, let him not come down thence as though he would fetch any thing out of his house. And if he be in the field in which the treasure is hid, and return thence to his house, he will run into the temptation of a false word; but especially if he have stripped off his old garment, that is, the old man, and should have returned again to take it up. Then the soul, as it were with child by the word, not having yet brought forth, is liable to a woe; for it casts that which it had conceived, and loses that hope which is in the acts of truth; and the same also if the word has been brought forth perfect and entire, but not having yet attained sufficient growth.
Let them that flee to the mountains pray that their flight be not in the winter or on the sabbath-day, because in the serenity of a settled spirit they may reach the way of salvation, but if the winter overtake them they fall amongst those whom they would fly from. And there be some who rest from evil works, but do not good works; be your flight then not on such sabbath when a man rests from good works, for no man is easily overcome in times of peril from false doctrines, except he is unprovided with good works. But what sorer affliction is there than to see our brethren deceived, and to feel one’s self shaken and terrified? Those days mean the precepts and dogmas of truth; and all interpretations coming of “science falsely so called” [1 Tim 6:20] are so many additions to those days, which God shortens by those whom He wills.
23. "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25. Behold, I have told you before. 26. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
Chrys.: When the Lord had finished all that related to Jerusalem, He came in the rest to His own coming, and gives them signs thereof, useful not for them only, but for us and for all who shall be after us. As above, the Evangelist said, “In those days came John the Baptist,” [Matt 3:1] not implying immediately after what had gone before, but thirty years after; so here, when He says, “Then,” He passes over the whole interval of time between the taking of Jerusalem and the beginnings of the consummation of the world. Among the signs which He gives of His second coming He certifies them concerning the place, and the deceivers. For it shall not be then as at His former coming, when He appeared in Bethlehem, in a corner of the world, unknown of any; but He shall come openly so as not to need any to announce His approach. Wherefore, “If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe not.”
Jerome: Wherein He shews that His second coming shall be not in lowliness as His first, but in glory; and therefore it is folly to seek in places little and obscure for Him who is the Light of the whole world. [marg note: John 8:12]
Hilary: Notwithstanding, by reason of the great tribulation in which men shall be cast, false prophets promising to shew aid present from Christ, will falsely affirm that Christ is present in divers places, that they may draw into the service of Antichrist men discouraged and distracted.
Chrys.: He speaks here of Antichrist, and of certain his ministers, whom He calls false Christs and false prophets, such as were many in the time of the Apostles; but before Christ’s second coming there shall come others more bitter than the former, “And they shall shew great signs and wonders.” [2 Thes 2:9]
Aug., Lib. 83, Quaest., Q79: Here the Lord forewarns us that even wicked men shall do some miracles which the saints cannot do, yet are they not therefore to be thought to have a higher place in the sight of God. For the Egyptian magi were not more acceptable to God than the people of Israel, because they could do what the Israelites could not; yet did Moses, by the power of God, work greater things. This gift is not bestowed on all the saints, lest the weak should be led astray by a most destructive error, supposing such powers to be higher gifts than those works of righteousness by which eternal life is secured. And though magi do the same miracles that the saints do, yet are they done with a different end, and through a different authority; for the one do them seeking the glory of God, the others seeking their own glory; these do them by some special compact or privilege [marg. note: al. veneficia] granted to the Powers, within their sphere, those by the public dispensation and the command of Him to whom all creation is subject [ed. note: see above on chap. vii, 22]. For it is one thing for the owner of a horse to be compelled to give it up to a soldier, another for him to hand it over to a purchaser, or to give or lend it to a friend; and as those evil soldiers, who are condemned by the imperial discipline, employ the imperial ensigns to terrify the owners of any property, and to extort from them what is not required by the public service; so some evil Christians, by means of the name of Christ, or by words or sacraments Christian, compel somewhat from the Powers; yet these, when thus at the bidding of evil men, they depart from their purpose, they depart in order to deceive men in whose wanderings they rejoice. It is one way then in which magi, another in which good Christians, another in which bad Christians, work miracles; the magi by a private compact, good Christians by the public righteousness, evil Christians by the signs of public righteousness. [marg. note: non occ.] And we ought not to wonder at this when we believe not unreasonably that all that we see happen is wrought by the agency of the inferior powers of this air.
