The Parousia

A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of our Lord’s Second Coming

By James Stuart Russell

Originally digitized by Todd Dennis beginning in 1996

Further edited here

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HIGH PRAISE FOR "THE PAROUSIA"

PREFACE TO THE BOOK

INTRODUCTORY.

THE LAST WORDS OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY.

THE BOOK OF MALACHI
The Interval between Malachi and John the Baptist

PART I.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPELS.

THE PAROUSIA PREDICTED BY JOHN THE BAPTIST

The Teaching of our Lord Concerning the Parousia in the Synoptical Gospels:-

Prediction of Coming Wrath upon that Generation
Further allusions to the Coming Wrath
Impending fate of the Jewish nation (Parable of the Barren Fig-tree)
The End of the Age, or close of the Jewish dispensation (Parables of Tares and Drag-net)
The Coming of the Son of Man (the Parousia) in the Lifetime of the Apostles
The Parousia to take place within the Lifetime of some of the Disciples
The Coming of the Son of man certain and speedy (Parable of the Importunate Widow)
The Reward of the Disciples in the Coming AEon, i.e. at the Parousia

Prophetic Intimations of the approaching Consummation of the Kingdom of God:-

i. Parable of the Pounds
ii. Lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem
iii. Parable of the Wicked Husbandman
iv. Parable of the Marriage of the King's Son
v. Woes denounced on the Scribes and Pharisees
vi. Lamentation (second) of Jesus over Jerusalem
vii. The Prophecy on the Mount of Olives

The Prophecy on the Mount examined:-

I. Interrogatory of the Disciples
II. Our Lord's Answer to the Disciples:-

(a) Events which more remotely were to precede the Consummation
(b) Further indications of the approaching doom of Jerusalem
(c) The Disciples warned against False Prophets
(d) Arrival of the 'End,' or the catastrophe of Jerusalem
(e) The Parousia to take place before the passing away of the Existing Generation
(f) Certainty of the Consummation, yet uncertainty of its precise date
(g) Suddenness of the Parousia, and calls to watchfulness
(h) The Disciples warned of the suddenness of the Parousia (Parable of the Master of the House)
(i) The Parousia a time of Judgment alike to the friends and the enemies of Christ (Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins)
(k) The Parousia a time of Judgment (Parable of the Talents)
(l) The Parousia a time of Judgment (Parable of the Sheep and Goats)

Our Lord's declaration before the High Priest
Prediction of the Woes coming on Jerusalem
Prayer of the Penitent Thief
Apostolic Commission, the

THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN.

The Parousia and the Resurrection of the Dead
The Resurrection, the Judgment, and the Last Day
The Judgment of this World, and of the Prince of this World
Christ's Return (the Parousia) speedy
St. John to live till the Parousia
Summary of the Teaching of the Gospels respecting the Parousia

APPENDIX TO PART I.

Note A.-On the Double-sense Theory of Interpretation
Note B.-On the Prophetic Element in the Gospels

PART II.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE ACTS AND THE EPISTLES.

IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.

The 'going away' and the 'coming again
The Last Days come
The Coming Doom of that Generation
The Parousia and the Restitution of all things
Christ soon to judge the World

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTOLIC EPISTLES.

Introduction

IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS:-

Expectation of the Speedy Coming of Christ
The Wrath coming upon the Jewish people
Bearing of the parousia upon the disciples of Christ
Christ to come with all His holy ones
Events accompanying the Parousia
Exhortations to watchfulness in prospect of the Parousia
Prayer that the Thessalonians might survive until the coming of Christ

IN THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS:-

The Parousia a time of judgment to enemies of Christ and of Deliverance to His people
Events which must precede the Parousia

The Apostasy
The Man of Sin

IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS:-

Attitude of the Christians of Corinth in relation to the Parousia
Judicial character of the 'Day of the Lord' (I Cor. iii. 13)
Judicial character of the 'Day of the Lord' (I Cor. iv. 5)
Nearness of the approaching Consummation
The End of the Ages already arrived
Events accompanying the Parousia
The Living (saints) changed at the Parousia
The Parousia and the 'Last Trump'
The Apostolic Watchword, 'Maran-atha'

IN THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS:-

Anticipations of 'the End' and 'the Day of the Lord'
The Dead in Christ to be presented along with the living at the Parousia
Expectation of Future Blessedness at the Parousia

IN THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS:-

'The present Evil Age, or AEon'
The two Jerusalems-the Old and the New

IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS:-

The Day of Wrath
Eschatology of St. Paul
Nearness of the Coming Salvation
Prospect of Speedy Deliverance

IN THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS:-

Approaching Manifestation of Christ
The Coming Wrath

IN THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS:-

The Economy of the Fulness of the Times
The Day of Redemption
The present Aeon and that which is coming
The 'Ages [Aeons] to come

IN THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS:-

The Day of Christ
Expectation of the Parousia
Nearness of the Parousia

IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY:-

Apostasy of the Last Days
Eschatological Table, or Conspectus of Passages relating to the Last Times
Equivalent Phrases referring to the Last Times
Table of Passages relating to the Apostasy of the Last Times
Conclusion- respecting the Apostasy
Timothy and the Parousia
The Apostasy already manifesting itself

IN THE SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY: -

'That Day'-viz. the parousia-anticipated
The Apostasy of the 'Last Days' imminent

IN THE EPISTLE TO TITUS :-

Anticipation of the Parousia

IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS:-

The Last Days already come
The Aeons, Ages, or World-periods
The World to come, or the new order
The End, i.e., of the Age, or AEon
The Promise of the Rest of God
The End of the Ages
Expectation of the Parousia
The Parousia approaching
The Parousia imminent
The Parousia and the Old Testament saints
The great Consummation near
Nearness and finality of the Consummation
Expectation of the Parousia

IN THE EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES:-

The Last Days come
Nearness of the Parousia

IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER:-

Salvation ready to be revealed in the last time
The approaching Revelation of Jesus Christ
Relation of the Redemption of Christ to the Antediluvian World
Nearness of Judgment and of the End of all things
The good tidings announced to the Dead
The Fiery Trial and the coming Glory
The Time of Judgment arrived
The Glory about to be revealed

IN THE SECOND EPISTLE OF ST. PETER:-

Scoffers in the 'Last Days'
Eschatology of St. Peter
Certainty of the approaching Consummation
Suddenness of the Parousia
Attitude of the Primitive Christians in relation to the Parousia
The New Heavens and New Earth
Nearness of the Parousia a motive to diligence
Believers not to be discouraged on account of the seeming delay of the Parousia
Allusion of St. Peter to St. Paul's teaching concerning the Parousia

IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. JOHN:-

The World passing away: the last hour come
The Antichrist come, a proof of its being the last hour
Antichrist not a person, but a principle
Marks of the Antichrist
Anticipation of the Parousia

IN THE EPISTLE OF ST. JUDE

APPENDIX TO PART II.

Note A.-The Kingdom of Heaven, or of God
Note B.-On the ' Babylon' of 1 Peter v. 13
Note C.-On the Symbolism of Prophecy, with special reference to the Predictions of the Parousia
Note D.-Dr. Owen on 'the Heavens and the Earth' (2 Pet. iii. 7)
Note E.-Rev. F. D. Maurice on 'the Last Time' (I John ii. 18)

PART III.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOCALYPSE.

Interpretation of the Apocalypse
Limitation of Time in the Apocalypse
Date of the Apocalypse
True significance of the Apocalypse
Structure and plan of the Apocalypse
The number Seven in the Apocalypse
The Theme of the Apocalypse
The Prologue

THE FIRST VISION.

THE MESSAGES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES

THE SECOND VISION.

THE SEVEN SEALS

Opening of the First Seal
Opening of the Second Seal
Opening of the Third Seal
Opening of the Fourth Seal
Opening of the Fifth Seal
Opening of the Sixth Seal
Episode of the Sealing of the Servants of God

THE THIRD VISION.

THE SEVEN TRUMPETS

Opening of the Seventh Seal
The First Four Trumpets
The Fifth Trumpet
The Sixth Trumpet

Episode of the Angel and the Book
Measurement of the Temple
Episode of the Two Witnesses

The Seventh Trumpet

THE FOURTH VISION.

THE SEVEN MYSTIC FIGURES

1. The Woman clothed with the Sun
2. The Great Red Dragon
3. The Man Child
4. The First Wild Beast
The Number of the Beast
5. The Second Wild Beast
6. The Lamb on Mount Sion
7. The Son of Man on the Cloud

THE FIFTH VISION.

THE SEVEN VIALS

THE SIXTH VISION.

THE HARLOT CITY

Mystery of the Scarlet Beast
The Seven Kings
The Ten Horns of the Beast
(NOTE ON REVELATION XVII.)
The Fall of Babylon
Judgment of the Beast and his confederate Powers
Judgment of the Dragon
Reign of the Saints and Martyrs
Loosing of Satan after the Thousand Years
Catastrophe of the Sixth Vision

THE SEVENTH VISION.

THE HOLY CITY, OR THE BRIDE

Prologue to the Vision
The Holy City described

THE EPILOGUE

SUMMERY AND CONCLUSION

APPENDIX TO PART III

Note A.-Reuss on the Number of the Beast
Note B.-Dr. J. M. Macdonald's 'Life and Writings of St. John'
-Bishop Warburton on 'our Lord's Prophecy on the Mount of Olives,' and on 'the Kingdom of Heaven'

AFTERWORD BY RUSSELL

DOLLINGER ON "The Man of Sin"
THE BABYLON OF THE APOCALYPSE
JERUSALEM A SEVEN-HILLED CITY
THE CRUCIAL QUESTION
THE TRUE SOLUTION

HIGH PRAISE FOR “THE PAROUSIA”

Reviewed by: C.H. Spurgeon & R.C. Sproul

 

[Reprinted from the October 1878 issue of The Sword and the Trowel Magazine]

"The second coming of Christ according to this volume had its fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem and the establishment of the gospel dispensation. That the parables and predictions of our Lord had a more direct and exclusive reference to that period than is generally supposed, we readily admit; but we were not prepared for the assignment of all references to a second coming in the New Testament, and even in the Apocalypse itself, to so early a fulfillment. All that could be said has been said in support of this theory, and much more than ought to have been said. In this the reasoning fails. In order to concentrate the whole prophecies of the Book of Revelation upon the period of the destruction of Jerusalem it was needful to assume this book to have been written prior to that event, although the earliest ecclesiastical historians agree that John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where the book was written, by Domitian, who reigned after Titus, by whom Jerusalem was destroyed. Apart from this consideration, the compression of all the Apocalyptic visions and prophecies into so narrow a space requires more ingenuity and strength than that of men and angels combined. Too much stress is laid upon such phrases as 'The time is at hand,' 'Behold I come quickly,' whereas many prophecies of Scripture are delivered as present or past, as 'unto us a child IS born,' &c., and 'Surely he HATH borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.' Amidst the many comings of Christ spoken of in the New Testament that which is spoken of as a second, must, we think, be personal, and thus similar to the first; and such too must be the meaning of 'his appearing.' Though the author's theory is carried too far, it has so much of truth in it, and throws so much new light upon obscure portions of the Scriptures, and is accompanied with so much critical research and close reasoning, that it can be injurious to none and may be profitable to all."

For a closer look at Spurgeon's Preterist statements, please see :  Commentary Excerpts: Charles H. Spurgeon

     "The Kingly Prophet foretold the time of the end: "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation." It was before that generation had passed away that Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. There was a sufficient interval for the full proclamation of the gospel by the apostles and evangelists of the early Christian Church, and for the gathering out of those who recognized the crucified Christ as their true Messiah. Then came the awful end, which the Savior foresaw and foretold, and the prospect of which wrung from his lips and heart the sorrowful lament that followed his prophecy of the doom awaiting his guilty capital." (Commentary on Matthew, in loc.)

 

R.C. Sproul

"Russell's book has forced me to take the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem far more seriously than before, to open my eyes to the radical significance of this event in redemptive history.  It vindicates the apostolic hope and prediction of our Lord's close-at-hand coming in judgment.  My view on these matters remains in transition, as I have spelled out in The Last Days According to Jesus.  But for me one thing is certain:  I can never read the New Testament again the same way I read it before reading The Parousia.  I hope better scholars than I will continue to analyze and evaluate the content of J. Stuart Russell's important work." ("Forward," in The Parousia (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999)

 

Ovid Need Jr., on The Parousia

     First, The Parousia, A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of our Lord’s Second Coming, By James Stuart Russell (1816-1895). It contains 561 pages, soft-bound. I miss an index not being in it, but it does have a comprehensive Table of Contents. He "served as pastor of the Congregational Church in Bayswater, England during the years 1862-1888. He earned his M.A. degree from King's College, University of Aberdeen. Then after this book was published, they honoured him with a D.D. degree. Two editions were published, the first in 1878 and the second in 1887, both in London. This is the most popular introduction to and defense of the preterist view of Bible Prophecy in print today. It is a 1996 reprint by Kingdom Publications, 122 Seaward Ave, Bradford, PA 16701. $17.00 post paid from Kingdom Publishers" toll-free, (888) 257-7023, and they accept MasterCard and VISA.

     Mr. Russell convincingly presents the Preterist view from the many New Testaments - from Malachi and Matthew through the Revelation - passages we hear used in "Prophetic" teaching today. (It appears to me that most prophetic teachers fail to realize that prophecy is from the time the passages are written, not from the time they are read.) Though Russell goes further in some areas than I would (spiritualizing some things I would not), I must admit that he deals with the many New Testament "Prophetic" passages in the most consistent manner I have encountered: His arguments concerning the "Prophetic" passages are hard, if not impossible, to refute by those of us who accept Scripture as the final authority - that is, who use Scripture rather than history to interpret Scripture. An usual point I found about Mr. Russell, not often found in Bible teachers, is that when he encounters a passage he cannot answer, he tells us he has no answer. Many teachers seem to think that when they admit they do not have all the answers, they have lost their ability to teach.

     I am thankful to the man who brought this book to my attention, and I can readily recommend it to any interested in serious study of Scripture. "Parousia" is an excellent book for those disillusioned by "date setting."

     I suppose that Mr. Russell wrote "Parousia" to counter the then rising tide of dispensational millennialism that started gaining worldwide momentum after about 1850.

PREFACE.

 

     No Attentive reader of the New Testament can fail to be struck with the prominence given by the evangelists and the apostles to the PAROUSIA, or 'coming of the Lord.' That event is the great theme of New Testament prophecy. There is scarcely a single book, from the Gospel of St. Matthew to the Apocalypse of St. John, in which it is not set forth as the glorious promise of God and the blessed hope of the church. It was frequently and solemnly predicted by our Lord; it was incessantly kept before the eyes of the early Christians by the apostles; and it was firmly believed and eagerly expected by the churches of the primitive age.

     It cannot be denied that there is a remarkable difference between the attitude of the first Christians in relation to the Parousia and that of Christians now. That glorious hope, to which all eyes and hearts in the apostolic age were eagerly turned, has almost disappeared from the view of modern believers. Whatever may be the theoretical opinions ex- pressed in symbols and creeds, it must in candor be admitted that the 'second coming of Christ' has all but ceased to be a living and practical belief.

     Various causes may be assigned in explanation of this state of things. The rash vaticinations of those who have too confidently undertaken to be interpreters of prophecy, and the discredit consequent on the failure of their predictions, have no doubt deterred reverent and soberminded men from entering upon the investigation of 'unfulfilled prophecy.' On the other hand, there is reason to think that rationalistic criticism has engendered doubts whether the predictions of the New Testament were ever intended to have a literal or historical fulfilment.

     Between rationalism on the one hand, and irrationalism on the other, there has come to be a widely prevailing state of uncertainty and confusion of thought in regard to New Testament prophecy, which to some extent explains, though it may not justify, the consigning of the whole subject to the region of hopelessly obscure and insoluble problems.

     This, however, is only a partial explanation. It deserves consideration whether there may not be a fundamental difference between the relation of the church of the apostolic age to the predicted Parousia and the relation to that event sustained by subsequent ages. The first Christians undoubtedly believed themselves to be standing on the verge of a great catastrophe, and we know what intensity and enthusiasm the expectation of the almost immediate coming of the Lord inspired; but if it cannot be shown that Christians now are similarly placed, there would be a want of truth and reality in affecting the eager anticipation and hope of the primitive church. The same event cannot be imminent at two different periods separated by nearly two thousand years. There must, therefore, be some grave misconception on the part of those who maintain that the Christian church of to-day occupies precisely the same relation, and should maintain the same attitude, towards the 'coming of the Lord' as the church in the days of St. Paul.

     The present volume is an attempt, in a candid and reverent spirit, to clear up this misconception, and to ascertain the true meaning of the Word of God on a subject which holds so conspicuous a place in the teaching of our Lord and His apostles. It is the fruit of many years of patient investigation, and the Author has spared no pains to test to the utmost the validity of his conclusions. It has been his single aim to ascertain what saith the Scripture, and his one desire to be governed by a loyal submission to its authority. The ideal of Biblical interpretation which he has kept before him is that so well expressed by a German theologian - 'Explicatio plana non tortuosa, facilis non violenta, eademque et exegeticce et Chistanae conscientium pariter arridens.' (1)

     Although the nature of the inquiry necessitates a somewhat frequent reference to the original of the New Testament, and to the laws of grammatical construction and interpretation, it has been the object of the Author to render this work as popular as possible, and such as any man of ordinary education and intelligence may read with ease and interest. The Bible is a book for every man, and the Author has not written for scholars and critics only, but for the many who are deeply interested in Biblical interpretation, and who think, with Locke, 'an impartial search into the true meaning of the sacred Scripture the best employment of all the time they have.' (2) It will be a sufficient recompense of his labour if he succeeds in elucidating in any degree those teachings of divine revelation which have been obscured by traditional prejudices, or misinterpreted by an erroneous exegesis.

1878.

Footnotes-

1. Donier's tractate, De Oratione Christi Eschatologica, p. 1.

2. Locke, Notes on Ephesians i. 10.

THE LAST WORDS OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY.

THE BOOK OF MALACHI

 

     THE canon of the Old Testament Scriptures closes in a very different manner from what might have been expected after the splendid future revealed to the covenant nation in the visions of Isaiah. None of the prophets is the bearer of a heavier burden than the last. Malachi is the prophet of doom. It would seem that the nation, by its incorrigible obstinacy and disobedience, had forfeited the divine favour, and proved itself not only unworthy, but incapable, of the promised glories. The departure of the prophetic spirit was full of evil omen, and seemed to intimate that the Lord was about to forsake the land. Accordingly, the light of Old Testament prophecy goes out amidst clouds and thick darkness. The Book of Malachi is one long and terrible impeachment of the nation. The Lord Himself is the accuser, and sustains every charge against the guilty people by the clearest proof. The long indictment includes sacrilege, hypocrisy, contempt of God, conjugal infidelity, perjury, apostasy, blasphemy; while, on the other hand, the people have the effrontery to repudiate the accusation, and to plead ' not guilty ' to every charge. They appear to have reached that stage of moral insensibility when men call evil good, and good evil, and are fast ripening for judgment.

     Accordingly, coming judgment is 'the burden if the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.'

Chap. iii. 5: 'I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.,

Chap. iv. 1: 'For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven [furnace]: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.'

     That this is no vague and unmeaning threat is evident from the distinct and definite terms in which it is announced. Everything points to an approaching crisis in the history of the nation, when God would inflict judgment upon His rebellious people. 'The day, was coming - 'the day that shall burn as a furnace;, 'the great and terrible day of the Lord., That this 'day' refers to a certain period, and a specific event, does not admit of question. It had already been foretold in precisely the same words by the Prophet Joel (ii. 31): 'The great and terrible day of the Lord;, and we shall meet with a distinct reference to it in the address of the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 20). But the period is further more precisely defined by the remarkable statement of Malachi in chap. iv. 5: 'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.' The explicit declaration of our Lord that the predicted Elijah was no other than His own forerunner, John the Baptist (Matt. xi. 14), enables us to determine the time and the event referred to as 'the great and terrible day of the Lord., It must be sought at no great distance from the period of John the Baptist. That is to say, the allusion is to the judgment of the Jewish nation, when their city and temple were destroyed, and the entire fabric of the Mosaic polity was dissolved.

     It deserves to be noticed, that both Isaiah and Malachi predict the appearance of John the Baptist as the forerunner of our Lord, but in very different terms. Isaiah represents him as the herald of the coming Saviour: 'The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God' (Isa. xl. 3). Malachi represents John as the precursor of the coming Judge: 'Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts' (Mal. iv. 1).

     That this is a coming to judgment, is manifest from the words which immediately follow, describing tile alarm and dismay caused by His appearing: 'But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth ?' (Mal. iii. 2.)

     It cannot be said that this language is appropriate to the first coming of Christ; but it is highly appropriate to His second coming. There is a distinct allusion to this passage in Rev. vi. 17, where 'the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains,' etc., are represented as 'hiding from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from tile wrath of the Lamb, and saying, The great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?'. Nothing can be more clear than that the 'day of his coming', in Mal. iii. 1 is the same as 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord' in chap. iv. 5, and that both answer to 'the great day of his wrath' in Rev. vi. 17. We conclude, therefore, that the prophet Malachi speaks, not of the first advent of our Lord, but of the second.

     This is further proved by the significant fact, that, in chap. iii. 1, the Lord is represented as 'suddenly coming to his temple.' To understand this as referring to the presentation of the infant Saviour in the temple by His parents, or to His in the courts of the temple, or to His of the buyers and sellers from the sacred edifice, is surely a most inadequate explanation. Those were not occasions of terror and dismay, such as is implied in the second verse, 'But who may abide the day of his coming ?' The expression is, however, vividly suggestive of His final and judicial visitation of His Father's house, when it was to be 'left desolate,' according to His prediction. The temple was the centre of the nation's life, the visible symbol of the covenant between God and His people; it was the spot where 'judgment must begin,' and which was to be overtaken by 'sudden destruction.' Taking, then, all these particulars into account, the 'sudden coming of the Lord to his temple,' the dismay attending 'the day of his coming,' His coming as 'a refiner's fire,' His coming ' near to them to judgment,' 'the day coming that shall burn as a furnace,' 'burning up the wicked root and branch,' and the appearing of John the Baptist, the second Elijah, previous to the arrival of 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord,' it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the prophet here foretells that great national catastrophe in which the temple, the city, and the nation, perished together; and that this is designated, 'the day of his coming.'

     However strange, therefore, it may seem, it is undoubtedly the fact that the first coming of our Lord is not alluded to by Malachi. This is distinctly acknowledged by Hengstenberg, who observes: 'Malachi passes by the first coming of Christ in humiliation altogether and leaves the interval between his forerunner end the judgment of Jerusalem a perfect blank.' (1) This is to be accounted for by the fact, that the main object of the prophecy is to predict national destruction and not national deliverance.

     At the same time, while judgment and wrath are the predominant elements of the prophecy, features of a different character are not wholly absent. The day of wrath is also a day of redemption. There is a faithful remnant, even among the apostate nation: there are gold and silver to be refined and jewels to be gathered, as well as dross to be rejected, and stubble to be burned. There are sons to be spared, as well as enemies to be destroyed; and the day which brought dismay and darkness to the wicked, would see 'the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings' on the faithful. Even Malachi intimates that the door of mercy is not yet shut. If the nation would return unto God, He would return unto them. If they would make restitution of that which they had sacrilegiously withheld from the service of the temple, He would repay them with blessings more than they could receive. They might even yet be a 'delightsome land,' the envy of all nations. At the eleventh hour, if the mission of the second Elijah should succeed in winning the hearts of the people, tile impending catastrophe might after all be averted (chap. iii. 3, 16-18; iv. 2, 3, 5, 6).

     Nevertheless, there is a foregone conclusion that expostulation and threatening will be unavailing. The last words sound like the knell of doom (Mal. iv. 6): 'Lest I come and smite the land with a curse!'

     The full import of this ominous declaration is not at once apparent. To the Hebrew mind. it suggested the most terrible fate that could befall a city or a people. The 'curse' was the anathema, or cheremwhich denoted that the person or thing on which the malediction was laid was given over to utter destruction. We have an example of the cherem, or ban, in the curse pronounced upon Jericho (Josh. vi. 17); and a more particular statement of the ruin which it involved, in the Book of Deuteronomy (chap. xiii. 12-18). The city was to be smitten with the edge of the sword, every living thing in it to be put to death, the spoil was not to be touched, all was accursed and unclean, it was to be wholly consumed with fire, and the place given up to perpetual desolation. Hengstenberg remarks: 'All the things that can possibly be thought of are included in this one word;' (2) and he quotes the comment of Vitringa on this passage: ' There can be no doubt that God intended to say, that He would give up to certain destruction, both the obstinate transgressors of the law and also their city, and that they should suffer the extreme penalty of His justice, as heads devoted to God, without any hope of favour or forgiveness.'

     Such is the fearful malediction suspended over the land of Israel by the prophetic Spirit, in the moment of taking its departure, and becoming silent for ages. It is important to observe, that all this has a distinct and specific reference to the land of Israel. The message of the prophet is to Israel; the sins which are reprobated are the sins of Israel; the coming of the Lord is to His temple in Israel; the land threatened with the curse is the land of Israel. (3) All this manifestly points to a specific local and national catastrophe, of which the land of Israel was to be the scene and its guilty inhabitants the victims. History records the fulfilment of the prophecy, in exact correspondence of time, place, and circumstance, in the ruin which overwhelmed the Jewish nation at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem.

 

THE INTERVAL BETWEEN MALACHI AND JOHN THE BAPTIST.

     The four centuries which intervene between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the commencement of the New are a blank in Scripture history. We know, however, from the Books of the Maccabees and the writings of Josephus, that it was an eventful period in the Jewish annals. Judea was by turns the vassal of the great monarchies by which it was surrounded - Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Rome, - with an interval of independence under the Maccabean princes. But though the nation during this period passed through great suffering, and produced some illustrious examples of patriotism and of piety, we look in vain for any divine oracle, or any inspired messenger, to declare the word of the Lord. Israel might truly say: 'We see not our signs, there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long' (Psa. lxxiv. 9). Yet those four centuries were not without a powerful influence on the character of the nation. During this period, synagogues were established throughout the land, and the knowledge of the Scriptures was widely extended. The great religious schools of the Pharisees and Sadducees arose, both professing to be expounders and defenders of the law of Moses. Vast numbers of Jews settled in the great cities of Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, carrying with them everywhere the worship of the synagogue and the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. Above all, the nation cherished in its inmost heart the hope of a coming deliverer, a scion of the royal house of David, who should be the theocratic king, the liberator of Israel from Gentile domination, whose reign was to be so happy and glorious that it might deserve to be called 'the kingdom of heaven.' But, for the most part, the popular conception of the coming king was earthly and carnal. There had not in four hundred years been any improvement in the moral condition of the people, and, between the formalism of the Pharisees and the scepticism of the Sadducees, true religion had sunk to its lowest ebb. There was still, however, a faithful remnant who had truer conceptions of the kingdom of heaven, and 'who looked for redemption in Israel.' As the time drew near, there were indications of the return of the prophetic spirit, and premonitions that the promised deliverer was at hand. Simeon received assurance that before his death ho should see 'the Lord's anointed;' a like intimation appears to have been made to the aged prophetess Anna. Such revelations, it is reasonable to suppose, must have awakened eager expectation in the hearts of many, and prepared them for the cry which soon after was heard in the wilderness of Judea: 'Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand !' A prophet had again risen up in Israel, and 'the Lord had visited His people.'

Footnotes

 

1. See Hengst. Nature of Prophecy. Christ. vol. iv. p. 418

2. Hengst. Christology, vol. iv. p 227

3. The meaning of this passage (Mal. iv. 6) is obscured by the unfortunate translation earth instead of land. The Hebrew ch,a, like the Greek gh/, is very frequently employed in a restricted sense. The allusion in the text plainly is to the land of Israel. -See Hengst. Christology, vol. iv. p 224

THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPELS

 

THE PAROUSIA PREDICTED BY JOHN THE BAPTIST

     THERE is nothing more distinctly affirmed in the New Testament than the identity of John the Baptist with the wilderness-herald of Isaiah and the Elijah of Malachi. How well the description of John agrees with that of Elijah is evident at a glance. Each was austere and ascetic in his manner of life; each was a zealous reformer of religion; each was a stern reprover of sin. The times in which they lived were singularly alike. The nation at both periods was degenerate and corrupt. Elijah had his Ahab, John his Herod. It is no objection to this identification of John as the predicted Elijah, that the Baptist himself disclaimed the name when the priests and Levites from Jerusalem demanded: 'Art thou Elias ?' (John i. 21.) The Jews expected the reappearance of the literal Elijah, and John's reply was addressed to that mistaken opinion. But his true claim to the designation is expressly affirmed in the announcement made by the angel to his father Zacharias: 'He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias' (Luke i. 17); as well as by the declarations of our Lord: 'If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come' (Matt.. xi. 14); 'I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not.... Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist' (Matt.. xvii. 10-13). John was the second Elias, and exhaustively fulfilled the predictions of Isaiah and Malachi concerning him. To dream of an 'Elijah of the future,' therefore, is virtually to discredit the express statement of the word of God, and rests upon no Scripture warrant whatever.

     We have already adverted to the twofold aspect of the mission of John presented by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. The same diversity is seen in the New Testament descriptions of the second Elias. The benignant aspect of his mission which is presented by Isaiah, is also recognized in the words of the angel by whom his birth was foretold, as already quoted; and in the inspired utterance of his father Zacharias: 'Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins , (Luke i. 76, 77). We find the same gracious aspect in the opening verses of the Gospel of St. John: 'The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe, (John i. 7).

     But the other aspect of his mission is no less distinctly recognized in the Gospels. He is represented, not only as the herald of the coming Saviour, but of the coming Judge. Indeed, his own recorded utterances speak far more of wrath than of salvation, and are conceived more in the spirit of the Elijah of Malachi than of the wilderness-herald of Isaiah. He warns the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the multitudes that crowded to his baptism, to 'flee from the coming wrath.' He tells them that 'the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.' He announces the coming of One mightier than himself, 'whose fan is in his hand, and who will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but who will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (Matt. iii. 12).

     It is impossible not to be struck with the correspondence between the language of the Baptist and that of Malachi. As Hengstenberg observes: 'The prophecy of Malachi is throughout the text upon which John comments." (1) In both, the coming of the Lord is described as a day of wrath; both speak of His coming with fire to purify and try, with fire to burn and consume Both speak of a time of discrimination and separation between the righteous and the wicked, the gold and the dross, the wheat and the chaff; and both speak of the utter destruction of the chaff, or stubble, with unquenchable fire. These are not fortuitous resemblances: the two predictions are the counterpart one of the other, and can only refer to the self-same event, the same 'day of the Lord,' the same coming judgment.

     But what more especially deserves remark is the evident nearness of the crisis which John predicts. 'The wrath to come' is a very inadequate rendering of the language of the prophet. (2) It should be 'the coming wrath;' that is, not merely future, but impending. 'The wrath to come' may be indefinitely distant, but 'the coming wrath' is imminent. As Alford justly remarks: 'John is now speaking in the true character of a prophet foretelling the wrath soon to be poured on the Jewish nation.' (3) So with the other representations in the address of the Baptist; all is indicative of the swift approach of destruction. 'Already the axe was lying at the root of the trees.' The 'winnowing shovel' was actually in the hands of the Husbandman; the sifting process was about to begin. These warnings of John the Baptist are not the vague and indefinite exhortations to repentance, addressed to men in all ages, which they are sometimes assumed to be; they are urgent, burning words, having a specific and present bearing upon the then existing generation, the living men to whom he brought the message of God. The Jewish nation was now upon its last trial; the second Elijah had come as the precursor of 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord:' if they rejected his warnings, the doom predicted by Malachi would surely and speedily follow; 'I will come and smite the land with the curse.' Nothing can be more obvious than that the catastrophe to which John alludes is particular, national, local, and imminent, and history tells us that within the period of the generation that listened to his warning cry, 'the wrath came upon them to the uttermost.'

Footnotes-

 

1. Christol.. vol. iv. p.. 232.

2. thj melloushj orghj

3. Greek Test. in loc.

THE TEACHING OF OUR LORD CONCERNING THE PAROUSIA IN THE SYNOPTICAL GOSPELS

     The close of John the Baptist's ministry, in consequence of his imprisonment by Herod Antipas, marks a new departure in the ministry of our Lord. Previous to that time, indeed, He had taught the people, wrought miracles, gained adherents, and obtained a wide popularity; but after that event, which may be regarded as indicating the failure of John's mission, our Lord retired into Galilee, and there entered upon a new phase of His public ministry. We are told that 'from that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' (Matt. iv. 17). These are the precise terms in which the preaching of John the Baptist is described (Matt. iii. 2). Both our Lord and His forerunner called 'the nation to repentance,' and announced the approach of the 'kingdom of heaven.' It follows that John could not mean by the phrase, 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand,' merely that the Messiah was about to appear, for when Christ did appear, He made the same announcement. 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' In like manner, when the twelve disciples were sent forth on their first evangelistic mission, they were commanded to preach, not that the kingdom of heaven was come, but that it was at hand (Matt. x. 7). Moreover, that the kingdom did not come in our Lord's time, nor at the day of Pentecost, is evident from the fact that in His prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives our Lord gave His disciples certain tokens by which they might know that the kingdom of God was nigh at hand (Luke xxi. 31).

     We find, therefore, the following conclusions plainly deducible from our Lord's teaching:

1. That a great crisis, or consummation, called 'the kingdom of heaven, or of God,' was proclaimed by Him to be nigh. 2. That this consummation, though near, was not to take place in His own lifetime, nor yet for some years after His death. 3. That His disciples, or at least some of them, might expect to witness its arrival.

     But the whole subject of 'the kingdom of heaven' must be reserved for fuller discussion at a future period.

 

PREDICTION OF COMING WRATH UPON THAT GENERATION.

     There is another point of resemblance between the preaching of our Lord and that of John the Baptist. Both gave the clearest intimations of the near approach of a time of judgment which should overtake the existing generation, on account of their rejection of the warnings and invitations of divine mercy. As the Baptist spoke of 'the coming wrath,' so our Lord with equal distinctness forewarned the people of 'coming judgment.' He upbraided 'the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not,' and predicted that a heavier woe would overtake them than had fallen upon Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrha (Matt. xi. 20-24). That all this points to a catastrophe which was not remote, but near, and which would actually overtake the existing generation, appears evident from the express statements of Jesus.

Matt. xii. 38-46 (compare Luke xi. 16, 24-36): 'Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with generation, and condemn it, for sue came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.'

     This passage is of great importance in ascertaining the true meaning of the phrase 'this generation' [genea]. It can only refer, in this place, to the people of Israel then living- the existing generation. No commentator has ever proposed to call 'genea' here the Jewish race in all ages. Our Lord was accustomed to speak of His contemporaries as this generation:

     Whereunto shall I liken this generation?'- that is, the men of that day who would listen neither to His forerunner nor to Himself' (Matt. xi. 16; Luke vii. 31). Even commentators like Stier, who contend for the rendering of 'genea' by race or lineage in other passages, admit that the reference in these words is 'to the generation living in that then extant and most important age.' (1) So in the passage before us there can be no controversy respecting the application of the words exclusively to the then existing generation, the contemporaries of Christ. Of the aggravated and enormous wickedness of that period our Lord here testifies. The generation has just before been addressed by Him in the very words of the Baptist- ' O brood of vipers' (ver. 34). Its guilt is declared to surpass that of the heathen; it is likened to a demoniac, from whom the unclean spirit had departed for a while, but returned in greater force than before, accompanied by seven other spirits more wicked than himself, so that 'the last state of that man is worse than that first.' We have in the testimony of Josephus a striking confirmation of our Lord's description of the moral condition of that generation. 'As it were impossible to relate their enormities in detail, I shall briefly state that no other city ever endured similar calamities, and no generation ever existed more prolific in crime. They confessed themselves to be, what they were- slaves, and the very dregs of society, the spurious and polluted spawn of the nation.' (2) 'And here I cannot refrain from expressing what my feelings suggest. I am of opinion, that had the Romans deferred the punishment of these wretches, either the earth would have opened and swallowed up the city, or it would have been swept away by a deluge, or have shared the shun. defaults of the land of Sodom. For it produced a race far more ungodly than those who were thus visited. For through the desperate madness of these men the whole nation was involved in their ruin.' (3) 'That period had somehow become so prolific in iniquity of every description amongst the Jews, that no work of evil was left unperpetrated; . . . so universal was the contagion, both in public and private, and such the emulation to surpass each other in acts of impiety towards God, and of injustice towards their neighbors.' (4)

     Such was the fearful condition to which the nation was hastening when our Lord uttered these prophetic words. The climax had not yet been reached, but it was full in view. The unclean spirit had not yet returned to his house, but he was on the way. As Stier remarks, 'In the period between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem, especially towards the end of it, this nation shows itself, one might say, as if possessed by seven thousand devils.' (5) Is not this an adequate and complete fulfilment of our Saviour's prediction? Have we the slightest warrant or need for saying that it means something else, or something more, than this? What presence is there for supposing a further and future fulfilment of His words? Is it not a virtual discrediting of the prophecy to seek any other than the plain and obvious sense which points so distinctly to an approaching catastrophe about to befall that generation? Surely we show most reverence to the Word of God when we accept implicitly its obvious teaching, and refuse the unwarranted and merely human speculations which critics and theologians have drawn from their own fancy. We conclude, then, that, in the notorious profligacy of that age, and the signal calamities which before its close overwhelmed the Jewish people, we have the historical attestation of the exhaustive fulfilment of this prophecy.

 

FURTHER ALLUSIONS TO THE COMING WRATH.

Luke xiii. 1-9 : 'There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.'

     How vividly our Lord apprehended the approaching calamities of the nation, and how clear and distinct His warnings were, may be inferred from this passage. The massacre of some Galileans who had gone up to Jerusalem to the feast of the Passover, either by the command, or with the connivance of the Roman governor; and the sudden destruction of eighteen persons by the fall of a tower near the pool of Siloam, were incidents which formed the topics of conversation among the people at the time. Our Lord declares that the victims of these calamities were not exceptionally wicked, but that a like fate would overtake the very persons now talking about them, unless they repented. The point of His observation, which is often overlooked, lies in the similarity of the threatened destruction. It is not 'ye also shall all perish,' but, 'ye shall all perish in 'the same manner' . That our Lord had in view the final ruin, which was about to overwhelm Jerusalem and the nation, can hardly be doubted. The analogy between the cases is real and striking. It was at the feast of the Passover that the population of Judea had crowded into Jerusalem, and were there cooped in by the legions of Titus. Josephus tells us how, in the final agony of the siege, the blood of the officiating priests was shed at the altar of sacrifice. The Roman soldiers were the executioners of the divine judgment; and as temple and tower fell to the ground, they buried in their ruins many a hapless victim of impenitence and unbelief. It is satisfactory to find both Alford and Stier recognising the historical allusion in this passage. The former remarks: the force of which is lost in the English version "likewise," should be rendered "in like manner," as indeed the Jewish people did perish by the sword of the Romans.' (6)

 

IMPENDING FATE OF THE JEWISH NATION.

The Parable of the Barren Fig-tree.

Luke xiii. 6-9: 'He spake also this parable: A certain man had a figtree planted in his vineyard: and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.'

