(from No Millennium Without Christ, 1887)
Now the first three or four verses of both discourses, and of all the three records are almost identical:— Matt. xxiv. 4-8, Mark xiii. 5-7, Luke xxi. 8-11. But here a remarkable change occurs which gives us the key to the right understanding of these prophecies. In Matt. and Mark the Lord goes on to speak of the sorrows of which those verses were “the beginning” and continues, and develops what He had begun to describe. But in St. Luke he stops short here; He does not go forward, but goes back to tell us what shall be before all these things,” and for thirteen verses (Luke xxi. 12-24) He speaks of what shall be “BEFORE” “the beginning of sorrows,” and to speak of the then impending destruction of Jerusalem, concluding at verse 24 with the words “and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” It is the concluding days of these “times of the Gentiles,” which in Matt. and Mark the Lord enlarges on, and describes the events which lead up to His appearing (Matt. xxiv. 8-28, and Mark xiii. 9-23): and then all three records again coincide, and culminate in the grand and final “sign” about which the disciples had enquired.
To attempt to harmonize these prophecies without noticing the great diverging point of Luke xxi. 12, is to attempt the impossible; and the best proof that it is so is the fact that no commentator who treats all three records as referring to one and the same subject, succeeds in satisfying his own mind, still less the minds of his readers.
But observing these notes of time, and this key to the change of subject in Luke xxi. 12, we learn that in Matt. xxiv. and Mark xiii., Jesus does not refer to the destruction of Jerusalem at all, but begins long after that event, and gives an epitome of the closing in of the last days of the “times of the Gentiles,” the days immediately preceding His coming in glory with all His saints: while in St. Luke xxi. He devotes only four verses to those events, (8-11) and at verse 12 goes back to tell us what shall be “before all these things.”
In fact, these two discourses, taken together, are occupied with three great subjects, 1. The Destruction of Jerusalem: 2. The Coming of Christ in Glory: and 3. The events immediately preceding that coming. In Matt. and Mark, Jesus enlarges on the events that shall immediately lead up to His coming in glory. He foretells the four great characteristics of the beginning of these last events:— “Wars” (the Red horse of the second seal, Rev. vi. 4), “Pestilences” (the Black horse of the third seal, Rev. vi. 5, 6), “Famines” (the Pale horse of the fourth seal, Rev. vi. 7, 8), and “Earthquakes” (the sixth seal, Rev. vi. 12). He speaks of the witnessing gospel (Rev. vi. 2), and refers to a great event foretold by Daniel as a sure sign of the approaching end. The tribulation then rapidly deepens until it reaches its culminating point, and then (Matt. xxiv. 29, 30) “IMMEDIATELY after the tribulation of those days… they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.”
Now in St. Luke, as I have said, there is little or nothing about these awful and final events. In Luke xxi. 8, 9, the Lord refers to them, but pointedly says “the end is not by and by” (R.V. “the end is not immediately.”) Then in verse 10 and 11, He bears us rapidly forward to the end, and almost anticipates verse 25. Thus, having thrust the whole of those closing events into these fours verses, the Lord suddenly turns back, saying (verse 12) “But, BEFORE all these things,” and enlarges on the nearer, and then impending woe of the city of Jerusalem. And when He says in verse 24 “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled,” the events which shall be the fulfilling of these very times form the chief subject of the discourse in Matt. xxiv. and Mark xiii., which refers to that future siege.*
* The word “immediately” marks off the prophecy in Matt. from that recorded in Luke, where we have instead long “times of the Gentiles” following on the siege of Jerusalem.
Thus of these two prophecies, part has been already literally fulfilled (Luke xxi. 12-24); and part remains to be also as literally fulfilled.
The great fact, however, which stands out most prominently in these prophecies, the evidence of which is absolutely overwhelming, is this:— that our Lord leaves no room for any Millenium of happiness and peace before He comes.