Aug., de Trin., iii, 8: Yet are we not therefore to think that this visible material world attends the nod of the disobedient angels, but rather the power is given them of God. Nor are we to suppose that such evil angels have creative power, but by their spirituality they know the seeds of things which are bidden from us, and these they secretly scatter by suitable adaptations of the elements, and so they give occasion both to the whole being, and the more rapid increase of substances. For so there are many men who know what sort of creatures use to be generated out of certain herbs, meats, juices and humours, bruised and mingled together in a certain fashion; save only that it is harder for men to do these things, inasmuch as they lack that subtlety of sense, and penetrativeness of body in their limbs dull and of earthly mould.
Greg., Mor. xv, 61: When then Antichrist shall have wrought wonderful prodigies before the eyes of the carnal, he shall draw men after him, all such as delight in present goods, surrendering themselves irrevocably to his sway, “Insomuch that if it were possible the very elect should be led astray.”
Origen: That, “If it were possible,” is spoken hyperbolically; not that the elect can be led astray, but He wishes to shew that the discourse of heretics is often so persuasive, as to have force to prevail even with those who act [marg. note: al. audiunt] wisely.
Greg., Mor., xxxiii, 36: Or, because the heart of the elect is assailed with fearful thoughts, yet their faithfulness is not shaken, the Lord comprehends both under the same sentence, for to waver in thought is to err. He adds, “If it were possible,” because it is not possible that the elect should be taken in error.
Raban.: He says not this because it is possible for the divine election to be defeated, but because they, who to men’s judgment seemed elect, shall be led into error.
Greg., Hom. in Ev., xxxv, i: And as darts, when foreseen, are less likely to hit, He adds, “Lo, I have told you.” Our Lord announces the woes which are to precede the destruction of the world, that when they come they may alarm the less from having been foreknown.
Hilary: The false prophets, of whom He had spoken above, shall say of Christ one while, “Lo, He is in the desert,” in order that they may cause men to wander astray; another while, “Lo, He is in the secret chambers,” that they may enthral men under the dominion of Antichrist. But the Lord declares Himself to be neither lurking in a remote corner, nor shut up to be visited singly, but that He shall be exhibited to the view of all, and in every place, “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.”
Chrys.: As He had above described in what guise Antichrist should come, so here He describes how He Himself shall come. For as the lightning needeth none to herald or announce it, but is in an instant of time visible throughout the whole world, even to those that are sitting in their chambers, so the coming of Christ shall be seen every where at once, because of the brightness of His glory. Another sign He adds of His coming, “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” The eagles denote the company of the Angels, Martyrs, and Saints.
Jerome: By an instance from nature, which we daily see, we are instructed in a sacrament of Christ. Eagles and vultures are said to scent dead bodies even beyond sea, and to flock to feed upon them. If then birds, not having the gift of reason, by instinct alone find out where lays a dead body, separated by so great space of country, how much more ought the whole multitude of believers to hasten to Christ, whose lightning goeth forth out of the east, and shines even to the west? We may understand by the carcase here, or corpse [πτωμα], which in the Latin is more expressively ‘cadaver,’ an allusion to the passion of Christ’s death.
Hilary: That we might not be ignorant of the place in which He should come, He adds this, “Wheresoever the carcase, &c.” He calls the Saints “eagles,” from the spiritual flight of their bodies, and shews that their gathering shall be to the place of His passion, the Angels guiding them thither; and rightly should we look for His coming in glory there, where He wrought for us eternal glory by the suffering of His bodily humiliation.
Origen: And observe, He says not vultures or crows, but “eagles,” shewing the lordliness and royalty of all who have believed in the Lord’s passion.
Jerome: They are called eagles whose youth is renewed as the eagle’s, and who take to themselves wings that they may come to Christ’s passion. [marg. note: Ps 103:5, Isa 40:31]
Greg., Mor. xxxi, 53: We may understand this, “Wheresoever the carcase is,” as meaning, I who incarnate sit on the throne of heaven, as soon as I shall have loosed the souls of the elect from the flesh, will exalt them to heavenly places.
Jerome: Or otherwise ; This may be understood of the false prophets. At the time of the Jewish captivity, there were many leaders who declared themselves to be Christs, [marg. note: Josephus, B. J., v. 1] so that while the Romans were actually besieging them, there were three factions within. But it is better taken as we expounded it above, of the end of the world. Thirdly, it may be understood of the warfare of the heretics against the Church, and of those Antichrists, who under pretext of false science, fight against Christ.
