And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be?…
This term is a figure of speech. It represents something. It does not describe something. The actual ending of the world is an almost impossible conception. So far as we are able to trace Divine dealings, there are no "endings;" there are stages. But what we call an "ending" from one point of view is a "beginning" when seen from another point of view. What we ought to inquire is - Was this a familiar figure of speech in the time of our Lord. and if it was, what ideas were attached to it as familiarly used? The patriarchal age came to an end, but there was no abrupt scene which can be called an ending. The same remark may be made concerning the closing of the Mosaic age. And we need imagine no catastrophe as the close of the Christian age. The coming of Messiah was, in Jewish thought, connected with the "end of the world," and vague, wild, and extraordinary were the things associated with that "coming" (see Stapler's 'Palestine in the Time of Christ,' ch. 5.).
I. THE END OF THE WORLD IS THE END OF THE AGE. Distinctly present the truth that God ever works in stages, making each stage prepare the way for another and a higher. This may be shown by the revelations of the primeval ages made by geological researches; or by the history of separate nations; dynasties and royal houses represent distinct ages or dispensations. So we find stages within the history of Mosaism, the Jewish Church passing through several dispensations. Those who can read the philosophy of the Christian centuries can trace stages in them. One such stage was nearing completion in the time of Christ; and, with a very human tendency to exaggeration, men were imagining that an end of a particular polity for a small nation was to be the "end of the world."
II. THE END OF THE AGE IS ALWAYS THE BEGINNING OF A NEW AGE. If we did but fully grasp this idea, we should be delivered from many hindering mistakes.
1. Endings are always local. There never has been any ending that concerned the whole world.
2. Endings insensibly glide into the new scenes. Abrupt endings may belong to man's spheres, his dynasties, and his systems; but abruptness seldom, if ever, characterizes God's ending. His spring has an ending, but it is a gliding into summer. If we can think of an actual "end of the world," we must think of a gliding into the new and eternal age. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?