     The same prophetic significance is manifest in this parable, which is almost the counterpart of that in Isa. v., both in form and meaning. The true interpretation is so obvious as to render explanation scarcely necessary. Its bearing on the people of Israel is most distinct and direct, more especially when viewed in connection with the preceding warnings. Israel is the fruitless tree, long cultivated, but yielding no return to the owner. It was now on its last trial: the axe, as John the Baptist had declared, was laid to the root of the tree; but the fatal blow was delayed at the intercession of mercy. The Saviour was even then at His gracious work of nurture and culture; a little longer, and the decree would go forth- 'Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground ?'

     No doubt there are general principles in this, as in other parables, applicable to all nations and all ages; but we must not lose sight of its original and primary reference to the Jewish people. Stier and Alford seem to lose themselves in searching for recondite and mystical meanings in the minor details of the imagery; but Neander gives a luminous explanation of its true import: 'As the fruitless tree, failing to realize the aim of its being, was destroyed, so the theocratic nation, for the same reason, was to be overtaken, after long forbearance, by the judgments of God, and shut out from His kingdom.' (7)

 

THE END OF THE AGE, OR CLOSE OF THE JEWISH DISPENSATION.

Parables of the Tares, and of the Drag-net.

Matt. xiii. 36-47: 'Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world [age]; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be at the end of this world [age]. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a [the] furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 'Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.... Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was east into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to the shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world [age]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.'

     We find in the passages here quoted an example of one of those erroneous renderings which have done much to confuse and mislead the ordinary readers of our English version. It is probable, that ninety-nine in every hundred understand by the phrase, 'the end of the world,' the close of human history, and the destruction of the material earth. They would not imagine that the ' world ' in ver. 38 and the 'world' in ver. 39 40, are totally different words, with totally different meanings. Yet such is the fact. Koinos in ver. 38 is rightly translated world, and refers to the world of men, but aeon in ver. 39, 40, refers to a period of time, and should be rendered age or epoch. Lange translates it aeon. It is of the greatest importance to understand correctly the two meaning of this word, and of the phrase 'the end of the aeon, or age.' aion is, as we have said, a period of time, or an age. It is exactly equivalent to the Latin word aevum, which is merely aion in a Latin dress; and the phrase, (Greek- coming), translated in our English version, 'the end of the world,' should be, 'the close of the age.' Tittman observes: (Greek - coming), as it occurs in the New Testament, does not denote the end, but rather the consummation, of the aeon, which is to be followed by a new age. So in Matt. xiii. 39, 40, 49; xxiv. 3; which last passage, it is to be feared, may be misunderstood in applying it to the destruction of the world.' (8) It was the belief of the Jews that the Messiah would introduce a new aeon: and this new aeon, or age, they called 'the kingdom of heaven.' The existing aeon: therefore, was the Jewish dispensation, which was now drawing to its close; and how it would terminate our Lord impressively shows in these parables. It is indeed surprising that expositors should have failed to recognize in these solemn predictions the reproduction and reiteration of the words of Malachi and of John the Baptist. Here we find the same final separation between the righteous and the wicked; the same purging of the floor; the same gathering of the wheat into the garner; the same burning of the chaff [tares, stubble] in the fire. Can there be a doubt that it is to the same act of judgment, the same period of time, the same historical event, that Malachi, John, and our Lord refer ?

     But we have seen that John the Baptist predicted a judgment which was then impending - a catastrophe so near that already the axe was lying at the root of the trees,- in accordance with the prophecy of Malachi, that 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord' was to follow on the coming of the second Elijah. We are therefore brought to the conclusion, that this discrimination between the righteous and the wicked, this gathering of the wheat into the garner, and burning of the tares in the furnace of fire, refer to the same catastrophe, viz., the wrath which came upon that very generation, when Jerusalem became literally 'a furnace of fire,' and the aeon of Judaism came to a close in 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord.'

     This conclusion is supported by the fact, that there is a close connection between this great judicial epoch and the coming of 'the kingdom of heaven.' Our Lord represents the separation of the righteous and the wicked as the characteristic of the great consummation which is called 'the kingdom of God.' But the kingdom was declared to be at hand. It follows, therefore, that the parables before us relate, not to a remote event still in the future, but to one which in our Saviour's time was near.

     An additional argument in favour of this view is derived from the consideration that our Lord, in His explanation of the parable of the tares, speaks of Himself as the sower of the good seed: 'He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.' It is to His own personal ministry and its results that He refers, and we must therefore regard the parable as having a special bearing upon His contemporaries. It is in perfect harmony with His solemn warning in Luke xiii. 26, where He describes the condemnation of those who were privileged to enjoy His personal presence and ministrations, the pretenders to discipleship, who were tares and not wheat. 'Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God; and you yourselves thrust out.' However applicable to men in general under the gospel such language may be, it is plain that it had a direct and specific bearing upon the contemporaries of our Lord - the generation that witnessed His miracles and heard His parables; and that it has a relation to them such as it can have to none else.

     We find at the conclusion of the parable of the tares an impressive nota bene, drawing special attention to the instruction therein contained: 'Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.' We may take occasion from this to make a remark on the vast importance of a true conception of the period at which our Lord and His apostles taught. This is indispensable to the correct understanding of the New Testament doctrine respecting the 'kingdom of God,' the 'end of the age,' and the 'coming aeon,' or ' world to come. That period was near the close of the Jewish dispensation. The Mosaic economy, as it is called - the system of laws and institutions given to the nation by God Himself, and which had existed for more than forty generations,- was about to be superseded and to pass away. Already the last generation that was to possess the land was upon the scene,- the last and also the worst, -the child and heir of its predecessors. The long period, during which Jehovah had exhausted all the methods which divine wisdom and love could devise for the culture and reformation of Israel, was about to come to an end. It was to close disastrously. The wrath, long pent up and restrained, was to burst forth and overwhelm that generation. Its 'last day' was to be a dies irae ' the great and terrible day of the Lord.' This is 'the end of the age,' so often referred to by our Lord, and constantly predicted by His apostles. Already they stood within the penumbra of that tremendous crisis, which was every day advancing nearer and nearer, and which was at last to come suddenly, 'as a thief in the night.' This is the true explanation of those constant exhortations to vigilance, patience, and hope, which abound in the apostolic epistles. They lived expecting a consummation which was to arrive in their own time, and which they might witness with their own eyes. This fact lies on the very face of the New Testament writings; it is the key to the interpretation of much that would otherwise be obscure and unintelligible, and we shall see in the progress of this investigation how consistently this view is supported by the whole tenor of the New Testament Scriptures.

 

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN (THE PAROUSIA)
IN THE LIFETIME OF THE APOSTLES.

Matt. x. 23: 'But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.'

     In this passage we find the earliest distinct mention of that great event which we shall find so frequently alluded to henceforth by our Lord and His apostles, viz., His coming again, or the Parousia. It may indeed be a question, as we shall presently see, whether this passage properly belongs to this portion of the gospel history. (9) But waiving for the moment this question, let us inquire what the coming here spoken of is. Can it mean, as Lange suggests, that Jesus was to follow so quickly on the heels of His messengers in their evangelistic circuit as to overtake them before it was completed? Or does it refer, as Stier and Alford think, to two different comings, separated from each other by thousands of years: the one comparatively near, the other indefinitely remote? Or shall we, with Michaelis and Meyer, accept the plain and obvious meaning which the words themselves suggest? The interpretation of Lange is surely inadmissible. Who can doubt that 'the coming of the Son of man' is here, what it is everywhere else, the formula by which the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, is expressed? This phrase has a definite and constant signification, as much as His crucifixion, or His resurrection, and admits of no other interpretation in this place. But may it not have a double reference: first, to the impending judgment of Jerusalem; and, secondly, to the final destruction of the world,- the former being regarded as symbolical of the latter? Alford contends for the double meaning, and is severe upon those who hesitate to accept it. He tells us what He thinks Christ meant; but on the other hand we have to consider what He said. Are the advocates of a double sense sure that He meant more than He said? Look at His words. Can anything be more specific and definite as to persons, place, time, and circumstance, than this prediction of our Lord? It is to the twelve that he speaks; it is the cities of Israel which they are to evangelize; the subject is His own speedy coming; and the time so near, that before their work is complete His coming will take place. But if we are to be told that this is not the meaning, nor the half of it, and that it includes another coming, to other evangelists, in other ages, and in other lands - a coming which, after eighteen centuries, is still future, and perhaps remote,- then the question arises: What may not Scripture mean? The grammatical sense of words no longer suffices for interpretation; Scripture is a conundrum to be guessed- an oracle that utters ambiguous responses; and no man can be sure, without a special revelation, that he understands what he reads. We are disposed, therefore, to agree with Meyer, that this twofold reference is 'nothing but a forced and unnatural evasion,' and the words simply mean what they' say - that before the apostles completed their life-work of evangelizing the land of Israel, the coming of the Lord should take place.

     This is the view of the passage which is taken by Dr. E. Robinson.(10) 'The coming alluded to is the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish nation; and the meaning is, that the apostles would barely have time, before the catastrophe came, to go over the land warning the people to save themselves from the doom of an untoward generation; so that they could not well afford to tarry in any locality after its inhabitants had heard and rejected the message.'

 

THE PAROUSIA TO TAKE PLACE WITHIN THE LIFETIME
OF SOME OF THE DISCIPLES.

 

Matt. xvi. 27,28 'For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
'Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.'     

Mark viii. 38; ix. 1. ' Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 'And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.'   

Luke ix. 26,27. 'For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels. 'But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.'

 

     This remarkable declaration is of the greatest importance in this discussion, and may be regarded as the key to the right interpretation of the New Testament doctrine of the Parousia. Though it cannot be said that there are any special difficulties in the language, it has greatly perplexed the commentators, who are much divided in their explanations. It is surely unnecessary to ask what is the coming of the Son of man here predicted. To suppose that it refers merely to the glorious manifestation of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, though an hypothesis which has great names to support it, is so palpably inadequate as an interpretation that it scarcely requires refutation. The same remark will apply to the comments of Dr. Lange, who supposes it to have been partially fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ. His exegesis is so curious an illustration of the shifts to which the advocates of a double- sense theory of interpretation are compelled to resort to, as to deserve quotation. 'In our opinion,' he says, 'it is necessary to distinguish between the advent of Christ in the glory of His kingdom within the circle of His disciples, and that same advent as applying to the world generally and for judgment. The latter is what is generally understood by the second advent: the former took place when the Saviour rose from the dead and revealed Himself in the midst of His disciples. Hence the meaning of the words of Jesus is: the moment is close at hand when your hearts shall be set at rest by the manifestation of My glory; nor will it be the lot of all who stand here to die during the interval. The Lord might have said that only two of that circle would die till then, viz., Himself and Judas. But in His wisdom He chose the expression, " Some standing here shall not taste of death," to give them exactly that measure of hope and earnest expectation which they needed.' (12)

     It is enough to say that such an interpretation of our Saviour's words could never have entered into the minds of those who heard them. It is so far-fetched, intricate, and artificial, that it is discredited by its very ingenuity. But neither does the interpretation satisfy the requirements of the language. How could the resurrection of Christ be called His coming in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels, in His kingdom, and to judgment? Or how can we suppose that Christ, speaking of an event which was to take place in about twelve months, would say, 'Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see' it? The very form of the expression shows that the event spoken of could not be within the space of a few months, or even a few years: it is a mode of speech which suggests that not all present will live to see the event spoken of; that not many will do so; but that some will. It is exactly such a way of speaking as would suit an interval of thirty or forty years, when the majority of the persons then present would have passed away, but some would survive and witness the event referred to.

     Alford and Stier more reasonably understand the passage as referring 'to the destruction of Jerusalem and the full manifestation of the kingdom of Christ by the annihilation of the Jewish polity,' though both embarrass and confuse their interpretation by the hypothesis of an occult and ulterior allusion to another 'final coming,' of which the destruction of Jerusalem was the 'type and earnest.' Of this, however, no hint nor intimation is given either by Christ Himself, or by the evangelists. It cannot, indeed, be denied that occasionally our Lord uttered ambiguous language. He said to the Jews: 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up' (John ii. 19); but the evangelist is careful to add: 'But he spate of the temple of his body.' So when Jesus spoke of 'rivers of living water flowing from the heart of the believer,' St. John adds an explanatory note: ' This spake he of the spirit,' etc. (John vii. 36). Again, when the Lord alluded to the manner of His own death, 'I, if I be lifted up from the earth,' etc., the evangelist adds: 'This he said, signifying what death he should die' (John ix. 33). It is reasonable to suppose, therefore that had the evangelists known of a deeper and hidden meaning in the predictions of Christ, they would have given some intimation to that effect; but they say nothing to lead us to infer that their apparent meaning is not their full and true meaning. There is, in fact; no ambiguity whatever as to the coming referred to in the passage now under consideration. It is not one of several possible comings; but the one, sole, supreme event, so frequently predicted by our Lord, so constantly expected by His disciples. It is His coming in glory; His coming to judgment; His coming in His kingdom; the coming of the kingdom of God. It is not a process, but an act. It is not the same thing as 'the destruction of Jerusalem,'- that is another event related and contemporaneous; but the two are not to be confounded. The New Testament knows of only one Parousia, one coming in glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is altogether an abuse of language to speak of several senses in which Christ may be said to come, -- as at His own resurrection; at the day of Pentecost; at the destruction of Jerusalem; at the death of a believer; and at various providential epochs. This is not the usage of the New Testament, nor is it accurate language in any point of view. This passage alone contains so much important truth respecting the Parousia, that it may be said to cover the whole ground; and, rightly used, will be found to be a key to the true interpretation of the New Testament doctrine on this subject.

     We conclude then:

1. That the coming here spoken of is the Parousia, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. That the manner of His coming was to be glorious -' in his own glory; 'in the glory of his Father; " with the holy angels.'

3. That the object of His coming was to judge that 'wicked and adulterous generation ' (Mark viii. 38), and ' to reward every' man according to his works.'

4. That His coming would be the consummation of 'the kingdom of God;' the close of the aeon; 'the coming of the kingdom of God with power.'

5. That this coming was expressly declared by our Saviour to be near. Lange justly remarks that the words, are 'emphatically placed at the beginning of the sentence; not a simple future, but meaning, The event is impending that He shall come; He is about to come.' (14)

6. That some of those who heard our Lord utter this prediction were to live to witness the event of which He spoke, viz., His coming in glory.

The inference therefore is, that the Parousia, or glorious coming of Christ, was declared by Himself to fall within the limits of the then existing generation,- a conclusion which we shall find in the sequel to be abundantly justified.

 

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN CERTAIN AND SPEEDY.

Parable of the Importunate Widow.

Luke xviii. 1-8: 'And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; get because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them ? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth' [in the land] ?

     The intensely practical and present-day character, if we may so call it, of our Lord's discourses, is a feature of His teaching which, though often overlooked, requires to be steadily kept in view. He spoke to His own people, and to His own times. He was God's messenger to Israel; and, while it is most true that His words are for all men and for all time, yet their primary and direct bearing was upon His own generation. For want of attention to this fact, many expositors have wholly missed the point of the parable before us. It becomes in their hands a vague and indefinite prediction of a vindication of the righteous, in some period more or less remote, but having no special relation to the people and time of our Lord Himself. Assuredly, whatever the parable may be to us or to future ages, it had a close and bearing upon the disciples to whom it was originally spoken. The Lord was about to leave His disciples 'as sheep in the midst of wolves; ' they were to be persecuted and afflicted, hated of all men for their Master's sake; and it might well be that their courage would fail them, and their hearts would faint. In this parable the Saviour encourages them 'to pray always, and not to faint,' by the example of what persevering prayer can do even with man. If the importunity of a poor widow could constrain an unprincipled judge to do her right, how much more would God, the righteous Judge, be moved by the prayers of His own children to redress their wrongs. Without allegorising all the details of the parable, after the manner of some expositors, it is enough to mark its great moral. It is this. The persecuted children of God would he surely and speedily avenged. God will vindicate them, and that speedily. But when ? The point of time is not left indefinite. It is 'when the Son of man cometh.' The Parousia was to be the hour of redress and deliverance to the suffering people of God.

     The reflection of our Lord in the close of the eighth verse deserves particular attention. 'Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth ?' We must here revert to the facts already stated with respect to the ministry of John the Baptist. We have seen how dark and ominous was the outlook of the prophet who preached repentance to Israel. He was the precursor of 'the great and terrible day of the Lord ;' he was the second Elijah sent to proclaim the coming of Him who would 'smite the land with a curse.' The reflection of our Lord suggests that He foresaw that the repentance which could alone avert the doom of the nation was not to be looked for. There would be no faith in God, in His promises, or in His threatenings. The day of His therefore, would be the 'day of vengeance (Luke xxi. 22).

     Doddridge has well apprehended the scope of this parable, and paraphrases the opening verse as follows: 'Thus our Lord discoursed with His disciples of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans; and for their encouragement under those hardships which they might in the meantime expect, from their unbelieving countrymen or others, He spake a parable, to them, which was intended to inculcate upon them this great truth, that how distressed soever their circumstances might be, they ought always to pray with faith and perseverance, and not to faint under their trials.' (15)

     The following is his paraphrase of ver. 8: ' Yes I say unto you, He will certainly vindicate them; and when He once undertakes it, He will do it speedily too; and this generation of men shall see and feel it to their terror. Nevertheless, when the Son of man, having been put ill possession of His glorious kingdom, comes to appear for this important purpose, will He find faith in the land ?' (16)

 

THE REWARD OF THE DISCIPLES IN THE COMING AEON,
i.e. AT THE PAROUSIA

Matt. xix. 27-30. 'Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?

And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall site in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.'           

Mark x. 18-31. 'Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

'And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, of father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.'

Luke xvii. 28-30. 'Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
'And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.'

 

     To what period are we to assign the event or state here called by our Lord the 'regeneration'? It is evidently contemporaneous with 'the Son of man sitting on the throne of his glory;' nor can there be any question that the two phrases, 'The Son of man coming in his kingdom,' and, 'The Son of man sitting on the throne of his glory,' both refer to the same thing, and to the same time. That is to say, it is to the Parousia that both these expressions point.

     We have another note of time, and another point of coincidence between the 'regeneration ' and the Parousia, in the reference made by our Lord to the 'coming age or aeon' as the period when His faithful disciples were to receive their recompense (Mark x.30; Luke xviii. 30). But the 'coming age' was, as we have already seen, to succeed the existing age or aeon, that is to say, the period of the Jewish dispensation, the end of which our Lord declared to be at hand. We conclude, therefore, that the 'regeneration,' the 'coming age,' and the 'Parousia,' are virtually synonymous, or, at all events, contemporaneous. The coming of the Son of man in His kingdom, or in His glory, is distinctly affirmed to be a coming to judgment -- 'to reward every man according to his works (Matt. xvi. 27); and His sitting on the throne of His glory, in the regeneration, is as evidently a sitting in judgment. In this judgment the apostles were to have the honour of being assessors with the Lord, according to His declaration (Luke xxii. 29, 30)- 'I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' But this glorious coming to judgment is expressly affirmed by our Lord to fall within the limits of the generation then living: 'There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom' (Matt. xvi. 28). It was therefore no long-deferred and distant hope which Jesus held out to His disciples. It was not a prospect that is still seen afar off in the dim perspective of an indefinite futurity. St. Peter and his fellow-disciples were fully aware that 'the kingdom of heaven' was at hand. They had learned it from their first teacher in the wilderness; they had been reassured of it by their Lord and Master; they had gone through Galilee proclaiming the truth to their countrymen. When the Lord, therefore, promised, that in the coming aeon His apostles should sit upon thrones, is it conceivable that He could mean that ages upon ages, centuries upon centuries, and even millennium upon millennium must slowly roll away before they should reap their promised honours? Are the inheritance of 'everlasting life' and the 'sitting upon twelve thrones' still among 'the things hoped for but not seen ' by the disciples? Surely such a hypothesis refutes itself. The promise would have sounded like mockery to the disciples had they been told that the performance would be so long delayed. On the other hand, if we conceive of the 'regeneration' as contemporaneous with the Parousia, and the Parousia, with the close of the Jewish age and the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, we have a definite point of time, not far distant, but almost within the sight of living men, when the predicted judgment of the enemies of Christ, and the glorious recompense of His friends, would come to pass.

Footnotes

 

1. Reden Jesu, in loc.

2. Jewish War, bk v. c. x sec. 5. Traill's translation.

3. Ibid. G. Xiii. sec. 6.

4. Ibid. bk. vii. c. viii. sec. I.

5. sec. Reden Jesu; Matt. xii, 43-45.

6. Greek Test. in loc.

7. Life of Christ, sec. 245.

8. Synonyms of the New Test. vol. i. a. 70; Bib. Cab. No. iii.

9. There is a real difficulty in this passage which ought not to be overlooked. It seems unaccountable that our Lord, on an occasion like this, when He was sending forth the twelve on a short mission, apparently within a limited district, and from which they were to return to Him in a short time, should speak of of His coming as overtaking them before the completion of their task. It seems scarcely appropriate to the particular period, and to belong more properly to a subsequent charge, viz., that recorded in the discourse spoken on the Mount of Olives (Matt. xxiv.; Mark xiii.; Luke xxi ). Indeed, a comparison of these passages will go far to satisfy any candid mind that the whole paragraph Matt. x. 16-23) is transposed from its original connection, and inserted in our Lord's first charge to His disciples We find the very words relating to the persecution of the apostles, their being delivered up to the councils, their being scourged in the synagogues, brought before governors and kings, etc., which are recorded in the tenth chapter of St. Matthew, assigned by St. Mark and St. Luke to a subsequent period, viz., the discourse on the Mount of Olives. There is no evidence that the disciples met with such treatment on their first evangelistic tour There is therefore as strong evidence as the nature of the case will admit, that ver. 23 and its context belong to the discourse on the Mount of Olives. This would remove the difficulty which the passage presents in the connection in which we here find it, and give a coherence and consistency to the language, which, as it stands, it is not easy to discover. It is an admitted fact that even the Synoptical Gospels do not relate all events in precisely the same order; there most therefore be greater chronological accuracy in one than in another. Stier says: 'Matthew is careless of chronology in details' (Reden Jesu, vol. iii. p. US). Neander, speaking on this very charge, says: 'Matthew evidently connects many things with the instructions given to the apostles in view of their first journey, which chronologically belong later; ' (Life of Christ, _ 174, note b); and again, speaking of the charge given to the seventy, as recorded by St. Luke: 'he says, 'The entire and characteristic coherency of everything spoken by Christ, according to Luke, with the circumstances (so superior to the collocation of Matthew),' etc. (Life of Christ, _ 204, note 1). Dr. Blaikie observes: 'It is generally understood that Matthew arranged his narrative more by subjects and places than by chronology' (Bible History, p. 372).

There seems, therefore, abundant warrant for assigning the important prediction contained in Matt. x .23 to the discourse delivered on the Mount of Olives.

10. See note In Harmony of the Four Gospels.

11. The training of the Twelve, p. 117

12. Large, Comm. on St. Matt. in loc.

13. Alford, Greek Test. in loc.

14. See Lange in loc.

15. Family Expos. on Luke xviii. 1-8

16. Doddridge teas the following note on 'Will he find faith in the land ?' 'It is evident the word often signifies not the earth in general, but some particular land or country; as in Acts vii. 3, 4,11, and in numberless other places. And the context here limits it to the less extensive signification. The believing Hebrews were evidently in great danger of being wearied out with their persecutions and distresses. Comp. Heb. iii. 12-14; x. 23-39; xii. 1-4; James i. 1-4; ii. 6.'

The interpretation given by the judicious Campbell adds confirmation, if it were needed, needed, to this view of the passage. 'There is a close connection in all that our Lord says on any topic of conversation, which rarely escapes an attentive reader. If in this, as is very probable, He refers to the destruction impending over the Jewish nation, as the judgment of Heaven for their rebellious against God, in rejecting and murdering the Messiah. and in persecuting His adherents, (the Greek) must be understood to mean "this belief," or the belief of the particular truth He had been inculcating, namely, that God will in due time avenge His elect, and signally punish their oppressors; and (the Greek) must mean "the land," to wit, of Judea. The words may be translated either way -- earth or land; but the latter evidently gives them a more definite meaning, and unites them more closely with those which preceded, (Campbell on the Gospels, vol. ii. p. 384). The teaching of this instructive parable is by no means exhausted; and we shall find it throw an unexpected light on a very obscure passage, at a future stage of this investigation. Meantime we may refer to 2 Thess. i 4-10, as furnishing a striking commentary on the whole parable, and showing the connection between the Parousia and the avenging of the elect.

Footnotes

 

1. Christol.. vol. iv. p.. 232. -

2. thj melloushj orghj

3. Greek Test. in loc. -

PROPHETIC INTIMATIONS OF THE APPROACHING CONSUMMATION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

I. - The Parable of the Pounds.

Luke xix. 11-27: 'And as they heard these this, He added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, Saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou art all austere man : thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith Unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was all austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow : wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury ? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and stay them before me.'

 

     It cannot fail to strike every attentive reader of the Gospel history, how much the teaching of our Lord, as He approached the close of His ministry, dwelt upon the theme of coming judgment. When He spoke this parable, He was on His way to Jerusalem to keep His last Passover before He suffered; and it is remarkable how His discourses from this time seem almost wholly engrossed, not by His own approaching death, but the impending catastrophe of the nation. Not Only this parable of the pounds, but His lamentation over Jerusalem (Luke xix. 41) ; His cursing of the fig-tree (Matt. xxi. Mark xi.) ; the parable of the wicked husbandmen (Matt. xxi. Mark xii.; Luke xx.); the parable of the marriage of the king's son (Matt. xxii.); the woes pronounced ) upon that generation' (Matt. xxiii. 29-36) ; the second lamentation over Jerusalem (Matt. xxiii. 37, 38) ; and the prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, with the parables and parabolic illustrations appended thereto by St. Matthew, all are occupied with this absorbing theme.

     The consideration of these prophetic intimations will show that the catastrophe anticipated by our Lord was not a remote event, hundreds and thousands of years distant, but one whose shadow already fell upon that age and that nation ; and that the Scriptures give us no warrant whatever to suppose that anything else, or anything more than this, is included in our Saviour's words.

     The parable of the pounds was spoken by our Lord to correct a mistaken expectation on the part of His disciples, that 'the kingdom of God' was about to commence at once. It is not surprising that they should have fallen into this mistake. John the Baptist had announced, 'The kingdom of God is at hand.' Jesus Himself had proclaimed the same fact, and commissioned them to publish it throughout the cities and villages of Galilee. As patriotic Israelites they writhed under the yoke of Rome, and yearned for the ancient liberties of the nation. As pious sons of Abraham they desired to see all nations blessed in him. And there were other less noble sentiments that had a place in their minds. Was not their own Master the Son of David - the coming King? What might not they expect who were His followers and friends? This made them contest with. each other the place of honour in the kingdom. This made the sons of Zebedee eager to secure His promise of the most honourable seats, on His right hand and on His left, where he assumed the sovereignty. And now they were approaching Jerusalem. The great national festival of the Passover was at baud; all Israel was flocking, to the Holy City, and there was not a man there but would be eager to see Jesus of Nazareth. What more probable than that the popular enthusiasm would place their Master on the throne of His father David ? As they wished, so they believed ; and 'they thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear.'

     But the Lord checked their enthusiastic hopes, and intimated, in a parable, that a certain interval must elapse before the fulfillment of their expectations. Taking a well-known incident from recent Jewish history as the groundwork of the parable- viz., the journey of Archelaus to Rome, in order to seek from the emperor the succession to the dominions of his father, Herod the Great, he employed it as an apt illustration of His own departure from earth, and His subsequent return in glory. Meanwhile, during the period of His absence, He gave His servants a charge to keep-' Occupy till I come.' It was for them to be diligent and faithful, until their Lord's return, when the loyal servants should be applauded and rewarded, and His enemies utterly destroyed.

     Nothing can be better than Neander's explanation of this parable, though, indeed, it may be said to explain itself. Nevertheless, it may be well to subjoin his observations. "In this parable, in view of the circumstances under which it was uttered, and of the approaching catastrophe, special intimations are given of Christ's departure from the earth, of His ascension, and return to judge the rebellious theocratic nation, and consummate His dominion. It describes a great man, who travels to the distant court of the mighty emperor, to receive from him authority over his countrymen, and to return with royal power. So Christ was not immediately recognised in His kingly office, but first had to depart from the earth. and leave His agents to advance His kingdom, to ascend into heaven and be appointed theocratic Ring, and return a 'gain to exercise His contested power." (1)

     Such is the teaching of the parable of the pounds. But though the kingdom of God was not to appear at the precise. time which the disciples anticipated, it does not follow that it was postponed since he, and that the expected consummation would not take place for hundreds and thousands of years. This would be to falsify the most express declarations of Christ and of His forerunner. How could they have said that the kingdom was at hand, if it was not to appear for acres?

     How could an event be said to be near, if it was actually further off than the whole period of the Jewish economy from Moses to Christ? The kingdom might still be at hand, though not so near as the disciples supposed. It was expedient that their Lord should 'go away,' but only for 'a little while,' when He would come again to them, and come 'in His kingdom.' This was the hope in which they lived, the faith which they preached; and we cannot think that their faith and hope were a delusion.

 

II.-Lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem.

Luke xix. 41-44: ' And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace I but now they are bid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.'

     Here we are upon ground which is not debatable. This prophecy is clear and perspicuous as history. No advocate of the double-sense theory of interpretation has proposed to find here anything but Jerusalem and its approaching desolation.

     It is not the conflagration of the earth, nor the dissolution of creation: it is the siege and demolition of the Holy City, and the slaughter of her citizens, as historically fulfilled in less than forty years-only this, and nothing more. But wily so? Why should not a double sense be possible here, as well as in the prediction delivered upon the Mount of Olives? The reply will doubtless be, Because here all is homogeneous and consecutive ; the Saviour is looking on Jerusalem, and speaking of Jerusalem, and predicting an event which was speedily to come to pass. But this is equally the case with the prophecy in Matt. xxiv., where the expositors find, sometimes Jerusalem, and sometimes the world; sometimes the termination of the Jewish polity, and sometimes the conclusion of human history; sometimes the year A.D. 70, and sometimes a period as yet unknown. We shall yet see that the prophecy oil the Mount of Olives is no less consecutive, no less homogenous, no less one and indivisible, than this clear and plain prediction of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. If the double-sense theory were good for anything, it would be found equally applicable to the prediction before us. Here, however, its own advocates discard it; for common sense refuses to see in this affecting lamentation anything else than Jerusalem, and Jerusalem alone.

 

III. - Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen.

 

MATT. XXI. 33-46. There was a certain house- holder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandman, and went into a far country: and when the time of the fruit drew near, be sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandman took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, be sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all be sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance, And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men and will let Out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never rend in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders, rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stones shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.'

 

MARK XII. 1-12. 'A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. 'And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruits of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

'And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. And again he sent another, and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

'Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, be sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandman said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. 'And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do ?

He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard un to others.
'And have ye not read this Scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes ?
'And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people : for they knew that he bad spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.'

 

LUKE XX. 9-19. A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandman, and went into a far country for a long time.

'And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard : but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. 'And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty.

'And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out. Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. 'But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.

' So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?

He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.

'And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?

'Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 'And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on. him; and they feared the people; for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them.'

 

     This parable, recorded in almost identical terms by the Synoptists, scarcely requires an interpreter. Its local, personal, and national reference is too manifest to be questioned. The vineyard is the land of Israel; the lord of the vineyard is the Father ; His messengers are His servants the prophets ; His only and beloved Son is the Lord Jesus Himself ; the husbandmen are the rebellious and wicked Jews ; the punishment is the coming catastrophe at the Parousia, when, as Neander well expresses it, "the theocratic relation is broken, and the kingdom is transferred to other nations that shall bring forth fruits corresponding to it." (2)

     The bearing of this parable on the people of our Saviour's time is so direct and explicit, that it might be supposed that no Critic would have to seek for a hidden meaning, or an ulterior reference. The chief priests and Pharisees felt that it was 'spoken against them ;' and they winced under the lash. As it stands, all is perfectly clear and intelligible; but the exegesis of a theologian can render it turbid and obscure indeed. For example, Lange thus comments upon ver. 41

     The Parousia of Christ is consummated in His last coming, but is not one with it. It begins in principle with the resurrection. (John xvi. 16) ; continues as a power through the New Testament period (John xiv. 3-19) ; and is consummated in the stricter sense in the final advent (I Cor. xv. 23; Matt. xxv. 31 ; 2 Thess. ii., etc.).' (3)

     Here we have not a coming, nor the coming of Christ, but no less than three separate and distinct comings, or a coming of three different kinds- a continuous coming which has been going on for nearly two thousand years already, and may go on for two thousand more, for aught we know. But of all this not a hint is given in the text, nor anywhere else. It is a merely human gloss, without a particle of authority from Scripture, and invented in virtue of the double- and triplesense theory of interpretation.

     Far more sober is the explanation of Alford. ' We may observe that our Lord makes " when the Lord cometh " coincide with the destruction of Jerusalem, which is incontestably the overthrow of the wicked husbandmen. This passage therefore forms an important key to our Lord's prophecies, and a decisive justification for those who, like myself, firmly hold that the coming of the Lord is, in many places, to be identified, primarily, with that overthrow." (4)

     It is to be regretted that this otherwise sound and sensible note is marred by the phrases 'in many places ' and , 'primarily,' but it is, nevertheless, all important admission. Undoubtedly we do find here 'an important key to our Lord's prophecies; ' but the master key is that which we have already found in Matt xvi. 27, 28, and which serves to open, not only this, but many other dark sayings in the prophetic oracles.

 

iv.-Parable of the Marriage of the King's Son.

 

Matt. xxii. 1-14 -. 'And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend. how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment ? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him band and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called but few are chosen.'

 

     This parable bears a strong resemblance to that of 'The Great Supper,' contained in Luke xiv. It is possible that the two parables may be only different versions of the same original. The question, however, does not affect the present discussion, and it cannot be proved that they were not spoken on different occasions. The moral of both is the same; but the character of the parable recorded by St. Matthew is more distinctively eschatological than that of St. Luke. It points clearly to the approaching consummation of the ' kingdom of heaven.' The vengeance taken by the king oil the murderers of his servants, and on their city fixes the application to Jerusalem and the Jews. The Roman armies were but the executioners of divine justice ; and Jerusalem perished for her guilt and rebellion against her King.

     Alford, in his notes on this parable, while recognising a partial and primary reference to Israel and Jerusalem, finds also that it extends far beyond its apparent scope, and is divided into two acts, the first of which is past, and closes with. ver. 10; while a new act opens with ver. 11, which is still in the future. This implies that the judgment of Israel and of Jerusalem does not supply a full and exhaustive fulfillment of our Lord's words. On the one hand we have the teaching of Christ Himself- simple, clear, and unambiguous; on the other hand, the conjectural speculation of the critic, without a scintilla of evidence or authority from the Word of God. To expound the parable according to its plain historic significance will be derided by some as shallow, superficial, unspiritual to find in it ulterior and hidden meanings, dark and profound riddles, mystical depths, which none but theologians can explore,- this is critical acumen, keen insight, high spirituality! In our opinion, all this foisting of human hypotheses and double senses into the predictions of our Lord is utterly incompatible with sober criticism, or with true reverence for the Word of God ; it is not criticism, but mysticism ; and obscures the truth instead of elucidating it. At the risk, then, of being considered superficial and shallow, we shall hold fast to the plain teaching of the words of Scripture, turning a deaf ear to all fanciful and conjectural speculations of merely human origin, no matter how learned or dignified the quarter from which they come.

 

v.- The Woes denounced on the Scribes and Pharisees.

 

MATT xxiii. 29-36. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites I because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of h ell ? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily, I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.'

 

LUKE xi. 47-51. 'Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.

'Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers : for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.

'Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute : 'That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.'

 

     It will be seen that St. Luke gives this passage as spoken in a different connection, and on a different occasion, from those stated by St. Matthew Whether our Lord spoke the same words on two different occasions, or whether they have been transposed by St. Luke from their original connection, is a question not easy to determine. The former hypothesis does not seem probable, and does not commend itself to the critical mind. Apophthegms, and brief parabolic sayings, such as ' Many are called but few are chosen,' 'The last shall be first, and the first last,'-may have been repeated on several occasions; but connected and elaborate discourses, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the prophetic discourse upon Olivet, and this denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees, can hardly be imagined to have been repeated verbatim on different occasions. It is a mistake, as we have already seen, to look for strict chronological order in the narratives of the Evangelists: it is admitted on all hands that they are accustomed sometimes to group together facts which have a natural relation, quite independently of the order of time in which they occurred.

     Stier says of the chronology of St. Luke in general : 'Two things are sufficiently plain: First, that he mentions individual occurrences without strict regard to chronology, even repeating and Intercalating some things elsewhere recorded,' etc.

     Neander makes the following observation oil the passage now before us: 'As this last discourse given by Matthew contains various passages given by Luke in the table conversation (chap. xi.), so Luke inserts there this prophetic announcement, whose proper position is found in Matthew.' (5) We cannot, however, agree with Neander's opinion, that 'this discourse, as given in Matt. xxiii., contains many passages uttered on other occasions.' (6) It seems to us impossible to read the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew without perceiving that it is a continuous and connected discourse, spoken at one time, its different parts naturally growing out of and following one another. Its very structure consisting of seven woes (7) denounced against the hypocritical pretenders to sanctity, who were the blind guides of the people,-and the solemn occasion on which it was uttered being the filial public utterance of our Lord,- irresistibly compel the conclusion that it is a complete whole, and that St. Matthew gives us the original form of the discourse.

     But the settlement of this question is not essential to this investigation. Far more important it is to observe how our Lord closes His public ministry in almost the identical terms in which His forerunner addressed the same class: 'Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, bow can ye escape the damnation of hell?' This is no fortuitous coincidence : it is evidently the deliberate adoption of the words of the Baptist, when he spoke of the 'coming wrath.' Israel had rejected alike the stern call to repentance of the second Elijah, and the tender expostulations of the Lamb of God. The measure of their guilt was almost full, and the 'day of wrath ' was swiftly coming.

     But the point which deserves special attention is the particular application of this discourse to the Saviour's own times : ' Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.' ' It shall be required of this generation.' Surely there can be no pretense of a primary and a secondary reference here. No expositor will deny that these words have a sole and exclusive application to the generation of the Jewish people then living upon the earth. Even Dorner, who contends most strenuously for a great variety of meanings of the word genea [generation], frankly admits that it can only refer here to the contemporaries of our Lord: 'Hoc ipsum hominum aevum." (8) This is an admission of the greatest importance. It enables us to fix the true meaning of the phrase, ' This generation', Which plays so important a part in several of the predictions of our Lord, and notably in the great prophecy spoken on the Mount of Olives. In the passage before us, the words are incapable of any other application than to the existing generation of the Jewish nation, which is represented by our Lord as the heir of all the preceding generations, inheriting the depravity and rebelliousness of the national character, and fated to perish in the deluge of wrath which had been accumulating through the ages, and was at length about to overwhelm the guilty land.

 

vi. .-The (second) Lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem.

 

MATT. xxiii, 37-39. '0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.'

Luke xiii. 34, 35. 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee: how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not I Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.'

 

     Here, again, we have another example of those discrepancies in the Gospel history which perplex harmonists. St. Luke records this affecting apostrophe of our Lord in quite a different connection from St. Matthew. Yet we can scarcely suppose that these ipsissima verba were spoken on more than one occasion, namely, that specified by St. Matthew. Dorner says : ' That these words (" Behold, your house is left unto you desolate," etc.) were spoken by Christ, not where Luke, but where Matthew, places them, the words themselves show; for they were spoken when our Lord was departing from the temple to return to it no more till he came to judgment." (9) Lange says the passage is placed earlier by St. Luke 'for pragmatic reasons.' At all events, we may properly regard the words as spoken on the occasion indicated by St. Matthew.