Origen: The genus of Antichrist is one, the species many, just as all lies are of one sort. As all the holy Prophets were Prophets of the true Christ, so understand that each false Christ shall have his own false Prophets, who shall preach as true the false teachings of some Antichrist. When then one shall say, “Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there,” we need not look abroad out of the Scriptures, for out of the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostles, they bring the things which seem to favour their lie. Or by this, “Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there,” they shew that it was not Christ, but some impostor under the same title, such for example as Marcion, or Valentinus, or Basilides taught.
Jerome: If then any one assert to you that Christ tarries in “the desert” of the Gentiles, or in the teaching of the Philosophers, or in “the secret chambers” of the heretics, who promise the hidden things of God, believe Him not, but believe that the Catholic Faith shines from “east to west” in the Churches.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 38: By the “east” and “west,” He signifies the whole world, throughout which the Church should be. In the same way as He said below, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, of heaven,” [Matt 26:64] so now He likens His coming to lightning, which uses to flash out of the clouds. When then the authority of the Church is set up clear and manifest throughout the whole world, He suitably warns His disciples that they should not believe schismatics and heretics. Each schism and heresy holds its own place, either occupying some important position in the earth, or ensnaring men’s curiosity in obscure and remote conventicles. “Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there,” refers to some district or province of the earth; “the secret chambers,” or “the desert,” signify the obscure and lurking conventicles of heretics.
Jerome: Or by this, “in the desert,” or “in the secret chambers,” He means that in times of persecution and distress, the false Prophets always find place for deceiving.
Origen: Or, when they allege secret and before unpublished Scriptures, in proof of their lie, they seem to say, Lo, the word of truth is in the desert. But when they produce canonical Scripture in which all Christians agree, they seem to say, Lo, the word of truth is in the chambers. Or wishing to point out such discourses as are altogether without Scripture, He said, “If they shall say to you, Lo, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not.” Truth is like the “lightning that cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west.”
Or this may mean, that truth can be supported out of every passage of Scripture. The lightning of truth comes out of “the east,” that is, from the first beginnings of Christ, and shines throughout even to His passion, which is His setting; or from the very beginning of creation, to the last Scripture of the Apostles.
Or, “the east” is the Law, “the west” is the end of the Law, and of John’s prophecy. The Church alone neither takes away word or meaning from this lightning, nor adds aught to its prophecy.
Or He means that we should give no heed to those who say, “Lo, here is Christ,” but shew Him not in the Church, in which alone is the coming or the Son of Man, who said, “Lo, I am with you, always even to the end of the world.” [Matt 28:20]
Jerome: We are invited to flock to Christ’s passion wheresoever in Scripture it read of, that through it we may be able to come to God’s word.
Cornelius a Lapide
Ver. 15. When therefore… the abomination of desolation, i.e., the abominable desolation; Syr. the unclean portent of destruction. What this was I have explained at length on Dan. ix. 27. Some understand by it an idol placed in the Temple; others, Antichrist himself, who will desire to be worshipped in the Temple as God; others, more correctly, the Roman armies which besieged Jerusalem, and which, shortly afterwards, when it had been captured, fearfully wasted it, and made it desolate. The profanation of the Temple by the murders and other crimes which were perpetrated in it by the seditious and wicked Jews, who called themselves Zealots of the law and of liberty, may also be intended.
Thus far Christ has given His Apostles signs in common, which were to precede both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. He now goes on to give special signs which were to precede the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. Wherefore Christ warns Jews and Christians alike, when they beheld these signs, to flee immediately to the mountains—not of Judæa, for they were occupied by Roman soldiers (Jos. Bell. l. 3. c. 12, and l. 4. c. 2), but those beyond Judæa, that they might thus escape the approaching overthrow of the city. In this way the Christians, mindful of this prediction of Christ, and warned by a Divine oracle (Eus. H. E. l 3. c. 15), fled across the Jordan, to a city named Pella (S. Epiphan. Hæres. 29 and 30), and even carried their property thither, as well as the episcopal Chair of S. James. Eusebius says that this Chair was preserved down to his own time (H. E. 7. 15). If this Chair had remained at Jerusalem, it must have been burnt with everything else. In these events we may see the singular providence of God over Christians, and His anger against the Jews. For, when the Roman army came, the Jews and Galilæans fled in crowds to Jerusalem, as to a place of refuge, thinking that there they would be safe. But God gathered them together there that they might be killed by the Romans.
