NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
So the disciples did not have to wait too long before these bogus Messiah’s began to show up. It should not have come as a surprise, seeing that the prophet Jeremiah had spoken of this long ago, “The LORD All-Powerful, the God of the people of Israel, says, “Don’t let your prophets and those who practice magic fool you. Don’t listen to the dreams they have. They are telling lies, and they are saying that their message is from me. But I didn’t send it.”1 But these false Messiahs were just the beginning.
In his commentary on this text, Origen also has this to say: “Come up to the moral and spiritual sense of Scripture and see if you can discover an interpretation worthy of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ and of the discernment of the Evangelists, lest you denigrate the dignity of evangelical wisdom with a lesser interpretation. Let us see then if mindful of that which was handed down from above concerning Him who said ‘Many will come in my name saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will seduce many,’ we can interpret these things in accordance with their consequences. It is inevitable that everyone who has been made whole and has been given to see the glorious coming of the Word in His soul, everyone who has destroyed, devoured, and crucified the world so that all things worldly are dead to him, and has trained his mind for understanding, will eventually engage doctrinal battles in the course of his search and discernment. He will hear many voices from divergent traditions professing to have the truth. Like a good soldier of the Word, however, his soul will remain safe from all those opponents of the truth who pretend adherence to the truth. In this way, he will be made worthy to receive in his soul the glorious coming of Christ, the Word of God who was ‘in the beginning with God,’2 who comes to those who, having recognized Him ‘according to the flesh,’3 and having received the Word who ‘became flesh,’4 then ascended far beyond these things to behold no ordinary glory, but ‘the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.’5”6
Verse 6: “You will hear about wars that are being fought. And you will hear stories about other wars beginning. But don’t be afraid. These things must happen before the end comes.”
One early church writer in his commentary on Matthew had this to say: “In the interest of acquiring a better understanding of Christ’s response, it would seem shortsighted to neglect to consider first the apostles’ question. The apostles asked two questions. First, they asked, ‘What will be the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem?’ Second, they asked, ‘What will be the sign of the end of the world?’ At the dissolution of the nation of Judea, Jerusalem was destroyed, but what seemed to be Jerusalem was not the true Jerusalem. Likewise, the church will appear to have been forsaken or almost forsaken at the end of the world, but what seemed to be the church was not and is not the true church. The Lord did not differentiate between the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem and the signs of the end of the world, for the signs that pertain to both events are one and the same. This is so because Christ did not respond to His apostles’ questions as though He were a historian explaining the chronological order of events but rather in the manner of a prophet foretelling what would have to take place. Prophecies are always communicated through mysteries and properly understood as mysteries.”7
It is important to note, that this writer composed his commentary in the 7th century AD. So the question is, what works did he consult and what was the general theme running through the church at that time concerning the return of Christ. From what he says, we can conclude that his understanding of this prophecy is much the same as it is today among evangelical scholars.
The writer then goes on to say: “What does this mean for the passage at hand? If we want to understand them in the full spiritual sense, the signs of which Christ speaks—famine, wars, tremors—could not pertain to the destruction of Jerusalem, because at the time of its capture nation was not rising against nation in the spiritual sense. [That] is to say that heretics were not then fighting among each other since at the time of the apostles the heresies were still only in their seminal stage but didn’t germinate until the time of the Christian king, even though they are now fully grown powerful forces. Moreover, there was no spiritual famine at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction but great abundance, as the psalmist said, ‘You visited the earth and watered it and increased its riches.‘8”9
The writer then finishes his exposition: “Again, if we attempted to interpret these signs literally, they would tell us nothing about the end of the world, for there always have been and always will be wars, in the literal sense of the term. The same is true of famines and earthquakes. Nothing can serve as a sign of future events that already is a normal occurrence. Only something new can properly be called a sign. Just as there is a literal Jerusalem, therefore, which is already conquered figuratively, there is also another, spiritual Jerusalem, the church of our Lord, which must be tested at the end of the world and indeed is currently being tested. Therefore the signs of which the Lord spoke must be understood both spiritually and literally. Literally, they speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, but spiritually they signify the trial of the church at the consummation of the age. Train your mind on both aspects then, on what occurred before Jerusalem was captured and on what will occur before the final trial of Christ’s church.”10
It is important to notice, that this commentator does not give any specific dates nor does he name any persons of interest that might have been candidates for the Antichrist in his era. He does what any good prophecy writer must do, and that is leave it in the hands of the Holy Spirit to awaken the church and point out to those who are watching and waiting what signs they should be aware of in their day as the time of our Lord’s return grows closer and closer.
Verse 7: “Nations will fight against other nations. Kingdoms will fight against other kingdoms. There will be times when there is no food for people to eat. And there will be earthquakes in different places.”
The same writer mentioned in the previous section goes on to comment on this portion of our Lord’s warning. He writes: “Anyone who reads Josephus11 knows what kind of famines, plagues, and tremors afflicted Judea before the fall of Jerusalem. Before the spiritual plundering of the church, however, a spiritual hunger for the Word and spiritual tremors and various plagues of carnal sins will undoubtedly afflict the Christian people. So many schisms would never have arisen among Christians had they not already been famished for the Word, nor would they have suffered so many plagues, that is, diseases of carnal passion, if they had not been stirred up from without. This is what the Lord taught in the parable of the evil one planting weeds: ‘While the men were sleeping,’ that is, when they neglected to guard against sin, ‘the enemy came and sowed weeds.’12”13 What a powerful message this is for the church today.
As we can see, even those scholars in the early years of the church could not give an exact or definitive interpretation of the end times as it applied to their day. And now that we have many centuries of history to look back on, it is not any easier to put all of this into perspective for our own generation. Jesus did not intend for His followers to have an exact timeline to follow these events. His was a warning that it would never be easy for Christians, so they should not expect the world to gradually evolve into a peaceful sphere without wars, famines, catastrophes, hatred, persecution, etc. But, that they were not to let such things discourage them and give up their faith and hope in His return. Just as He originally came at the appointed time, so He will return at the appointed time. All believers need to do is be ready when He arrives. The Jews missed it the first time. God forbid, that Christians miss it the second time.
1 Jeremiah 29:8; cf. 14:14
2 John 1:1
3 2 Corinthians 5:16
4 John 1:14
6 Origen: Commentary on Matthew, 35
7 Incomplete Work on Matthew: Homily 48
8 Psalm 65:9
9 Incomplete Work on Matthew, ibid.
11 This is an obvious reference to Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus and his work, The Wars of the Jews
12 Matthew 13:25
13 Incomplete Work on Matthew: Ibid.