     As such their collocation is most suggestive. This pathetic expostulation mitigates the severity of the foregoing denunciations, and closes the public ministry of our Lord with a burst of human tenderness and divine compassion. As Dr. Lange well says: 'The Lord mourns and laments over His own ruined Jerusalem. . . . His whole pilgrimage on earth was troubled by distress for Jerusalem, like the hen which sees the eagle threatening in the sky, and anxiously seeks to gather her chickens under her wings. With such distress Jesus saw the Roman eagles approach for judgment upon the children of Jerusalem, and sought with the strongest solicitations of love to save them. but in vain. They were like dead children to the voice of maternal love!' (10)

     Need it be said that here is Jerusalem, and Jerusalem alone? There is no ambiguity, no twofold reference, no proximate and ultimate fulfilments conceivable here. One thought, one feeling, one object, filled the heart of Jesus- Jerusalem, the city of God, the loved, the guilty, the doomed! Her fate was now all but sealed, and the heart of our Saviour was wrung with anguish as he bade her a last farewell.

     But how are we to understand the closing words, 'Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord'? This phrase, 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,' is the recognised formula which was employed by the Jews in speaking of the coming of Messiah- the Messianic greeting: equivalent to 'Hail to the anointed one of God.' It is generally supposed to have been adopted from Psa. cxviii. 26. There was a time coming, therefore, when such a salutation would be appropriate. The Lord who was leaving the temple would once more return to His temple. More than this, that same generation would witness that return. This is plainly implied in the form of our Saviour's language, ' Ye shall not see me again till ye shall say,' etc.-words which would be deprived of half their significance if the persons referred to in the first part of the sentence were not the same as those referred to in the second. Nothing can be more distinct and explicit than the reference throughout to the people of Jerusalem, the contemporaries of Christ. They and He were to meet again ; and the Messiah, the Lord whom they professed to seek so eagerly, would suddenly come to his temple,' according to the saying of Malachi the prophet. They expected that coming as an event to be welcomed with gladness; but it was to be far otherwise. 'Who may abide the day of his coming ? and who shall stand when he appeareth ?' That day was to bring the desolation of the house of God, the destruction of their national existence, the outburst of the pent-up wrath of God upon Israel. This was the return, the meeting together again, to which our Saviour here alludes. And is not this the very thing that He had again and again declared ? Had He not a little before said, that 'upon this generation' should come the sevenfold woes which He had just pronounced ? (Ver.36.) Had He not solemnly affirmed, that some then living should see the Son of man coming in glory, with His angels, 'to reward every man according to his works' -- that is, coming to judgment ? Is it possible to adopt the strange hypothesis of some commentators of note, that in these words our Lord means that He would never be seen again by those to whom He spoke, until a converted and Christian Israel, in some far distant era of time, was prepared to welcome Him as King of Israel ? This would indeed be to take unwarrantable liberties with the words of Scripture. Our Lord does not say, Ye shall not see me until they shall say, or, until another generation shall say; but, 'until ye shall say,' etc. It by no means follows, that because the Messianic salutation is here quoted, the people who are supposed to use it were qualified to enter into its true significance. Those very words had been shouted by multitudes in the streets of Jerusalem only a day or two before, and yet they were changed into ' Crucify him ! crucify him !' in a very brief space. They simply denote the fact of His coming. The unhappy men to whom our Saviour spoke could not adopt the Messianic greeting in its true and highest sense; they would never say, 'Blessed is he,' etc., but they would witness His coming- the coming with which that formula was indissolubly associated, viz., the Parousia.

     We contend, then, that we are not only warranted, but compelled, to conclude, that our Lord here refers to His coming to destroy Jerusalem and to close the Jewish age, according to His express declarations, within the period of the then existing generation. History verifies the prophecy. In less than forty years from the time when these words were uttered, Jerusalem and her temple, Judea and her people, were overwhelmed by the deluge of wrath predicted by the Lord. Their land was laid waste; their house was left desolate; Jerusalem, and her children within her, were engulfed in one common ruin.

 

vii.-The Prophecy on the Mount of Olives.

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN [THE PAROUSIA] BEFORE
THE PASSING AWAY OF THAT GENERATION.

MATT. XXIV..; MARK XIII.; LUKE XXI.

     We now enter upon the consideration of by far the most full and explicit of our Lord's prophetic utterances respecting His coming, and the solemn events connected therewith. The discourse or conversation on the Mount of Olives is the great prophecy of the New Testament, and may be not unfitly styled the Apocalypse of the Gospels. Upon the interpretation of this prophetic discourse will depend the right understanding of the predictions contained in the apostolic writings; for it may almost be said that there is nothing in the Epistles which is not in the Gospels. This prophecy of our Saviour is the great storehouse from which the prophetic statements of the apostles are chiefly derived.

     The commonly received view of the structure of this discourse, which is almost taken for granted, alike by expositors and by the generality of readers, is, that our Lord, in answering the question of His disciples respecting the destruction of the temple, mixes up with that event the destruction of the world, the universal judgment, and the final consummation of all things. Imperceptibly, it is supposed, the prophecy slides from the city and temple of Jerusalem, and their impending fate in the immediate future, to another and infinitely more tremendous catastrophe in the far distant and indefinite future. So intermingled, however, are the allusions- now to Jerusalem and now to the world at large; now to Israel and now to the human race ; now to events close at hand and now to events indefinitely remote; that to distinguish and allocate the several references and topics, is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

     Perhaps it will be the fairest way of exhibiting the views of those who contend for a double meaning in this predictive discourse, to set forth the scheme or plan of the prophecy proposed by Dr. Lange, and adopted by many expositors of the greatest note.

' In harmony with apocalyptic style, Jesus exhibited the judgments of His coming in a series of cycles, each of which depicts the whole futurity, but in such a manner, that with every new cycle the scene seems to approximate to and more closely resemble the final catastrophe. Thus, the first cycle delineates the whole course of the world down to the end, in its general characteristics (ver. 4-14). The second gives the signs of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and paints this destruction itself as a sign and a commencement of the judgment of the world, which from that day onward proceeds in silent and suppressed days of judgment down to the last (ver. 15-28). The third describes the sudden end of the world, and the judgment which ensues (ver. 29-44). Then follows a series of parables and similitudes, in which the Lord paints the judgment itself, which unfolds itself in an organic succession of several acts. In the last act Christ reveals His universal judicial majesty. Chap. xxiv. 45-51 exhibits the judgment upon the servants of Christ, or the clergy. Chap. xxv. 1- 13 (the wise and foolish virgins) exhibits the judgment upon the Church, or the people. Then follows the judgment on the individual members of the Church (ver. 14-30). Finally, ver. 31-46 introduce the universal judgment of the world.' (11)

     Not very dissimilar is the scheme proposed by Stier, who finds three different comings of Christ ' which perspectively cover each other: '

'1. The coming of the Lord to judgment upon Judaism. 2. His coming to judgment upon degenerate anti-Christian Christendom. 3. His coming to judgment upon all heathen nations- the final judgment of the world, all which together are the coming again of Christ, and in respect of their similarity and diversity are most exactly recorded from the mouth of Christ by Matthew.' (12)

     Such is the elaborate and complicated scheme adopted by some expositors; but there are obvious and grave objections to it, which, the more they are considered, will appear the more formidable, if not fatal.

1. An objection may be taken, in limine, to the principles involved in this method of interpreting Scripture. Are we to look for double, triple, and multiple meanings, for prophecies within prophecies, and mysteries wrapt in mysteries, where we might reasonably have expected a plain answer to a plain question ? Call any one be sure of understanding the Scriptures if they are thus enigmatical and obscure? Is this the manner in which the Saviour taught His disciples, leaving them to grope their way through intricate labyrinths, irresistibly suggestive of the Ptolemaic astronomy - 'Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb'? Surely so ambiguous and obscure a revelation can hardly be called a revelation at all, and seems far more befitting a Delphic Oracle, or a Cumaean Sibyl than the teaching of Him whom. the common people heard gladly. (13)


2. It will scarcely be pretended that, if the exposition of Lange, and Stier be correct, the disciples who listened to the sayings of Jesus on the Mount of Olives could have comprehended or followed the drift of His discourse. They were at all times slow to understand their Master's words; but it would be to give them credit for astonishing penetration to suppose that they were able to thread their way through such a maze of comings, extending through ' a series of cycles, each of which depicts the whole futurity, but in such a manner that with every new cycle the scene seems to approximate to, and more closely resemble, the final catastrophe.'

     It is not easy for the ordinary reader to follow the ingenious critic through his convoluted scheme; but it is plain that the disciples must have been hopelessly bewildered amidst a rush of crises and catastrophes from the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the world. Perhaps we shall be told, however, that it does not signify whether the disciples understood our Lord's answer or not : it was not to them that He was speaking; it was to future ages, to generations yet unborn, who were destined, however, to find the interpretation of the prophecy as embarrassing to them as it was to the original bearers. There are no words too strong to repudiate such a suggestion. The disciples came to their Master with a plain, straightforward inquiry, and it is incredible that He would mock them with an unintelligible riddle for a reply. It is to be presumed that the Saviour meant His disciples to understand His words, and it is to be presumed that they did understand them.


3. The interpretation which we are considering appears to be founded upon a misapprehension of the question put to our Lord by the disciples, as well as of His answer to their question.

     It is generally assumed that the disciples came to our Lord with three different questions, relating to different events separated from each other by a long interval of time; that the first inquiry, 'When shall these things be?'- had reference to the approaching destruction of the temple; that the second and third question-,, 'What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ? '- referred to events long posterior to the destruction of Jerusalem, and, in fact, not yet accomplished. It is supposed that our Lord's reply conforms itself to this threefold inquiry, and that this gives the shape to His whole discourse. Now, lot it be considered how utterly improbable it is that the disciples should have had any such scheme of the future mapped out in their minds. We know that they bad just been shocked and stunned by their Master's prediction of the total destruction of the glorious house of God on which they had so recently been gazing with admiration. They had not yet had time to recover from their surprise, when they came to Jesus with the inquiry, 'When shall these things be ?' etc. Is it not reasonable to suppose that one thought possessed them at that moment- the portentous calamity awaiting the magnificent structure, the glory and beauty of Israel ? Was that a time when their minds would be occupied with a distant future? Must not their whole soul have been concentrated on the fate of the temple? and must they not have been eager to know what tokens would be given of the approach of the catastrophe? Whether they connected in their imagination the destruction of the temple with the dissolution of the creation, and the close of human history, it is impossible to say; but we may safely conclude, that the uppermost thought in their mind was the announcement which the Lord had just made, 'Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be thrown down.' They must have gathered from the Saviour's language that this catastrophe was imminent ; and their anxiety was to know the time and the tokens of its arrival. St. Mark and St. Luke make the question of the disciples refer to one event and one time- 'When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled ? ' It is not only presumable, therefore, but indubitable, that the questions of the disciples only refer to different aspects of the same great event. This harmonises the statements of St. Matthew with those of the other Evangelists, and is plainly required by the circumstances of the case.


4. The interpretation which we are discussing rests also upon an erroneous and misleading conception of the phrase, end of the world' (age).  It is not surprising that mere English readers of the New Testament should suppose that this phrase really means the destruction of the material earth; but such an error ought not to receive countenance from men of learning. We have already had occasion to remark that the true signification of (aion) is not world, but age ; that, like its Latin equivalent aevum, it refers to a period of time : thus, 'the end of the age ' means the close of the epoch or Jewish age or dispensation which was drawing nigh, as our Lord frequently intimated. All those passages which speak of 'the end'  'the end of the age,' or, 'the ends of the ages' , refer to the same consummation, and always as nigh at hand. In I Cor. x. 11, St. Paul says The ends of the ages have stretched out to us implying, that he regarded himself and his readers as living near the conclusion of an aeon, or age.

     So, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find the remarkable expression : 'Now, once, close upon the end of the ages' (erroneously rendered, The end of the world), 'hath be appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself ' (Heb. ix. 26); clearly showing that the writer regarded the incarnation of Christ as taking place near the end of the aeon, or dispensational period. To suppose that he meant that it was close upon the end of the world, or the destruction of the material globe, would be to make him write false history as well as bad grammar. It would not be true in fact; for the world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. It is futile, therefore, to say that the 'end of the age' may mean a lengthened period, extending from the incarnation to our own times, and even far beyond them. That would be an aeon, and not the close of an men. The aeon, of which our Lord was speaking was about to close in a great catastrophe; and a catastrophe is not a protracted process, but a definitive and culminating act. We are compelled, therefore, to conclude that the 'end of the age,' or refers solely to the approaching termination of the Jewish age or dispensation.

5. It may indeed be objected, that even admitting the apostles to have been occupied exclusively with the fate of the temple and the events of their own time, there is no reason why the Lord should not overpass the limits of their vision, and extend a prophetic glance into the ages of a distant futurity. No doubt it was competent for Him to do so; but in that case we should expect to find some hint or intimation of the fact; some well-defined line between the immediate future and the indefinitely remote. If the Saviour passes from Jerusalem and its day of doom to the world and its judgment day, it would be only reasonable to look for some phrase such as, 'After many days,' or, ' It shall come to pass after these things,' to mark the transition. But we search in vain for any such indication. The attempts of expositors to draw transition lines in this prophecy, showing where it ceases to speak of Jerusalem and Israel and passes to remote events and unborn generations, are wholly unsatisfactory. Nothing can be more arbitrary than the divisions attempted to be set up; they will not bear a moment's examination, and are incompatible with the express statements of the prophecy itself. Will it be believed that some expositors find a mark of transition at Matt. xxiv. 29, where our Lord's own words make the very idea totally inadmissible by His own note of time 'Immediately'! If, in the face of such authority, so rash a suggestion can be proposed, what may not be expected in less strongly marked cases? But, in fact, all attempts to set up imaginary divisions and transitions in the prophecy signally fail. Let any fair and candid reader judge of the scheme of Dr. Lange, who may be taken as a representative of the school of double-sense expositors, in his distribution of this discourse of our Lord, and say whether it is possible to discern any trace of a natural division where he draws lines of transition. His first section, from ver. 4 to ver. 14, he entitles,

'Signs, and the manifestation of the end of the world in general.

 

     What! is it conceivable that our Lord, when about to reply to the eager and palpitating hearts, filled with anxiety about the calamities which He told them were impending, should commence by speaking of the 'end of the world in general'? They were thinking of the temple and the immediate future : would He speak of the world and the indefinitely remote? But is there anything in this first section inapplicable to the disciples themselves and their time? Is there anything which did not actually happen in their own day? ' 'Yes'. it will be said ; ' the gospel of the kingdom has not yet been preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.' But we have this very fact vouched for by St. Paul (Col. i. 5, 6)-'The word of the truth of the gospel, which is come. unto you, as it is in all the world,' etc.; and, again (Col. i. 23)-' The gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.' There was, then, in the acre of the apostles, such a world- wide diffusion of the gospel as to satisfy the Saviour's predictions - 'The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the word' (oikemene) .

But the decisive objection to this scheme is, that the whole passage is evidently addressed to the disciples, and speaks of what they shall see, they shall do, they shall suffer ; the whole falls within their own observation and experience, and cannot be spoken of or to an invisible audience in a far distant era of futurity, which even yet has not appeared upon the earth.

     Lange's next division, comprising from ver. 15 to ver. 22, is entitled,

' signs of the end of the world in particular: (a) The Destruction of Jerusalem.

 

     Without stopping to inquire into the relation of these ideas, it is satisfactory to find Jerusalem at last introduced. But how unnatural the transition from the 'end of the world' back to the invasion of Judea and the siege of Jerusalem ! Could such a sudden and immense leap have possibly been made by the disciples ? Could it have been intelligible to them, or is it intelligible now ? But mark the point of transition, as fixed by Lange, at ver. 15: 'When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation,' etc. This, surely, is not transition, but continuity: all that precedes leads up to this point; the wars, and famines, and pestilences, and persecutions, and martyrdoms, were all preparatory and introductory to the 'end;' that is, to the final catastrophe which was to overtake the city, and temple, and nation of Israel.

     Next follows a paragraph from ver. 23 to ver. 28, which Lange calls,

' (b) Interval of partial and suppressed judgment.'

 

     This title is itself an example of fanciful and arbitrary exposition. There is something incongruous and self-contradictory in the very words themselves. A day of judgment implies publicity and manifestation, not silence and suppression. But what can be the meaning of 'silent and suppressed days of judgment,' which go on from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world ? If it be meant that there is a sense in which God is always judging the world, that is a truism which might be affirmed of any period, before as well as after the destruction of Jerusalem. But the most objectionable part of this exposition is the violent treatment of the word ' then' (p. 62) [tote] (ver. 23). Lange says: 'Then (i.e., in the time intervening between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world).' Surely, a prodigious then ! It is no longer a point of time, but an aeon - a vast and indefinite period ; and during all that time the statements in the paragraph, ver. 23 to ver. 28, are supposed to be in course of fulfilment. But when we turn to the prophecy itself we find no change of subject, no break in the continuity of the discourse, no hint of any transition from one epoch to another. The note of time, 'then' [tote], is decisive against any hiatus or transition. Our Saviour is putting the disciples on their guard against the deceivers and impostors who infested the last days of the Jewish commonwealth; and says to them, ' Then' (i.e., at that time, in the agony of the Jewish war) 'if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not,' etc. It is Jerusalem, always Jerusalem, and only Jerusalem, of which our Lord here speaks. At length we come to -

' The Actual End of the World' (ver. 24-31).

     Having made the transition from the 'end of the world backwards to the destruction of Jerusalem, the process is now reversed, and there is another transition, from the destruction of Jerusalem to the ' actual end of the world.' This actual end is placed after the appearance of those false Christs and false prophets against whom the disciples were warned. This allusion to 'false Christs ' ought to have saved the critic from the mistake into which be has fallen, and to have distinctly indicated the period to which the prediction refers. But where is there any sign of a division or transition here ? There is no trace or token of any : on the contrary, the express language of our Lord excludes the idea of any interval at all ; for He says : 'Immediately after the tribulation of those days,' etc. This note of time is decisive, and peremptorily forbids the supposition of any break or hiatus in the continuity of His discourse.

     But we have gone far enough in the demonstration of the arbitrary and uncritical treatment which this prophecy has received, and have been betrayed into premature exegesis of some portion of its contents. What we contend for, is the unity and continuity of the whole discourse. From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew to the close of the twenty-fifth, it is one and indivisible. The theme is the approaching consummation of the age, with its attendant and concomitant events ; the woes which were to overtake that 'wicked generation,' comprehending the invasion of the Roman armies, the siege and capture of Jerusalem, the total destruction of the temple, the frightful calamities of the people. Along with this we find the true Parousia, or the coming of the Son of man, the judicial infliction of divine wrath upon the impenitent, and the deliverance and recompense of the faithful. From beginning to end, these two chapters form one continuous, consecutive, and homogeneous discourse. So it must have been regarded by the disciples, to whom it 'was addressed; and so, in the absence of any hint or indication to the contrary in the record, we feel bound to it.


6. In. conclusion, we cannot help adverting to one other consideration, which we are persuaded has had much to do with the erroneous interpretation of this prophecy, viz., the inadequate appreciation of the importance and grandeur of the event which forms its burden- the consummation of the aeon age, and the abrogation of the Jewish dispensation.

     That was an event which formed an epoch in the divine government of the world. The Mosaic economy, which had been ushered in with such pomp and grandeur amidst the thunders and lightenings of Sinai, and had existed for well nigh sixteen centuries, which had been the divinely instituted medium of communication between God and man, and which was intended to realise a kingdom of God upon earth,- had proved a comparative failure through the moral unfitness of the people of Israel, and was doomed to come to an end amid the most terrific demonstration of the justice and wrath of God. The temple of Jerusalem, for ages the glory and crown of Mount Zion,- the sacred shrine, in whose holy place Jehovah was pleased to dwell,- the holy and beautiful house, which was the palladium of the nation's safety, and dearer than life to every son of Abraham,- was about to be desecrated and destroyed, so that not one stone should be left upon another. The chosen people, the children of the Friend of God, the favoured nation, with whom the God of the whole earth deigned to enter into covenant and to be called their King, - were to be overwhelmed by the most terrible calamities that ever befell a nation; were to be expatriated, deprived of their nationality, excluded from their ancient and peculiar relation to God, and driven forth as wanderers on the face of the earth, a byword and hissing among all nations. But along with all this there were to be changes for the better. First, and chiefly, the close of the won would be the inauguration of the reign of God. There were to be honour and glory for the true and faithful servants of God, who would then enter into the full possession of the heavenly inheritance. (This will be more fully unfolded in the sequel of our investigation.) But there was also to be a glorious change in this world. The old made way for the new ; the Law was replaced by the Gospel; Moses was superseded by Christ. The narrow and exclusive system, which embraced only a single people, was succeeded by a new and better covenant, which embraced the whole family of man, and knew no difference between Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. The dispensation of symbols and ceremonies, suited to the childhood of humanity, was merged in an order of things in which religion became a spiritual service, every place a temple, every worshipper a priest, and God the universal Father. This was a revolution greater far than any that bad ever occurred in the history of mankind. It made a new world ; it was the 'world to come,' the [oikongenh mellonoa] of Hebrews ii. 5; and the magnitude and importance of the change it is impossible to over-estimate. It is this that gives such significance to the overthrow of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem: these are the outward and visible signs of the abrogation of the old order and the introduction of the new. The story of the siege and capture of the Holy City is not simply a thrilling historical episode, such as the siege of Troy or the fall of Carthage ; it is not merely the closing scene in the annals of an ancient nation;- it has a supernatural and divine significance; it has a relation to God and the human race, and marks one of the most memorable epochs of time. This is the reason why the event is spoken of in the Scripture in terms which to some appear overstrained, or to require some greater catastrophe to account for them. But if it was fitting that the introduction of that economy should be signalised by portents and wonders, earthquakes, lightenings, thunders, and trumpet-blasts, -it was no less fitting that it should go out amid similar phenomena, fearful sights and great signs from heaven.' Had the true significance and grandeur of the event been better apprehended by expositors, they would not have found the language in which it is depicted by our Lord extravagant or overstrained. (14)

     We are now prepared to enter upon the more particular examination of the contents of this prophetic discourse ; which we shall endeavour to do as concisely as possible.

Footnotes

 

1. Life of Christ, sec. 239.

2. Life of Christ, sec. 256.

3. Lange on St. Matt. p. 388.

4. Alford, Greek Test. in loc.

5. Life of Christ, sec. 253, note n.

6. Life of Christ, sec. 253, note m.

7. Tischendorf rejects ver. 14, which is omitted by Cod. Sin. and Vat.

8. See Dorner's tractae, De Oratione Christi Eschatologica, p. 41.

9. Dorner, Orat. Chris. Esch. p. 43

10. Comm. on Matt. p. 416

11. Lange, Comm. on Matt. p. 418

12. Stier. Red. Jes. vol. iii. 251.

13. See Note A, Part I., on the Double-sense Theory of Interpretation

14. The termination of the Jewish aion in the first century, and of the Roman in the fifth and sixth, were each marked by the same concurrence of calamities, wars, tumults, pestilences, earthquakes, &c., all marking the time of one of God's peculiar seasons of visitation.' 'For the same belief in the connexion of physical with moral convulsion-, see Niebuhr, Leben's Nachrichten, ii. p. 672 Dr. Arnold : See ' Life by Stanley,' vol. i. p. 311.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPELS

 

vii.-The Prophecy on the Mount of Olives.

THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN [THE PAROUSIA] BEFORE THE PASSING AWAY OF THAT GENERATION.

MATT. XXIV..; MARK XIII.; LUKE XXI.

     We now enter upon the consideration of by far the most full and explicit of our Lord's prophetic utterances respecting His coming, and the solemn events connected therewith. The discourse or conversation on the Mount of Olives is the great prophecy of the New Testament, and may be not unfitly styled the Apocalypse of the Gospels. Upon the interpretation of this prophetic discourse will depend the right understanding of the predictions contained in the apostolic writings; for it may almost be said that there is nothing in the Epistles which is not in the Gospels. This prophecy of our Saviour is the great storehouse from which the prophetic statements of the apostles are chiefly derived.

     The commonly received view of the structure of this discourse, which is almost taken for granted, alike by expositors and by the generality of readers, is, that our Lord, in answering the question of His disciples respecting the destruction of the temple, mixes up with that event the destruction of the world, the universal judgment, and the final consummation of all things. Imperceptibly, it is supposed, the prophecy slides from the city and temple of Jerusalem, and their impending fate in the immediate future, to another and infinitely more tremendous catastrophe in the far distant and indefinite future. So intermingled, however, are the allusions- now to Jerusalem and now to the world at large; now to Israel and now to the human race ; now to events close at hand and now to events indefinitely remote; that to distinguish and allocate the several references and topics, is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

     Perhaps it will be the fairest way of exhibiting the views of those who contend for a double meaning in this predictive discourse, to set forth the scheme or plan of the prophecy proposed by Dr. Lange, and adopted by many expositors of the greatest note.

' In harmony with apocalyptic style, Jesus exhibited the judgments of His coming in a series of cycles, each of which depicts the whole futurity, but in such a manner, that with every new cycle the scene seems to approximate to and more closely resemble the final catastrophe. Thus, the first cycle delineates the whole course of the world down to the end, in its general characteristics (ver. 4-14). The second gives the signs of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and paints this destruction itself as a sign and a commencement of the judgment of the world, which from that day onward proceeds in silent and suppressed days of judgment down to the last (ver. 15-28). The third describes the sudden end of the world, and the judgment which ensues (ver. 29-44). Then follows a series of parables and similitudes, in which the Lord paints the judgment itself, which unfolds itself in an organic succession of several acts. In the last act Christ reveals His universal judicial majesty. Chap. xxiv. 45-51 exhibits the judgment upon the servants of Christ, or the clergy. Chap. xxv. 1- 13 (the wise and foolish virgins) exhibits the judgment upon the Church, or the people. Then follows the judgment on the individual members of the Church (ver. 14-30). Finally, ver. 31-46 introduce the universal judgment of the world.' (11)

     Not very dissimilar is the scheme proposed by Stier, who finds three different comings of Christ ' which perspectively cover each other: '

'1. The coming of the Lord to judgment upon Judaism. 2. His coming to judgment upon degenerate anti-Christian Christendom. 3. His coming to judgment upon all heathen nations- the final judgment of the world, all which together are the coming again of Christ, and in respect of their similarity and diversity are most exactly recorded from the mouth of Christ by Matthew.' (12)

     Such is the elaborate and complicated scheme adopted by some expositors; but there are obvious and grave objections to it, which, the more they are considered, will appear the more formidable, if not fatal.

1. An objection may be taken, in limine, to the principles involved in this method of interpreting Scripture. Are we to look for double, triple, and multiple meanings, for prophecies within prophecies, and mysteries wrapt in mysteries, where we might reasonably have expected a plain answer to a plain question ? Call any one be sure of understanding the Scriptures if they are thus enigmatical and obscure? Is this the manner in which the Saviour taught His disciples, leaving them to grope their way through intricate labyrinths, irresistibly suggestive of the Ptolemaic astronomy - 'Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb'? Surely so ambiguous and obscure a revelation can hardly be called a revelation at all, and seems far more befitting a Delphic Oracle, or a Cumaean Sibyl than the teaching of Him whom. the common people heard gladly. (13)


2. It will scarcely be pretended that, if the exposition of Lange, and Stier be correct, the disciples who listened to the sayings of Jesus on the Mount of Olives could have comprehended or followed the drift of His discourse. They were at all times slow to understand their Master's words; but it would be to give them credit for astonishing penetration to suppose that they were able to thread their way through such a maze of comings, extending through ' a series of cycles, each of which depicts the whole futurity, but in such a manner that with every new cycle the scene seems to approximate to, and more closely resemble, the final catastrophe.'

     It is not easy for the ordinary reader to follow the ingenious critic through his convoluted scheme; but it is plain that the disciples must have been hopelessly bewildered amidst a rush of crises and catastrophes from the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the world. Perhaps we shall be told, however, that it does not signify whether the disciples understood our Lord's answer or not : it was not to them that He was speaking; it was to future ages, to generations yet unborn, who were destined, however, to find the interpretation of the prophecy as embarrassing to them as it was to the original bearers. There are no words too strong to repudiate such a suggestion. The disciples came to their Master with a plain, straightforward inquiry, and it is incredible that He would mock them with an unintelligible riddle for a reply. It is to be presumed that the Saviour meant His disciples to understand His words, and it is to be presumed that they did understand them.


3. The interpretation which we are considering appears to be founded upon a misapprehension of the question put to our Lord by the disciples, as well as of His answer to their question.

     It is generally assumed that the disciples came to our Lord with three different questions, relating to different events separated from each other by a long interval of time; that the first inquiry, 'When shall these things be?'- had reference to the approaching destruction of the temple; that the second and third question-,, 'What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ? '- referred to events long posterior to the destruction of Jerusalem, and, in fact, not yet accomplished. It is supposed that our Lord's reply conforms itself to this threefold inquiry, and that this gives the shape to His whole discourse. Now, lot it be considered how utterly improbable it is that the disciples should have had any such scheme of the future mapped out in their minds. We know that they bad just been shocked and stunned by their Master's prediction of the total destruction of the glorious house of God on which they had so recently been gazing with admiration. They had not yet had time to recover from their surprise, when they came to Jesus with the inquiry, 'When shall these things be ?' etc. Is it not reasonable to suppose that one thought possessed them at that moment- the portentous calamity awaiting the magnificent structure, the glory and beauty of Israel ? Was that a time when their minds would be occupied with a distant future? Must not their whole soul have been concentrated on the fate of the temple? and must they not have been eager to know what tokens would be given of the approach of the catastrophe? Whether they connected in their imagination the destruction of the temple with the dissolution of the creation, and the close of human history, it is impossible to say; but we may safely conclude, that the uppermost thought in their mind was the announcement which the Lord had just made, 'Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be thrown down.' They must have gathered from the Saviour's language that this catastrophe was imminent ; and their anxiety was to know the time and the tokens of its arrival. St. Mark and St. Luke make the question of the disciples refer to one event and one time- 'When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled ? ' It is not only presumable, therefore, but indubitable, that the questions of the disciples only refer to different aspects of the same great event. This harmonises the statements of St. Matthew with those of the other Evangelists, and is plainly required by the circumstances of the case.


4. The interpretation which we are discussing rests also upon an erroneous and misleading conception of the phrase, end of the world' (age).  It is not surprising that mere English readers of the New Testament should suppose that this phrase really means the destruction of the material earth; but such an error ought not to receive countenance from men of learning. We have already had occasion to remark that the true signification of (aion) is not world, but age ; that, like its Latin equivalent aevum, it refers to a period of time : thus, 'the end of the age '  means the close of the epoch or Jewish age or dispensation which was drawing nigh, as our Lord frequently intimated. All those passages which speak of 'the end'  'the end of the age,' or, 'the ends of the ages' , refer to the same consummation, and always as nigh at hand. In I Cor. x. 11, St. Paul says The ends of the ages have stretched out to us implying, that he regarded himself and his readers as living near the conclusion of an aeon, or age.

     So, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find the remarkable expression : 'Now, once, close upon the end of the ages' (erroneously rendered, The end of the world), 'hath be appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself ' (Heb. ix. 26); clearly showing that the writer regarded the incarnation of Christ as taking place near the end of the aeon, or dispensational period. To suppose that he meant that it was close upon the end of the world, or the destruction of the material globe, would be to make him write false history as well as bad grammar. It would not be true in fact; for the world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. It is futile, therefore, to say that the 'end of the age' may mean a lengthened period, extending from the incarnation to our own times, and even far beyond them. That would be an aeon, and not the close of an men. The aeon, of which our Lord was speaking was about to close in a great catastrophe; and a catastrophe is not a protracted process, but a definitive and culminating act. We are compelled, therefore, to conclude that the 'end of the age,' or  refers solely to the approaching termination of the Jewish age or dispensation.

5. It may indeed be objected, that even admitting the apostles to have been occupied exclusively with the fate of the temple and the events of their own time, there is no reason why the Lord should not overpass the limits of their vision, and extend a prophetic glance into the ages of a distant futurity. No doubt it was competent for Him to do so; but in that case we should expect to find some hint or intimation of the fact; some well-defined line between the immediate future and the indefinitely remote. If the Saviour passes from Jerusalem and its day of doom to the world and its judgment day, it would be only reasonable to look for some phrase such as, 'After many days,' or, ' It shall come to pass after these things,' to mark the transition. But we search in vain for any such indication. The attempts of expositors to draw transition lines in this prophecy, showing where it ceases to speak of Jerusalem and Israel and passes to remote events and unborn generations, are wholly unsatisfactory. Nothing can be more arbitrary than the divisions attempted to be set up; they will not bear a moment's examination, and are incompatible with the express statements of the prophecy itself. Will it be believed that some expositors find a mark of transition at Matt. xxiv. 29, where our Lord's own words make the very idea totally inadmissible by His own note of time 'Immediately'! If, in the face of such authority, so rash a suggestion can be proposed, what may not be expected in less strongly marked cases? But, in fact, all attempts to set up imaginary divisions and transitions in the prophecy signally fail. Let any fair and candid reader judge of the scheme of Dr. Lange, who may be taken as a representative of the school of double-sense expositors, in his distribution of this discourse of our Lord, and say whether it is possible to discern any trace of a natural division where he draws lines of transition. His first section, from ver. 4 to ver. 14, he entitles,

'Signs, and the manifestation of the end of the world in general.

     What! is it conceivable that our Lord, when about to reply to the eager and palpitating hearts, filled with anxiety about the calamities which He told them were impending, should commence by speaking of the 'end of the world in general'? They were thinking of the temple and the immediate future : would He speak of the world and the indefinitely remote? But is there anything in this first section inapplicable to the disciples themselves and their time? Is there anything which did not actually happen in their own day? ' 'Yes'. it will be said ; ' the gospel of the kingdom has not yet been preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.' But we have this very fact vouched for by St. Paul (Col. i. 5, 6)-'The word of the truth of the gospel, which is come. unto you, as it is in all the world,' etc.; and, again (Col. i. 23)-' The gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.' There was, then, in the acre of the apostles, such a world- wide diffusion of the gospel as to satisfy the Saviour's predictions - 'The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the word' (oikemene) .

But the decisive objection to this scheme is, that the whole passage is evidently addressed to the disciples, and speaks of what they shall see, they shall do, they shall suffer ; the whole falls within their own observation and experience, and cannot be spoken of or to an invisible audience in a far distant era of futurity, which even yet has not appeared upon the earth.

     Lange's next division, comprising from ver. 15 to ver. 22, is entitled,

' signs of the end of the world in particular: (a) The Destruction of Jerusalem.

     Without stopping to inquire into the relation of these ideas, it is satisfactory to find Jerusalem at last introduced. But how unnatural the transition from the 'end of the world' back to the invasion of Judea and the siege of Jerusalem ! Could such a sudden and immense leap have possibly been made by the disciples ? Could it have been intelligible to them, or is it intelligible now ? But mark the point of transition, as fixed by Lange, at ver. 15: 'When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation,' etc. This, surely, is not transition, but continuity: all that precedes leads up to this point; the wars, and famines, and pestilences, and persecutions, and martyrdoms, were all preparatory and introductory to the 'end;' that is, to the final catastrophe which was to overtake the city, and temple, and nation of Israel.

     Next follows a paragraph from ver. 23 to ver. 28, which Lange calls,

' (b) Interval of partial and suppressed judgment.'

     This title is itself an example of fanciful and arbitrary exposition. There is something incongruous and self-contradictory in the very words themselves. A day of judgment implies publicity and manifestation, not silence and suppression. But what can be the meaning of 'silent and suppressed days of judgment,' which go on from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world ? If it be meant that there is a sense in which God is always judging the world, that is a truism which might be affirmed of any period, before as well as after the destruction of Jerusalem. But the most objectionable part of this exposition is the violent treatment of the word ' then' (p. 62) [to,te] (ver. 23). Lange says: 'Then (i.e., in the time intervening between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world).' Surely, a prodigious then ! It is no longer a point of time, but an aeon - a vast and indefinite period ; and during all that time the statements in the paragraph, ver. 23 to ver. 28, are supposed to be in course of fulfilment. But when we turn to the prophecy itself we find no change of subject, no break in the continuity of the discourse, no hint of any transition from one epoch to another. The note of time, 'then' [to,te], is decisive against any hiatus or transition. Our Saviour is putting the disciples on their guard against the deceivers and impostors who infested the last days of the Jewish commonwealth; and says to them, ' Then' (i.e., at that time, in the agony of the Jewish war) 'if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not,' etc. It is Jerusalem, always Jerusalem, and only Jerusalem, of which our Lord here speaks. At length we come to -

' The Actual End of the World' (ver. 24-31).

     Having made the transition from the 'end of the world backwards to the destruction of Jerusalem, the process is now reversed, and there is another transition, from the destruction of Jerusalem to the ' actual end of the world.' This actual end is placed after the appearance of those false Christs and false prophets against whom the disciples were warned. This allusion to 'false Christs ' ought to have saved the critic from the mistake into which be has fallen, and to have distinctly indicated the period to which the prediction refers. But where is there any sign of a division or transition here ? There is no trace or token of any : on the contrary, the express language of our Lord excludes the idea of any interval at all ; for He says : 'Immediately after the tribulation of those days,' etc. This note of time is decisive, and peremptorily forbids the supposition of any break or hiatus in the continuity of His discourse.

     But we have gone far enough in the demonstration of the arbitrary and uncritical treatment which this prophecy has received, and have been betrayed into premature exegesis of some portion of its contents. What we contend for, is the unity and continuity of the whole discourse. From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew to the close of the twenty-fifth, it is one and indivisible. The theme is the approaching consummation of the age, with its attendant and concomitant events ; the woes which were to overtake that 'wicked generation,' comprehending the invasion of the Roman armies, the siege and capture of Jerusalem, the total destruction of the temple, the frightful calamities of the people. Along with this we find the true Parousia, or the coming of the Son of man, the judicial infliction of divine wrath upon the impenitent, and the deliverance and recompense of the faithful. From beginning to end, these two chapters form one continuous, consecutive, and homogeneous discourse. So it must have been regarded by the disciples, to whom it 'was addressed; and so, in the absence of any hint or indication to the contrary in the record, we feel bound to it.


6. In. conclusion, we cannot help adverting to one other consideration, which we are persuaded has had much to do with the erroneous interpretation of this prophecy, viz., the inadequate appreciation of the importance and grandeur of the event which forms its burden- the consummation of the aeon age, and the abrogation of the Jewish dispensation.