Let him which is on the house-top—for the Jewish roofs were flat, so that they could walk and sleep upon them—not come down, but flee suddenly, so that he may save his life, and lose everything else. For so great and so sudden shall be this destruction of Judæa and Jerusalem by the Romans, that it were better for a man to flee away naked, than, by wishing to save his goods, to expose himself to danger. The sentence is hyperbolical, signifying how swiftly men ought to fly from the fearful impending calamity. Thus, “Let him that is on the house-top not come down gradually by means of ladders, but let him descend by one leap, or let himself down, very swiftly by a rope, that he may escape the coming destruction.” For, hyperbole apart, the Jews had some little time given them to escape. In the first place, Cestius Gallus, who was sent by Nero, besieged Jerusalem, but he was routed by the Jews, and put to flight. Six months afterwards, Vespasian was sent by the same emperor, Nero. He subdued Galilee, and stormed all the other Jewish cities except Jerusalem. In this work he spent three years. When he was preparing for the siege of Jerusalem, tidings came to him of the death of Nero. Then Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by the army, and returned to Rome, to take charge of the State, committing the conclusion of the war to his son Titus, who, after half a year, besieged Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, and took it in six months, and burnt and destroyed it. This half-year, in which the Romans carried on the war less vigorously, was spent by the Jews in internecine strife. For, first, the Zealots seized the Temple, filling it with the murdered corpses of their fellow-citizens. To the Zealots succeeded Simon of Gerasa, the head of a new sedition. Being sent by the people into Jerusalem to restrain the Zealots, he turned his band in slaughter and rapine against the citizens. There was then sufficient space after the approach of the Roman armies for the Jews to save their goods and flee; but Christ advises immediate flight, as well to signify how dreadful the calamity would be, as well as because, when the Roman armies were once in Judæa, and spreading themselves over the land, there would be no safe place to flee unto. For the fugitives constantly fell into the hands of the Roman soldiers, by whom they were despoiled and slaughtered, as Josephus relates at length in the history of the Jewish wars.
This most dreadful destruction of Jerusalem was an express type and prelude of the end of the world, just as were Noah’s deluge, the burning of Sodom, and the drowning of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.
Mystically: Pope Adrian I., in his Epistle to Charles, King of France, says, “He upon the house-top is he who, leaving carnal things, lives spiritually, as it were, in a free atmosphere. This man’s furniture lies idle in the house, because with his mind rising above the body, by the force of his understanding being, as it were, placed upon the house-top, he enjoys through the perspicuity of his wisdom an unbroken view, as it were, of heaven.”
He that is in the field… clothes; Gr. ι̉μάτιον; i.e., cloak or outer garment. For men who labour in the fields are wont to leave their upper garments at home, so as to be able to work more expeditiously. In like manner, when the destruction of Jerusalem is impending, flee away swiftly, and half naked, if you are so at the time, that you may escape the great and terrible slaughter. The expression is hyperbolical, and similar to the one in the previous verse. Both signify that they were to leave everything, even their clothes, and flee away as swiftly as possible, for so the greatness of the calamity is intimated. The prophets make use of a similar expression under similar circumstances. Thus Jeremiah, in the slaughter of the Egyptians by the Chaldeans (xlvi. 5), “Wherefore have I seen them dismayed and turned away back? And their mighty ones are beaten down, and are fled apace, and look not back: for fear was round about, saith the Lord.”1
Ver. 19. But woe to them that are with child, &c. Because the burden of their children would hinder their flight, so that they would be taken and slain by the savage Roman soldiers, together with their little ones. So S. Chrysostom and others. Theophylact adds that there is a further allusion to the severity of the famine, by reason of which some women were constrained to devour their infants in the siege of Jerusalem. As Josephus testifies (Bell. 7. 8), Christ declares the fearfulness of the vengeance and destruction of Jerusalem, that even women with child and infants would not be spared, as is customary in the siege and capture of other cities.
