Jesus said, “When you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33).
15 or so years later, James warned, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:9).
So, I ask again: what did James see?
Of course, the answer could be that his reference to the Judge standing right at the door has nothing to do with Matthew 24:33, but the context reveals otherwise.
Throughout the book of James , there is an ongoing discussion of the rich and the poor (e.g. James 1:9-11). In the second chapter, James critiqued his audience for treating the rich man and the poor man differently when they visited the synagogue:
For if a man comes into your [synagogue]1 with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?2James 2:2-4
Their preference of the rich was startling to James because, as he told his readers in James 2:6, “Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?”
This statement by James is a fulfillment of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 10:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.Matthew 10:16-18
Jesus went on in that passage to say that the disciples would flee from persecution from city to city but that they would “not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23). Jesus taught that they would be vindicated within many of the disciple’s lifetime! This corresponds to what James said in James 5:9: “the Judge is standing right at the door.”
But there is more!
This theme of the vindication of the martyrs is also discussed in two very important New Testament passages (and many more than that): Matthew 23:29-39 and Luke 18:1-8. Jesus’ audience was reminded of what He had promised in chapter ten of Matthew when He told them that those who rejected Jesus and the disciples would be judged within that generation and that their house would be left desolate (Matthew 23:34-38). In Luke 18, to add to this, Jesus said that when His followers would cry out that God “will bring about justice for them quickly” (Luke 18:8). James could confidently say that the Judge was standing right at the door, because his audience was doing exactly what the woman in the parable did:
Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.James 5:4
James is echoing the murder of Abel3 in this passage (Genesis 4:10), but he is also pulling from the Exodus, specifically Exodus 2:23-25:
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. 24 So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.Exodus 2:23-35
James knew the Judge was near because he saw the wickedness of the rich, and he knew that God hears the call of the oppressed.
But how does this relate to Matthew 24?
In Matthew 24:9-13, Jesus warned that one of the signs preceding the end of the age would be persecution of the church:
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.4Matthew 24:9-13
Following the promise He made in Matthew 10, Matthew 23, and many other passages in Matthew, Jesus promised that this persecution would be followed by judgement of the persecutors who hated the believers5 and the gathering together of the elect:
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31 “And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.Matthew 24:29-31
The elect had to be gathered because they were scattered by persecution (James 1:1; cf. Acts 8:1:). They would be gathered at the coming of the Lord. But get this: James said that the coming of the Lord was near two thousand years ago!!!
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.James 5:8
How could James say this? What did he see?
He saw the persecution of the saints. He heard them crying out. He saw the love of many growing cold. He saw the poor being dragged into courts by the rich. He saw the signs that led him to be confident in Jesus’s words: “when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” and “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:33-34).
- From the Greek word συναγωγή. This word is translated synagogue in 55 out of 56 times in the New Testament with this passage being the only exception
- Notice the warning here of them becoming judges. See how this correlates to James 5:9 referenced above. For more information, compare James 5:9 to James 4:11
- In the Matthew 23 passage referenced above, Abel is one of the martyrs that would be vindicated within that generation!
- As a side note, notice the similarity between this statement about endurance to the ones found in Revelation 2-3.
- see Matthew 24:9 referenced above