     That was an event which formed an epoch in the divine government of the world. The Mosaic economy, which had been ushered in with such pomp and grandeur amidst the thunders and lightenings of Sinai, and had existed for well nigh sixteen centuries, which had been the divinely instituted medium of communication between God and man, and which was intended to realise a kingdom of God upon earth,- had proved a comparative failure through the moral unfitness of the people of Israel, and was doomed to come to an end amid the most terrific demonstration of the justice and wrath of God. The temple of Jerusalem, for ages the glory and crown of Mount Zion,- the sacred shrine, in whose holy place Jehovah was pleased to dwell,- the holy and beautiful house, which was the palladium of the nation's safety, and dearer than life to every son of Abraham,- was about to be desecrated and destroyed, so that not one stone should be left upon another. The chosen people, the children of the Friend of God, the favoured nation, with whom the God of the whole earth deigned to enter into covenant and to be called their King, - were to be overwhelmed by the most terrible calamities that ever befell a nation; were to be expatriated, deprived of their nationality, excluded from their ancient and peculiar relation to God, and driven forth as wanderers on the face of the earth, a byword and hissing among all nations. But along with all this there were to be changes for the better. First, and chiefly, the close of the won would be the inauguration of the reign of God. There were to be honour and glory for the true and faithful servants of God, who would then enter into the full possession of the heavenly inheritance. (This will be more fully unfolded in the sequel of our investigation.) But there was also to be a glorious change in this world. The old made way for the new ; the Law was replaced by the Gospel; Moses was superseded by Christ. The narrow and exclusive system, which embraced only a single people, was succeeded by a new and better covenant, which embraced the whole family of man, and knew no difference between Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. The dispensation of symbols and ceremonies, suited to the childhood of humanity, was merged in an order of things in which religion became a spiritual service, every place a temple, every worshipper a priest, and God the universal Father. This was a revolution greater far than any that bad ever occurred in the history of mankind. It made a new world ; it was the 'world to come,' the [oikongenh mellonoa] of Hebrews ii. 5; and the magnitude and importance of the change it is impossible to over-estimate. It is this that gives such significance to the overthrow of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem: these are the outward and visible signs of the abrogation of the old order and the introduction of the new. The story of the siege and capture of the Holy City is not simply a thrilling historical episode, such as the siege of Troy or the fall of Carthage ; it is not merely the closing scene in the annals of an ancient nation;- it has a supernatural and divine significance; it has a relation to God and the human race, and marks one of the most memorable epochs of time. This is the reason why the event is spoken of in the Scripture in terms which to some appear overstrained, or to require some greater catastrophe to account for them. But if it was fitting that the introduction of that economy should be signalised by portents and wonders, earthquakes, lightenings, thunders, and trumpet-blasts, -it was no less fitting that it should go out amid similar phenomena, fearful sights and great signs from heaven.' Had the true significance and grandeur of the event been better apprehended by expositors, they would not have found the language in which it is depicted by our Lord extravagant or overstrained. (14)

     We are now prepared to enter upon the more particular examination of the contents of this prophetic discourse ; which we shall endeavour to do as concisely as possible.

Footnotes                         

11. Lange, Comm. on Matt. p. 418

12. Stier. Red. Jes. vol. iii. 251.

13. See Note A, Part I., on the Double-sense Theory of Interpretation

14. The termination of the Jewish aion in the first century, and of the Roman in the fifth and sixth, were each marked by the same concurrence of calamities, wars, tumults, pestilences, earthquakes, &c., all marking the time of one of God's peculiar seasons of visitation.' 'For the same belief in the connexion of physical with moral convulsion-, see Niebuhr, Leben's Nachrichten, ii. p. 672 Dr. Arnold : See ' Life by Stanley,' vol. i. p. 311.

 

The Prophecy on the Mount examined:-

I. - The Interrogatory of the Disciples.

Matt. xxiv. 1-3. 'And Jesus went and departed from the temple: with his disciples came to join for to shew him all the buildings of the temple.

' And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.

'And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these thins be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world' [age] ?      

Mark xiii. 1-4. 'And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, what manner of stones and what buildings are here!

' And Jesus answering said unto them, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 'And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 'Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?   

Luke xxi. 5-7. 'And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones, and gifts, he said,
'As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
' 'And they asked Him, saying, , Master, but when shall these things be, ? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?'

 

     We may conceive the surprise and consternation felt by the disciples when Jesus announced to them the utter destruction which Was coming upon the temple of God, the beauty and splendour of which had excited their admiration. it is no marvel that four of their number, who seem to have been admitted to more intimate familiarity than the rest, sought for fuller information On a subject so intensely interesting. The only point that requires elucidation here refers to the extent of their interrogatory. St. Mark and St. Luke represent it as having reference to the time of the predicted catastrophe and the sign of As fulfilment coming to pass. St. Matthew varies the form of the question, but evidently gives the same sense, -- ' Tell us, when shall these things be ? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?' Here again it is the time and the sign which form the subject of inquiry. There is no reason whatever to suppose that they regarded in their own minds the destruction of the temple, the coming of the Lord, and the end of the age, as three distinct or widely separated events ; but, on the contrary, it is most natural to suppose that they regarded them as coincident and contemporaneous. What precise idea-, they entertained respecting the end of the age and the events therewith connected, we do not know; but we do know that they had been accustomed to hear their Master speak of His coming again ill His kingdom, coming in His glory, and that within the lifetime of some among themselves. They hall also heard Him speak of the 'end of the age ; ' and they evidently connected His ' coming ' with the end of the three points embraced in file form of their question, is given by St. Matthew, were therefore in their view contemporaneous; and thus we find no practical difference in the terms of the question of the disciples as recorded by the three Synoptists.

 

II. -- Our Lord's Answer to the Disciples.

(a) Events which more remotely were to precede the consummation.

 

Matt. xxiv. 4-14. 'And Jesus answered and said unto the, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars : see that ye be not troubled : for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom : and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you : and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray on another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations ; and then shall the end come.'

Mark xiii. 5- 13. 'And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you : for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ ; and shall deceive many.

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.

Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

Luke xxi. 8-19. And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them. But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls.

 

     It is impossible to read this section and fail to perceive its distinct reference to the period between our Lord's crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Every word is spoken to the disciples, and to them alone. To imagine that the 'ye' and 'you ' in this address apply, not to the disciples to whom Christ wits speaking, but to some unknown and yet non-existent persons in it far distant age, is so preposterous a supposition is not to deserve serious notice.

     That our Lord's words were fully verified during- the interval, between His crucifixion and the end of the age, we have the most ample testimony. False Christs and false prophets began to make their appearance at it very early period of the, Christian era, and continued to infest the land down to the very close, of Jewish history. In the procuratorship of Pilate (A.D. 36), one such appeared in Samaria, and deluded great multitudes. There was another in the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus (A.D. 45). During the government of Felix (53-60), Josephus tells us 'the country was full of robbers, magicians, false prophets, false Messiahs, and impostors' who deluded the People with promises of great events." (1) The same authority informs its that civil commotions and international feuds, were rife in those days, especially between the Jews and their neighbours. In Alexandria, in Selucia, in Syria, in Babylonia, there were violent tumults between the Jews and the Greeks, the Jews and the Syrians, inhabiting, the same cities. 'Every city was divided,' says Josephus, 'into two camps.' In the reign of Caligula great apprehensions were entertained in Judea of war with the Romans, in consequence of that tyrant's proposal to place his statue in the temple. In the reign of the Emperor Claudis (A.D. (41-54), there were four seasons of great scarcity. In the fourth year of his reign the famine in Judea was so severe, that the price of food became enormous and great numbers perished. Earthquakes occurred in each of the reigns of Caligula and Claudius. (2)

     Such calamities, the Lord gave His disciples to understand, would precede the 'end.' But they were not its immediate antecedents. They were the 'beginning of the end ; ' but 'the end is not yet.'

     At this point (ver. 9-13), our Lord passes from the general to the particular ; from the public to tile personal ; from the fortunes of nations and kingdoms to the fortunes of the disciples themselves. While these events were proceeding, the apostles were to become objects of suspicion to tile ruling powers. They were to be brought before councils, rulers, and kings, imprisoned, beaten in the synagogues, and hated of all men for Jesus' sake,

     How exactly all this was verified in the personal experience of the disciples we may read in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of St. Paul. Yet the divine promise of protection ill the hour of peril was remarkably fulfilled. With the single exception of 'James the brother of John,' no apostle seems to have fallen a victim to the malignant persecution of their enemies tip to the close of the apostolic history, as recorded in the Acts (A.D. 63).

     One other sign was to precede and usher in the consummation. 'The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world [oi.koume,ne] for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come.' We have already adverted to the fulfilment of this prediction within the apostolic age. We have the authority of St. Paul for such a universal diffusion Of tile gospel in his days as to verify the saying of Our Lord. (See Col. 1. 6, 23.) But for this explicit testimony ' from all apostle if, would have been impossible to persuade some expositors that our Lord's words had been in any sense fulfilled previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, it would have been regarded as mere extravagance, and rhodomontade. -Now, however, the objection cannot reasonably be urged.

     Here it may be proper to call to mind the note of time, given on a previous occasion to the disciples as indicative of our Lord's coming: 'Verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come' (Matt. x. 23). Comparing this declaration with the prediction before us (Matt. xxiv. 14), we may see the perfect consistency of the two statements, and also the 'terminus ad quem ' in both. In the one ease it is the evangelisation of the land of Israel, in the other, the evangelisation of the Roman empire that is referred to as the precursor of the Parousia. Both statements are true. It might well occupy the space of a generation to carry the glad tidings into every city in the land of Israel. The apostles had not too much time for their home mission, though they had upon their hands so vast a foreign mission. Obviously, we must take the language employed by Paul, as well as by our Lord in a popular sense and it would be unfair to press it to the extremity of the letter. The wide diffusion of the gospel both in the land of Israel and throughout the Roman empire, is sufficient to justify the prediction of our Lord.

     Thus far Own we have one continuous discourse, relating to a particular event, and spoken of and to particular persons. We find four signs, or sets of signs, which were to portend the approach of the great catastrophe.

1 . The appearance of false Christs and false prophets.

2. Great social disturbances and natural calamities and convulsions.

3. Persecution of the disciples and apostasy of professed believers.

4. The general publication of the gospel throughout the Roman empire.

This last sign especially betokened the near approach of the 'end.'

 

(b) Further indications of the approaching doom of Jerusalem

Matt. xxiv. 15-22

'When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop 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.


'And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. '

Mark xiii. 14-20.

'But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.

'But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. '

Luke xxi. 20-20.

'And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

'Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

'But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. '

 

     No argument is required to prove the strict and exclusive reference of this section to Jerusalem and Judea. Here we can detect no trace of it double meaning, of primary and ulterior fulfilments, of underlying and typical senses. Everything is national, local, and near :- 'the land ' is the land of Judea,-' this people ' is the people of Israel,-and the ' time the lifetime of the disciples,--' When YE therefore Shall See.'

     Most expositors find an allusion to the standards of the Roman legions in the expression, "the abomination of desolation" and the explanation is highly probable. The eagles were the objects of religious worship to the soldiers ; and the parallel passage in St. Luke is all but conclusive evidence that this is the true meaning. We know from Josephus that the attempt of a Roman general (Vitellius), in the reign of Tiberius, to march his troops through Judea, was resisted by the Jewish authorities, on the ground that the idolatrous images on their ensigns would be a profanation of the law. (3) How much greater the profanation when those idolatrous emblems were displayed in full view of the temple and the Holy City ! This was the last token which portended that the hour of doom for Jerusalem had come. Its appearance was to he the. signal to all in Judea to escape beyond the mountains for then would ensue a period of misery and horror without a parallel in the annals of time.

     That the 'great tribulation'  (Matt. xxiv. 21) has express reference to the dreadful calamities attending the siege of Jerusalem, which bore With such peculiar severity on the female sex, is too evident to be questioned. That those calamities were literally unparalleled, can easily be believed by al1 who have read the ghastly narrative in the pages of Josephus. It is remarkable that the historian begins his account of the Jewish war with the affirmation, 'that the aggregate of human woes from the beginning of the world, would, in his opinion, be light in comparison with those of the Jews., (4)

     The following graphic description introduces the tragic story of the wretched mother, whose horrible repast may have been in our Saviour's thoughts when he uttered the words recorded in Matt, xxiv. 19 :

'Incalculable was the multitude of those who perished in famine in the city -, and beyond description the sufferings they endured. In every house, if anywhere there appeared but the shadow of food, a conflict ensued ; those united by the tenderest ties fiercely contending, and snatching from one another the miserable supports of life. Nor were even the dying allowed the credit of being in want ; nay, even those. who were just expiring the brigands would search, lest, any, with food concealed under a fold of his garment, should feign death. Gaping with hunger, as maddened dogs, they went staggering to and fro and prowling about assailing the doors like drunken men, and in bewilderment rushing into the same house twice, or thrice in one hour. The cravings of nature led them to gnaw anything, and what would be rejected by the Very filthiest or the brute creation they were fain to collect and eat. Even from their belts and shoes they were at length unable to refrain, and they tore off find chewed the very leather of their shields. To some, wisps of old hay served for food ; for the fibres were gathered, and the smallest quantities sold for four Attic pieces.

' But why speak of the famine as despising restraint in the use of inanimate, When I am about to state an instance of it to which, in the history of Greeks or Barbarians, no parallel is to be found, and which is horrible to relate, and is incredible to hear? Gladly , indeed would I have omitted to mention the occurrence, lest I Should be thought by future generations to deal in the marvellous, had I not innumerable witnesses among my contemporaries. I should, besides, pay my country but a cold compliment, were I to suppress the narration of the woes which she actually suffered.' (5)

     That our Lord had in view the horrors which were to befall the Jews in the siege, and not any subsequent events it the end of time, is perfectly clear from the closing words of ver. 21-' No, nor ever shall be.'

 

(c) The disciples warned against false prophets.

 

MATT. xxiv. 23-28.  Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

Mark xiii. 21-23. And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.

 

     As yet we have found no break in the continuity of the discourse, - not the faintest indication that any transition has taken place to any other subject or any other period. The narrative is perfectly homogeneous and consecutive, and flows on without diverging to the right hand or to the left.

     The same is equally true with respect to the section now before us. The very first word is indicative of continuity Then [To,te] rid every succeeding word is plainly addressed to the disciples themselves, for their personal warning and guidance. It is clear that our Lord gives them intimation of what would shortly come to pass, or at least what they might live to witness with their own eyes. It is a vivid representation of what actually occurred in the last days of the Jewish commonwealth. The unhappy Jews, and especially the people of Jerusalem, were buoyed up with false hopes by the specious impostors who infested the land and brought ruin upon their miserable dupes. Such was the infatuation produced by the boasting pretensions of these impostors, that, as we learn from Josephus, when the temple was actually in flames a vast multitude of the deluded people fell victims to their credulity. The Jewish historian states:

' Of so great a multitude, not one escaped. Their destruction Was caused by a false prophet, who hall on that day proclaimed to those remaining in the city, that "God commanded them to go up to the temple, there to receive the signs of their deliverance." There were at this time many prophets suborned by the tyrants to delude the people, by bidding them wait for help from God, in order that there might be less desertion, and that those who were above fear and control might be encouraged by hope. Under calamities man readily yields to persuasion but when the deceiver pictures to him deliverance from pressing evils, then the sufferer is wholly influenced by hope. Thus it was that the impostors and pretended messengers of heaven at that time beguiled the wretched people., (6)

     Our Lord forewarns His disciples that His coming to that judgment- scene would be conspicuous and sudden as the lightning-flash, which reveals itself and seems to be everywhere at the, same moment. 'For,' He adds, ' wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together; that is, wherever the guilty and devoted children of Israel were found, there the destroying ministers of wrath, the Roman legions, -would overwhelm them.

 

(d) The arrival of the 'end,' or the catastrophe of Jerusalem.

 

MATT. xxiv. 29 31.  Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Mark xiii. 24-27  But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Luke x xi. 25-28.  And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

 

     Here also the phraseology absolutely forbids the idea of any transition from the. subject in hand to another. There is nothing to indicate that the scene has shifted, or a new topic been introduced. The section before, us connects itself most distinctly with the ' great tribulation' spoken of in ver. 21 of Matt. xxiv., and it is inadmissible to suppose any interval of time in the face of the adverb ' immediately ' But the scene of the 'great tribulation' is undeniably Jerusalem and Judea (ver. 15, 16), so that no break in the subject of the discourse is allowable. Again, in ver. 30, we read that 'all the tribes of the land shall mourn,' referring evidently to the population of the land of Judea; and nothing can be more forced and unnatural than to make it include, as Lange does, 'all the races and peoples' of the globe. The restricted sense of the word (gh) [=land] in the New Testament is common ; and when connected, as it is here, with the word 'tribes', its limitation to the land of Israel is obvious. This is the view adopted by Dr. Campbell and Moses Stuart, and it is indeed self- evident. We find a similar expression in Zech. xii. 12--'All the families [tribes] of the land,'- where its restricted sense is obvious and undisputed. The two passages are in fact exactly parallel, and nothing could be more misleading than to understand the phrase as including 'all the races of the earth.' The structure of the discourse, then, inflexibly resists the supposition of a change of subject. Time, place, circumstances, all continue the same. It is therefore with unfeigned wonder that we find Dean Alford commenting in the following fashion : ' All the difficulty which this word [immediately - e.uqe,wj) has been supposed to involve has arisen from confounding, the fulfillment of the prophecy with it's ultimate one. The important insertion ver. 23,24, in Luke xxi.. shows us that be " tribulation " [qliyij] includes o.rgh. e,n tw/ law tou,tw (wrath upon this people), which is yet being inflicted, and the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, still going on; and immediately after that tribulation, which shall happen when the cup of Gentile iniquity is full, and when this gospel shall have hem preached it all the world for a witness, and rejected by the Gentiles, shall the coming of the, Lord Himself happen. . . . (The expression in Mark is equally indicative of a considerable interval -- in those days after that tribulation.) The fact of His coming and its attendant circumstances being known to Him, but the exact time unknown, He speaks without regard to the interval, which would be, employed in His waiting till all things are put under His feet,' etc. (7)

     It may be said that in this comment there are almost as many errors as words. Indeed, it is not the explanation of a prophecy so much as an independent prophecy of the commentator himself. First, there is the groundless hypothesis of it double sense, it partial and an ultimate fulfilment, for which there is no foundation in the text, but which is a mere arbitrary and gratuitous supposition. Next, we have it 'tribulation,' not 'shortened,' as the Lord declares, but protracted so as be 'still going on' in the present day. Then the word 'immediately ' is made to refer to a period not yet come, so that between ver. 28 and ver. 29, where the unassisted eye can perceive no trace of any line of transition, the critic intercalates an immense period of more than eighteen centuries, with the possibility of an indefinite duration in addition. Still further we have an implied contradiction of St. Paul's statement that the gospel was preached 'in all the world' (Col. i. v. 23), and the assumption that the gospel is to be rejected by the Gentiles. Then the commentator finds that St. Mark suggests a 'considerable interval,' whereas he expressly says In those very days after that tribulation' [en ekeinaij taij hmeraij meta thn qliyin ekeinhn] -precluding the possibility of any interval at all, and lastly we have what appears like an apology for the veracity of the prediction, on the ground that our Lord, not, knowing the exact time when His coming would take place, ' speaks without regard to the, interval,' etc.

     It is obvious, that if this is the way in which Scripture is to be interpreted, the ordinary laws of exegesis must be thrown aside as useless. He is the best interpreter who is the boldest guesser. Is there any ancient book which a grammarian would treat after this fashion? Would it not be pronounced intolerable and uncritical if such liberties were taken with Homer or Plato ? Would it not have been a mockery to propound such riddles to the disciples as an answer to their question, 'When shall these things be ?

     How could they know of partial and ultimate fulfilments, and double senses? and what effect could be produced in their minds, but titter perplexity and bewilderment? We cannot help protesting against such treatment of the words of Scripture, as not only unscholarly and uncritical, but in the highest degree presumptuous and irreverent.

     But, it is answered, the character of our Lord's language in this passage necessitates. As application to a grand and awful catastrophe which is still future, and can be properly understood of nothing less than the total dissolution of the fabric of the universe, and the mid of all things. How can any one pretend it is said, that the sun has been darkened, that the moon has withdrawn her light, that the stars have fallen from heaven, that the Son of man has been seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ? Did such phenomena occur at the destruction of Jerusalem, or can they apply to anything else than the Enid consummation of all things?

     To argue in this strain is to lose sight of the very nature and genius of prophecy. Symbol and metaphor belong to the grammar of prophecy, as every reader of the Old Testament prophets must know. Is it not reasonable that the doom of Jerusalem should be depicted in language as glowing and rhetorical as the destruction of Babylon, or Bozrah, or Tyre? How then does the prophet Isaiah de scribe the downfall of Babylon ?

'Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel tooth with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate : and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of a. For Me skin of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not their light : the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, awl /he moon shall not cause her light to shine. . . . I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place' (Isa. xiii. 9. 10, 13).

     It will at once be seen that the imagery employed in this passage is almost identical with that of our Lord. If these symbols therefore were proper to represent the fall of Babylon why should they be improper to set forth a still greater catastrophe -- the destruction of Jerusalem ?

     Take another example. The prophet Isaiah announces the desolation of Bozrah, the capital of Edom, in the following language :

' The mountains shall be melted with the blood of the slain. . . . All the host of heaven shall be dissolved and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll : and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from my vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold it - shall come down upon Idumea,' etc. (Isa. xxxiv. 4, 5.)

     Here again we have the very imagery used by our Lord in His prophetic discourse ; And if the fate of Bozrah might properly be described in language so lofty, why should it be thought extravagant to employ similar terms in describing the fate of Jerusalem ?

     Again, the prophet Micah speaks of a 'coming of the Lord ' to judge and punish Samaria and Jerusalem -- a coming to judgment which had unquestionably taken place long before our Saviour's time, -- and in what magnificent diction does he represent this scene !

'Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high Oar, of the earth. And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be as wax before the fire, and as Me waters that arc poured down a steep place' (Micah i. 3, 4).

     It would be easy to multiply examples of this characteristic quality of prophetic diction. Prophecy is of the nature of poetry, and depicts events, not in the prosaic style of the historian, but in the glowing imagery of the poet. Add to this that the Bible does not speak with the cold logical correctness of the Western peoples, but with the tropical fervour of the, gorgeous East. Yet it would be improper to call such language extravagant or overcharged. The moral grandeur of the events which such symbols represent may be most fitly set forth by convulsion; and cataclysms in the natural world. Nor is it necessary to construct a grammar of symbolology and End an analogue for every sacred hieroglyphic, by which to translate each particular metaphor into its proper equivalent, for this would be to turn prophecy into allegory. The following observations on the figurative language of Scripture are judicious. What is grand in nature is used to express what is dignified and important among men, ---the heavenly bodies, mountains, stately trees, kingdoms or those in authority. . . . Political changes are represented by earthquakes, tempests, eclipses, the turning of waters and seas into blood.' (8)

     The conclusion then to which we are irresistibly led, is, that the imagery employed by our lord in His prophetic discourse is not inappropriate to the dissolution of the Jewish state and polity which took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. It is appropriate, both as it is in keeping with the acknowledged style of the ancient prophets, and also because the moral grandeur of the event is such as to justify the use of such language in this particular case.

     But we may go further than this, and affirm that it is not only appropriate as applied to the destruction of Jerusalem, but that this is its true and exclusive application. We find no vestige of an intimation that our Lord had any ulterior and occult signification in view. But we do find that there is scarcely a feature in this sublime and awful description which He Himself had not already anticipated, and fixed in its application to a particular event and a particular time. Let the reader carefully compare the description in the passage before us, of 'the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory' (Matt. xxiv. 30) (9), with our Lord's declaration (Matt. xvi. 27)- 'For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels,'- an event which He expressly affirms would be witnessed by some of His disciples then living. Again, the sending forth of His angels to gather together His elect, corresponds exactly with the representation of what would take place in the 'harvest,' at the end of the won, as described in the parables of the tares and the dragnet (Matt. xii. 41-50)- 'The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.' 'So shall it be at the end of the age [won]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire.' Here the prophecy and the parable represent the self- same scene, the self-same period : they alike speak of the close of the won or age, not of the end of the world, or material universe ; and they alike speak of that great judicial epoch as at hand. How plainly does St. Luke, in his record of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, represent the great catastrophe as falling within the lifetime of the disciples : 'And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads ; for your redemption draweth nigh' (Luke xxi. 28). Were not these words spoken to the disciples, who listened to the discourse ? Did they not apply to them ? Is there anywhere even a suspicion that they were meant for another audience, thousands of years distant, and not for the eager group who drank in the words of Jesus ? Surely such a hypothesis carries its own refutation in its very front.

     But, its if to preclude even the possibility of misconception or mistake, our Lord in the next paragraph draws around His prophecy a line so plain and palpable, shutting it wholly within a limit so definite and distinct, that it ought to be decisive of the whole question.

 

(e) The Parousia to take place before the passing away of the existing generation.

 

MATT. xxiv. 32-31. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

MARK xiii. 28-30. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

LUKE xxi. 29-32. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.

 

     Words have no meaning if this language, uttered on so solemn an occasion, and so precise and express in its import, does not affirm the near approach of the great event which occupies the -whole discourse of our Lord. First, the parable of the fig-tree intimates that as the buds on the trees betoken the near approach of summer, so the signs which He had just specified would betoken that the predicted consummation was at hand. They, the disciples to whom He was speaking, were to see them, and when they saw them to recognise that the end was ' near, even at the doors.' Next, our Lord sums up with an affirmation calculated to remove every vestige of doubt or uncertainty,

 

'VERILY I SAY UNTO YOU, THIS GENERATION SHALL NOT PASS,

TILL ALL THESE THINGS BE FULFILLED.'

     One would reasonably suppose that after a note of time so clear and express there could not be room for controversy. Our Lord Himself has settled the question. Ninety-nine persons in every hundred would undoubtedly understand His words as meaning that the predicted catastrophe would fall within the limits of the lifetime of the existing generation. Not that all would probably live to witness it, but that most or many would. There can be no question that this would be the interpretation which the disciples would place upon the words. Unless, therefore, our Lord intended to mystify His disciples, He gave them plainly to understand that His coining, the judgment of the Jewish nation, and the close of the age, would come to pass before the existing generation had -wholly passed away, and within the limits of their own lifetime. This, as we have already seen, was no new idea, but one which on several occasions He had previously expressed.

     Far, however, from accepting this decision of our Lord as final, the commentators have violently resisted that which seems the natural and common-sense meaning of His words. They have insisted that because the events predicted did Hot so come, to pass in that generation, therefore the word generation (genea.) cannot possibly mean, what it is usually understood to mean, the people of that particular age or period, the contemporaries of our Lord. To affirm that these things did not conic to pass is to beg the question, and something more.

     But we submit that it is the business of grammarians not to be apprehensive of possible consequences, but to settle the true meaning of words. Our Lord's predictions may be safely left to take care of themselves; it is for us to try to understand them.

     It is contended by many that in this place the word genea. should be rendered 'race, or nation; ' and that our Lord's words mean no more than that the Jewish race or nation Should Hot pass away, or perish, until the predictions which He had just uttered had come to pass. This is the meaning which Lange, Stier, Alford, and many other expositors attach to the word, and it is maintained with conspicuous ability and copious learning by Dorner in his tractate, ' Do Oratione Christi Eschatologica.' It is true, no doubt, that the word genea, like most others, has different shades of meaning, and that sometimes, in the Septuagint and in classic authors it may refer to a nation or a race. But we think that it is demonstrable without any shadow of doubt that the expression ' this generation,' so often employed by our Lord, always refers solely and exclusively to His contemporaries, the Jewish people of His own period. It might safely be left to the candid judgment of every reader, whether a Greek Scholar or not, whether this is Hot so: but as the point is one of great importance, it may be desirable to adduce the proofs of this assertion.

1. In our Lord's final address to the people, delivered on the same day as this discourse on the Mount of Olives, He declared, ' All these things shall come upon this generation ' (Matt xxiii. 36). No commentator has ever proposed to understand this as referring to any other than the existing generation.

2. 'Whereunto shall I liken this generation?' (Matt. xi. 16.) Here it is admitted by Lange and Stier that the word refers to ' the then existing last generation of Israel ' (Lange, in loc. Stier, vol ii. 98).

3. 'An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.' 'The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation.' ' The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation.' ' Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation ' (Matt. xii. 39, 41, 42, 45).

     In these four passages Dorner endeavours to make out That our Lord is not speaking of His contemporaries, the men of His own period, ' For,' be says, 'the Gentiles ' (the Ninevites and the Queen of the South) 'are opposed to the Jews; therefore "this generation "' [h, genea. a[uth] 'must signify the nation or race of the Jews' (Dorner, Orat. Chr. Esch., p. 81). His argument, however, is not convincing. Surely the generation which sought after a sign was the then existing generation ; and can it be supposed that it was against any other generation than that which had resisted such preaching as that of John the Baptist and of Christ that the Gentiles were to rise up in the judgment? There is only one interpretation of our Lord's language possible, and it is that which refers His words to His own perverse and unbelieving contemporaries.

4. 'That the blood of all the prophets . . . may be required of this generation.' ' It shall be required of this generation ' (Luke xi. 50, 51).

Here Dorner himself admits that it is of the existing generation (hoc ipsum hominum avum) that these words are spoken (p. 41).

5. 'Whosoever shall be ashamed of me in this adulterous and sinful generation' (Mark viii. 38).

6. ' The Son of man must be rejected of this generation  (Luke xvii. 25). It is only necessary to quote these passages in order to determine their sole reference to the particular generation that rejected the Messiah.

     These are all the examples in which the expression 'this generation' occurs in the sayings of our Lord, and they establish beyond all reasonable question the reference of the words in the important declaration now before us. But suppose that we were to adopt the rendering proposed, and take genea as meaning a race, what point or significance would there be in the prediction then ? Can any one believe that the assertion so solemnly made by our Lord, 'Verily I say unto you,' etc., amounts to no more than this, 'The Hebrew race shall not become extinct till all these things be fulfilled '? Imagine a prophet in our own times predicting a great catastrophe in which London would be destroyed, St. Paul's and the Houses of Parliament levelled with the ground, and a fearful slaughter of the inhabitants be perpetrated; and that when asked, 'When shall these things come to pass ? ' he should reply, 'The Anglo-Saxon race shall not become extinct till all these things be fulfilled' ! Would this be a satisfactory answer ? Would not such an answer be considered derogatory to the prophet, and an affront to his hearers ? Would they not have reason to say, 'It is safe prophesying when the event is placed at an interminable distance ! ' But the bare supposition of such a sense in our Lord's prediction shows itself to be a reductio ad absurdum. Was it for this that the disciples were to wait and watch ? Was this the lesson son that the budding fig- tree taught? Was it not until the Jewish race was about to become extinct that they were to 'look up, and lift up their beads '? Such a hypothesis is its own refutation.

     We fall back, therefore, upon the only tenable and possible interpretation, and understand our Lord to mean, what in so many words He says, that the events specified in His prediction would assuredly come to pass before the existing generation had wholly passed away. This is the only interpretation which the words will bear; every other involves a wresting of language, and a violence to the understanding. Besides, it is in harmony with the uniform teaching of our Saviour. He had long before assured His disciples that some of them should live to witness His return in glory (Matt. xvi. 27, 28).

     He had told them that before they had completed their apostolic mission to the cities of Israel the Son of man should come (Matt. x. 23). He had declared that all the blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, should be required of that generation (Matt. xxiii. 35, 36). It was, therefore, of that generation that He spoke. It should never be forgotten that there was a specialty about that generation. It was the last and worst of all the generations of Israel, inheriting the guilt of all its predecessors, and was about to be visited with signal and un- paralleled judgments. Whether the predicted catastrophe came to pass is another question, which will come to be considered in its proper place. (10)

     Other interpretations which have been suggested, as 'the human race,' 'the generation of the righteous,' and 'the generation of the wicked,' do not require consideration.

     A word or two may be needful respecting the length of time covered by a generation. Of course, it is not an exact measure of time, like a decade or a century, but has a certain indefiniteness or elasticity, yet within certain limits, say between thirty and forty years. In the book of Numbers we find that the generation which provoked the Lord to exclude them from the land of Canaan, and were doomed to fall in the wilderness, were to die out in the space of forty years. In the ninety-fifth psalm we read, ' Forty years long was I grieved with this generation.' In the genealogical table given by St. Matthew we have data for estimating the length of a generation. We there find that 'from the carrying" away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations' (Matt. 1. 17). Now the date of the captivity, in the reign of Zedekiah, is said to be circa B.C. 586, which, divided by fourteen, gives forty-one years and a fraction as the average length of each generation. The Jewish war under Nero broke Out A.D. 66, and assuming our Lord to have been about thirty-three years of age at the time of His crucifixion, this would give a space of about thirty-three years when the signs betokening the approach of 'the end' would ' begin to come to pass.' The destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem took place in September A.D. 70, that is, about thirty-seven years after the prophecy of the Mount of Olives, a space of time that amply satisfies the requirements of the case. It is neither so short as to make it inappropriate to say, 'This generation shall not pass away,' etc., nor so long as to throw it beyond the lifetime of many who might have seen and heard the Saviour, or of the disciples themselves.

     'That generation' would indeed be then passing away, but it would not have wholly passed.

 

(f) Certainty of the consummation, yet uncertainty of its precise date.

 

MATT. xxiv. 35, 36. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

MARK xiii. 31, 32. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Luke xxi. 33. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.

 

     Although our Lord has defined the limits of the time within which the predicted consummation would take place, yet a certain amount of indefiniteness remains respecting the moment of its arrival. He does not specify the exact date, the 'hour, or the day,' or even the month or the year. This does not mean that the whole question of time is left unsettled: it refers merely to the precise date. The consummation was to fall within the term of the existing generation, but the particular hour when the knell of doom should sound was not revealed to man, nor angel, nor (what is stranger still) to the Son of man Himself. It was the secret which the Father kept 'in His own power.' There were doubtless sufficient reasons for this reserve. To have specified 'the day and the hour'-to have said, 'In the seven and-thirtieth year, in the sixth month and the eighth day of the month, the city shall be taken and the temple burnt with fire '-would not only have been inconsistent with the manner of prophecy, but would have taken away one of the strongest inducements to constant watchfulness and prayer-the uncertainty of the precise time.

 

(g) Suddenness of the Parousia, and calls to watchfulness.

 

Matt. xxiv. 37-42. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Luke xvii. 26-37. And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot's wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

 

MATT. xxiv. 42. 'Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. '

Mark xiii. 33-5.' Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. 'Watch ye therefore : for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning : lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.'

Luke xxi. 34-6. 'And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. [land].

'Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. '

 

     All the representations given by our Lord of the coming catastrophe and its concomitant events imply that it would take men by surprise. As the deluge came suddenly upon the antediluvians, and the storm of fire and brimstone on the cities of the plain, so the final catastrophe would overtake Jerusalem and Judea at an unexpected hour, when the business and the pleasure of life occupied men's hands and hearts. In Luke xvii. we have the fullest record of our Lord's discourse on this point. Whether the passage in St. Luke has been transposed by him from its original connection, or whether our Lord uttered the same words on separate occasions, does not particularly concern us here. Neander is of opinion that 'Luke gives the natural connection of these words,' and that in St. Matthew 'they are placed with many other similar passages referring to the last crisis.' (11) We doubt this ; but, waiving this question, one thing is indubitable, viz., that both St. Matthew and St. Luke describe the same thing, the self-same period, the self-same catastrophe. It is surprising to find Alford asserting, in regard to the passage in St. Luke, ' There is not a word in all this of the destruction of Jerusalem.' It would be more correct to say,' ' Every word here is of the destruction of Jerusalem. Observe the note of time so distinctly marked by our Lord: ' But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation' (Luke xvii. 25). What other catastrophe belongs to the period of that generation which could fitly be compared with the destruction of the antediluvian world by a flood of water, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by a deluge of fire ?

     From the certainty and suddenness of the approaching consummation our Lord draws the lesson which He impresses on His disciples, -the necessity for vigilance. Here He first utters the admonition which from that time never ceased to be the watchword of His disciples throughout the apostolic age, 'Watch and pray! ' We shall find how constantly and urgently this call was addressed by the Apostles to the faithful in their day, and how it is continually repeated, down to the latest moment that we catch the sound of an apostolic -voice. This watchfulness was essential to the safety of the followers of Christ, for so sudden would be the catastrophe that it would overtake the unready and unwary, as birds that are caught in a net. 'For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole land (pashj thj ghj) - words which plainly intimate the local character of the event.

     We have a striking commentary on this passage in the history of Josephus. Accounting for the prodigious numbers slaughtered in the siege of Jerusalem, -one million one hundred thousand, -he says, 'Of these the greater proportion were of Jewish blood, though not natives of the place. Having assembled from the whole country for the feast of unleavened bread, they were suddenly hemmed in by the war. On this occasion the whole nation had been shut up as in a prison, by fate; and the war encircled the city when it was crowded with, men.' (12) A more exact verification of our Lord's prediction (Luke xxi. 35) it is impossible to conceive.

     In all this we observe the continuation of that direct personal address which proves that our Lord was speaking to His disciples of that in which they were personally concerned. There is not the faintest hint that there was an undercurrent of meaning in His words, and that when He said 'Jerusalem,' and 'this generation,' and 'ye,' He meant ' the world,' and ' distant ages,' and 'disciples yet unborn.'

     At this point St. Mark and St. Luke close their record of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, and it cannot be denied that their ending here is natural and appropriate. We have in the Gospel of St. Matthew, however, a series of parables appended to our Lord's discourse, such as He was accustomed to employ in teaching the people. It strikes us as somewhat singular that our Lord should speak in parables to His disciples, especially on such an occasion; and there is not a little to be said for the opinion of Neander, that ' it was peculiar to the editor of our Greek Matthew to arrange together congenial sayings of Christ, though uttered at different times and in different relations. We need not therefore wonder if we find it impossible to draw the lines of distinction in this discourse with entire accuracy; nor need such It result lead us to forced interpretations, inconsistent with truth, and with the love of truth. It is much easier to make such distinctions in Luke's account (chap. xxi.), though even that is not without its difficulties. In comparing Matthew and Luke together, however, we can trace the origin of most of these difficulties to the blending of different portions together, when the discourses of Christ were arranged in collections.' (13)

     But without discussing this question, it is very evident that the parables recorded by St. Matthew in connection with this discourse, even if not originally spoken on this particular occasion, are strictly germane to the subject; while, if this be their true place in the narrative, their bearing on the matter in hand is still more close and intimate.

     We now proceed to consider the parables and parabolic sayings of our Lord recorded in connection with this prophecy, chiefly by St. Matthew.

 

(h) The disciples warned of the suddenness of the Parousia.

Parable of the Goodman of the House.

 

Matt. xxiv. 43-51. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 'But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Mark xiii. 34-37.

'For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. 'Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

Luke xii. 39-46.

'And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
'But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

 

     It will be seen that this parabolic saying of our Lord is recorded in quite different connections by St. Matthew and St. Luke. The verbal resemblance, however, is too exact to render it probable that it was spoken on two different occasions. The slightest attention will satisfy the reader that St. Luke's report is the more full and circumstantial, and that be assigns to it its true chronological position. This appears from the fact that the question of St. Peter, recorded only by St. Luke, gave rise to the concluding remarks of our Lord, which, as given by St. Matthew without this connecting link, seem somewhat incoherent and abrupt. Besides, we can scarcely suppose that St. Peter, conversing in private with only three other disciples in company with the Lord, would ask, 'Speakest thou this parable to us, or even to all ? ' --a question which was most natural when, as St. Luke tells us, Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the presence of a great multitude (Luke xii. 1). It is worthy of notice also that in Mark xiii. 34-37, where we can detect evident traces of this parable, the question of St. Peter is distinctly answered, 'What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch ;' a statement which would be out of place when our Lord was speaking to four persons, but quite appropriate when speaking to a multitude.