But pray ye, &c. In winter: because flight is difficult, on account of the cold, snow, rain, and tempests. For this reason flight is then impossible to the sick and aged. Or, if attempted, it ends in death. On the Sabbath: because then it was not lawful for the Jews to walk more than about 700 paces, as I have shown in Acts i. 12.
You will say that the Sabbath, as well as other ordinances of the Law, had been already abrogated by Christ when Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus; and even if they had not been abrogated, it would have been allowed by the law of nature that persons should go many miles to save their lives.
I answer. Christ is speaking of Jews, and Christians who still Judaized, who were wont to observe the Sabbath with such over-scrupulosity, that they preferred to die rather than flee or defend themselves against the attacks of their enemies upon the Sabbath (see 1 Macc. ii. 34, &c.). And the Jews and Judaizing Christians would observe the Law although it had been abrogated by Christ before the capture of Jerusalem. I may add that when the legal observances were abrogated by Christ at Pentecost, they were thenceforward dead, and were no longer binding; but they did not immediately become deadly, but it was permitted the Jews who were converted to Christ still to keep them for several years, out of reverence for Moses and the Law, until, being better instructed in evangelical liberty, they passed into perfect union with the Gentiles in the Church of Christ, as I have said in Gal. ii. So S. Chrysostom. Theophylact, Euthymius.
Christ here alludes to the capture of Jerusalem, which was to take place upon the Sabbath, as Dio Cassius asserts in his account of Nero. Indeed, one Gaspar Sanchez (in Zach. 14, num. 27) takes the words literally, as though Christ foretold that the Jews would take to flight upon the Sabbath, because Jerusalem was to be taken on that day. But Christ is here giving signs which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, so that men might flee away and escape, as I have already said. But in the actual siege and destruction, Titus had so completely encompassed the city by a wall, that it was impossible to flee out of it, as Josephus testifies.
Then shall be great tribulation, &c. Some, with S. Augustine (Epist. 80, ad Hesych.), confine the words, such as was not, nor ever shall be, to the Jews (for Christ thus far has been speaking of them), meaning, that neither in the Egyptian, nor the Assyrian, nor the Babylonian, nor the Syrian distress under Antiochus Epiphanes, had they suffered such slaughter as they should suffer under Titus and the Romans; yea, that they never would suffer anything so terrible, because Titus would bring upon them the extremity of destruction and desolation which were to continue until the end of the world.
With greater latitude others think that this destruction of the Jews by Titus is to be considered as more terrible than the destruction and punishment which befell any other nation whatsoever. For the Jews were not from the beginning of the world, but took their rise from Abraham and Jacob. In this way the meaning would be, that neither the burning of Sodom, nor the drowning of Pharaoh, nor the destruction of the Canaanites by Joshua, nor the overthrow of Nineveh or Babylon, or of any other nation, however dreadful and terrible, which ever has been or shall be, was so dreadful as this destruction of Judæa, which was to take place under Titus. I have spoken of separate and individual nations, because the destruction of the whole world by the general Deluge in the time of Noah, and the general conflagration at the last day, with the common destruction of all, surpasses in horror the destruction of the single nation of the Jews. In like manner, the persecution of Antichrist will be more horrible, forasmuch as it will be a general persecution of all Christians who in all nations believe in Christ.
Christ therefore compares the destruction of the one nation of the Jews with that of any other nation whatsoever, but not with the destruction of all nations, or of the whole world. That these things were so, is plain from the seven books which Josephus compiled (de Bell. Jud.). Thus he says expressly (6. 11), “To speak briefly, I am of opinion that no other city ever suffered such calamities, nor in any other nation of which there is memory among men was the wickedness of the seditious more ferocious.”
