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John, died a natural death. Christians were counted as the filth of the world, being literally hated for the very name they bore. About six years before the destruction of Jerusalem, arose the tremendous persecution under Nero, when it was enough that any one was called by the name of Christian to lead him to torture." Tacitus bears witness not only to their exquisite sufferings, but also to the fact that they were held in universal hatred on account of their religion and name.*
6. "Then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another; and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." The apostle of the Gentiles, in his epistles, complains of Demas and Phygellus and Hermogenes, and many others in Asia, who turned away from him; and that when he first appeared at the bar of Nero, "no man stood with him, but all forsook him.”‡ And Tacitus, speaking of the persecution by Nero, says, "At first, those who were seized confessed their sect; and then, by their indication, a great multitude were convicted."
7. Immediately after the prediction of the outward persecutions and internal defections by which the servants of Christ were to be troubled, there follows this remarkable prophecy: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end
Lardner, vol. 3, p. 498; Tac. An. book 15, chap. 44.
† Mat. 24:10-12.
come." The end referred to was that of the Jewish polity, which entirely ceased at the destruction of the Jewish metropolis and temple. Jesus prophesied that before this, that is, in forty years from the time when he uttered these words, the gospel would be preached in all the world. Of all that was then in futurity, what could have been more improbable, or to human view more impossible, than this? The gospel was then received but by a handful of unlettered Jews. In a few days after, its Author was crucified as a malefactor, his disciples were scattered and discouraged, his enemies triumphant, and the gospel seemed at an end. When the infant church was gathered together in Jerusalem, immediately after the ascension of its Head, the number of the disciples that could be collected was but one hundred and twenty. What but the omniscience of God could have foreseen that in less than forty years that church would be extended into all countries of the known
world? But thus it came to pass: "It appears from the writers of the history of the church, that before the destruction of Jerusalem the gospel was not only preached in the Lesser Asia and Greece and Italy, the great theatres of action then in the world, but was likewise propagated as far northward as Scythia, as far southward as Ethiopia, as far eastward as Parthia and India, as far westward as Spain and Britain." The epistles of Paul, in the New Testament, were directed to churches then flourishing in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and + Newton, ch. 2, p. 257, 258.
Thessalonica. In the epistle to the Romans, he asserts that the Christian faith was then, ten years before "the end," "spoken of throughout the whole world." To the Colossians, about three years, after, he asserts that the gospel had been "preached to every creature which is under heaven;" meaning, that to all nations, without distinction, it had been published. Tacitus bears witness, that in the sixth year before the destruction of Jerusalem, during Nero's persecution, the religion of Christ had not only extended over Judea, but through Rome also; and that its followers were then so numerous, that " a vast multitude" were apprehended and condemned to martyrdom." Thus, impossible as such an event must have seemed at the time when this prophecy was uttered, the end did not come until the gospel of the kingdom of Christ was preached "in all the world." We know not which should be considered the most impressive evidence that God was with the gospel, this wonderful fact, brought to pass by such means, and in the face of such universal and deadly opposition, or the prophetic eye by which the Saviour predicted, in circumstances so unpromising, that thus it would be.
8. The next prophetic sign brings us almost to the awful catastrophe. "When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies;" or, as the expression is in Matthew, "When ye shall see the abomination of desolation stand in the holy place," "then know that the desolation thereof is nigh."
"Then let them
*Rom. 1: 8.
† Colos. 1: 23.
Tac. Ann. b. 15.
which be in Judea flee into the mountains; let him which is on the house-top not come down to take any thing out of his house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes."*
By "the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place," Matthew expresses the same thing as when Luke speaks of Jerusalem being "compassed with armies." The standards of the Roman armies had on them images to which idolatrous worship was paid, and which were therefore an abomination to the Jews. On this account, we read that a Roman general, when conducting his army through Judea towards Arabia, was besought by the principal Jews to lead it another way. "Every idol and every image," says Chrysostom, "was called an abomination among the Jews." These idolatrous ensigns being connected with a desolating army, constituted them "the abomination of desolation ;" and when the Roman army planted its standards around the holy city, the abomination of desolation literally stood "in the holy place," or on holy ground. This the Saviour predicted. It was to be the signal to Christians that the desolation of Jerusalem was nigh. Then they were to escape with haste to the mountains. The warning implied, that even after the city was encompassed with armies they would have an opportunity of escape; but, at the same time, that the opportunity would be brief. All this came to pass. One would suppose that the Christians, in having delayed till the city was surrounded with a besieging host, would thus have
* Luke 21: 20; Mat. 24: 15-18. † Ant. b. 18, ch. 6, sec. 3.
waited till all escape was cut off. But a remarkable providence took care that they should await the sign, and yet obey the admonition to flee. Cestius Gallus the Roman general, at the commencement of the war, besieged the city, took possession of the suburbs, encamped over against the royal palace, and might easily, Josephus says, have got within the walls and won the city. Indeed, "many of the principal men were about to open the gates to him." But although the abomination of desolation was thus in the holy place, the followers of Christ were there also. The time of the end, therefore, was not yet come. An opportunity must be found for them to flee. The Lord sees to this. Just as the city was ready to open its gates to the Roman chief, "he recalled his soldiers from the place without having received any disgrace, and retired from the city without any reason in the world." This the Jewish historian expressly ascribes to a special interposition of Providence, though he knew not its object. It could be accounted for on no military or prudential considerations. Josephus relates that many principal men of Jerusalem embraced this opportunity to depart from the city as from a sinking ship. A short time after, when the Roman armies were again approaching with the abomination of desolation towards the holy place, our historian states that a great multitude fled to the mountains.* Among these were probably the disciples of Christ. But we learn more certainly from ecclesiastical historians of the early centuries, that at this crisis all
* Wars, b. 2, ch. 20, sec. 1. + Ibid. b. 4, ch. 8, sec. 2.