     There is no impropriety, therefore, in supposing that St. Matthew, perceiving the words of Jesus, spoken on another occasion, to be admirably illustrative of the necessity for watchfulness in view of the Lord's coming, inserted them in this eschatological discourse. Stier suggests that St. Mark gives a short abridgment of Matt. xxiv. 43, with the two parables of the servant, Matt. xxiv. 45-51 and xxv. 14, and even with a slight echo of the parable of the virgins.' (14) We have no more reason to require strict chronological arrangement in the Evangelists than strictly -verbatim reports: neither the one nor the other entered into their plan.

     But what is chiefly important for us is the bearing of this parable, if it may be so called, of the goodman of the house watching against the midnight thief, on the preceding discourse of our Lord. Nothing can be more evident than that it is wrought into the very warp and woof of that discourse. There is Do introduction of a new topic at the forty- third verse of the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew: no transition to another catastrophe, or another coming different from those of which He had all along been speaking. There is no hiatus, no break, in the continuity of the discourse ; no indication of passing away from the grand event which engrossed the thoughts of the disciples to another in the far distant futurity. It seems incredible that any critical judgment should select Matt. xxiv. 43 as the commencement of a new subject of discourse. Yet this is done by Dr. Ed. Robinson, who says, ' Our Lord here makes a transition, and proceeds to speak of his final coming at the day of judgment. This appears from the fact that the matter of these sections is added by Matthew after Mark and Luke have ended their parallel reports relative to the Jewish catastrophe; and Matthew here commences, with ver. 43, the discourse which Luke has given on another occasion, Luke xii. 39, &c." (15) But there is not the faintest shadow of any transition. The finest instrument cannot draw a dividing line between the parts of the discourse, and assign one portion to the judgment of the Jewish nation and another to the judgment of the human race. There is not transition, but continuation, at ver. 43. Nothing can be more consecutive and concatenated. 'Watch therefore,' says our Lord to His disciples in ver. 42, 'for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.' 'Therefore, be ye also ready,' He says in ver. 44, ' for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.' The suggestion that a new topic, having reference to a totally different event, in a far distant age of time, is introduced here, is altogether arbitrary and groundless.

 

Footnotes                         

1. Jos. Antiq. bk. xx. x. xiii. § 5, 6.

2. Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epist. of St. Paul, c. iv

3. Jos. Antiq. bk. xviii. c. v, § 3

4. Traill's Jos. Jewish War, pref. ~ 4.

5. Traill's Jos. Jewish War, bk. vi. c. v. § 3

6. Traill's Jos. Jewish War, bk. vi. c. v. § 2

7. See Alford Gr. Test, Matt. xxiv. 29,

8. Angus's Bible Handbook p. 20 § i.

9. The phenomena described by our Lord as accompanying the Parousia (ver. 29), cannot be explained by the portents slid prodigies alleged by Josephus to have preceded the capture of Jerusalem (Jewish War, bk. vi. c. v. § 3). That some at least of those portents actually appeared there seems no reason to doubt, and they serve to verify the prediction in Luke xxi. 11, -- ' Fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.'

10. The note in Robinson's Harmony of the Four Gospels, part vii. § 128, is excellent. 'This generation,' etc. These words (genea ) cannot be understood (as some have explained them) of the Jewish nation or the human race. The meaning is, that the men of that age should not all die (See Matt. xvi. 28, in § 74) before the prophecy would be accomplished, which began to come to pass thirty-seven years after its utterance in the destruction of Jerusalem,' etc. -

11. Life of Christ, c. xii. § 214, note.

12. Traill's Josephus, Jewish War, b. -vi. ch. ix. § § 3, 4

13. Life of Christ, § 254, Note.

14. Reden Jesu, vol. iii. p. 304

15. Harmony of the Four Gospels, § 129.

II. Our Lord's Answer to the Disciples, cont.:-

 

(i) The Parousia a time of judgment alike to the friends and the enemies of Christ.

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

MATT. xxv. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut. Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour' [wherein the Son of man cometh].

     Almost all expositors suppose that Jerusalem and Israel now disappear wholly from the scene, and that our Lord refers exclusively to the final consummation of all things and the judgment of the human race. This supposed transition is rendered more easy to the English reader by a new chapter commencing at this point.

     But has our Lord really dropped the subject with which He and His disciples had been hitherto occupied ? Has He passed from the near and imminent to a far distant era, separated from His own time by hundreds and thousands of years ? If it were so, we might surely expect some very distinct indication of the change of subject. But there is absolutely none. On the contrary, the supposition of a new theme being introduced by this parable is entirely forbidden by the express terms in which the parable opens and closes. it opens with a very explicit note of time,- then, at that time. There is no hiatus between the end of chap. xxiv. and the commencement of chap. xxv. The connecting link ' then' carries forward the discourse, and knits it into close connection as regards theme, time, and the persons addressed. This is further confirmed by the fact that the moral of the parable of the ten virgins is precisely the same as that of the good man of the house in the preceding chapter, viz. the necessity of watchfulness. The closing words,- 'Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour,'- so evidently addressed to the disciples, are the very same which our Lord had already spoken in chap. xxiv. 42; so that in both passages the reference must be to the self-same event.

     It does not come within our province to give a detailed exposition of this parable. There are theologians who find a mystery in every word: in the number ten, in the number five, in virginity, in lamps, in oil, etc. (See Lange in loc.) As Calvin sarcastically observes, 'Multum se torquent quidam, in lucernis, in vasis, in oleo.' Suffice it here to note the great lesson of the parable. It is the necessity for constant readiness and watchfulness for the sudden and speedy return of the Son of man. Unwatchfulness and unreadiness would involve the penalty which befell the foolish virgins, viz. exclusion from the marriage supper of the Lamb.

     We find therefore in this parable an organic connection with the whole previous discourse of our Lord. It is still the same great theme of which He is speaking,- the consummation which was to take place within the limits of the existing generation, -- and concerning which the disciples expressed so natural an anxiety.

 

(k) The Parousia a time of judgment.

Parable of the Talents.

MATT. xxv. 14-30. -- ' For [the kingdom of heaven is] as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I Will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well clone, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I win make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard mail, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance : but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the. unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

 

     In this parable we find an evident continuation of the same sub though presented in a somewhat different aspect. The moral of the preceding parable was vigilance ; that of the present is diligence. It can hardly be said that a new element is introduced in this parable, for the representation of the coming of Christ as a time of judgment runs through the whole prophetic discourse of our Lord. It is this fact which gives point and urgency to the oft-reiterated call to watchfulness. Not only was it to be a time of judgment for Jerusalem and Israel, but even for the disciples of Christ themselves. They too were 'to stand before the Son of man.' There was danger lest 'that day' should come upon them unprepared and unaware. This association of judgment with the Parousia comes out in the parable of the good man of the house, and still more in that of the good and the evil. servants. It is yet more vividly expressed in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, has greater prominence still in the parable of the talents ; but it reaches the climax in the concluding parable, if it may be so called, of the sheep and the goats.

     It is not necessary to enter into the details of the parable of the talents. Its leading features are simple and obvious. It contains a solemn warning to the servants of Christ to be faithful and diligent in the absence of their Lord. It points to a day when He would return and reckon with them. It sets forth the abundant recompense of the good and faithful, and the punishment of the unfaithful servant.

     The point, however, which chiefly concerns us in this investigation is the relation of this parable to the preceding discourse. What can be more plain than the intimate connection between the one and the other? The connective particle 'for' in ver. 14 distinctly marks the continuation of the discourse. The theme is the same, the time is the same, the catastrophe is the same. Up to this point, therefore, we find no break, no change, no introduction of a different topic ; all is continuous, homogeneous, one. Never for a moment has the discourse swerved from the great, all absorbing theme,- the approaching doom of the guilty city and nation, with the solemn events attendant thereon, all to take place within the period of that generation, and which the disciples, or some of them, would live to witness.

 

(1) The Parousia a time of judgment.

The Sheep and the Goats.

MATT. XXV. 31-46-' When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all [the] nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shalt set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

'Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Die in: naked, and ye clothed Die: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee ,in hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink ? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in ? or naked, and clothed thee ? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee ? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

'Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire., prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat : I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee ? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.'

     Up to this point we have found the discourse of Jesus on the Mount of Olives one connected and continuous prophecy, having sole reference to the great catastrophe impending over the Jewish nation, and which was to take place, according(, to our Lord's prediction, before the existing generation should pass away. Now, however, we encounter a passage which, in the opinion of almost all commentators, cannot be understood as referring to Jerusalem or Israel, but to the whole human race and the consummation of all things. If the consensus of expositors can establish an interpretation, no doubt this passage must be regarded as wholly quitting the subject of the disciples' interrogatory, and describing the last scene of all in this world's history.

     It may be freely admitted that this parable, or parabolic description, has many points of difference from the preceding portion of our Lord's discourse. It seems to stand separate and distinct from the rest, without the connecting links which we have found in other sections. Still more, it seems to take a wider range than Jerusalem and Israel ; it reads like the judgment, not of a nation, but of all nations; not of a city or a country, but of a world ; not a passing crisis, but final consummation.

     It is therefore with a deep sense of the difficulty of the task that we venture to impugn the interpretation of so many wise and good men, and to contend that the passage is not only an integral part of the prophecy, but also belongs wholly to the subject of our Lord's discourse,-- the judgment of Israel and the end of the [Jewish] age.

1. This parable, though in our English version standing apart and unconnected with the context, is really connected by a very sufficient link with what goes before. This is a parent in the Greek, where we find the particle, the force of which is to indicate transition and connection, -- transition to a new illustration, and connection with the foregoing Context. Alford, in his revised New Testament, preserves the continuative particle-- 'But when the Son of man shall have come in his glory,' etc. It might with equal propriety be rendered -- And when,' etc.

2. This 'coming of the Son of man' has already been predicted by our Lord (Matt. xxiv. 30, and parallel passages, and the time expressly defined, being included in the comprehensive declaration, 'Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled' (Matt. xxiv. 34).

3. It deserves particular notice that the description of the coming of the Son of man in his glory' given in this parable tallies in all points with that in Matt. xvi. 27, 28, of which it is expressly affirmed that it would be witnessed by some then present when the prediction was made.

     It may be well to compare the two descriptions

 

MATT. xvi. 27, 28. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. 'Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

MATT. XXV. 31-33. When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations,' etc.

 

     Here the reader will note

(a) That in both passages the subject referred to is the same, viz. the coming of the Son of man- the Parousia.

(b) In both passages He is described as coming in glory.

(c) In both He is attended by the holy angels.

(d) In both He comes as a King. ' Coming in his kingdom; ' He shall sit upon his throne; Then shall the King,' etc.

(e) 'In both He comes to judgment.

(f) In both the judgment is represented as in some sense universal. 'He shall reward every man 'Before him shall be gathered all the nations.'

(g) In Matt. xvi. 28 it is expressly stated that this coming in glory, etc., was to take place in the lifetime of some then present. This fixes the occurrence of the Parousia within the limit of a human life, thus being in perfect accord with the period defined by our Lord in His prophetic discourse. 'This generation shall not pass,' etc.

     We are fully warranted, therefore, in regarding the coming of the Son of man in Matt. xxv. as identical with that referred to in Matt. xvi., which some of the disciples were to live to witness.

     Thus, notwithstanding the words ' all the nations ' in Matt. xxv. 32, we are brought to the conclusion that it is not the 'final consummation of all things ' which is there spoken of, but the judgment of Israel at the close of the [Jewish] ,aeon or age.

4. But it will still be objected that a very formidable difficulty remains in the expression 'all the nations.' The difficulty, however, is more apparent than real; for

(1) It is not at all uncommon to find in Scripture universal propositions which must be understood in a qualified or restricted sense.

     There is a case in point in this very discourse of our Lord. In Matt. xxiv. 22, speaking of the 'great tribulation,' He Says, ' Except those days should be shortened there should no flesh be saved.' Now it is evident that this 'great tribulation' was limited to Jerusalem, or, at all events, to Judea, and yet we have an expression used in regard to the inhabitants of a city or country -which is wide enough to include the whole human race, in which sense Lange and Alford actually understand it.

(2) There is great probability in the opinion that the phrase ' all the nations ' is equivalent to 'all the tribes of the land' (Matt. xxiv. 30). There is no impropriety in designating the tribes as nations. The promise of God to Abraham was that he should be the father of many nations (Gen. xvii. 5; Rom. iv. 17, 18).

     In our Lord's time it was usual to speak of the inhabitants of Palestine as consisting of several nations. Josephus speaks of ' the nation of the Samaritans,' 'the nation of the Batanaeans,' ' the nation of the Galileans,'-- using the very word (etnoj) which we find in the passage before us. Judea, was a distinct nation, often with a king of its own; so also was Samaria; and so with Idumea, Galilee, Paraea, Batanea, Trachonitis, Ituraea, Abilene,-- all of which had at different times princes with the title of Ethnarch, a name which signifies the ruler of a nation. It is doing no violence, then, to the language to understand as referring, to 'all the nations' of Palestine, or ' all the tribes of the land.'

(3) This view receives strong confirmation from the fact that the same phrase in the apostolic commission (Matt. xxviii.19), 'Go and teach all the nations,' does not seem to have been understood by the disciples as referring to the whole population of the globe, or to any nations beyond Palestine. It is commonly supposed that the apostles knew that they had received a charge to evangelise the world. If they did know it, they were culpably remiss in not acting upon it. But it is presumable that the words of our Lord (lid not convey any such idea to their mind. The learned Professor Burton observes : "It was not until fourteen years after our Lord's ascension that St. Paul travelled -for the first time, and preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Nor is there any evidence that during that period the other apostles passed the confines of Judea.' (1)

     The fact seems to be that the language of the apostolic commission did not convey to the minds of the apostles any such ecumenical ideas. Nothing more astonished them than the discovery that 'God had granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life' (Acts xi. 18). When St. Peter was challenged for going in 'to men uncircumcised, and eating with them,' it does not appear that he vindicated his conduct by an appeal to the terms of the apostolic commission. If the phrase ' all the nations' had been understood by the disciples in its literal and most comprehensive sense, it is difficult to imagine bow they could have failed to recognise ,it once the universal character of the gospel, and their commission to preach it alike to Jew and Gentile. It required a distinct revelation from heaven to overcome the Jewish prejudices of the apostles, and to make known to them the mystery 'that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel ' (Ephes. iii. 6).

     In view of these considerations we hold it reasonable and warrantable to give the phrase ' all the nations' a restricted signification, and to limit it to the nations of Palestine. In this sense it harmonises well with the words of our Lord, " Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come' (Matt. x. 23).

5. Once more, the peculiar test of character which is applied by the Judge in this parabolic description is strongly opposed to the notion that this scene represents the final judgment of the whole human race. It will be observed that the destiny of the righteous and the wicked is made to turn on the treatment which they respectively offered to the suffering disciples of Christ. All moral qualities, all virtuous conduct, all true faith, are apparently thrown out of the reckoning, and acts of charity and beneficence to distressed disciples are alone taken into account. It is not surprising that this circumstance should have occasioned much perplexity both to theologians and general readers. Is this the doctrine of St. Paul ? Is this the ground of justification before God set forth in the New Testament? Are we to conclude that the everlasting destiny of the whole human race, from Adam to the last man, will finally turn on their charity and sympathy towards the persecuted and suffering disciples of Christ ?

     The difficulty is a grave one, on the supposition that we have here a description of 'the general judgment at the last day,' and ought not to be slurred over, as commonly it is. How could the nations which existed before the time of Christ be tried by such a standard ? How could the nations which never heard of Christ,-- or those which flourished in the ages when Christianity was prosperous and powerful, be tried by such a standard ? It is manifestly inappropriate and inapplicable. But the difficulty is easily and completely solved if we regard this judicial transaction as the judgment of Israel at the close of the Jewish aeon. It is the rejected King of Israel who is the judge: it is the hostile and unbelieving generation, the last and worst of the nation, that is arraigned before His tribunal. Their treatment of His disciples, especially of His apostles, might most fitly and justly be made the criterion of character in ' discerning between the righteous and the wicked.' Such a test would be most appropriate in an age when Christianity was a persecuted faith, and this is evidently supposed by the very terms of the King's address : -- 'I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, was naked, sick, and in prison.' The persons designated as 'these my brethren,' and who are taken as the representatives of Christ Himself, are evidently the apostles of our Lord, in whom He hungered, and thirsted, was naked, sick, and in prison. All this is in perfect harmony with the words of Christ to His disciples, when He sent them forth to preach-- 'He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth. a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward ; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward' (Matt. x. 40-42).

     We are thus brought to the conclusion, the only one which in all respects suits the tenor of the entire discourse, that we have here, not the final judgment of the whole human race, but that of the guilty nation or nations of Palestine, who rejected their King, despitefully treated and slew His messengers (Matt. xxii. 1-14), and whose day of doom was now near at hand.

     This being so, the entire prophecy on the Mount of Olives is seen to be one homogeneous and connected whole: 'simplex duntaxat et unum.' It is no longer a confused and unintelligible medley, baffling all interpretation, seeming to speak with two voices, and pointing in different directions at the same time. It is a clear, consecutive, and historically truthful representation of the judgment of the Theocratic nation at the close of the age, or Jewish period. The theory of interpretation which regards this discourse as typical of the final judgment of the human race, and of a world-wide catastrophe attendant upon that event,-- really finds no countenance in the prediction itself, while it involves inextricable perplexity and confusion. If, on the one hand, it could be shown that the prophecy, as a whole, is in every part equally applicable to two different and widely separated events; or, on the other hand, that at a certain point it quits the. one subject, and takes tip the other, then the double sense, or twofold reference, would stand upon some intelligible basis. But we have found no dividing line in the prophecy between the near and the remote, and all attempts to draw such a line are unsatisfactory and arbitrary in the extreme. Still more untenable is the hypothesis of a double meaning running through the whole; a hypothesis which supposes a 'verifying faculty ' in the expositor or reader, and gives so large a discretionary power to the ingenious critic that it seems utterly incompatible with the reverence due to the Word of God.

     The perplexity which the double-sense theory involves is placed in a. strong light by the confession of Dean Alford, who, at the close of his comments on this prophecy, honestly expresses his dissatisfaction with the views which he had propounded. ' I think it proper,' he says, ' to state, in this third edition, that, having now entered upon the deeper study of the prophetic portions of the New Testament, I do not feel by any means that full confidence which I once did in the exegesis, quoad prophetical interpretation, here given of the three portions of this chap. xxv. But I have no other system to substitute, and some of the points here dwelt on seem to me as weighty as ever. I very much question whether the thorough study of Scripture prophecy will not make me more and more distrustful of all human systematising, and less willing to hazard strong assertion on any portion of the subject.' (July 1855.) In the fourth edition Alford adds, 'Endorsed, October 1858.' This is candour highly honourable to the critic, but it suggests the reflection, --if, with all the light and experience of eighteen centuries, the prophecy on the Mount of Olives still remains an unsolved enigma, bow could it have been intelligible to the disciples who eagerly listened to it as it fell from the lips of the Master ? Can we suppose that at such a moment he would speak to them in inexplicable riddles ?-that when they asked for bread He would give them a stone ? Impossible. There is no reason for believing that the disciples were unable to comprehend the words of Jesus, and if these words have been misapprehended in subsequent times, it is because a false and unnatural method of interpretation has obscured and distorted what in itself is luminous and simple enough. It is matter for just surprise that such disregard should have been shown by expositors to the express limitations of time laid down by our Lord ; that forced and unnatural meanings should have given to such words as ai,w.n genea. entew.j, &C. ; that arbitrary lines of division should have been drawn in the discourse where none exist,-- and generally that the prophecy should have been subjected to a treatment which would not be tolerated in the criticism of any Greek or Latin classic. Only let the language of Scripture be treated with common fairness, and interpreted by the principles of grammar and common sense, and much obscurity and misapprehension will be removed, and the very form and substance of the truth will come forth to view. (2)

     Before passing away from this deeply interesting prophecy it may be proper to advert to the marvellously minute fulfilment which it received, as testified by an unexceptionable witness,-- the Jewish historian Josephus. It is a fact of singular interest and importance that there should have been preserved to posterity a full and authentic record of the times and transactions referred to in our Lord's prophecy ; and that this record should be from the pen of a Jewish statesman, soldier, priest, and man of letters, not only having access to the best sources of information, but himself an eye-witness of many of the events which he relates. It gives additional weight to this testimony that it does not come from a Christian, who might have been suspected of partisanship, but from a Jew, indifferent, if not hostile, to the cause of Jesus.

     So striking is the coincidence between the prophecy and the history that the old objection of Porphyry against the Book of Daniel, that it must have been written after the event, might be plausibly alleged, were there the slightest pretense for such an insinuation.

     Though the Jewish people were at all times restless and uneasy under the yoke of Rome, there were no urgent symptoms of disaffection at the time when our Lord delivered this prediction of the approaching destruction of the temple, the city, and the nation. The higher classes were profuse in their professions of loyalty to the Imperial government: 'We have no king but Caesar' was their cry. It was the policy of Rome to grant the free exercise of their own religion to the subject provinces. There was, therefore, no apparent reason why the new and splendid temple of Jerusalem should not stand for centuries, and Judea enjoy a greater tranquillity and prosperity under the aegis of Caesar than she had ever known under her native princes. Yet before the generation which rejected and crucified the Son of David had wholly passed away, the Jewish nationality was extinguished : Jerusalem was a desolation; ' the holy and beautiful house' on Mount Zion was razed to the ground; and the unhappy people, who knew not the time of their visitation, were overwhelmed by calamities without a parallel in the annals of the world.

     All this is undeniable; and yet it would be too much, to expect that this will be regarded as an adequate fulfilment of our Saviour's words by many whom prejudice-or traditional interpretations have taught to see more in the prophecy than ever inspiration included in it. The language, it is said, is too magnificent, the transactions too stupendous to be satisfied by so inadequate an event as the judgment of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. We have already endeavoured to point out the real significance and grandeur of that event. But the one sufficient answer to all such objections is the express declaration of our Lord, which covers the whole ground of this prophetic discourse, ' Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things are fulfilled.' No doubt there are some portions of this prediction which are capable of verification by human testimony. Does any one expect Tacitus, or Suetonius, or Josephus, or any other historian, to relate that 'the Son of man was seen coining in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; that He summoned the nations to his tribunal, and rewarded every man according to his works ' ? There is a region into which witnesses and reporters may not enter; flesh and blood may not gaze upon the mysteries of the spiritual and immaterial. But there is also a large portion of the prophecy which is capable of verification, and which has been amply verified. Even an assailant of Christianity, who impugns the supernatural knowledge of Christ, is compelled to admit that ' the portion relating to the destruction of the city is singularly definite, and corresponds very closely with the actual event.' (4) The punctual fulfilment of that part of the prophecy which comes within the field of human observation is the guarantee for the truth of the remainder, which does not fall within that sphere. We shall find in the sequel of this discussion that the events which now appear to many incredible were the confident expectation and hope of the apostolic age, and that the early Christians were fully persuaded of their reality and nearness. We are placed, therefore, in this dilemma -- either the words of Jesus have failed, and the hopes of His disciples have been falsified ; or else those words and hopes have been fulfilled, and the prophecy in all its parts has been fully accomplished. One thing is certain, the veracity of our Lord is committed to the assertion that the whole and every part of the events contained in this prophecy were to take place before the close of the existing generation. If any language may claim to be precise and definite, it is that which our Lord employs to mark the limits of the time within which all His words were to be fulfilled. Whatever other catastrophes, of other nations, in other ages, there may be in the future, concerning them our Lord is silent. He speaks of His own guilty nation, and of His judicial coming at the close of the age, as had been often and clearly foretold by Malachi, by John the Baptist, and by Himself. (5) For this His words are to be bold responsible ; but beyond this all is mere human speculation, the hypothesis of theologians, grounded upon no warranty of Scripture.

     We have thus endeavoured to rescue this great prophecy from the loose and uncritical method of interpretation by which it has been so much obscured and perplexed; to let it speak the same distinct and definite meaning to us as it did to the disciples. Reverence for the Word of God, and due regard to the principles of interpretation, forbid us to impose non-natural constructions and double senses, which in effect would be 'to add to the words of this prophecy.' We dare not play fast and loose with the express and precise statements of Christ. We find but one Parousia; one end of the age; one impending catastrophe; one terminus ad quem, -- 'this generation.' We protest against the exegesis which handles the Word of God in such free fashion as commends itself to many. 'The Lord,' it is said, 'is always coming to those who look for His appearing. We see His coming on a large scale in every crisis of the great human story. In revolutions, in reformations, and in the crises of our individual history. For each one of us there is an advent of the Lord, as often as new and larger views of truth are presented to us, or we are called to enter on new and perchance more laborious and exciting duties.' (6) In this way it might be difficult to say what is not a 'coming of the Lord.' But by making it anything and everything we make it nothing. It is evacuated -of all precision and reality. There is no reason why the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection should not Similarly become common and everyday transactions as well as the Parousia. It is one thing to say that the principles of the divine government are eternal and immutable, and therefore what God does to one people, or to one age, He will do in similar circumstances to other nations and other ages ; and it is quite another thing to say that this prophecy has two meanings: one for Jerusalem and Israel, and another for the world and the final consummation of all things. We hold, with Neander, that 'the words of Christ, like His works, contain within them the germ of an infinite development, reserved for future ages to unfold.' (7) But this does not imply that prophecy is anything that an ingenious fancy can devise, or hag occult and ulterior senses underlying the apparent and natural signification of the language. The duty of the interpreter and student of Scripture is not to try what Scripture may be made to say, but to submit his understanding to 'the true sayings of God,' which are usually as simple as they are profound. (8)

 

Footnotes                         

1.Professor Burton's Bampton Lecture, p. 20.

2. The following extract is taken from an excellent article in the first volume of the Bibliotheca Sacra (1843), by Dr. E. Robinson, entitled 'The coming of Christ.' Up to ver. 42 of chap. xxiv. of St. Matthew, Dr. Robinson maintains the exclusive reference of the prediction to Jerusalem, and thus notices the interpretations which refer it to the 'end of the world:'

'The question now arises whether, under these limitations of time, a reference of our Lord's language to the day of judgment and the end of the world, in our sense of these terms, is possible. Those who maintain this view attempt to dispose of the difficulties arising from these limitations in different ways. Some assign to (genea) the meaning suddenly, as it is employed by the LXX in Job v. 3, for the Hebrew.  But even in this passage the purpose of the writer is simply to mark an immediate sequence -- to intimate that another and consequent event happens forthwith. Nor would anything be gained even could the word (genea) be thus disposed of, so long as the subsequent limitation to 'this generation' remained. And in this again others have tried to refer genea to the race of the Jews, or to the disciples of Christ, not only without the slightest ground, but contrary to all usage and all analogy. All these attempts to apply force to the meaning of the language are in vain, and are now abandoned by most commentators of note.'

After so luminous an exposition it is disappointing to find Dr. Robinson failing to carry out the principles with which he started consistently to the end.  Embarrassed by the foregone conclusion that the 'final judgment' and 'the end of the world' are somewhere to be found in the prophecy, and unable to see where the theme of Jerusalem ends, and the other and greater theme of the world's catastrophe begins, he adopts the following method.  Starting with the assumption that the parable of the sheep and the goats must describe the latter event, he feels his way backwards to the preceding parable of the talents, in which he finds the same subject, the doctrine of final retribution. Going still further back, to the parable of the tell virgins, he finds the object of that parable to be the inculcation of the same important truth. The twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew must therefore, he concludes, refer wholly to the transactions of the last great day.

'But,' he continues, 'the latter portion of chap. xxiv., viz. from ver. 43 to 51, is intimately connected with the opening parable of chap. xxv.,' which seems to furnish a sufficient ground for regarding this passage also as referring to the future judgment. At ver. 43 of Matthew xxiv., therefore, Dr. Robinson conceive that our Lord leaves the subject of Jerusalem altogether and takes up a new topic, the judgment of the world.

It will at once be apparent that the whole of this reasoning is vitiated by the false premise with which it starts, viz., the assumption that the parable of the sheep and the goats refers to the judgment of the human race. We have already shown that there is no new departure at Matt. xxiv. 48.

4. Contemporary Review, Nov. 1876. See Note B, Part I

5. Jonathan Edwards says, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, -' Thus there was a final end to the Old Testament world : all was finished with a kind of day of judgment, in which the people of God were saved, and His enemies terribly destroyed.' -- History story of Redemption, vol. i. p. 445

6. Evang. Meg. Feb. 1877, p. 69

7. Life of Christ, 165

8. See Note A, Part I.

Our Lord's declaration before the High Priest.

 

MATT. xxvi. 61. 'Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said : nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.'

MARK xiv. 62. 'And Jesus said, I am : and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.'

Luke xxii. 69. 'Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.'

 

     The reply of our Saviour to the solemn adjuration of the high priest is the almost verbatim repetition of what He had declared to the disciples on the Mount of Olives,-- 'They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ' (Matt. xxiv. 30). It is evidently the same event and the same period that are referred to. The language implies that the persons addressed, or some of them, would witness the event predicted. The expression 'Ye shall see' would not be proper if spoken of something which the hearers would none of them live to witness, and which would not take place for thousands of years. Our Lord therefore told His judges that they, or some of them, would live to see Him coming to judgment, or coming in His kingdom. This declaration is in harmony with what our Saviour said to His disciples,-' The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels. . . . Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man in his kingdom' (Matt. xvi. 27, 28). Some of His disciples, and some of His judges, would live long enough to witness that great consummation, less than forty years distant, when the Son of man would come in His kingdom, to execute the judgments of God on the guilty nation. This is precisely what the prophecy on the Mount of Olives asserts: 'This generation shall not pass,' etc. Here again we have neither obscurity nor ambiguity. But can as much be said for the interpretation which makes our Lord's words refer to a time still future, and an event which has not yet taken place ? Can as much be said for the interpretation which finds in this scene, which the Jewish Sanhedrim were to witness, no one distinct and particular event, but a prolonged and continuous process, which began at the resurrection of Christ, is still going on, and will continue to go on to the end of the world ?

     This strange interpretation, which is that of Lange and Alford, is based partly on the assumption that our Lord's prediction has never yet been fulfilled, and partly on the word 'henceforth,' which is held to indicate a continuous process. (1) But is such an explanation credible, or even conceivable ? Is it true that the high priest and the Sanhedrim began from that time to see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven ? etc. How could such an apparition be a continuous process ? Plainly, the words can only refer to a definite and specific event; and we can be at no loss to determine what that event is. It can be no other than the Parousia, so often predicted before. That was not a protracted process, but a summary act,-- sudden, swift, conspicuous as the lightning. The sense is well expressed by the editors of the 'Critical English Testament: '  The meaning cannot be, that immediately after the moment of His answer He should so come, and they so see Him; but rather that He would now depart from them, and that when they next saw Him, after His rejection by them, it would be at His coming in glory, as foretold by the prophet Daniel.' (2)

     We find, then, in this declaration of our Lord an additional confirmation of His previous statements that His coming again would take place within the period of the existing generation. Some of His judges, as well as some of His disciples, were to witness it; and there would be no meaning in such an assertion if it did not imply that they were to witness it 'in the flesh.'

 

Prediction of the Woes coming on Jerusalem.

LUKE xxiii. 27-31.-- 'And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them, said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the (lays are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry ?'

     Here we have a statement so clear, so definite in every point that can fix its reference, -time, place, persons, circumstances,-- that no room is left for uncertainty. It points to a time which was not far distant, but at hand-' the days are coming; '-a time which the persons addressed and their children would live to see; -- a time of great tribulation, which would fall with peculiar severity upon womanhood and childhood; -- a time when, in the agony of their terror, despairing multitudes would cry to the mountains and the hills to fall on them and cover them.

     Those memorable details will be found most valuable in the elucidation of Scripture prophecy at a subsequent stage of this investigation. Meanwhile it is clear that this pathetic description can refer only to the catastrophe of Jerusalem in the last days of her history. We have only to turn to the pages of Josephus for the facts which illustrate and confirm our Saviour's language. The horrors of that tragic history culminate in the episode of Mary of Peraea, whose Thyestean banquet horrified even the merciless banditti who prowled like famished wolves through the city. It is in the light of an incident like this that we see the full meaning of the words, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare.'

     It is with a movement of something like impatience that we listen to Stier, beguiled by the ignis fatuus of a double sense, insisting on a hidden meaning in our Saviour's words: 'He spoke expressly and primarily of the judgment of Jerusalem and Israel, yet He contemplated and refers to that which was shadowed out in this historical type,-the judgment of all the impenitent, and of all unbelievers in common, down to the last." (3) So also Alford, following Stier. It is only in the imagination of the expositor, however, that this ulterior reference exists: there is no suggestion of it in the text; and it is with a degree of wonder that we find a scholarly critic so far forgetting his true vocation as to pronounce 'the historical and actual specific fulfilment' to be 'the least thing: the meaning of the word reaches much further.' If ever there was a case in which double meanino's and typical fulfilments are not to be thought of, surely it is here. At such an hour of anguish, there could be but one thought present to the heart of Jesus. He saw the gathering storm of wrath in which the devoted city was soon to be enveloped, and which would burst with such violence on the tender and delicate, the children and the mothers of Jerusalem. , and He reciprocated the pity which He received from those compassionate hearts,-- more touched in that moment by their anticipated woes, than by His own. What need is there to go beyond that tragical catastrophe, and seek for another concerning which the context is altogether silent ?

 

The Prayer of the Penitent Thief.

Luke xxiii. 42.-- 'And He said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.'

     The single point which concerns us in this memorable incident is the reference made by the malefactor to our Lord's coming in his kingdom.' In whatever way he had come by the knowledge, He recognised in the rejected Prophet by his side the King of Israel, the Son of God. He believed that, notwithstanding His rejection and crucifixion by Israel, He would one day 'come again in his kingdom.' Marvellous faith in such a man and at such a moment! If the thief on the cross had listened to the testimony of Jesus before the high priest, or if he had known what He said to the disciples, that 'some of them should not taste of death till they had seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom,' we could better account for his faith and his prayer. At any rate, there could not have been more intelligence and precision in the language of a disciple than in the words of this 'brand plucked out of the fire.' What notion the malefactor entertained respecting the time of that coming,-- whether he conceived it to be near or distant, we have no means of knowing; but it is presumable that he thought of it as near. A dying man would scarcely pray to be remembered in some distant age, after centuries and millenniums had rolled away. In such a crisis it could only be the imminent, or the immediate, that could be in his thoughts. One thing seems certain: the most incredible of all interpretations is that which would represent his prayer as still unanswered, and the coming' of which he spoke as still among the events of an unknown futurity.

 

The Apostolic Commission.

MATT. xxviii. 19, 20. 'Go ye therefore, and teach all [the] nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.'

MARK Xvi. 15, 20. 'And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 'And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.'

Luke xxiv. 47. 'And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all [the] nations, beginning at Jerusalem.'

 

     It is usual to regard this commission as if it were addressed to the whole Christian Church in all ages. No doubt it is allowable to infer from these words the perpetual obligation resting upon all Christians in all times, to propagate the Gospel among all nations ; but it is important to consider the words in their proper and original reference. It is Christ's commission to His chosen messengers, designating them to their evangelistic work, and assuring them of His constant presence and protection. It has a special application to the apostles which it cannot have to any others. We have already adverted to the fact that the disciples, to whom this charge was given, do not seem to have understood it as directing them to extend their evangelistic labours beyond the bounds of Palestine, or to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately. It is certain that they did not immediately, nor yet for years, act upon this commission in its largest sense ; nor does it seem probable that they would ever have done so without an express revelation. As Dr. Burton has shown, no less than fifteen years elapsed between the conversion of St. Paul and his first apostolic journey to preach among the Gentiles. "Nor is there any evidence that during that period the other apostles passed the confines of Judaea." (4) There is much probability therefore in the opinion that the language of the apostolic commission did not convey to their minds the same idea that it does to us, and that, as we have already seen, the phrase 'all the nations '  is really equivalent to 'all the tribes of the land.'

     But what especially deserves notice is the remarkable limitation of time, the 'terminus ad quem,' here specified by our Saviour. 'Lo, I am with you always [all the days], even to the close of the age'. Nothing can be more misleading to the English reader than the rendering 'the end of the world; ' which inevitably suggests the close of human history, the end of time, and the destruction of the earth,-- a meaning which the words will not bear. Lange, though far from apprehending the true significance of the phrase, rightly gives the sense, 'the consummation of the secular won, or the period of time which comes to an end with the Parousia.' What can be more evident than that the promise of Christ to be with His disciples to the close of the age, implies that they were to live to the close of the age ? That great consummation Was Dot far off ; the Lord had often spoken of it, and always as an approaching event, one which some of them would live to see. It was the winding up of the Mosaic dispensation ; the end of the long probation of the Theocratic nation ; when the whole frame and fabric of the Jewish polity were to be swept away, and 'the kingdom of God to come with power.' This great event, our Lord had declared, was to fall within the limit of the existing generation. The 'close of the age' coincided with the Parousia, and the outward and visible sign by which it is distinguished is the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the terminus by which in the Now Testament the field is bounded. To Israel it was 'the end,' 'the end of all things,' 'the passing away of heaven and earth,' the abrogation of the old order, the inauguration of the new. Of this great providential epoch, history tells us much, but prophecy more. History shows us the predicted Signs Coming to pass; the premonitory symptoms of the approaching catastrophe --the false Christs, the wars and rumours of wars, the insurrections and commotions, the earthquakes, famines, and pestilences ; the persecutions and tribulations; the invading legions of Rome; the besieged and captured city; the burning temple; the slaughtered myriads; the extinguished nation. But history cannot lift the veil which hangs over the spirit world ; it leads us up to the very border, and bids us guess the rest. But we have a more sure word of prophecy which, instead of conjecture, gives us assurance. It reveals 'the Son of man coming in his glory ; ' the King seated on the throne ; the judgment set, and the books opened. It reveals the sheep and the goats separated the one from the other ; the righteous entering into everlasting life; the wicked sent away into everlasting punishment. If we have not the historical verification of the unseen and spiritual, as we have of the visible and material elements of this consummation, it is because they are not in the nature of things equally cognizable by the senses. But we accept them on the faith of His word who declared, 'Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation ; ' and again, ' Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled.' ' Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.' The literal fulfilment of all that falls within the sphere of human observation is the voucher for the credibility of the remainder, which belongs to the realm of the unseen and the spiritual.

Footnotes-

1..(a/rti) in later Greek came to signify soon,' 'presently:' see Liddell and Scott; and thus our translators, correctly, Here-after,' which leaves the actual time of the event future, but not necessarily immediate,'-- Critical English Test. vol. iii. P. 860, note.

2. Critical English Test. vol. iii. p. 860, note

3. Reden Jesu, vol. vii. p. 426

THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN.

 

     In the Synoptical Gospels we have generally been able to compare the allusions to the Parousia, recorded by the Evangelists, one with another; and have often found it advantageous to do so. It is not easy, however, to interweave the Fourth Gospel with the Synoptics, and it is somewhat remarkable that not one allusion to the Parousia in the latter is to be found in the former. It is therefore preferable on all accounts to consider the Gospel of St. John by itself, and we shall find that the references to the subject of our inquiry, though not many in number, are very important and full of interest.

The Parousia and the Resurrection of the Dead.

John v. 25-29.-- 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall bear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself ; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself ; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because lie is the Son of man.

' Marvel not at this : for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life ; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.'