S. Chrysostom assigns as the reason of this most dreadful destruction of the Jews, the awful nature of their crime, by which they crucified their own Messiah, Christ, the Son of God. Wherefore, from this destruction and unceasing desolation of the Jewish nation, you may prove to the Jews that Christ has come already, and that it is He whom they have slain. For God has never punished any other crime, either among the Jews or any other nation, so fearfully as He has punished this, their Christicide and Deicide. Whence rightly, Auctor lmperfecti, “Until Christ, although the Jews were sinners, yet they were accounted as sons, and as sons they were punished. But after the Lord was crucified they ceased to be sons, and were treated as enemies, and as such were rooted out, without any hope of salvation. For inasmuch as they had committed a crime, the like whereof had never been committed, nor yet would be committed again, so there came upon them such a sentence as never has been passed, nor ever will be passed upon any others.” This is what S. Luke says, Then shall be the days of vengeance, i.e., for the death of Christ. There shall be great affliction and wrath upon this people. Josephus adds (Bell. 7. 16) that Titus recognized this vengeance of God, and attributed the capture of Jerusalem, not to his own power, but to Him. For entering into the captured city, when he saw the height and solidity of the bulwarks and towers, he exclaimed, “ It is evident that God has helped us to fight. It was God Himself who cast down the Jews from those mountains. For what power of man, or what machines, would have been able to do so?” The same Josephus (Bell. 6. 14) adds, that when Titus went round and saw the ditches full of the corpses of the dead, he groaned aloud, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, called God to witness that it was not his work.
Luke adds, xxi. 24, 1st. They shall fall by the edge of the sword, i.e., they shall be slain by the swords of the Romans. Josephus asserts that, besides innumerable others slain in all parts of Judæa, there fell in the siege of Jerusalem alone 1,100,000 souls, who died by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.
2d. And they shall be carried captive among all nations. The same writer says that 97,000 Jews were taken captive at that time. And he adds that the multitude of the Jews who flocked together at that time to the Passover out of all the world, amounted to 2,700,000 Souls. Wherefore he adds, that the whole nation was as it were shut up in a prison by fate; and the city was besieged when it was crammed full of people. Therefore the number of those who fell including those whom the Romans killed or took captive, exceeded the number who fell by any other divinely sent judgment, or destruction wrought by man. For, opening the sewers, and uncovering the sepulchres, they slew those whom they found there. In addition to these, there were found in those places 2000 who had fallen by their own hands, or by wounds received from one another.
3d. And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, i.e., until the end of the world and of all nations. For when the number of the Gentiles, according to God’s decree, has been completed, all the people and the number of the Gentiles shall be finished together with the world. So Euthymius; or as Bede, until the plenitude of the Gentiles shall enter into the Church of Christ. For when this shall be accomplished, then “all Israel shall be saved,” as the Apostle says (Rom. xi.), which shall be in the end of the world. For Christ has regard to the desolation of Jerusalem. This was foretold by Daniel (ix.), where it is said, “The desolation shall continue unto the consummation and the end,” meaning that Jerusalem, after being razed to the ground and laid desolate by Titus, shall be no longer the capital city of the Jews, but shall belong to the Gentiles, and after that to the Christians, and after that to the Saracens and the Turks, as it is at present. And this state of things shall continue until the end of the world, when Antichrist, the king and Messias of the Jews, shall fix the seat of his empire at Jerusalem, as is plain from Apoc. xi. 8. And then shall Enoch and Elias resist Antichrist, and convert many of the Jews to Christ. After Antichrist is slain, all the Jews shall be brought to Christ by the disciples of Enoch and Elias, and shall publicly worship Christ in Jerusalem, as may be easily gathered from Apoc. xx. 8.
Eusebius adds (H. E. 4. 6), that Adrian, who succeeded Trajan as emperor of Rome, made a severe edict that all Jews whatsoever should depart out of Judæa, so that it should not be lawful for any of them to see Judæa. He adds, “This was done, so that after the ruin of the Jewish nation, the inhabitants of the city being changed, the name of Jerusalem itself was changed to Elia, from the cognomen of the Emperor Ælius Adrianus.” Behold, this is what Christ foretold—Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.
From these words of Christ S. Cyril of Jerusalem rightly confuted the Jews, who, at the instigation of Julian the Apostate, set about rebuilding the Temple. He predicted that all their labour would be in vain, because Christ had declared out of Daniel that the desolation of Jerusalem and of the Temple would continue unto the end of the world. And he was a true seer. For fire coming down from Heaven consumed all the tools of the workmen. And a great earthquake tore up the foundation-stones and dispersed them, and destroyed the adjacent buildings. On the following night, impressions of the sign of the cross, shining like rays of the sun, appeared impressed upon the garments of the Jews, which by no efforts were they able to efface. (So Socrates, H. E. 3. 20.)
Ver. 22. Except those days… shortened; Gr. ε̉κολβώθησαν, a period or stop put to them; i.e., by the Lord, as Mark adds.
The elect are twofold: those who are elected to grace, who are all the faithful and the righteous; and those who are elected to glory, who are all those who shall he saved. Both classes may be here understood, but especially the second. For these are they who are perfectly elected. And whosoever are elected to final grace, so that they persevere in it to the end of life, are those who are also elected to glory. The sense is—unless God from eternity had decreed, and had fulfilled the same in time, that the days of the wasting of Judæa should be shorter—shorter, I mean, than the sins of the Jews and the anger of the Romans demanded, all Jews would have perished. For if the time of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judæa had lasted longer, no flesh, i.e., no Jews, would have survived. For the rage of the Romans against the Jews was very great, as against a rebellious and obstinate nation; and unless the gentleness of Titus had somewhat restrained them, the Romans would have slain all the Jews. God therefore shortened this time of slaughter for the elect’s sake; that is, partly for the sake of those Christians who had not been able or willing to flee away from Jerusalem, partly on account of the Jews who, in the great slaughter of the siege, had been converted to Christ, as well as for the sake of those who were afterwards to be sprung from them and converted to Christ. What is meant is this, “If this tribulation of the Jews had lasted longer, none of them would have continued alive, and would not, by consequence have persevered in faith and grace in this life, and so no one of them would have survived to be elect and saved. In order, therefore, that some may survive, who by the predestination of God shall be saved, those, namely, whom God foresees and foreordains, shall remain in this tribulation, and be converted to Christ, and so be saved, for this cause, I say, God will abbreviate and cut short these days of tribulations.”
That such was the case appears from Josephus (Bell. 7. 15). He testifies that more than forty thousand Jews were saved by Titus in the destruction of Jerusalem. Where observe that God, for the sake of His elect and believing ones, saved alive many Jews who did not believe, but were obstinate and reprobate. “Therefore,” says S. Chrysostom, “let not the Jews say that these things happened to them because of the preaching and worship of Christ. He shows not only that Christians were not the cause of these evils, but that if there had been no Christians, all Jews would have perished. For if the war, by Divine permission, had been prolonged, no remnant of the Jews would have escaped. But in order that the believing Jews might not be destroyed with the unbelieving, God put a more speedy end to the war than He would have done.”
Tropologically: Learn from hence how great is God’s love and care for His elect. For them He spared many Jews. For the elect’s sake God created, and still preserves the whole world, and all the things that are therein. Yea, for their sake He caused Christ, His own Son, to become man, and willed that He should suffer death upon the cross. Wherefore S. Paul saith (1 Cor. iii. 22), “All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come.
Ver. 23. Then if any man, &c. Some think that Christ here passes from the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem to those before the end of the world. But it is better to refer them to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which He has been speaking thus far. This is the force of the word then.
Lo, here is Christ. The Jews knew that the advent of the Messiah was now nigh at hand, because the sceptre had been transferred from Judah to aliens, Herod and the Romans, according to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen. xlix. 10). Wherefore, many at that time flattered Vespasian by saying that he was the Messiah, as we learn from Suetonius. Others gave Herod the same flattering title. Moreover, there were at that time in Jerusalem, as Josephus and S. Jerome testify, three factions, which had each its own leader, who boasted himself to be the Messiah, who would defend the Jews against the Romans. These chiefs were Eleazar the son of Simon, John the son of Levi, Simon the son of Goria, who all contended for supremacy amongst themselves. Such also was the impostor who, under Adrian, pretended to be Messiah, and wished to be called Barchochabas, the son of a Star, as though in him was fulfilled the prophecy of Balaam, “A star shall rise out of Jacob.” Of this man Eusebius says (H. E. 4. 6): “Barchochabas, a wicked and cruel man, was the leader of a Jewish army. And referring to the signification of his name, he persuaded them, as if they had been vile slaves, that he was a great star for their salvation, and that he bore the succour of light to sick mortals and those who were doomed to long darkness.”