 

     In the references to the approaching consummation which we have found in the Synoptical Gospels, it is impossible not to be struck with the constant association of the Parousia with a great act of judgment. From the very first notice of this great event to the last, the idea of judgment is put prominently forward. John the Baptist warns the nation of 'the coming wrath.' The men of Nineveh and the queen of the south are to appear in the judgment with this generation. In the harvest at the close of the age the tares were to be burned, and the wheat gathered into the barn. The Son of man was to come in His glory to reward every man according to his works. The judgment of Capernaum and Chorazin was to be heavier than that of Tyre and Sidon. The closing parables in our Lord's ministry are nearly all declaratory of coming judgment -the pounds, the wicked husbandman, the marriage of the king's son, the ten virgins, the talents, the sheep and the goats. The great prophecy on the Mount of Olives is wholly occupied with the same subject.

     It is remarkable that the first allusion which St. John makes to this event recognises its judicial character. But we now find a new element introduced into the description of the approaching consummation. It is connected with the resurrection of the dead; of 'all that are in the graves.' ' The hour is coming when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,' etc.

     There can be no doubt that the passage just quoted (ver. 28, 29) refers to the literal resurrection of the dead. It may also be admitted that the preceding verses (25, 26) refer to the communication of spiritual life to the spiritually dead.(1) The time for this life-giving process had already commenced,-' The hour is coming, and now is.' The dead in trespasses and sins were about to be made alive by the quickening power of the divine Spirit acting upon men's souls in the preaching of the gospel of Christ. This lifegiving power belonged by divine appointment to the Son of God, to whom also wag committed, in virtue of His humanity, the office of supreme Judge (ver. 27).

     Anticipating that this claim to be the Judge of mankind would stagger His hearers, our Lord proceeds to strengthen His assertion and heighten their admiration by declaring that at His voice the buried dead would ere long come forth from their graves to stand before His judgment throne.

     The reader will particularly note the indications of time specified by our Lord in these important passages. First we have 'the hour is coming, and now is: ' this intimates that the action spoken of, viz. the communication of spiritual life to the spiritually dead, has already begun to take effect. Next we have 'the hour is coming,' without the addition of the words 'and now is:' intimating that the event specified, viz., the raising of the dead from their graves, is at a greater distance of time, although still not far off. The formula ' the hour is coming' always denotes that the event referred to is not far distant. It does not indeed define the time, but it brings it within a comparatively brief period. We find these two expressions, 'the hour is coming,' and 'the hour is coming, and now is,' employed by our Lord in His conversation with the woman of Samaria (John iv. 21, 23), and their use there may help us to determine their force in the passage before us. When our Lord says, 'the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,' He intimates that the time was already present, for had He not begun to collect the materials of that spiritual Church of true worshippers of which He spoke ? When, however, He says, 'Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father,' He speaks of a time which, though not distant, was not yet come. He foresaw the period of which He spoke, when the worship of the temple would cease,-- when Mount Zion would be 'ploughed as a field,' and Mount Gerizirn also be overwhelmed in the deluge of wrath. But the abrogation of the local and material was necessary to the inauguration of the universal and spiritual ; and therefore it was that the temple with its ritual must be swept away to make room for the nobler worship 'in spirit and in truth.'

     Of course, it cannot be absolutely proved that the phrase 'the hour is coming' refers to precisely the same point of time in these two instances, though the presumption is strong that it does. Let it suffice, at this stage, to note the fact that our Lord here speaks of the resurrection of the dead and the judgment as events which were not distant, but so near that it might properly be said, 'The hour is coming,' etc.

 

The Resurrection, the Judgment, and the Last Day.

JOHN vi. 39.-- ' This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which lie hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.'

JOHN vi. 40.-'1 will raise him up at the last day.'

JOHN vi. 44-- ' 1 will raise him up at the last day.'

JOHN ix. 24.-' He shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'

JOHN xii. 48.-- 'The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.'

     We have in these passages another new phrase in connexion with the approaching consummation, which is peculiar to the Fourth Gospel. We never find in the Synoptics the expression 'the last day,' although we do find its equivalents, 'that day,' and 'the day of judgment.' It cannot be doubted that these expressions are synonymous, and refer to the same period. But we have already seen that the judgment is contemporaneous with the 'end of the age ' (sonteleia ton aiwnoj), and we infer that ' the last day' is only another form of the expression 'the end of the age or Aeon.' The Parousia also is constantly represented as coincident in point of time with the ' end of the age,' so that all these great events, the Parousia, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the last day, are contemporaneous. Since, then, the end of the age is not, as is generally imagined, the end of the world, or total destruction of the earth, but the close of the Jewish economy; and since our Lord Himself distinctly and frequently places that event within the limits of the existing generation, we conclude that the Parousia the resurrection, the judgment, and the last day, all belong to the period of the destruction of Jerusalem.

     However startling or incredible such a conclusion may at first sight appear, it is what the teachings of the New Testament are absolutely committed to, and as we advance in this inquiry, we shall find the evidence in support of it accumulating to such a degree as to be irresistible. We shall meet with such expressions as ' the last times,' ' the last days,' and ' the last hour,' evidently denoting the same period as the last day,'-- yet spoken of as being not far off, and even as already come. Meanwhile we can only ask the reader to reserve his judgment, and calmly and impartially to weigh the evidence, derived, not from human authority, but from the word of inspiration itself.

 

The Judgment of this World, and of the Prince of this World.

JOHN xii. 31-- ' Now is - the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.'

JOHN xvi. 11.-- 'Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.'

     It is usual to explain these words as meaning that a great crisis in the spiritual history of the world was now at hand : that the death of Christ upon the cross was the turning-point, so to speak, of the great conflict between good and evil, between the living and true God and the false usurping god of this world- that the result of Christ's death would be the ultimate overthrow of Satan's power and the final establishment of the kingdom of truth and righteousness on the ruins of Satan's empire.

     No doubt there is much important truth in this explanation, but it fails to satisfy all the requirements of the very distinct and emphatic language of our Lord with respect to the nearness and completeness of the event to which He refers : 'Now is the judgment of this world ; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.' It is not enough to say that, to the prophetic foresight of our Saviour, the distant future was as if it were present; nor, that by His approaching death the judgment of the world and the expulsion of Satan would be virtually secured, and might therefore be regarded as accomplished facts. Nor is it enough to say, that from the moment when the great sacrifice of the Cross was offered, the power and influence of Satan began to ebb, and must continually decrease until it is finally annihilated. The language of our Lord manifestly points to a great and final judicial transaction, which was soon to take place. But judgment is an act which can hardly be conceived as extending over an indefinite period, and especially when it is restricted by the word now, to a distinct and imminent point of time. The phrase 'cast out,' also, is evidently an allusion to the expulsion of a demon from a body possessed by an unclean spirit. But this suggests a sudden, violent, and almost instantaneous act, and not a gradual and protracted process. No figure could be less appropriate to describe the slow ebbing and ultimate exhaustion of Satanic power than the casting out of a demon. We are compelled, therefore, to set aside the explanation which makes our Lord's words refer to a judgment which, after the lapse of many ages, is still going on; or to an expulsion of Satan which has not yet been effected. He would not speak of a judgment which was not to take place for thousands of years as 'now,' nor of a 'casting out' of Satan as imminent, which was to be the result of a slow and protracted process.

     We conclude, then, that when our Lord said, ' Now is the judgment of this world,' etc., He had reference to an event which was near, and in a sense immediate: that is to say, He had in view that great catastrophe which seems to have been scarcely ever absent from His thoughts- the solemn judicial transaction when 'the Son of man was to sit upon the throne of his glory '-the great ' harvest' at the end of the age, when the angel reapers were to 'gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity.' If it be objected to this that the word kosmos (world) is too comprehensive to be restricted to one land or one nation, it may be replied that kosmos is employed here, as in some other passages, especially in the writings of St. John, rather in an ethical sense than as a geographical expression. (See John vii. 7 ; viii. 23 ; 1 John ii. 15 ; v. 14.)

     But it may be said, How could this judgment of Israel be spoken of as 'now,' any more than a judgment which is still in the future ? Forty years hence is no more now than four thousand years. To this it may be replied, That event was now imminent which more than any other would precipitate the day of doom for Israel. The crucifixion of Christ was the climax of crime,-- the culminating act of apostasy and guilt which filled the cup of wrath, and sealed the fate of 'that wicked generation.' The interval between the crucifixion of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem was only the brief space between the passing of the sentence and the execution of the criminal; and just as our Lord, when. quitting the temple for the last time, exclaimed, 'Behold, your house is left unto you desolate !' though its desolation did not actually take place till nearly forty years after, so He might say, 'Now is the judgment of this world'-- though a like space of time would elapse between the utterance and the accomplishment of His words.

     In like manner the ' casting out of the prince of this world' is represented as coincident with 'the judgment of this world,' and both are manifestly the result of the death of Christ. But how can it be said that Satan was cast out at the period referred to, viz. the judgment at the close of the age ? That event marked a great epoch in the divine administration. It was the inauguration of a new order of things : the 'coining of the kingdom of God' in a high and special sense, when the peculiar relation subsisting between Jehovah and Israel was dissolved, and He became known as the God and Father of the whole human race. Thenceforth Satan was no longer to be the god of this world, but the Most High was to take the kingdom to Himself. This revolution was effected by the atoning death of Christ upon the cross, which is declared to be 'the reconciliation of all things unto God, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven' (Col. i. 20). But the formal inauguration of the new order is represented as taking place at ' the end of the age,' the period when 'the kingdom of God was to come with power,' and the Son of man was to sit as Judge 'on the throne of his glory.' What, then, could be more appropriate than the 'casting out ' of the prince of this world at the period when his kingdom, 'this world,' was judged ?

     It may be objected that if any such event as the casting out of Satan did then take place, it ought to be marked by some very palpable diminution of the power of the devil over men. The objection is reasonable, and it may be met by the assertion that such evidence of the abatement of Satanic influence in the world does exist. The history of our Saviour's own times furnishes abundant proof of the exercise of a power over the souls and bodies of men then possessed by Satan which happily is unknown in our days. The mysterious influence called 'demoniacal possession' is always ascribed in Scripture to Satanic agency ; and it was one of the credentials of our Lord's divine commission that He, 'by the finger of God, cast out devils.' At what period did the subjection of men to demoniacal power cease to be manifested ? It was common in our Lord's days : it continued during the age of the apostles, for we have many allusions to their casting out of unclean spirits; but we have no evidence that it continued to exist in the post-apostolic ages. The phenomenon has so completely disappeared that to many its former existence is incredible, and they resolve it into a popular superstition, or ,in unscientific theory of mental disease,-- an explanation totally incompatible with the representations of the New Testament.

     It is worthy of remark that our Lord, on a previous occasion, made a declaration closely resembling that now under consideration.

     When the severity disciples returned from their evangelistic mission they reported with exultation their success in casting out demons through the name of their Master:

     Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name' (Luke x. 17). In His reply, Jesus said, I beheld Satan ,is lightening fall from heaven ; ' an expression nearly equivalent to the words, ' Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,' and on which Neander makes the following suggestive remarks :

'As Christ had previously designated the cure of demoniacs wrought by Himself as a sign that the kingdom of God had come upon the earth, so now he considered what the disciples reported as a token of the conquering power of that kingdom, before which every evil thing must yield: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven," i.e. from the pinnacle of power which he had thus far held among men. Before the intuitive glance of His spirit lay open the results which were to flow from His redemptive work after His ascension into heaven. he saw, in spirit, the kingdom of God advancing in triumph over the kingdom of Satan. He does not say, " I see now," but, "I saw." He saw it before the disciples brought their report of their accomplished wonders. While they were doing these isolated works he saw the one great work, of which theirs were only particular and individual signs -- the victory over the mighty power of evil which had ruled mankind completely achieved.' (2)

     In comparing these two remarkable sayings of our Lord there are three points that deserve particular notice :

1. They are both uttered on occasions when the approaching triumph of His cause was vividly brought before Him.

2. In both, the casting out of Satan is represented as an accomplished fact.

3. In both it is regarded as a swift and summary act, not a slow and protracted process : in the one case Satan falls ' as lightning from heaven,' in the other he is 'cast out' as an unclean spirit from a demoniac.

     Neander, therefore, has somewhat missed the real point of the expression, in his otherwise admirable remarks. We think the words plainly point to a great judicial transaction, taking place at a particular point of time, that time very near, and as the consequence and result of the Saviour's death upon the cross. Such a transaction and such a period we can find only in the great catastrophe so vividly depicted by our Lord in His prophetic discourse, and we can therefore have no hesitation in understanding His words to refer to that memorable event.

     No other explanation satisfies the requirements of the declaration : 'Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.'

 

CHRIST'S RETURN [THE PAROUSIA] SPEEDY.

JOHN xiv. 3-- 'And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself.'

JOHN xiv. 18. -- ' 1 will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.'

John xiv. 28.-- 'l go away, and come again unto you.'

JOHN xvi. 16.-- ' A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.'

JOHN Xvi. 22.-- ' 1 will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.'

     Simple as these words may seem they have occasioned great perplexity to commentators. Their very simplicity maybe the chief cause of their difficulty: for it is so hard to believe that they mean what they seem to say. It has been Supposed that our Lord refers in some of these passages to His approaching departure from earth, and His final return at the 'end of all things,' the consummation of human history; and that in the others He refers to His temporary absence from His disciples during the interval between His crucifixion and His resurrection.

     A careful examination of our Lord's allusions to His departure and His coming again will satisfy every intelligent reader that His coming,' or coming again,' always refers to one particular event and one particular period. No event is more distinctly marked in the New Testament than the Parousia, the 'second coming' of the Lord. It is always spoken of as an act, and not a process ; a great and auspicious event ; a ' blessed hope,' eagerly anticipated by His disciples and confidently believed to be at hand. The apostles and the early believers knew nothing of a Parousia spread over a vast and indefinite period of time; nor of several 'comings,' all distinct and separate from one another; but of only one coming,-- the Parousia, 'the glorious appearing of the great God even our Saviour Jesus Christ' (Titus ii. 13). If anything is clearly written in the Scriptures it is this. It is therefore with astonishment that we read the comments of Dean Alford on our Lord's words in John xiv. 3

The coming again of the Lord is not one single act, as His resurrection, or the descent of the Spirit, or His second personal advent, or the final coming to judgment, but the great complex of all these, the result of which shall be His taking His people to Himself to where He is. This ercomai is begun (ver. 18) in His resurrection; carried on (ver. 23) in the spiritual life, making them ready for the place prepared; farther advanced when each by death is fetched away to be with Him (Phil. i. 23); fully completed at His coming in glory, when they shall ever be with Him (I Thess. iv. 17) in the perfected resurrection state.' (3)

     This is all evolved out of the single word ercomai! But if ercomai  has such a variety and complexity of meaning, why not npayw and porenomai ? Why should not the 'going away' have as many parts and processes as the 'coming again?' It may be asked likewise, How could the disciples have understood our Lord's language, if it had such a 'great complex' of meaning? Or how can plain men be expected ever to come to the apprehension of the Scriptures if the simplest expressions are so intricate and bewildering ?

     This comment is not conceived in the spirit of lucid English common sense, but in the mystical jargon of Lange and Stier. What can be more plain than that the 'coming again' is as definite an act as the 'going away,' and can only refer to that one coming which is the great prophecy and promise of the New Testament, the Parousia ? That this event was not to be long deferred is evident from the language in which it is announced: 'Ercomai -- 'I am coming.' The whole tenor of our Lord's address supposes that the separation between His disciples and Himself is to be brief, and their reunion speedy and perpetual. Why does He go away ? To prepare a place for them. Is it, then, not yet prepared ? Has he not yet received them to Himself ? Are they not yet where he is ? If the Parousia be still in the future these hopes are still unfulfilled.

     That this anticipated return and reunion was not a far-off event, many centuries distant, but one that was at hand, is shown in the subsequent references made to it by our Lord. ' A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father' (John xvi. 16). He was soon to leave them; but it was not for ever, nor for long,-- 'a little while,' a few short years, and their sorrow and separation would be at an end ; for 'I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you' (chap. xvi. 22). It will be observed that our Lord does not say that death will reunite them, but His coming to them. That coming, therefore, could not be distant.

     That it is to this interval between His departure and the Parousia that our Lord refers when He speaks of 'a little while' is evident from two considerations: First, because he distinctly states that He is going to the Father, which shows that His absence relates to the period subsequent to the ascension; and, secondly, because in the Epistle to the Hebrews this same period, viz. the interval between our Lord's departure and His coming again, is expressly called ' a little while.' ' For yet a little while, and be that is coming shall come, and will not tarry' (Heb. x. 37).

     Here again we are constrained to protest against the forced and unnatural interpretation of this passage (John xvi. 16) by Dr. Alford:

'The mode of expression,' he observes, 'is purposely enigmatical; the qewreite and oesqe not being co-ordinate : the first referring to physical, the second also to spiritual sight. The odesqj (ye shall see) began to be fulfilled at the resurrection; then received its main fulfilment at the day of Pentecost ; and shall have its final completion at the great return of the Lord hereafter. Remember, again, that in all these prophecies we have a perspective of continually unfolding fulfilments presented to us.' (4)

     Conceive of an act of vision, 'ye shall see,' divided into three distinct operations, each separated from the other by a long interval, and the last still uncompleted after the lapse of eighteen centuries, and this in the face of our Lord's express declaration that it was to be 'in a little while.' This is not criticism, but mysticism. So artificial and intricate an explanation could never have occurred to the disciples, and it is surprising that it should have occurred to any sober interpreter of Scripture. But even the disciples, though at first perplexed about I the little while,' soon fully comprehended our Lord when He said,

' I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father' (John xvi. 28).

     Supplement this by three other words of Jesus, and we have the substance of His teaching respecting the Parousia:

I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye way be also ' (John xiv. 3).

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you' (John xiv. 18).

A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while, and ye shall see me John xvi. 16).

     Language is incapable of conveying thought with accuracy if these words do not affirm that the return of our Saviour to His disciples was to be speedy.

ST. JOHN TO LIVE TILL THE PAROUSIA.

John xxi. 22.-- ' Jesus said unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee ?'

     It would serve no purpose to specify and discuss the various - interpretations of this passage which learned men have conjectured. Had it been a riddle of the ancient Sphinx, it could not have been more perplexing and bewildering. Those who wish to see some of the numerous opinions which have been broached on the subject will find them referred to in Lange. (5)

     The words themselves are sufficiently simple. All the obscurity and difficulty have been imported into them by the reluctance of interpreters to recognise in the ' coming' of Christ a distinct and definite point of time within the space of the existing generation. Often as our Lord reiterates the assurance that he would come in His kingdom, come in glory, come to judge His enemies and reward His friends, before the generation then living on earth -bad wholly passed away, there seems an almost invincible repugnance on the part of theologians to accept His words in their plain and obvious sense. They persist in supposing that He must have meant something else or something more. Once admit, what is undeniable, that our Lord Himself declared that His coming was to take place in the lifetime of some of His disciples (Matt. xvi. 27, 28), and the whole difficulty vanishes. He had just revealed to Simon Peter by what death he was to glorify God, and Peter, with characteristic impulsiveness, presumed to ask what should be the destiny of the beloved disciple, who at that moment caught his eye. Our Lord did not give an explicit answer to this question, which savoured somewhat of intrusiveness, but his reply was understood by the disciples to mean that John would live to see the Lord's return. 'If I will that he tarry till I come.' This language is very significant. It assumes as possible that John might live till the Lord's coming. It does more, it suggests it as probable, though it does not affirm it as certain. The disciples put the interpretation upon it that John was not to die at all. The Evangelist himself neither affirms nor denies the correctness of this interpretation, but contents himself with repeating the actual words of the Lord,-- 'If I will that he tarry till I come.' It is, however, a circumstance of the greatest interest that we know how the words of Christ were generally understood at the time in the brotherhood of the disciples. They evidently concluded that John would live to witness the Lord's coming; and they inferred that in that case he would not die at all. It is this latter inference that John guards against being committed to. That he would live till the coming of the Lord he seems to admit without question. Whether this implied further that he would not die at all, was a doubtful point which the words of Jesus did not decide.

     Nor was this inference of 'the brethren' so incredible a thing or so unreasonable as it may appear to many. To live till the coming of the Lord was, according to the apostolic belief and teaching, tantamount to enjoying exemption from death. St. Paul taught the Corinthians,-' We shall not all Sleep [die], but we shall all be changed' (I Cor. xv. 51). He spoke to the Thessalonians of the possibility of their being alive at the Lord's coming: ' We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord' (I Thess. iv. 15). He expressed his own personal preference 'not to be unclothed [of the bodily vesture], but to be clothed upon' [with the spiritual vesture]-- in other words, not to die, but to be changed (2 Cor. v. 4). The disciples might be justified in this belief by the words of Jesus on the evening of the paschal supper: 'I will come again, and receive you unto myself.' How could they suppose that this meant death? Or they may have remembered His saying on the Mount of Olives, 'The Son of man Shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect,' etc. (Matt. xxiv. 31). This, He had assured them, would take place before the existing generation passed away. They were, therefore, not wholly unprepared to receive such an announcement as our Lord made respecting St. John.(6)

     We may therefore legitimately draw the following inferences from this important passage:

1. That there was nothing incredible or absurd in the supposition that John might live till the coming of the Lord.

2. That our Lord's words suggest the probability that he would actually do so.

3. That the disciples understood our Lord's answer as implying besides that John would not die at all.

4. That St. John himself gives no sign that there was anything incredible or impossible in the inference, though he does not commit himself to it.

5. That such an opinion would harmonise with our Lord's express teaching respecting the nearness and coincidence of His own coming, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, and the close of the aeon or age.

6. That all these events, according to Christ's declarations, lay within the period of the existing generation.

     Having thus gone through the four gospels, and examined all the passages which relate to the Parousia, or coming of the Lord, it may be useful to recapitulate and bring into one view the general teaching of these inspired records on this important subject.

 

SUMMARY OF THE TEACHING OF THE GOSPELS RESPECTING THE PAROUSIA.

1. We have the link between Old and New Testament prophecy in the announcement by John the Baptist (the Elijah of Malachi) of the near approach of the coming wrath, or the judgment of the Theocratic nation.

2. The herald is closely followed by the King, who announces that the kingdom of God is at hand, and calls upon the nation to repent.

3. The cities which were favoured with the presence, but rejected the message, of Christ are threatened with a doom more intolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

4. Our Lord expressly assures His disciples that His coming would take place before they should have completed the evangelisation of the cities of Israel.

5. He predicts a judgment at the 'end of the age ' or aeon [sunteleia ton aiwnos], a phrase which does not mean the destruction of the earth, but the consummation of the age, i.e. the Jewish dispensation.

6. Our Lord expressly declares that He would speedily come [mellei epcesqai] in glory, in His kingdom, with His angels, and that some among His disciples should not die until His coming took place.

7. In various parables and discourses our Lord predicts the doom impending over Israel at the period of His coming. (See Luke xviii., parable of the importunate widow. Luke xix., parable of the pounds. Matt. xxi., parable of the wicked husbandmen. Matt. xxii., parable of the marriage feast.)

8. Our Lord frequently denounces the wickedness of the generation to which He preached, and declares that the crimes of former ages and the blood of the prophets would be required at their bands.

9. The resurrection of the dead, the judgment of the world, and the casting out of Satan are represented as coincident with the Parousia, and near at hand.

10. Our Lord assured His disciples that He would come again to them, and that His coming would be in 'a little while.'

11. The prophecy on the Mount of Olives is one connected and continuous discourse, having exclusive reference to the approaching doom of Jerusalem and Israel, according to our Lord's express statement (Matt. xxiv. 34; Mark xiii. 30; Luke xxi. 32.)

12. The parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats all belong to this same event, and are fulfilled in the judgment of Israel.

13. The disciples are exhorted to watch and pray, and to live in the continual expectation of the Parousia, because it would be sudden and speedy.

14. After His resurrection our Lord gave St. John reason to expect that He would live to witness His coming.

Footnotes-

1. Some interpreters prefer to understand 'the dead' in verse 25 as having reference to such cases as the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus of Bethany, persons literally raised from the dead and restored to life by our Lord. They understand the argument of our Lord to be something like this : 'You are astonished at the wonderful work which I have wrought upon this impotent man, but you will yet see far greater wonders. The moment is at hand when I will recall even the dead to life; and if this appear incredible to you, a still mightier work will one day be accomplished by my power: for the hour is coming when all that are in the grave shall come forth at my call, and stand before me in judgment.' (Dr. J. Brown. Discourses and Sayings of our Lord vol. i. p. 98.)   This explanation has the advantage of consistency, in giving the same sense of the word 'dead' throughout the whole passage; but it seems impossible to admit that our Lord in verse 24 is speaking of literal death. To say that the believer has already 'passed from death unto life' obviously is the same thing as to say that he has passed from condemnation to justification. We feel compelled, therefore, to adopt the generally received interpretation, which regards verses 24 and 25 as referring to the spiritually dead, and verses 28 and 29 to the corporeally dead.

2. Life of Christ, chap. xii. 205.

3. Greek Test., in loc..

4. Alford, Greek Test., in loc..

5. Commentary of St. John.

6. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, on the hypothesis that the 'coming' of Christ was not to take place until the 'end of the world,' in the popular acceptation of the phrase, the answer of our Lord would involve an extravagance, if not an absurdity. It would have been equivalent to saying, ' Suppose I please that he should live a thousand years or more, what is that to you ? ' But it is evident that the disciples took the answer seriously.

APPENDIX TO PART I.

 

NOTE A. Page 56.

On the Double-sense Theory of Interpretation.

     THE following extracts, from theologians of different ages, countries, and churches, exhibit a powerful consensus of authorities in opposition to the loose and arbitrary method of interpretation adopted by many German and English commentators:

     ' Unam quandam ac certam et simplicem sententiam ubique quaerendam esse.'- Melanethon.
     ('One definite and simple meaning of [Scripture] is in every case to be sought.')

     'Absit a nobis ut Deum faciamus o,.i,glwtton, aut multiplices sensus affingamus ipsius verbo, in quo potius tanquarn in speculo limpidissimo sui autoris simplicitatem contemplari debemus. (Ps. xii. 6; xix. B.) Unicus ergo sensus scripturae, nempe grammaticus, est admittendus, quibuscunque demum terminis, vel propriis vel tropicis et figuratis exprimatur.' -Maresius.
     (Far be it from us to make God speak with two tongues, or to attach a variety of senses to His Word, in which we ought rather to behold the simplicity of its divine author reflected as in a clear mirror (Ps. xii. 6 ; xix. 8.) Only one meaning of Scripture, therefore, is admissible: that is, the grammatical, in whatever terms, whether proper or tropical and figurative, it may be expressed.)

     'Dr. Owen's remark is full of good sense-" If the Scripture has more than one meaning, it has no meaning at all: " and it is just as applicable to the prophecies as to any other portion of Scripture.'- Dr. John Brown, Sufferings and Glories of the Messiah, p. 5, note.

     The consequences of admitting such a principle should be well weighed.

     What book on earth has a double sense, unless it is a book of designed enigmas ? And even this has but one real meaning. The heathen oracles indeed could say, "Aio te, Pyrrhe, Romanos vincere posse; " but can such an equivoque be admissible into the oracles of the living God ? And if a literal sense, and an occult sense, can at one and the same time, and by the same words, be conveyed, who that is uninspired shall tell us what the occult sense is? By what laws of interpretation is it. to be judged ? By none that belong to human language; for other books than the Bible have not a double sense -attached to them.

     'For these and such-like reasons, the scheme of attaching a double sense to the Scriptures is inadmissible. It sets afloat all the fundamental principles of interpretation by which we arrive at established conviction and certainty and casts us on the boundless ocean of imagination and conjecture without rudder or compass.'- Stuart on the Hebrews, Excurs. xx.

     'First, it may be laid down that Scripture has one meaning, -the meaning which it had to the mind of the prophet or evangelist who first uttered or wrote to the hearers or readers who first received it.'
     ' Scripture, like other books, has one meaning, which is to be gathered from itself, without reference to the adaptations of fathers or divines, and without regard to a priori notions about its nature and origin.'
     ' The office of the interpreter is not to add another [interpretation], but to recover the original one : the meaning, that is, of the words as they struck on the ears or flashed before the eyes of those who first heard and read them.' - Professor Jowett, Essay on the Interpretation of Scripture, § i. 3, 4.

     'I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense, and that our first object should be to discover that sense, and adhere rigidly to it. I believe that, as a general rule, the words of Scripture are intended to have, like all other language, one plain definite meaning, and that to say that words do mean a thing merely because they can be tortured into meaning it, is a most dishonourable and dangerous way of handling Scripture.'- -Canon Ryle, Expository Thoughts on St. Luke, vol. i. P. 383.

 

NOTE B. Page 113.

On the Prophetic Element in the Gospels.

     Let us proceed to the predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem. These predictions, as is well known, in all the gospel narratives (which, by the way, are singularly consentaneous, implying that all the Evangelists drew from one consolidated tradition) are inextricably mixed up with prophecies of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world -a confusion which Mr. Hutton fully admits. The portion relating to the destruction of the city is singularly definite, and corresponds very closely with the actual event. The other portion, on the contrary, is vague and grandiloquent, and refers, chiefly to natural phenomena and catastrophes. From the precision of the one portion, most critics infer that the gospels were compiled after or during the siege and conquest of Jerusalem. From the confusion of the two portions Mr. Hutton draws the opposite inference -- namely, that the prediction existed in the present recorded form before that event. It is in the greatest degree improbable, he argues, that if Jerusalem had fallen, and the other signs of Christ's coming showed no indication of following, the writers should not have recognised and disentangled the confusion, and corrected their records to bring them into harmony with what it was then beginning to be seen might be the real meaning of Christ or the actual truth of history.

     'But the real perplexity lies here. The prediction, as we have it, makes Christ distinctly affirm that His second coming shall follow "immediately," --"in those days," after the destruction of Jerusalem, and that "this generation" (the generation he addressed) should not pass away till all "these things are fulfilled." Mr. Hutton believes that these last words were intended by Christ to apply only to the destruction of the Holy City. He is entitled to his opinion; and in itself it is not an improbable solution. But it is, under the circumstances, a somewhat forced construction, For it must be remembered, first, that it is rendered necessary only by the assumption which Mr. Hutton is maintaining --namely, that the prophetic powers of Jesus could not be at fault; secondly, it assumes or implies that the gospel narratives of the utterances of Jesus are to be relied upon, even though in these especial predictions he admits them to be essentially confused and, thirdly (what at we think he ought not to have overlooked), the sentence he quotes is by no means the only one indicating that Jesus Himself held the conviction, which He undoubtedly communicated to His followers, that His Second coming to judge the world would take place at a very early date.  Not only was it to take place "immediately" after the destruction of the city (Matt. xxiv. 29), but it would be witnessed by many of those who heard Him. And these predictions are in no way mixed up with those of the destruction of Jerusalem : " There be some standing here that shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom " (Matt. xvi. 28); " Verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come (Matt. x. 23) ; " If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee 2 (John xxi. 23): and the corresponding passages in the other Synoptics.

     'If, therefore, Jesus did not say these things, the gospels must be strangely inaccurate. If He did, His prophetic faculty cannot have been what Mr. Hutton conceives it to have been. That His disciples all confidently entertained this erroneous expectation, and entertained it on the supposed authority of their Master, there can he no doubt whatever. (See 1 Cor. x. 11, xv. 51 ; Phil. iv. 5 ; I Thess. iv. 15 ; James v. 8 ; I Peter iv. 7; 1 John ii. 18 ; Rev. i. 13, xxii. 7, 10, 12.) Indeed, Mr. Hutton recognises this at least as frankly and fully as we have stated it.'- W. R. Greg, in Contemporary Review, Nov. 1876.

     To those who maintain that our Lord predicted the end of the world before the passing away of that generation, the objections of the sceptic present a formidable difficulty --insurmountable, indeed, without resorting to forced and unnatural evasions, or admissions fatal to the authority and inspiration of the evangelical narratives. We, on the contrary, fully recognise the common-sense construction put by Mr. Greg upon the Language of Jesus, and the no less obvious acceptance of that meaning by the apostles. But we draw a conclusion directly contrary to that of the critic, and appeal to the prophecy on the Mount of Olives as a signal example and demonstration of our Lord's supernatural foresight.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

 

THE 'GOING AWAY' AND THE 'COMING AGAIN.'

ACTS i. 11. -' This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go unto heaven.'

     THE last conversation of Jesus with His disciples before His crucifixion was concerning His coming to them again, and the last word left with them at His ascension was the promise of His coming again.

     The expression 'in like manner' must not be pressed too far. There are obvious points of difference between the manner of the Ascension and the Parousia. He departed alone, and without visible splendour; He was to return in glory with His angels. The words, however, imply that His coming was to be visible and personal, which would exclude the interpretation which regards it as providential, or spiritual. The visibility of the Parousia is supported by the uniform teaching of the apostles and the belief of the early Christians: 'Every eye shall see him' (Rev. i. 7).

     There is no indication of time in this parting promise, but it is only reasonable to suppose that the disciples would regard it as addressed to them, and that they would cherish the hope of soon seeing Him again, according to His own saying, 'A little while, and ye shall see me.' This belief sent them back to Jerusalem with great joy. Is it credible that they could have felt this elation if they had conceived that His coming would not take place for eighteen centuries ? Or can we suppose that their joy rested upon a delusion ? There is no conclusion possible but that which holds the belief of the disciples to have been well founded, and the Parousia nigh at hand.

     

THE LAST DAYS COME.

ACTS ii. 16-20-- ' This is that which is spoken by the prophet Joel: It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; moreover on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath ; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.'

       In these words of St. Peter, the first apostolic utterance spoken in the power of the divine afflatus of Pentecost, we have an authoritative interpretation of the prophecy which he quotes from Joel. He expressly identifies the time and the event predicted by the prophet with the time and the event then actually present on the day of Pentecost. The ' last days ' of Joel are these days of St. Peter. The ancient prediction was in part fulfilled ; it was receiving its accomplishment before their eyes in the copious effusion of the Holy Spirit.

     This outpouring of the Spirit was introductory to other events, which would in like manner come to pass. The day of judgment for the Theocratic nation was at hand, and ere long the presages of 'that great and notable day of the Lord' would be manifested.

     It is impossible not to recognise the correspondence between the phenomena preceding the day of the Lord as foretold by Joel, and the phenomena described by our Lord as preceding His coming, and the judgment of Israel (Matt. xxiv. 29). The words of Joel can refer only to the last days of the Jewish age or aeon, the ounteleia ton aiwnoj, which was also the theme of our Lord's prophecy on the Mount of Olives. In like manner the words of Malachi as evidently refer to the same event and the same point of time,-- 'the day of his coming,' ' the day that shall burn as a furnace,' ' the great and dreadful day of the Lord' (Mal. iii. 2; iv. 1-5).

     We have here a consensus of testimonies than which nothing can be conceived more authoritative and decisive,-- Joel, Malachi, St. Peter, and the great Prophet of the new covenant Himself. They all speak of the same event and of the same period, the great day of the Lord, the Parousia, and they speak of them as near. Why encumber and embarrass a prediction so plain with supposititious double references and ulterior fulfilments? Nothing else will fit this prophecy save that event to which alone it refers, and with which it corresponds as the impression with the seal and the lock with the key. The catastrophe of Israel and Jerusalem was at hand, long foreseen, often predicted, and now imminent. The self-same generation that had seen, rejected, and crucified the King would witness the fulfilment of His warnings when Jerusalem perished in 'blood and fire, and vapour of smoke.'

 

THE COMING DOOM OF THAT GENERATION.

ACTS ii. 40.-'And with many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.'

     This verse fixes the reference of the apostle's address. It was the existing generation whose coming doom he foresaw, and it was from participation in its fate that he urged his hearers to escape. It was but the echo of the Baptist's cry,

     'Flee from the coming wrath.' Here, again, there can be no question about the meaning of 'genea',-it is that 'wicked generation' which was filling up the measure of its predecessor; the perverse and incorrigible nation over which judgment was impending.

     Before leaving this address of St. Peter we may point out another example of a universal proposition which must be taken in a restricted sense. ' I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.' The effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not literally universal, but it was indiscriminate and general in comparison of former times. The necessarily qualified use of so large a phrase shows how a similar limitation may be justifiable in such expressions as 'all the nations,' ' every creature,' and ' the whole world.'

 

THE PAROUSIA AND THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS.

ACTS iii. 19-21- 'Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may Send Jesus Christ, who was before appointed unto you ; whom the heavens must receive until the times of. the restoration of all things, of which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.'

       It is scarcely possible to doubt that in this address the apostle speaks of that which be conceived his bearers might and would experience, if they obeyed his exhortation to repent and believe. Indeed, any other supposition would be preposterous. Neither the apostle nor his auditory could possibly be thinking of ' times of refreshing' and 'times of restoration' in remote ages of the world; blessings which were at a distance of centuries and millenniums would hardly be powerful motives to immediate repentance. We must therefore conceive of the times of refreshing and of restoration as, in the view of the apostle, near, and within the reach of that generation.

     But if so, what are we to understand by 'the times of refreshing and of restoration'? Are they the same, or are they different, things ? Doubtless, virtually the Same ; and the one phrase will help us to understand the other. The restitution, or rather restoration [apokatustasij] of all things, is said to be the theme of all prophecy ; then it can only refer to what Scripture designates 'the kingdom of God,' the end and purpose of all the dealings of God with Israel. It was a phrase well understood by the Jews of that period, who looked forward to the days of the Messiah, the kingdom of God, as the fulfilment of all their hopes and aspirations. It was the coming age or aeon, aiwn o mellwn, when all wrongs were to be redressed, and truth and righteousness were to reign. The whole nation was pervaded with the belief that this happy era was about to dawn. What was our Lord's doctrine on this subject? He Said to His disciples, 'Elias indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things' (Mark ix. 12). That is to say, the second Elijah, John the Baptist, had already commenced the restoration which He Himself was to complete ; had laid the foundations of the kingdom which He was to consummate and crown. For the mission of John was, in one aspect, restorative, that is in intention, though not in effect. He came to recall the nation to its allegiance, to renew its covenant relation with God: he went before the Lord, 'in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord' (Luke i. 17). What is all this but the description of 'the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,' and 'the times of restoration of all things,' which were held forth as the gifts of God to Israel ?

     But have we any clear indication of the period at which these proffered blessings might be expected ? Were they in the far distant future, or were they nigh at baud ? The note of time is distinctly marked in verse 20. The coming of Christ is specified as the period when these glorious prospects are to be realized. Nothing can be more clear than the connection and coincidence of these events, the coming of Christ, the times of refreshing, and the times of restoration of all things. This is in harmony with the uniform representation given in the eschatology of the New Testament: the Parousia, the end of the age, the consummation of the kingdom of God, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, all synchronise. To find the date of one is to fix the date of all. We have already seen how definitely the time was fixed for the fulfilment of some of these events. The Son of man was to come in His kingdom before the death of some of the disciples. The catastrophe of Jerusalem was to take place before the living generation bad passed away. The great and notable day of the Lord is represented by St. Peter in the preceding chapter as overtaking that 'untoward generation.' And now, in the passage before us, he as clearly intimates that the arrival of the times of refreshing, and of the restoration of all things, was contemporaneous with the 'sending of Jesus Christ' from heaven.

     But it may be said, How can so terrible a catastrophe as the destruction of Jerusalem be associated with times of refreshing or of restoration ? There were two Bides to the medal: there was the reverse as well as the obverse. Unbelief and impenitence would change 'the times of refreshing' into 'the days of vengeance.' If they ' despised the riches of the goodness and forbearance and long- suffering of God, 'then, instead of restoration, there would be destruction; and instead of the day of salvation there would be 'the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God' (Rom. ii. 4, 5).