Such in our own age were David George; also John of Leyden, who seized a monastery in a city of Westphalia, where he made himself Christ, a king, and created twelve apostles, whom he sent into all the neighbouring cities, that they should bring all men to him as Christ. But being besieged by the Catholics and captured, he was hung alive in a wickerwork cage from the top of a tower, and being eaten by flies and wasps, he died A.D. 1536. There shall be many more such in the time of Antichrist. Tropologically: such are heresiarchs, who proclaim another Christ, in that they affirm other doctrines, which are not the doctrines of Christ, but of Antichrist. For although the word then properly denotes the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, yet it may be taken indefinitely, so as to denote any period whatsoever, from the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the world, as S. Chrysostom observes (Hom. 77). Moreover, the heretics foolishly say that by the words, if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, Catholics are denoted, because they say of the Eucharist, “Lo, here is Christ.” For Christ is here speaking of visible heretics and false prophets, who shall call themselves Christs, and draw away disciples after them. He is not speaking of the Eucharist, where Christ is invisible.
Ver. 24. For there shall arise false Christs, &c. wrought by art magic, by the power of the devil, whom many heresiarchs have had as a familiar spirit, as I have shown in 1 Tim. iv. 1. Such was their great prince Simon Magus, who deluded Nero and the Romans, so that they erected a statue to him at Rome; but at length he himself, flying through the air by the aid of the devil, was dashed down to the earth by the prayers of S. Peter, and falling upon a stone, broke his knees, “so that he who had attempted to fly was not able to walk; and he who had taken wings, lost his legs,” as S. Maximus says (Hom. 5, de SS. Petro et Paulo).
So as to deceive—even the elect. Understand this of final falling away, in such a sense that the elect should finally fall from grace, and be lost. For there is no surer sign of reprobation than that any one should apostatize from the faith. Falsely, therefore, does Calvin infer from this passage that the elect cannot sin. They do sin, but they repent and rise again.
If it were possible. So great shall be the tribulation and the temptation of the false Christs and heretics, their power, deceit, guile, and speciousness, that, if such a thing were possible, even the elect would be seduced by them, and come over to their errors and heresies, and so fall from the faith and be damned. But this can never happen, because of God’s more powerful protection, and His infallible predestination, as S. Augustine says (de Civ. xx. 19), and according to Christ’s own words, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall not perish eternally: and no one shall pluck them out of My Father’s hand,” S. John x. 28 (Vulg). For it is not possible that the elect should fall away so as to become reprobate. I do not speak of any physical or absolute necessity, but of that moral foreknowledge and predestination of God, by which He so works, and so disposes it, and combines it with the issue of future events, that there is necessity in a composite sense, as Theologians say. For although the elect are free, and free to sin, to go astray, and be lost, nevertheless, inasmuch as it has been laid down that God has predestinated and foreseen that they cannot sin, go astray, and be damned, it is impossible that they should sin, go astray, and be damned. For the predestination of God is most sure, and cannot fail. These two things, therefore, cannot co-exist, that a man should be predestinated, and yet be damned; that God should foreknow that such a man will die in His grace, and be saved, and also foreknow that he will die in sin, and be damned. In a similar manner S. John speaks of the Jews (xii. 39), “Wherefore they could not believe, because Isaiah saith again, He hath blinded their eyes:” not as though Isaiah’s prophecy were the cause why the Jews did not believe in Christ, but because his prediction of the incredulity of the Jews was incompatible with their believing in Christ. And S. Paul says (1 Tim. ii. 19), “The foundation of God (concerning the elect) standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.”
Moreover, those Theologians who say that the elect unto glory are persons who have been elected independently of all provision of their works, ascribe the force of this election, this necessity of their being saved, to the Divine decree; but the others, in order not to take away man’s free will, must take the matter in a composite sense. They must combine the constancy and perseverance of the elect with God’s decree to bestow this perseverance upon them, in such manner as not to interfere with their free will, and with His carrying this out in time, that is to say, by giving them in time grace of congruity and grace efficacious, whereby they may effectually, but of their own free will, resist heretics, and persevere in the faith and grace of God. Nor is it more wonderful that those cannot fall whom God wills not to fall (for who hath resisted His will?), than that they cannot fall whom God has foreseen will not fall. For God’s prescience and His will are both infallible.
Some by the elect in this place understand those who are especially beloved and chosen of God, and who, on that account, are wont to suffer dreadful things from the devil and heretics and wicked men; but they bravely and constantly resist and overcome them. It is meant, that so great shall be the temptation, that even most holy men, religious and apostolic, who are especially dear to God, would fall away from the faith, if such a thing could be, and the more powerful grace and sure election of God did not prevent it.