     We know the fatal choice that Israel made; how 'the wrath came upon them to the uttermost;' and we know how it all came to pass at the appointed and predicted period, at the 'close of the age,' within the limits of that generation.

     We are thus enabled to define the period to which the apostle makes allusion in this passage, and conclude that it coincides with the Parousia.

     We are conducted to the same conclusion by another path. In Matt. xix. 20 our Lord declares to His disciples, 'Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory,' etc. We have already commented upon this passage, but it may be proper again to notice that the 'regeneration' [paliggenesia] of St. Matthew is the precise equivalent of the 'restoration' [apokatastasij] of the Acts. What is meant by the regeneration is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt, for it is the time 'when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory.' But this is the period when He comes to judge the guilty nation (Matt. xxv. 31). There is no possibility of mistaking the time ; no difficulty in identifying the event: it is the end of the age, and the judgment of Israel.

     We thus arrive at the same conclusion by another and independent route, thus immeasurably strengthening the force of the demonstration.

 

CHRIST SOON TO JUDGE THE WORLD.

ACTS xvii. 31.-- ' Because he hath appointed day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained.'

     We have already seen that the Lord Jesus Christ is declared to be constituted the Judge of men (John v. 22, 27). As clearly it is declared that the time of judgment is the Parousia. With equal distinctness we are taught that the Parousia was to fall within the term of the generation then living. The judgment was therefore viewed by St. Paul as being near. We have in the passage now before us an incidental but unnoticed confirmation of this fact. The words 'he will judge' do not express a simple future, but a speedy future, mellei krinein, He is about to judge, or will soon judge. This shade of meaning is not preserved in our English version, but it is not unimportant.

     Here, then, we are again met by the oft-recurring association of the Parousia and the judgment, both of which were evidently regarded by the apostle as nigh at hand.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTLOTIC EPISTLES

 

INTRODUCTION

     WE have seen how the Parousia, or coming of Christ, pervades the Gospels from beginning to end. We find it distinctly announced by John the Baptist at the very commencement of his ministry, and it is the last utterance of Jesus recorded by St. John. Between these two points we find continual references to the event in various forms and on various occasions. We have seen also that the Parousia is generally associated with judgment,- that is, the judgment of Israel and the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem. The reason of this association of the coming of Christ with the judgment of Israel is very apparent. The Parousia was the culminating event in what may be called Messianic history, or the Theocratic government of the Jewish people. The incarnation and mission of the Son of God, though they had a general relation to the whole human race, had at the same time an especial and peculiar relation to the covenant nation, the children of Abraham. Christ was indeed the 'second Admit,' the new Head and Representative of the race, but before that, He was the Son of David and the King of Israel. His own declared view of His mission was, that it was first of all special to the chosen people,-- 'I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel ' (Matt. xv. 24). The very title which He claimed, 'Christ,' the Messiah, or Anointed One, was indicative of His relation to Judaism and the Theocracy, for it recognised Him as the rightful King, come in the fulness of time 'to His own,' to take possession of the throne of His father David. This special Judaic character of the mission of the Lord Jesus is constantly recognised in the New Testament, though it is often ignored by theologians and almost forgotten by Christians in general. St. Paul lays great stress upon it.

     'Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers'(Rom. xv. 8); and we might well add, 'to fulfil the threatenings' as well. The phrase 'the kingdom of God' is distinctly a Messianic and Theocratic idea, and has a special and unique reference to Israel, over whom the Lord was King in a sense peculiar to that nation alone (Deut. vii. 6 ; Amos iii. 2). We shall see that 'the kingdom of God' is represented as arriving at its consummation at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem.

     That event marks the denouement of the great scheme of divine providence, or economy, as it is called, which began with the call of Abraham and ran a course of two thousand years. We may regard that scheme, the Jewish dispensation, not only as an important factor in the education of the world, but also as an experiment, on a large scale and under the most favourable circumstances, whether it were possible to form a people for the service, and fear, and love of God ; a model nation, the moral influence of which might bless the world. In some respects, no doubt, it was a failure, and its end was tragic and terrible; but what is important for us to notice, in connection with this inquiry, is that the relation of Christ, the Son of David and King of Israel, to the Jewish nation explains the prominence given in the Gospels to the Parousia, and the events which accompanied it, as having a special bearing upon that people. Inattention to this has misled many theologians and commentators :-they have read 'the earth,' when only 'the land' was meant; ' the human race,' when only 'Israel' was intended; 'the end of the world,' when 'the close of the age, or dispensation,' was alluded to. At the same time it would be a serious mistake to undervalue the importance and magnitude of the event which took place at the Parousia. It was a great era in the divine government of the world: the close of an economy which had endured for two thousand years; the termination of one aeon and the commencement of another; the abrogation of the 'old order' and the inauguration of the new. It is, however, its special relation to Judaism which gives to the Parousia its chief significance and import.

     Passing from the Gospels to the Epistles we find that the Parousia occupies a conspicuous place in the teaching and writings of the apostles. It is natural and reasonable that it should be so. If their Master taught them in His lifetime that He was soon to come again; that some of themselves would live to see Him return ; if in His farewell conversation with them at the Paschal supper He dwelt upon the shortness of the interval of His absence, and called it ' a little while ;' and if at His ascension divine messengers bad assured them that He would come again even as they had seen Him go; it would be strange indeed if they could have forgotten or lost sight of the inspiring hope of a speedy reunion with the Lord. They certainly often express their expectation of His coming. That hope was the day-star and dawn that cheered them in the gloomy night of tribulation through which they had to pass : they comforted one another with the familiar watchword, 'The Lord is at hand.' They felt that at any moment their hope might become a reality. They waited for it, looked for it, longed for it, and exhorted one another to watchfulness and prayer. So the Lord had commanded them, and so they did. Could they be mistaken ? Is it possible that they cherished illusions on this subject? May they not have misunderstood the teachings of the Lord ? If this were possible, it would shake the foundations of our faith. If the apostles could have been in error respecting a matter of fact about which they had the most ample means of information, and on which they professed to speak with authority as the organs of a divine inspiration, what confidence could be reposed in them on other subjects, in their nature obscure, abstruse, and mysterious ? No one who has any faith in the assurance which the Saviour gave His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to ' guide them into all the truth,' to ' teach them all things,' and to ' bring all things to their remembrance that he had said unto them,' can doubt that the authority with which the apostles speak concerning the Parousia is equal to that of our Lord Himself. The hypothesis that a distinction may be made between what they believed and taught on this subject, and what they believed and taught on other subjects, will not bear a moment's examination. The whole of their teaching rests upon the same foundation, and that foundation the same on which rests the doctrine of Christ Himself.

     We now proceed to examine the references to the Parousia contained in the Epistles of St. Paul,-- taking them in their chronological order, so far as this may be said to be ascertained.

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS.

THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS

     It is generally agreed that this is the earliest of all the apostolic epistles, and its date is assigned to the year A.D. 52, sixteen years after the conversion of St. Paul, [1] and twenty-two Years after the crucifixion of our Lord. It is evident, therefore, that any suggestions of inexperience, or new-born enthusiasm, being visible in this epistle, afterwards toned down by the riper judgment of subsequent years, are quite out of place. We can detect no difference in the faith and hope of 'Paul the aged' and that of the 'weighty and powerful' writer of this epistle. It is, therefore, most instructive to observe the Sentiments and beliefs which were manifestly current and prevalent in the minds of the early Christians.

     Bengel remarks : 'The Thessalonians were filled with the expectation of Christ's advent. So praiseworthy was their position, so free and unembarrassed was the rule of Christianity among them, that they were able to look each hour for the coming of the Lord Jesus.' [2] This is strange reasoning. It is true the Thessalonians were filled with the expectation of Christ's speedy coming, but if in this expectation they were deceived, where is the praiseworthiness of labouring under a delusion ? If it was an amiable weakness, 'sancta simplicitas,' to expect the speedy return of Christ, it seems a poor compliment to praise their credulity at the expense of their understanding.

     We shall find, however, that the Christians of Thessalonica stand in no need of any apology for their faith.

 

EXPECTATION OF THE SPEEDY COMING OF CHRIST.

1 THESS. i. 9, 10-- 'Ye turned to God from your idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the coming wrath.'

     This passage is interesting as showing very clearly the place which the expected coming of Christ held in the belief of the apostolic churches. It was in the front rank; it was one of the leading truths of the Gospel. St. Paul describes the new attitude of these Thessalonian converts when they 'turned from their idols to serve the living and true God;' it was the attitude of 'waiting for his Son.' It is very significant that this particular truth should be selected from among all the great doctrines of the Gospel, and should be made the prominent feature which distinguished the Christian converts of Thessalonica. The whole Christian life is apparently summed up under two heads, the one general, the other particular : the former, the service of the living God; the latter, the expectation of the coming of Christ. It is impossible to resist the inference, (1) That this latter doctrine constituted an integral part of apostolic teaching. (2) That the expectation of the speedy return of Christ was the faith of the primitive Christians. [3] For, how were they to wait ? Not Surely, in their graves; not in Heaven; nor in Hades; plainly while they were alive on the earth. The form of the expression, 'to wait for his Son from the heavens,' manifestly implies that they, while on earth, were waiting for the coming of Christ from heaven. Alford observes 'that the especial aspect of the faith of the Thessalonians was hope; hope of the return of the Son of God from heaven;' and he adds this singular comment: 'This hope was evidently entertained by them as pointing to an event more immediate than the church has subsequently believed it to be. Certainly these words would give them an idea of the nearness of the coming of Christ; and perhaps the misunderstanding of them may have contributed to the notion which the apostle corrects, 2 Thess. ii. 1.' This is a suggestion that the Thessalonians were mistaken in expecting the Saviour's return in their own day. But whence did they derive this expectation ? Was it not from the apostle himself ? We shall presently see that the Thessalonians erred, not in expecting the Parousia, or in expecting it in their own day, but in supposing that the time had actually arrived.

     The last clause of the verse is no less important,-' Jesus, who delivereth us from the coming wrath.' These words carry us back to the proclamation of John the Baptist,-- 'Flee from the coming wrath.' It would be a mistake to suppose that St. Paul here refers to the retribution which awaits every sinful soul in a future state; it was a particular and predicted catastrophe which he bad in view. 'The coming wrath' [h orgh h ercomenh] of this passage is identical with the 'coming wrath' [orgh mellousa] of the second Elijah ; it is identical with 'the days of vengeance,' and 'wrath upon this people,' predicted by our Lord, Luke xxi. 23. It is 'the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,' spoken of by St. Paul, Rom ii. 5. That coming 'dies irae' always stands out distinct and visible throughout the whole of the New Testament. It was now not far off, and though Judea might be the centre of the storm, yet the cyclone of judgment would sweep over other regions, and affect multitudes who, like the Thessalonians, might have been thought beyond its reach. We know from Josephus how the outbreak of the Jewish war was the signal for massacre and extermination in every city where Jewish inhabitants had settled. It was to this ubiquity of 'the coming Wrath' that our Lord referred when He said, 'Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together' (Luke xvii. 37). Here again, as we have so frequently had occasion to remark, the Parousia is associated with the judgment.

 


'THE WRATH' COMING UPON THE JEWISH PEOPLE.

I Thess. ii. 16 -- ' But the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.'

     Here the apostle represents the 'coming wrath' as already come. Now it is certain that the judgment of Israel, that is, the destruction of Jerusalem and the extinction of the Jewish nationality, had not yet taken place. Bengel seems to think that the apostle alludes to a fearful massacre of Jews that bad just occurred at Jerusalem, where 'an immense multitude of persons (some say more than thirty thousand) were slain.' [4] Alford's explanation is : ' He looks back on the fact in the divine counsels as a thing in past time, q.d. " was appointed to come;" not "has come." Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon on this text, refers it to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. "The wrath is come," i.e. it is just at hand; it is at the door : as it proved with respect to that nation : their terrible destruction by the Romans was soon after the apostle wrote this epistle." [5] Either Bengel's supposition is correct, or the final catastrophe was, in the apostle's view, so near and so sure that he spoke of it as an accomplished fact.

     We may trace a very distinct allusion in the language of the apostle in verses 15 and 16 to our Lord's denunciations of 'that wicked generation' (Matt. xxiii. 31, 32, 36).


THE BEARING OF THE PAROUSIA ON THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST.

I Thess. ii. 19.-- ' For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing ? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming ?'

     The uniform teaching, of the New Testament is, that the event which was to be so fatal to the enemies of Christ was to be an auspicious one to His friends. Everywhere the most malignant opposers and persecutors of Christianity were the Jews; the annihilation of the Jewish nationality, therefore, removed the most formidable antagonist of the Gospel and brought rest and relief to suffering Christians. Our Lord had said to His disciples, when speaking of this approaching catastrophe, 'When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh' (Luke xxi. 28). But this explanation is far from exhausting the whole meaning of such passages. It cannot be doubted that the Parousia is everywhere represented as the crowning day of Christian hopes and aspirations ; when they would 'inherit the kingdom,' and 'enter into the joy of their Lord.' Such is the plain teaching both of Christ and His apostles, and we find it clearly expressed in the words of St. Paul now before us. The Parousia was to be the consummation of glory and felicity to the faithful, and the apostle looked for 'his crown' at the Lord's 'coming.'



CHRIST TO COME WITH ALL HIS HOLY ONES.

I Thess. iii. 13. -- ' To the end that he may stablish ' your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy' [ones].

     This passage furnishes another proof that the apostle regarded the period of our Lord's coming as the consummation of the blessedness of His people. He here represents it as a judicial epoch when the moral condition and character of men would be scrutinised and revealed. This is in accordance with I Cor. iv. 5 : ' Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts : and then shall every man have praise of God.' Similarly in Col. i. 22 we find an almost identical expression,-'To present you holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight,' words which can only be understood as referring to a judicial investigation and approval.

     That this prospect was not distant, but, on the contrary, very near, the whole tenor of the apostle's language implies. Is St. Paul still without his crown of rejoicing? Are his Thessalonian converts Still waiting for the Son of God from heaven ? Are they not yet ' stablished in holiness before God' ? not yet presented holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in His sight? For this was to be their felicity 'at the coming of the Lord Jesus,' and not before. If that event therefore has never yet taken place, what becomes of their eager expectation and hope? If they could have known that hundreds and thousands of years must first Slowly run their course, could St. Paul and his children in the faith have been thus filled with transport at the thought of the coming glory? But on the supposition that the Parousia was close at hand; that they might all expect to witness its arrival, then how natural and intelligible all this eager anticipation and hope become. That both the apostle and the Thessalonians believed that 'the coming of the Lord was drawing nigh,' is so evident that it scarcely requires any argument to prove it. The only question is, were they mistaken, or were they not?

     A remark may be added on the concluding word of the passage. 'Agioi, holy, may refer to angels, or men, or to both. There is nothing in the text to determine the reference. It is true that in the next chapter (ver. 14) we are told that them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him but this seems to refer rather to the raising of the sleeping saints from their graves, than of their coming from heaven with Him. We are therefore precluded from referring agioi to the dead in Christ. The more so that Christ at His coming is always represented as attended by His angels.

     'He shall come with his angels' (Matt. xvi. 27) ; 'with the holy angels' (Mark viii. 38) ; 'with his mighty angels' (2 Thess. i. 7); 'all his holy angels with him' (Matt. xxv. 1).

     This is in accordance also with Old Testament usage. The royal state of Jehovah when He came to give the law at Mount Sinai is thus described,-- 'He came with ten thousands ' i.e. , of saints, angels (Dent. xxxiii. 2). 'The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels ; the Lord is among them as in Sinai' (Ps. lxviii. 17). 'Ye received the law by the disposition [at the injunction, - Alford] of angels' (Acts vii. 53). We may therefore take it as probable that the reference in this passage is to the angels.


EVENTS ACCOMPANYING THE PAROUSIA.

1. The Resurrection of the Dead in Christ.
2. The Rapture of the Living Saints to Hearen.

I Thess. iv. 13-17 -- ' But I would not have .you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even ,is others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by [in] the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent [come before, take precedence of] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God: and first the dead in Christ shall rise then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.'


     These explanations of St. Paul are evidently intended to meet a state of things which had begun to manifest itself among the Christians of Thessalonica, and which had been reported to him by Timotheus. Eagerly looking for the coming of Christ, they deplored the death of their fellow Christians as excluding them from participation in the triumph and blessedness of the Parousia. ' They feared that these departed Christians would lose the happiness of witnessing their Lord's second coming, which they expected soon to behold.' [6]- To correct this misapprehension the apostle makes the explanations contained in this passage.

     First, be assures them that they had no reason to regret the departure of their friends in Christ, as if they bad sustained any disadvantage by dying before the coming of the Lord; for as God had raised up Jesus from the dead, so He would raise u His sleeping disciples from their graves, at His return in glory.

     Secondly, he informs them, on the authority of the Lord Jesus, that those of themselves who lived to see His coming would not take precedence of, or have any advantage over, the faithful who had deceased before that event.

     Thirdly, he describes the order of the events attending the Parousia : --

1. The descent of the Lord from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God.
2. The raising up of the dead who had departed in the Lord.
3. The simultaneous rapture of the living saints, along with the resuscitated dead, into the region of the air, there to meet their coming Lord.
4. The everlasting reunion of Christ and His people in heaven.


     The legitimate inference from the words of St. Paul in ver. 15, 'we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,' is that he anticipated it as possible, and even probable, that his readers and himself would be alive at the coming of the Lord. Such is the natural and obvious interpretation of his language. Dean Alford observes, with much force and candour, -

' Then, beyond question, he himself expected to be alive, together with the majority of those to whom he was writing, at the Lord's coming. For we cannot for a moment accept the evasion of Theodoret and the majority of ancient commentators (viz. that the apostle does not speak of himself personally, but of those who should be living at the period), but we must take the words in their only plain grammatical meaning, that "we which are alive and remain" are a class distinguished from "they that sleep" by being yet in the flesh when Christ comes, in which class by prefixing " we " he includes his readers and himself. That this was his expectation we know from other passages, especially from 2 Cor. v.' [7]


     But while thus admitting that the apostle held this expectation, Alford treats it as a mistaken one, for he goes on to say :

"Nor need it surprise any Christian that the apostles should in this matter of detail have found their personal expectation liable to disappointment respecting a day of which it is so solemnly said that no man knoweth its appointed time, not the angels in heaven, not the Son, but the Father only (Mark xiii. 32).'


     In like manner we find the following remarks in Conybeare and Howson (chap. xi.):

' The early church, and even the apostles themselves, expected their Lord to come again in that very generation. St. Paul himself shared in that expectation, but, being under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, he did not deduce therefrom any erroneous practical conclusion.'


     But the question is, had the apostles sufficient grounds for their expectation ? Were they not fully justified in believing as they did ? Had not the Lord expressly predicted His own coming within the limit of the existing generation ? Had He not connected it with the overthrow of the temple and the subversion of the national polity of Israel ? Had He not assured His disciples that in 'a little while' they should see Him again ? Had He not declared that some of them should live to witness His return ? And after all this, is it necessary to find excuses for St. Paul and the early Christians, as if they had laboured under a delusion ? If they did, it was not they who were to blame, but their Master. It would have been strange indeed if, after all the exhortations which they bad received to be on the alert, to watch, to live in continual expectancy of the Parousia, the apostles had not confidently believed in His speedy coming, and taught others to do the same. But it Would seem that St. Paul rests his explanations to the Thessalonians on the authority of a special divine communication made to himself, ' This I say unto you by the word of the Lord,' etc. This can hardly mean that the Lord had so predicted in His prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, for no such statement is recorded; it must therefore refer to a revelation Which he had himself received. How, then, could he be at fault in his expectations? It is strange that so great incredulity should exist in this day respecting the plain sense of our Lord's express declarations on this subject. Fulfilled or unfulfilled, right or wrong, there is no ambiguity or uncertainty in His language. It may be said that we have no evidence of such facts having occurred as are here described,-- the Lord descending with a shout, the sounding of the trumpet, the raising of the sleeping dead, the rapture of the living saints. True; but is it certain that these are facts cognisable by the senses ? is their place in the region of the material and the visible ? As we have already said, we know and are sure that a very large portion of the events predicted by our Lord, and expected by His apostles, did actually come to pass at that very crisis called 'the end of the age.' There is no difference of opinion concerning the destruction of the temple, the overthrow of the city, the unparalleled slaughter of the people, the extinction of the nationality, the end of the legal dispensation. But the Parousia is inseparably linked with the destruction of Jerusalem ; and, in like manner, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment of the 'wicked generation,' with the Parousia. They are different parts of one great catastrophe ; different scenes in one great drama. We accept the facts verified by the historian on the word of man ; is it for Christians to hesitate to accept the facts which are vouched by the word of the Lord ?



EXHORTATIONS TO WATCHFULNESS IN PROSPECT OF THE PAROUSIA.

I Thess. v. 1-10.-- 'But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall ray, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child ; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day : we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep as do others ; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who axe of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.'

     It is manifest that there would be no meaning in these urgent calls to watchfulness unless the apostle believed in the nearness of the coming crisis. Was it to the Thessalonians, or to some unborn generation in the far distant future, that St. Paul was penning these lines ? Why urge men in A.D. 52 to watch, and be on the alert, for a catastrophe which was not to take place for hundreds and thousands of years ? Every word of this exhortation supposes the crisis to be impending and imminent.

     To say that the apostle writes not for any one generation, nor to any persons in particular, is to throw an air of unreality into his exhortations from which reverent criticism revolts. He certainly meant the very persons to whom he wrote, and who read this epistle, and he thought of none others. We cannot accept the Suggestion of Bengel that the 'we which are alive and remain' are only imaginary personages, like the names Caius and Titius (John Doe and Richard Roe) ; for no one can read this epistle without being conscious of the warm personal attachment and affection to individuals which breathe in every line. We conclude, therefore, that the whole bad a direct and present bearing upon the actual position end prospects of the persons to whom the epistle is addressed.



PRAYER THAT THE THESSALONIANS MIGHT SURVIVE UNTIL THE COMING OF CHRIST.

1 THESS. v. 23 -- ' Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit, and soul, and body, all together be preserved blameless at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.' [8]


     If any shadow of a doubt still rested on the question whether St. Paul believed and taught the incidence of the Parousia in his own day, this passage would dispel it. No words can more clearly imply this belief than this prayer that the Thessalonian Christians might not die before the appearing of Christ. Death is the dissolution of the union between body, soul, and spirit, and the apostle's prayer is that spirit, soul, and body might 'all together'  be preserved in sanctity till the Lord's coming. This implies the continuance of their corporeal life until that event.

 

Footnotes-

1. Conybeare and Howson.

2. Gnomon, in loc.

3. ' It is known to every reader of Scripture that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians speaks of the coming of Christ in terms which indicate an expectation of His speedy appearance: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we," etc. (chap. iv. 15-17; v. 4). Whatever other construction these texts may bear, the idea they leave upon the mind of an ordinary reader is that of the author of the epistle looking for the day of judgment to take place in his own time, or near to it.'-- Paley's Horae Paulinae, chap. ix.

'If we were asked for the distinguishing characteristic of the first Christians of Thessalonica, we should point to their overwhelming sense of the nearness of the second advent, accompanied with melancholy thoughts concerning those who might die before it, and with gloomy and un practical views of the shortness of life and the vanity of the world. Each chapter in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians ends with an allusion to this subject; and it was evidently the topic of frequent conversations when the apostle was in Macedonia. But St. Paul never spoke or wrote of the future as though the present was to be forgotten. When the Thessalonians were admonished of Christ's advent, he told them also of other coming events, full of practical warning to all ages, though to our eyes still they are shrouded in mystery,-- of " the falling away," and of " the man of sin." " These awful revelations," he said, " must precede the revelation of the Son of God. Do you not remember," he adds, with emphasis, in his letter, " that when I was still with you, I often told you this ! You know therefore the hindrance why he is not revealed, as he will be in his own season." He told them, in the words of Christ Himself, that " the times and the seasons of the coming revelations were known only to God; " and he warned them, as the first disciples had been warned in Jude, that the great day would come suddenly on men unprepared, .. as the pangs of travail on her whose time is full," and "as a thief in the night; " and he showed them both by precept and example that though it be true that life is short and the world is vanity, yet God's work must be done diligently and to the last.'-- Conybeare and Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul, chap. ix

4. Gnomon, in loc.

5. Works, vol. iv. p. 281

6. Conybeare and Howson ch. xi.

7. Greek Testament, in loc.

8. Conybeare and Howson's Translation

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS.

 

THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS

     The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians appears to have been written shortly after the First, to correct the misapprehension into which some had fallen respecting the time of the Parousia, whether through an erroneous interpretation of the apostle’s former letter, or in consequence of some pretended communication circulated among them purporting to be from him. We learn from this epistle the precise nature of the mistake which some of the Thessalonians had committed. I was that the time of the Parousia had actually arrived. In consequence of this opinion some had begun to neglect their secular employments and subsist upon the charity of others. To check the evils which might arise, or had arisen, from such erroneous impressions, St. Paul wrote this second epistle, reminding them that certain events, which had not yet taken place, must precede the ‘day of the Lord.’ There is nothing, however, in the epistle to suggest that the Parousia was a distant event, but the contrary.

THE PAROUSIA A TIME OF JUDGMENT TO THE ENEMIES OF CHRIST,
AND OF DELIVERANCE TO HIS PEOPLE

2 THESS i.7-10. - ‘And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power: in that day when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believed.’

     It is obvious from the allusions in the commencement of this epistle that the Thessalonians were at this time suffering severely from the malice of their Jewish persecutors, and those ‘lewd fellows of the baser sort,’ who were in league with them (Acts xvii.5). The apostle comforts them with the prospect of deliverance at the appearing of the Lord Jesus, which would bring rest to them and retribution to their enemies. This is in perfect accordance with the representations constantly made with respect to the Parousia,---that it would be the time of judgment to the wicked, and the reward to the righteous. The apostle seems not to anticipate the ‘rest’ of which he speaks until the Parousia, ‘when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven,’ etc. It follows that the rest was conceived by St. Paul to be very near; for if the revelation of the Lord Jesus be an event still future, then we must conclude that neither the apostle nor the suffering Christians have yet entered into that rest. It will be observed that it is not said that death is to bring them rest, but ‘the apocalypse’ of the Lord Jesus from heaven: a clear proof that the apostle did not regard that apocalypse as a distant event.

      That this approaching ‘apocalypse,’ or revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, is identical with the Parousia predicted by our Saviour, is so evident that it needs no proof. It is ‘the day of the Lord’ (Luke xvii. 24); ‘the day when the Son of man is revealed’ (Luke xvii. 30); ‘the day which shall be revealed in fire’ (1 Cor. iii. 13); ‘the day which shall burn as a furnace’ (Mal. iv. 1); ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (Mal. iv. 5). It is the day when ‘the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, to reward every man according to his works’ (Matt. xvi. 27). And once more, it is that day concerning which our Lord declared, ‘Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom’ (Matt. xvi. 28).

     We are thus brought back to the same truth which everywhere meets us in the New Testament, that the Parousia, the day of Israel’s judgment, and the close of the Jewish dispensation, was not a distant event, but within the limit of the generation which rejected the Messiah.

     The objection will be urged, What had that to do with Thessalonica and the Christians there? How could the destruction of Jerusalem, or the extinction of the Jewish nationality, or the close of the Mosaic economy, affect persons at so great a distance from Judea as Thessalonica? Even if it were impossible to give a satisfactory answer to this objection, it would not alter the plain and natural meaning of words, or make it incumbent upon us to force an interpretation upon them which they will not bear. The Scriptures must be allowed to speak for themselves --- a liberty which many will not concede. But with regard to the bearing of the Parousia on Christians in Thessalonica, or outside of Judea in general, it cannot be denied that the language of this passage, as of many others, intimates that it was an event in which all had a deep and personal interest. Nor is it enough to say that the most bitter antagonists of the Gospel in Thessalonica were Jews, and that the Jewish revolt was the signal for the massacre of the Jewish inhabitants in almost every city of the Empire. This may be true, but it is not the whole truth, according to apostolic teaching. We must admit, therefore, that as the eschatological scheme of the New Testament unfolds itself, it becomes apparent that the Parousia, and its accompanying events, did not relate to Judea exclusively, but had an ecumenical or world-wide aspect, so that Christians everywhere might look and long for it, and hail its coming as the day of triumph and of glory. As we proceed we shall find ample evidence of this larger aspect of ‘the day of Christ,’ as a great epoch in the divine administration of the world.

 

EVENTS WHICH MUST PRECEDE THE PAROUSIA

1. The Apostasy
2. The Revelation of the Man of Sin

2 THESS. ii. 1-12.---‘But, as concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him, we beseech you, brethren, that ye be not soon shaken from your mind, nor be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, as from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is come. Let no man deceive you by any means; for [that day shall not come] unless there shall have come the apostasy first, and the man of sin shall have been revealed, the son of perdition: who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or an object of worship: so that he seateth himself in the temple of God, and openly declareth himself a god. Remember ye not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what hindereth his being revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already working, only he who now hindereth will hinder until he be taken out of the way. And then shall the lawless one be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and shall destroy with the appearance of his coming: whose coming is after the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God is sending them the working of delusion, that they should believe the lies: that they all may be condemned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness’

     Few passages have more exercised and baffled commentators, or are regarded to this day as involved in deeper obscurity, than the one before us. There is no reason, however, to suppose that it was unintelligible to the Thessalonians, for it refers to matters which had formed the topic of frequent conversation between them and the apostle, and possibly not a little of the obscurity of which expositors complain may arise from the fact that, to the Thessalonians, it was only necessary to give hints, rather than full explanations.

     The apostle begins by distinctly stating the subjects on which he is desirous of setting the Thessalonians right. They are, (1) ‘the coming of Christ,’ and (2) ‘our gathering together unto him.’ These are evidently regarded by the apostle as simultaneous, or, at all events, closely connected. What are we to understand by this 'gathering together unto Christ’ at the Parousia? There is no doubt a reference here to our Lord’s own words, Matt. xxvi. 31: ‘He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds,’ etc. The [shall gather together] in the gospel in evidently the [the gathering together] of the epistle; and we have another reference to the same event and the same period in 1 Thess. iv. 16,17: ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God,’ etc. This can be nothing else, then, than the summoning of the living and the dead to the tribunal of Christ.

     That great and solemn ‘gathering’ the Thessalonians had been taught to ‘wait for;’ but it appears they were labouring under some misapprehension concerning the time of its arrival. Some of them had formed the opinion that ‘the day of Christ’ had actually arrived []. It is important to observe that our English version does not give the correct rendering of this word. The apostle does not say, ‘as that the day of Christ is at hand,’ but ‘as that the day of Christ is present, or, is actually come,’ The constant teaching of St. Paul was, that the day of Christ was at hand, and it would have been to contradict himself to tell Christians of Thessalonica that that day was not at hand. Yet nothing is more common than to find some of our most respectable scholars and critics deny that the apostles and early Christians expected the Parousia in their own day, on the strength of the erroneous rendering of this word . Even so eminent an authority as Moses Stuart says, in reply to Tholuck:---

‘This interpretation (viz. The speedy advent of Christ) was formally and strenuously corrected in 2 Thess. ii. Is it not enough that Paul has explained his own words? Who can safely venture to give them a meaning different from what he gives?’

So, too, Albert Barnes:---

‘If Paul here refers to his former epistle, ---which might easily be understood as teaching that the end of the world was near,---we have the authority of the apostle himself that he meant to teach no such thing.’

Most singular of all is the explanation of Dr. Lange:---

‘The first epistle [to the Thessalonians] is pervaded by the fundamental thought, "the Lord will come speedily:" the second, by the thought, "the Lord will not yet come speedily." Both of these are in accordance with the truth; because, in the first part, the question is concerning the coming of the Lord in His dynamic rule in a religious sense; and, in the second part, concerning the coming of the Lord in a definite historical and chronological sense.’

     What can be more arbitrary and whimsical than such a distinction? What more empirical than such treatment of Scripture, by which it is made to say Yes and No; to affirm and to deny; to declare that an event is nigh and distant, in the same breath? Who would presume to interpret Scripture if it spoke in such ambiguous language as this?

     We hold by the ‘definite historical and chronological sense’ of the Parousia, and by no other. It is the only sense which is respectful to the Word of God and satisfactory to sober criticism. The apostle does not correct himself, nor does he refer to two different ‘comings,’ but he corrects the mistake of the Thessalonians, who affirmed that the day of Christ had actually come. In every instance in which the word occurs in the New Testament it refers to what is present, and not to what is future. To Greek scholars it is unnecessary to point this out, but to English readers it may be satisfactory to refer to competent authorities.

Dr. Manton, comparing the force of the words and [draweth nigh] (Jas. v. 8; 1 Pet. iv. 17), observes:---

‘There is some difference in the words, for signifies it draweth near, , it is begun already.’

Bengel says:---

‘Extreme proximity is signified by this word; for is present.’

Whiston, the translator of Josephus, has the following note:---

‘ is here, and in many other places of Josephus, immediately at hand; and is to be so expounded 2 Thess. ii. 2, where some falsely pretended that St. Paul had said, either by word of mouth or by an epistle, or by both, "that the day of Christ was immediately at hand;" for still St. Paul did then plainly think that day not many years future.

Dr. Paley observes:---

‘It should seem that the Thessalonians, or some however amongst them, had from this passage (1 Thess. iv. 15-17) conceived an opinion (and that not very unnaturally) that the coming of Christ was to take place instantly : and that persuasion had produced, as it well might, much agitation in the church.’

Conybeare and Howson translate,---

"That the day of the Lord is come;" adding the following note:---‘Literally, "is present." So the verb is always used in New Testament.’

Dean Alford comments thus:---

‘The day of the Lord is present (not is at hand), occurs six time besides in the New Testament, and always in the sense of being present. Besides which, St. Paul could not have so written, nor could the Spirit have so spoken by him. The teaching of the apostles was, and of the Holy Spirit in all ages has been, that the day of the Lord is at hand. But these Thessalonians imagined it to be already come, and accordingly were deserting their pursuits in life, and falling into other irregularities, as if the day of grace were closed.’

The very general misconception which prevails respecting the meaning of this verse renders it of the utmost importance that it should be correctly apprehended.

It is easy to understand how the erroneous opinion of the Thessalonians should have ‘troubled and shaken’ their minds. It was calculated to produce panic and disorder. History tells us that a general belief prevailed in Europe towards the close of the tenth century that the year 1000 would witness the coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and the end of the world. As the time drew near, a general panic seized the minds of men. Many abandoned their homes and their families, and repaired to the Holy Land; others made over their lands to the Church, or permitted them to be uncultivated, and the whole course of ordinary life was violently disturbed and deranged. A similar delusion, though on a smaller scale, prevailed in some parts of the United States in the year 1843, causing great consternation among multitudes, and driving many persons out of their senses. Facts like these show the wisdom which ‘hid the day and the hour’ of the Son of man’s coming, so that, while all might be watchful, none should be thrown into agitation.

In the third verse the apostle intimates that ‘the day of Christ’ must be preceded by two events:---(1) The coming of ‘the apostasy,’ and (2) the manifestation of ‘the man of sin.’

Could we place ourselves in the situation and circumstances of the Christians of Thessalonica when this epistle was written; could we call up the hopes and fears, the expectations and apprehensions, the social and political agitations of that period, we might be better able to enter into the explanations of St. Paul. Doubtless the Thessalonians understood him perfectly. As Paley justly observes, ‘No man writes unintelligibly on purpose,’ and we cannot suppose that he would tantalise them with enigmas which could only perplex and bewilder them more than ever.

The first question that presents itself is, Are the ‘apostasy’ and the ‘man of sin’ identical? Do they both point to the same thing? It is the opinion of many, perhaps of most, expositors that they are virtually one and the same. But evidently they are distinct and separate things. The apostasy represents a multitude, the man of sin a person; so that though they may be in some respects connected, they are not to be confounded; they may exist contemporaneously, but they are not identical.

The Apostasy

St. Paul does not at present dwell upon ‘the apostasy,’ but, having simply named it as to come, passes on to the description of ‘the man of sin.’ We may here, however, refer to the fact that ‘the falling away’ was no new idea to the disciples of Christ. The Saviour had expressly predicted its coming in His prophetic discourse, Matt. xxiv. 10,12, and St. Paul elsewhere gives as full a delineation of the apostasy as he here does of the man of sin. (See 1 Tim. iv. 1-3; 2 Tim. iii. 1-9.) It can only refer to that defection from the faith so clearly predicted by our Lord, and described by His apostles, as indicative of ‘the last days.’ But this topic will come to be considered in its proper place.


The Man of Sin

It is of utmost importance in entering upon this field of inquiry to find some principle which may guide and govern us in the investigation. We find such a principle in the very simple and obvious consideration that the apostle is here referring to circumstances which lay within the ken of the Thessalonians themselves. If the Parousia itself, to which the development of the apostasy and the appearing of the man of sin were antecedent, was declared by the word of the Lord to fall within the period of the existing generation, it follows that ‘the apostasy’ and ‘the man of sin’ lay nearer to them than the Parousia. Besides, if we suppose ‘the apostasy’ and ‘the man of sin’ to lie far beyond the times of the Thessalonians, what would be the use of giving them explanations and information about matters which were not at all urgent, and which, in fact, did not concern them at all? Is it no obvious that whoever the man of sin may be, he must be someone with whom the apostle and his readers had to do? Is he not writing to living men about matters in which they are intensely interested? Why should he delineate the features of this mysterious personage to the Thessalonians if he was one with whom the Thessalonians had nothing to do, from whom they had nothing to fear, and who would not be revealed for ages yet to come? It is clear that he speaks of one whose influence was already beginning to be felt, and whose unchecked and lawless fury would ere long burst forth. All this lies on the very surface, obvious and unquestionable. But this is not all. It appears certain that the Thessalonians were not ignorant what person was intended by the man of sin. It was not the first time that the apostle had spoken with them on the subject. He says, ‘Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I kept telling you these things? and now ye know what hindereth his being revealed in his own time.’ This language plainly indicates that the apostle and his readers were well acquainted with the name ‘man of sin,’ and knew who was designated thereby. If so, and it seems unquestionable, the area of investigation becomes greatly contracted, and the probabilities of discovery proportionately increased. What the Thessalonians had ‘talked about,’ ‘remembered,’ and ‘knew,’ must have been something of living and present interest; in short, must have belonged to contemporary history.

But why does not the apostle speak out frankly? Why this reserve and reticence in darkly hinting what he does not name? It was not from ignorance; it could not be from the affectation of mystery. There must have been some strong reason for this extreme caution. No doubt; but of what nature? Why should he have been in the habit, as he says, of speaking so freely on the subject in private, and then write so obscurely in his epistle? Obviously, because it was not safe to be more explicit. On the one hand, a hint was enough, for they could all understand his meaning; on the other, more than a hint was dangerous, for to name the person might have compromised himself and them.

From what quarter, then, was danger to be apprehended from too great freedom of speech? There were only two quarters from which the Christians of the apostolic age had just cause for apprehension, --- Jewish bigotry and Roman jealousy. Hitherto the Gospel had suffered most from the former: the Jews were everywhere the instigators in ‘stirring up the Gentiles against the brethren.’ But the power of Rome was jealous, and the Jews knew well how to awaken that jealousy; in Thessalonica itself they had got up the cry, ‘These all do contrary to the decrees of Cæsar.’ Which of these causes, then, may have sealed the lips of the apostle? Not fear of the Jews, for nothing that he could say was likely to make their hostility more bitter; nor had the Jews any direct civil authority by which they could inflict injury upon the Christian cause. We conclude, therefore, that it was from the Roman power that the apostle apprehended danger, and that his reticence was occasioned by the desire not to involve the Thessalonians in the suspicion of disaffection and sedition.

Let us now turn to the description of ‘the man of sin’ given by the apostle, and endeavour to discover, if possible, whether there was any individual then existing in the Roman Empire to whom it will apply.

1. The description requires that we should look, not for a system or abstraction, but an individual, a ‘man’.

2. He is evidently not a private, but a public person. The powers with which he is invested imply this.

3. He is a personage holding the highest rank and authority in the State.

4. He is heathen, and not Jewish.

5. He claims divine names, prerogatives, and worship.

6. He pretends to exercise miraculous power.

7. He is characterised by enormous wickedness. He is ‘the man of sin,’ i.e. the incarnation and embodiment of evil.

8. He is distinguished by lawlessness as a ruler.

9. He had not yet arrived at the fulness of his power when the apostle wrote; there existed some hindrance or check to the full development of his influence.

10. The hindrance was a person; was known to the Thessalonians; and would soon be taken out of the way.

11. The ‘lawless one,’ the ‘man of sin,’ was doomed to destruction. He is ‘the son of perdition,’ ‘whom the Lord shall slay.

12. His full development, or ‘manifestation,’ and his destruction are immediately to precede the Parousia. ‘The Lord shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming.’

With these descriptive marks in our hands can there be any difficulty in identifying the person in whom they all are found? Were there three men in the Roman Empire who answered this description? Were there two? Assuredly not. But there was one, and only one. When the apostle wrote he was on the steps of the Imperial throne---a little longer and he sate on the throne of the world. It is NERO, the first of the persecuting emperors; the violator of all laws, human and divine; the monster whose cruelty and crimes entitle him to the name ‘the man of sin.’

It will at once be apparent to every reader that all the features in this hideous portraiture belong to Nero; but it is remarkable how exact is the correspondence, especially in those particulars which are more recondite and obscure. He is an individual---a public person---holding the highest rank in the State; heathen, and not Jewish; a monster of wickedness, trampling upon all law. But how striking are the indications that point to Nero in the year when this epistle was written, say A.D.52 or 53. At that time Nero was not yet ‘manifested;’ his true character was not discovered; he had not yet succeeded to the Empire. Claudius, his step-father, lived, and stood in the way of the son of Agrippina. But that hindrance was soon removed. In less than a year, probably, after this epistle was received by the Thessalonians, Claudius was ‘taken out of the way,’ a victim to the deadly practice of the infamous Agrippina; her son also, according to Suetonius, being accessory to the deed. But ‘the mystery of lawlessness was already working;’ the influence of Nero must have been powerful in the last days of the wretched Claudius; the very plots were probably being hatched that paved the way for the accession of the son of the murderess. A few months more would witness the advent to the throne of the world of a miscreant whose name is gibbeted in everlasting infamy as the most brutal of tyrants and the vilest of men.

The remaining notes of the description are no less true to the original. The claim to divine honours; the opposing and exalting himself above all that is called God, or an object of worship; his seating himself in the temple of God, showing himself to be a god; all are distinctive of Nero.

The assumption of divine prerogatives, indeed, was common to all Roman Emperors. ‘Divus,’ god, was inscribed on their coins and statues. The Emperor might be said to ‘exalt himself above all that is called God, or an object of worship,’ by monopolising to himself all worship. This fact is placed in a striking light in the following remarks of Dean Howson:---

‘The image of the Emperor was at that time the object of religious reverence; he was a deity on earth; and the worship paid to him was a real worship. It is a striking thought, that in those times (setting aside effete forms of religion) the only two genuine worships in the civilised world were the worship of a Tiberius or a Nero on the one hand, and the worship of Christ on the other.’

The attempt of Caligula to set up his statue in the temple of God in Jerusalem had driven the Jews to the brink of rebellion, and it is just possible that this fact may have given their peculiar form to the description of the apostle. Certainly it suggested to Grotius that Caligula must be the person intended to be portrayed; but the date of the epistle renders this opinion untenable. Nero, however, came behind none of his predecessors in his impious assumption of divine prerogatives. Dio Cassius informs us that when he returned victorious from the Grecian games, he entered Rome in triumph, and was hailed with such acclamations as these, ‘Nero the Hercules! Nero the Apollo! Thou August, August! Sacred voice! Eternal One.’ In all this we see sufficient evidence of the assumption of divine honours by Nero.

The same is true with respect to another note in this delineation,---the pretension to miraculous powers. ‘Whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders’ (ver. 9). This pretension follows almost as a matter of course from the assumption of the prerogatives of deity.

It is to be supposed that the Imperial Divus would be credited with the possession of supernatural powers; and we find a very remarkable side-light thrown upon this subject in Rev. xiii. 13-15. At this stage of the investigation, however, it would not be desirable to enter into that region of symbolism, though we shall fully avail ourselves of its aid at the proper time.

Further, ‘the man of sin’ is doomed to perish. He is ‘the son of perdition,’ a name which he bears in common with Judas, and indicative of the certainty and completeness of his destruction. ‘The Lord is to slay him with the breath of his mouth, and to destroy him with the appearance of his coming.’ In this significant expression we have a note of the time when the man of sin is destined to perish, marked with singular exactitude. It is the coming of the Lord, the Parousia, which is to be the signal of his destruction; yet not the full splendour of that event so much as the first appearance or dawn of it. Alford (after Bengel) very properly points out that the rendering ‘brightness of his coming’ should be ‘the appearance of his coming,’ and he quotes the sublime expression of Milton,---‘far off His coming shone.’ Bengel, with fine discrimination, remarks, ‘Here the appearance of His coming, or, at all events, the first glimmerings of His coming, are prior to the coming itself.’ This evidently implies that the man of sin was destined to perish, not in the full blaze of the Parousia, but at its first dawn or beginning. Now what do we actually find? Remembering how the Parousia is connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, we find that the death of Nero preceded the event. It took place in June A.D.68, in the very midst of the Jewish war which ended in the capture and destruction of the city and the temple. It might therefore be justly said that ‘the appearance, or dawn, of the Parousia’ [ ] was the signal for the tyrant’s destruction.

It does not follow that the death of Nero was to be brought about by immediate supernatural agency because it is said that ‘the Lord shall slay him with the breath of his mouth,’ etc. Herod Agrippa was smitten by the angel of the Lord, but this does not exclude the operation of natural causes: ‘he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost’ (Acts xii.23). So Nero was overtaken by the divine judgment, though he received his death-blow from the sword of the assassin, or from his own hand.

Lastly, it is scarcely necessary to make good the title of Nero to the appellation ‘the man of sin.’ It will be observed that it is the profligacy of his personal character that stamps him with this distinctive epithet, as if he were the very impersonation and embodiment of vice. Such, indeed, was Nero, whose name has become a synonym for all that is base, cruel, and vile; the highest in rank and the lowest in Character in the Roman world: a monster of wickedness even among Pagans, who were not squeamish about morality and who were familiar with the most corrupt society on the face of the earth. The following graphic delineation of the character of Nero is taken from Conybeare and Howson:---

‘Over this distinguished bench of judges presided the representative of the most powerful monarchy which has ever existed,---the absolute ruler of the whole civilised world. But the reverential awe which his position naturally suggested was changed into contempt and loathing by the character of the sovereign who now presided over that supreme tribunal. For Nero was a man whom even the awful attribute of "power equal to the gods" could not render august, except in title. The fear and horror excited by his omnipotence and his cruelty, were blended with contempt for his ignoble lust of praise and his shameless licentiousness. He had not as yet plunged into that extravagance of tyranny which, at a later period, exhausted the patience of his subjects and brought him to destruction. Hitherto his public measures had been guided by sage advisers, and his cruelty had injured his own family rather than the State. But already, at the age of twenty-five, he had murdered his innocent wife and his adopted brother, and had dyed his hands in the blood of his mother. Yet even these enormities seem to have disgusted the Romans less than the prostitution of the Imperial purple by publicly performing as a musician on the stage and a charioteer in the circus. His degrading want of dignity and insatiable appetite for vulgar applause drew tears from the councillors and servants of his house, who could see him slaughter his nearest relatives without remonstrance.’

But there is probably another reason why Nero is branded with this epithet. The name ‘man of sin’ was not unknown to Hebrew history. It had already been given to one who was not only a monster of cruelty and wickedness, but also a bitter enemy and persecutor of the Jewish people. It would not have been possible to pronounce a name more hateful to Jewish ears than the name of Antiochus Epiphanes. He was the Nero of his age, the inveterate enemy of Israel, the profaner of the temple, the sanguinary persecutor of the people of God. In the first Book of Maccabees we find the name ‘the man the sinner’  given to Antiochus (1 Macc. ii. 48, 62), and it seems highly probable that the character and destined to a similar fate with Antiochus, the relentless tyrant and persecutor who became a monument of the wrath of God.

The parallel between ‘the man of sin’ and Antiochus Epiphanes is particularly noticed by Bengel, who points out that the description of the former in ver. 4 is borrowed from the description of the latter in Dan. xi. 36. The comment of Bengel is well worthy of quotation:---

‘This, then, is what Paul says: The day of Christ does not come, unless there be fulfilled (in the man of sin) what Daniel predicted of Antiochus; the prediction is more suitable to the man of sin, who corresponds to Antiochus, and is worse than he.’

We shall find in the sequel that this is not the only passage in which Antiochus Epiphanes is referred to as the prototype of Nero.

But the question may be asked, Why should the revelation of Nero in his true character be a matter of such concern to the apostle and the Christians of Thessalonica? The answer is not far to seek. It was the ferocity of this lawless monster that first let loose all the power of Rome to crush and destroy the Christian name. It was by him that torrents of innocent blood were to be shed and the most exquisite tortures inflicted upon unoffending Christians. It was before his sanguinary tribunal that St. Paul was yet to stand and plead for his life, and from his lips that the sentence was to come that doomed him to a violent death. But more than this, it was under Nero, and by his orders, that the final Jewish war was commenced, and that darkest chapter in the annals of Israel was opened which terminated in the siege and capture of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the extinction of the national polity. This was the consummation predicted by our Lord as the ‘end of the age’  and the ‘coming of his kingdom.’ The revelation of the man of sin, therefore, as antecedent to the Parousia, was a matter that deeply concerned every Christian disciple.

We can now understand why the apostle should use such caution in writing on a subject like this. It was from no affection of oracular obscurity, but from prudential motives of the most intelligible kind. There were many prying eyes and calumnious tongues in Thessalonica, that only waited an opportunity to denounce the Christians as disaffected and seditious men, secret plotters against the authority of Caesar. To write openly on such subjects would be in the highest degree indiscreet and perilous. Nor was it necessary; for they had discussed these matters before in many a private conversation. ‘Do you not recollect,’ he asks, ‘that when I was with you I was often telling you these things?’ More than hints were unnecessary to the Thessalonians, for they had a key to his meaning which subsequent readers had not. Nor is it greatly to be wondered at if obscurity has gathered round the teaching of the apostle on this subject. Events which to contemporaries are full of intense interest often become not only uninteresting but unintelligible to posterity. Yet it is somewhat strange that the very obvious reference to contemporary history, and to Nero, should have been so generally overlooked. This is the most ancient interpretation of the passage relating to the man of sin. Chrysostom, commenting on the mystery of iniquity, says, ‘He (St. Paul) speaks here of Nero as being the type of the Antichrist; for he also wished to be thought a god.’ This opinion is also referred to by Augustine, Theodoret, and others. Bengel, referring to the obstacle to the manifestation of the man of sin, says: ‘The ancients thought that Claudius was this check: hence it appears they deemed Nero, Claudius’ successor, the man of sin. Moses Stuart has collected a great number of authorities for the identification of Nero with the man of sin. He remarks: ‘The idea that Nero was the man of sin mentioned by Paul, and the Antichrist spoken of so often in the epistles of St. John, prevailed extensively and for a long time in the early church.’ And again: ‘Augustine says: What means the declaration, that the mystery of iniquity already works? . . . Some suppose this to be spoken of the Roman emperor, and therefore Paul did not speak in plain words, because he would not incur the charge of calumny for having spoken evil of the Roman emperor: although he always expected that what he had said would be understood as applying to Nero.’

We consider it a fact of peculiar importance that a conclusion arrived at on quite independent grounds should be found to have the sanction of some of the greatest names of antiquity. We are, however, not at all disposed to rest this interpretation upon external authority; we are inclined to think that the internal evidence in favour of the identification of Nero as the man of sin amounts almost, if not altogether, to demonstration. But we have yet to deal with the confirmation of this fact furnished by the Apocalypse, which we presume to think will produce conviction in every candid mind.

It would be improper to pass from the consideration of this deeply interesting passage without some notice of what may be called the popular Protestant interpretation, which finds here the rise and development of Popery and identifies the Pope as the man of sin. The interpretation is in may respects so plausible, and the points of correspondence so numerous, that it is not surprising that it should have found favour with perhaps the majority of commentators. There is a certain family likeness among all systems of superstition and tyranny, which makes it probable that some of the features which distinguish one may be found in all. But few expositors of any note or weight will now contend that all the descriptive notes of the man of sin are to be found in the Pope. Dean Alford justly observes:---

‘In the characteristic of ver. 4, the Pope does not, and never did, fulfil the prophecy. Allowing all the striking coincidences with the latter part of the verse which have been so abundantly adduced, it never can be shown that he fulfils the former part; so far is he from it, that the abject adoration and submission to and has ever been one of his most notable peculiarities. The second objection, of an external and historical character, is even more decisive. If the papacy be Antichrist, then has the manifestation been made, and endured now for nearly fifteen hundred years, and yet that day of the Lord is not come which, by the terms of our prophecy, such manifestations is immediately to precede.’

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTLOTIC EPISTLES

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLES TO THE CORINTHIANS.

     The two epistles to the church in Corinth are believed to have been written in the same year (A.D.57). The contents are more varied than those of the Epistles to the Thessalonians, but we find many allusions to the anticipated coming of the Lord. That was the consummation to which, in St. Paul’s view, all things were hastening, and that for which all Christians were eagerly looking. It is represented as the decisive day when all the doubts and difficulties of the present would be resolved and all its wrongs redressed. That this great event was regarded by the apostle as at hand is implied in every allusion to the subject, while in several passages it is expressly affirmed in so many words.

 

THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.

 

 ATTITUDE OF THE CHRISTIANS OF CORINTH IN RELATION TO THE PAROUSIA.

1 Cor. i. 7.---‘Waiting [looking earnestly] for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

     The attitude of expectation is which the Corinthians stood is here distinctly indicated, although it is feebly expressed by the rendering ‘waiting.’ The phrase used by the apostle is the same as in Romans viii. 19, where the whole creation is represented as ‘groaning and travailing in pain waiting for the revelation of the sons of God’ [ ]. Conybeare and Howson translate,---‘looking earnestly for the time when our Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed to sight.’ Such an attitude plainly implies that the object expected was understood to be near; for it is obvious that if it were a great way off, the earnest looking and longing would end only in bitter disappointment. It may be said, Did not the Old Testament saints wait for the day of Christ? Did not Abraham rejoice to see His day, and was not that a distant prospect? True; but the Old Testament saints were nowhere given to understand that the first coming of Christ would take place in their own day, or within the limits of their own generation, nor were they urged and exhorted to be continually on the watch, waiting and looking for His coming. We have no reason whatever to suppose that their minds were constantly on the stretch, and their eyes eagerly straining in expectation of the advent, as was the case with the Christians of the apostolic age. The case of the aged Simeon is the proper parallel to the early Christians. It was revealed to him that he should not see death till he had seen the Lord’s anointed: he waited therefore ‘for the consolation of Israel.’ In like manner it was revealed to the Christians of the apostolic age that the Parousia would take place in their own day; the Lord had over and over again distinctly assured His disciples of this fact, they therefore cherished the hope of living to see the longed-for-day, and all the more because of the sufferings and persecutions to which they were exposed. Like the Thessalonians they regarded death as a calamity, because it seemed to disappoint the hope of seeing the Lord ‘coming in his kingdom.’ They wished to be ‘alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.’ Billroth remarks: ‘The [revelation] refers to the visible advent of Christ, an event which Paul and the believers of that day imagined would take place within the term of an ordinary life, so that many of them would be then alive. Paul here commends the Corinthians for expecting or waiting for it.’ The critic evidently regards the opinion as a delusion. But whence did the early Christians derive their expectation? Was it not from the teaching of the apostles and the words of Christ? To say that it was a mistaken opinion is to strike a blow at the authority of the apostles as trustworthy reporters of the sayings of Christ and competent expounders of His doctrine. If they could be so egregiously mistaken as to a simple matter of fact, what confidence can be placed in their teaching on the more difficult questions of doctrine and duty?

     The confidence expressed by the apostle that the Christians of Corinth would be confirmed unto the end, and be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, recalls his prayer for the Thessalonians: ‘That he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess. iii. 13). The two passages are exactly parallel in signification, and refer to the same point of time, ‘the end,’ the ‘Parousia.’ Obviously, by ‘the end’ the apostle does not mean the ‘end of life;’ it is not a general sentiment such as we express when we speak of being ‘true to the last;’ it has a definite meaning, and refers to a particular time. It is ‘the end’ [ ] spoken of by our Lord in His prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matt. xxiv. 6, 13, 14). It is ‘the end of the age’ [ ] of Matt. xiii. 40, 49. It is ‘the end’ [then cometh the end] (1 Cor. xv. 24. See also Heb. iii. 6, 14, vi. 11, ix. 26; 1 Pet. iv. 7). All these forms of expression [ , , ] refer to the same epoch---viz., the close of the aeon or Jewish age, i.e. the Mosaic dispensation. This is pointed out by Alford in his note on the passage before us: ‘To the end,’ i.e. to the , not merely ‘to the end of your lives.’ It refers, therefore, no to death, which comes to different individuals at a different time, but to one specific event, not far off, the Parousia, or coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

     No less definite is the phrase, ‘the day of our Lord,’ etc. The allusions to this period in the apostolic writings are very frequent, and all point to one great crisis which was quickly approaching, the day of redemption and recompense to the suffering people of God, the day of retribution and wrath to their enemies and persecutors.

 

THE JUDICIAL CHARACTER OF ‘THE DAY OF THE LORD.’

1 Cor. iii. 13.---‘Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it [the day] shall be revealed with fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.’

In this passage, again, there is a distinct allusion to the ‘day of the Lord’ as a day of discrimination between good and evil, between the precious and the vile. The apostle likens himself and his fellow-labourers in the service of God to workmen employed in the erection of a great building. That building is God’s church, the only foundation of which is Jesus Christ, that foundation which he (the apostle) had laid in Corinth. He then warns every labourer to look well what kind of material he built up on that one foundation: that is to say, what sort of characters he introduced into the fellowship of God’s church. A day was coming which would test the quality of every man’s work: it must pass through a fiery ordeal; and in that scorching scrutiny the flimsy and worthless must perish, while the good and true remained unscathed. The unwise builder indeed might escape, but his work would be destroyed, and he would forfeit the reward which, if he had builded with better materials, he would have enjoyed.

There can be no doubt what day is here referred to. It is the day of Christ, the Parousia. This is said to be revealed ‘with fire,’ and the question arises, Is the expression literal or metaphorical? The whole passage, it will be perceived, is figurative: the building, the builders, the materials; we may therefore conclude that the fire is figurative also. Moral qualities are not tested in the same way as material substances. The apostle teaches that a judicial scrutiny of the life-work of the Christian labourer is at hand. He ‘who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire’ is coming to ‘search the reins and hearts, and to give every man according to his work’ (Rev. ii. 18, 23). How clearly these representations of ‘the day of the Lord’ connect themselves with the prophetic words of Malachi, ‘Who may abide the day of his coming? For he is like a refiner’s fire.’ ‘For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as a furnace, and all the proud, yea and all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble’ (Mal. iii. 2, 3; iv. 1). In like manner John the Baptist represents the day of Christ’s coming as ‘revealed with fire,’ ‘He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. iii. 12). See also 2 Thess. i. 7, 8, etc.

Yet, if any should be disposed to maintain that the fire here is not wholly metaphorical, a not improbable case might easily be made out. In the central spot where that revelation took place, the city and the temple of Jerusalem, the Parousia was accompanied with very literal fire. In that glowing furnace in which perished all that was most venerable and sacred in Judaism, men might well see the fulfilment of the apostle’s words, ‘that day will be revealed in fire.’

Since, then, the Parousia coincides in point of time with the destruction of Jerusalem, it follows that the period of sifting and trial here alluded to,---the day which shall be revealed in fire---is also contemporaneous with that event. Otherwise, on the hypothesis that this day has not yet come, we are led to the conclusions that ‘the proving of every man’s work’ has not yet taken place: that no judgment has yet been pronounced on the work of Apollos, or Cephas, or Paul, or their fellow-labourers; it has still to be ascertained with what sort of material every man built up the temple of God; that the labourers have not yet received their reward. For the great proving day has not yet come, and the fire has not tried every man’s work of what sort it is. But this is a reductio ad absurdum, and shows that such a hypothesis is untenable.

 

 

THE JUDICIAL CHARACTER OF THE DAY OF THE LORD.

1 Cor. iv. 5.---‘Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who shall both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have [his] praise from God.’

1 Cor. v. 5.---‘That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’

In both these passages the Parousia is represented as a time of judicial investigation and decision. It is the time when characters and motives shall be disclosed, and every man receive his appropriate meed of praise or blame. The apostle deprecates hasty and ill-informed judgments, apparently not without some personal reason, and exhorts them to wait ‘till the Lord come,’ etc. Does not this manifestly imply that he thought they would not have long to wait? Where would be the reasonableness of his exhortation if there were no prospect of vindication or retribution for ages to come? It is the very consideration that the day is at hand that constitutes the reason for patience and forbearance now.

In like manner the case of the offending member of the Corinthian church points to a speedily approaching time of retribution. St. Paul argues that the effect of present discipline exercised by the church may prove the salvation of the offender ‘in the day of the Lord Jesus.’ That day, therefore, is the period when the condemnation or salvation of men is decided. But on the supposition that the day of the Lord Jesus is not yet come, it follows that the day of salvation has not come either for the apostle himself or for the Christians of Corinth, or for the offender whom he calls upon the church to censure. All this clearly shows that the apostle believed and taught the speedy coming of the day of the Lord.

 

NEARNESS OF THE APPROACHING CONSUMMATION.

1 Cor. vii. 29-31.---‘But this I say, brethren, the time henceforth is short [the time that remains is short]: in order that both they that have wives be as though they had none: and they that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world is passing away.’

No words could more distinctly show the deep impression on the mind of the apostle that a great crisis was near, which would powerfully affect all the relations of life, and all the possessions of this world. There is a significance in this language, as spoken at that time, very different from that which it has in these days. These are not the ordinary platitudes about the brevity of time and the vanity of the world, the stock common-places of moralists and divines. Time is always short, and the world always vain; but there is an emphasis and an urgency in the declaration of the apostle which imply a speciality in the time then present: he knew that they were on the verge of a great catastrophe, and that all earthly interests and possessions were held by a slight and uncertain tenure. It is not necessary to ask what that expected catastrophe was. It was the coming of the day of the Lord already alluded to, and the near approach of which is implied in all his exhortations. Alford correctly expresses the force of the expression, ‘the time is shortened henceforth, i.e. the interval between now and the coming of the Lord has arrived at an extremely contracted period.’ But, unhappily, he goes on to treat the opinion of St. Paul as a mistaken one: ‘Since he wrote, the unfolding of God’s providence has taught us more of the interval before the coming of the Lord than it was given even to an inspired apostle to see.’ What the private opinion of St. Paul might be respecting the date of the Parousia, or what would take place when it did arrive, we do not know, and it would be useless to speculate; but we have a right to conclude that in his official teaching (save when he expressly states that he speaks his private opinion) he was the organ of a higher intelligence than his own. We are really not competent to say how far the shock of the tremendous convulsion that took place at ‘the end of the age’ may have extended, but every one can see that the exhortations of the apostle would have been peculiarly appropriate within the bounds of Palestine. As we pursue this investigation, the area affected by the Parousia seems to grow and expand: it is more than a national, it becomes an ecumenical, crisis. Certainly we must infer from the representation of the apostles, as well as from the sayings of the Master, that the Parousia had a significance for Christians everywhere, whether within or without the boundaries of Judea. It is more seemly to inquire into the true import of the doctrine of the apostles on this subject than to assume that they were mistaken, and invent apologies for their error. If it be an error, it is common to the whole teaching of the New Testament, and will meet us in the writings of St. Peter and St. John, for they, no less than St. Paul, declare that ‘the end of all things is at hand,’ and that ‘the world is passing away, and the lust thereof’ (1 Pet. iv. 7; 1 John ii. 17).

  

THE END OF THE AGES ALREADY ARRIVED.

1 Cor. x. 11.---‘Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.’ [to whom the ends of the ages have arrived].

The phrase ‘the end of the ages’ [ ] is equivalent to ‘the end of the age’ [ ], and ‘the end’ [ ]. They all refer to the same period, viz. the close of the Jewish age, or dispensation, which was now at hand. It will be observed that in this chapter St. Paul brings together some of the great historical incidents which took place at the commencement of that dispensation, as affording warning to those who were living near its close. He evidently regards the early history of the dispensation, especially in so far as it was supernatural, as having a typical and educational character. ‘These things happened unto them by way of ensample; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.’ This not only affirms the typical character of the Jewish economy, but shows that the apostle regarded it as just about to expire.

Conybeare and Howson have the following note on this passage:---‘The coming of Christ was "the end of the ages," i.e. the commencement of a new period of the world’s existence. So, nearly the same phrase is used Heb. ix. 26. A similar expression occurs five times in St. Matthew, signifying the coming of Christ to judgment.’ This note does not distinguish with accuracy which coming of Christ was the end of the age. It is the Parousia, the second coming which is always so represented. That event was, therefore, believed to be at hand when the end of the age, or ages, was declared to have arrived.

It is sometimes said that the whole period between the incarnation and the end of the world is regarded in the New Testament as ‘the end of the age.’ But this bears a manifest incongruity in its very front. How could the end of a period be a long protracted duration? Especially how could it be longer than the period of which it is the end? More time has already elapsed since the incarnation than from the giving of the law to the first coming of Christ: so that, on this hypothesis, the end of the age is a great deal longer than the age itself. Into such paradoxes interpreters are led by a false theory. But as in a true theory in science every fact fits easily into its place, and lends support to all the rest, so in a true theory of interpretation every passage finds an easy solution, and contributes its quota to support the correctness of the general principle.

 

EVENTS ACOMPANYING THE PAROUSIA.

The Resurrection of the Dead; the Change of the Living; the Delivering up of the Kingdom.

In entering upon this grand and solemn portion of the Word of God we desire to do so with profound reverence and humility of spirit, dreading to rush in where angels might fear to tread; and anxiously solicitous ‘to bring out of the inspired words what is really in them, and to put nothing into them that is not really there.’

We venture also to bespeak the judicial candour of the reader. A demand may be made upon his forbearance and patience which he may scarcely at first be prepared to meet. Old traditions and preconceived opinions are not patient of contradiction, and even truth may often be in danger of being spurned as foolishness merely because it is novel. Let him be assured that every word is spoken in all honesty, after every effort to discover the true meaning of the text has been exhausted, and in the spirit of loyalty and submission to the supreme authority of Scripture. It is no part of the business of an interpreter to vindicate the sayings of inspiration; his whole care should be to find out what those sayings are.

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1 Cor. xv. 22-28.---‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order. Christ the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s, at his coming. Then the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father: when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy, death, shall be destroyed. For, he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.’

Although it does not fall within the scope of this investigation to enter into any detailed exposition of passages which do not directly affect the question of the Parousia, yet it seems necessary to refer to the state of opinion in the church of Corinth which gave occasion to the argument and remonstrance of St. Paul.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the great vouchers for the truth of Christianity itself. If this be true, all is true; if this be false, the whole structure falls to the ground. In the brief summary of the fundamental truths of the Gospel given by the apostle in the commencement of this chapter, special stress is laid upon the fact of Christ’s resurrection, and the evidence on which it rested. It was ‘according to the scripture.’ It was attested by the positive testimony of eye-witnesses: ‘He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once,’ most of whom are still living at the writing of the apostle. After that he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. ‘Last of all he was seen of me also.’ The emphasis laid upon the words ‘he was seen’ cannot fail to be remarked. The evidence is irresistible; it is ocular demonstration, testified not by one or two, but by a multitude of witnesses, men who would not lie, and who could not be deceived.

Yet, it appears, there were some among the Corinthians who said, ‘that there is no resurrection of the dead.’ It seems incomprehensible to us how such a denial should be compatible with Christian discipleship. It is not said, however, that they question the fact of Christ’s resurrection, though the apostle shows that their principles led to that conclusion. His argument with them is a reductio ad absurdum. He lands them in a state of blank negation, in which there is no Christ, no Christianity, no apostolic veracity, no future life, no salvation, no hope. They have cut away the ground under their own feet, and they are left, without a Saviour, in darkness and despair.

But, as we have said, they do not seem to have denied the fact of Christ’s resurrection; on the contrary, this is the argument by means of which the apostle convicts them of absurdity. Had they not admitted this, the apostle’s argument would have had no force, neither could they have been regarded as Christian believers at all.

Some light, however, is thrown upon this strange scepticism by the Epistles to the Thessalonians. An opinion not very dissimilar appears to have prevailed at Thessalonica. So at least we may infer from 1 Thess. iv. 13, etc. They had given themselves up to despair on account of the death of some of their friends previous to the coming of the Lord. They appear to have regarded this as a calamity which excluded the departed from a participation in the blessedness which they expected at the revelation of Jesus Christ. The apostle calms their fears and corrects their mistake by declaring that the departed saints would suffer no disadvantage, but would be raised again at the coming of Christ, and enter along with the living in to the presence and joy of the Lord.

This shows that there had been doubts about the resurrection of the dead in the Thessalonian church as well as in the Corinthian; and it is highly probable that they were of the same nature in both. The anxious desire of all Christians was to be alive at the Lord’s coming. Death, therefore, was regarded as a calamity. But it would not have been a calamity had they been aware that there was to be a resurrection of the dead. This was the truth which they either did not know, or did not believe. St. Paul treats the doubt in Thessalonica as ignorance, in Corinth as error; and it is highly probable that, among a people so conceited and pragmatical as the Corinthians, the opinion would assume a more decided and dangerous shape. It may be observed, also, that the apostle meets the case of the Thessalonians with much the same reasoning as that of the Corinthians, viz. by an appeal to the fact of the resurrection of Christ: ‘If we believe that Jesus died and rose again,’ etc. (1 Thess. iv. 14). The two cases, therefore, are very similar, if not precisely parallel. We can easily imagine that to the early Christians, often smarting under bitter persecution, and watching eagerly for the expected coming of the Lord, it must have been a grievous disappointment to be taken away by death before the fulfilment of their hopes. Add to this the difficulty which the idea of the resurrection of the dead would naturally present to the Gentile converts (1 Cor. xv. 35). It was a doctrine at which the philosophers of Athens mocked; which made Festus exclaim, ‘Paul, thou art mad,’ and which the scientific men of the time declared to be preposterous, a thing ‘impossible even to God.’

So much for the probable nature and origin of this error of the Corinthians. The apostle in combating it ascribes the glorious boon of the resurrection to the mediatorial interposition of Christ. It is part of the benefits arising from His redemptive work. As the first Adam brought death, so the second Adam brings life; and, as the pledge of the resurrection of His people, He himself rose from the dead, and became the first-fruits of the great harvest of the grave.

But there is a due order and succession in this new life of the future. As the first-fruits precede and predict the harvest, so the resurrection of Christ precedes and guarantees the resurrection of His people: ‘Christ the first-fruits, afterwards they that are Christ’s AT HIS COMING.’

This is a most important statement, and unambiguously affirms, what is indeed the uniform teaching of the New Testament, that the Parousia was to be immediately followed by the resurrection of the sleeping dead. He comes ‘that he may awake them out of sleep.’ The First Epistle to the Thessalonians supplies the hiatus which the apostle leaves here: ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God: and first, the dead in Christ shall arise: then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up all together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thess. iv. 16, 17).

In the passage before us the apostle does not enter into those details; he is arguing for the resurrection, and he stops short for the present at that point, adding only the significant words, ‘Then the end’ [ ], as much as to say, ‘That is the end;’ ‘Now it is done;’ ‘The mystery of God is finished.’

But we may venture to ask, What is this ‘end,’ this ; It is no new term, but a familiar phrase which we have often met before, and shall often meet again. If we turn to our Lord’s prophetic discourse we find almost the self-same significant words, ‘Then shall the end come’ [ ] (Matt. xxiv. 14), and they furnish us with the key to their meaning here. Answering the question of the disciples, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be; and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?’ our Lord specifies certain signs, such as the persecution and martyrdom of some of the disciples themselves; the defection and apostasy of many; the appearance of false prophets and deceivers; and, lastly, the general proclamation of the Gospel throughout the nations of the Roman Empire; and ‘then,’ he declares, ‘shall come the end.’ Can there be the slightest doubt that the of the prophecy is the of the epistle? Or can there be a doubt that both are identical with the of the disciples? (Matt. xxiv. 3.) But we have seen that the latter phrase refers, not to ‘the end of the world,’ or the destruction of the material earth, but to the close of the age, or dispensation , then about to expire. We conclude, therefore, that ‘the end’ of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor. xv. 24 is the same grand epoch so continually and prominently kept in view both in the gospels and the epistles, when the whole civil and ecclesiastical polity of Israel, with their city, their temple, their nationality, and their law, were swept out of existence by on tremendous wave of judgment.

This view of ‘the end,’ as having reference to the close of the Jewish economy or age, seems to furnish a satisfactory solution of a problem which has greatly perplexed the commentators, viz. Christ’s delivering up of the kingdom. It is stated twice over by the apostle, as one of the great events attending the Parousia, that the Son, having then put down all rule and all authority and power, ‘shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father’ (vers. 24, 28). What kingdom? No doubt the kingdom which the Christ, the Anointed King, undertook to administer as the representative and vicegerent of His Father: that is to say, the Theocratic kingdom, with the sovereignty of which He was solemnly invested, according to the statement in the second Psalm, ‘Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee’ (Ps. ii. 6, 7). This Messianic sovereignty, or Theocracy, necessarily came to its termination when the people who were its subjects ceased to be the covenant nation; when the covenant was in fact dissolved, and the whole framework and apparatus of the Theocratic administration were abolished. What more reasonable than that the Son should then ‘deliver up the kingdom,’ the purposes of its institution having been answered, and its limited, local, and national character being superseded by a larger and universal system, the ‘ ,’ or new order of a ‘better covenant.’

This surrender of the kingdom to the Father at the Parousia---at the end of the age---is represented as consequent on the subjugation of all things to Christ, the Theocratic King. This cannot refer to the gentle and peaceful conquests of the Gospel, the reconciliation of all things to Him: the language implies a violent and victorious conquest affected over hostile powers,---‘He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.’ Who those enemies are may be inferred from the closing history of the Theocracy. Unquestionably the most formidable opposition to the King and the kingdom was found in the heart of the Theocratic nation itself, the chief priests and rulers of the people. The highest authorities and powers of the nation were the bitterest enemies of the Messiah. It was a domestic, and not a foreign, antagonism---a Jewish, and not a Gentile, enmity---that rejected and crucified the King of Israel. The Roman procurator was only the reluctant instrument in the hands of the Sahedrin. It was the Jewish rule, the Jewish authority, the Jewish power that incessantly and systematically pursued the sect of the Nazarenes with the persistent malignity, and this was ‘the rule and authority and power’ which, by the destruction of Jerusalem and the extinction of the Jewish State, was ‘put down’ and annihilated. The terrible scenes of the final war, and especially of the siege and capture of Jerusalem, show us what this subjugation of the enemies of Christ implies. ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me’ (Luke xix. 27).

But what shall we say of the destruction of ‘the last enemy, death?’ Is it not fatal to this interpretation that it requires us to place the abolition of the dominion of death, and the resurrection, in the past, and not the future? Does not this contradict fact and common sense, and consequently expose the fallacy of the whole explanation? Of course, if the language of the apostle can only mean that at the Parousia the dominion of death over all men was everywhere and for ever brought to an end, it follows either that he was in error in making such an assertion, or that the interpretation which makes him say so is an erroneous one. That he does affirm that at the Parousia (the time of which is incontrovertibly defend in the New Testament as contemporaneous with the destruction of Jerusalem) death will be destroyed, is what no one can with any fairness deny; but it does not follow that we are to understand that expression in an absolutely unlimited and universal sense. The human race did not cease to exist in its present earthly conditions at the destruction of Jerusalem; the world did not then come to an end; men continued to be born and to die according to the law of nature. What, then, did take place? We are to conceive of that period as the end of an aeon, or age; the close of a great era; the winding up of a dispensation, and the judgment of those who were placed under that dispensation. The whole of the subjects of that dispensation (the kingdom of heaven), both the living and the dead, were, according to the representation of Christ and His apostles, to be convoked before the Theocratic King seated on the throne of His glory. That was the predicted and appointed period of that great judicial transaction set before us in the parabolic description of the sheep and the goats (Matt. xxv. 31, etc.), the outward and visible signs of which were indelibly stamped on the annals of time by the awful catastrophe which effaced Israel from its place among the nations of the earth. True, the spiritual and invisible accompaniments of that judgment are not recorded by the historian, for they were not such as the human senses could apprehend or verify; yet what Christian can hesitate to believe that, contemporaneously with the outward judgment of the seen, there was a corresponding judgment of the unseen? Such, at least, is the inference fairly deducible from the teachings of the New Testament. That at the great epoch of the Parousia the dead as well as the living---not of the whole human race, but of the subjects of the Theocratic kingdom---were to be assembled before the tribunal of judgment, is distinctly affirmed in the Scriptures; the dead being raised up, and the living undergoing an instantaneous change. In this recall of the dead to life---the resuscitation of those who throughout the duration of the Theocratic kingdom had become the victims and captives of death---we conceive the ‘destruction’ of death referred to by St. Paul to consist. Over them death lost his dominion; ‘the spirits in prison’ were released from the custody of their grim tyrant; and they, being raised from the dead, ‘could not die anymore;’ ‘Death had no more dominion over them.’ That this is in perfect harmony with the teaching of the Scriptures on this mysterious subject, and in fact explains what no other hypothesis can explain, will more fully appear in the sequel. Meantime, it may be observed that much expressions as the ‘destruction’ or ‘abolition’ of death do not always imply the total and final termination of its power. WE read that ‘Jesus Christ had abolished death’ (2 Tim. i. 10). Christ Himself declared, ‘If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death’ (John viii. 51); ‘Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die’ (John xi. 26). We must interpret Scripture according to the analogy of Scripture. All that we are fairly warranted in affirming respecting the ‘destruction of death’ in the passage before us is, that it is co-extensive with all those who at the Parousia were raised from the dead. This seems to be referred to in our Lord’s reply to the Sadducees: ‘They which shall be accounted worthy to attain that period [ ], and the resurrection from among the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels,’ etc. (Luke xx. 35, 36). For them death is destroyed; for them death is swallowed up in victory. So, the apostle’s argument in the 26th, 54th, and following verses really affirms no more than this,---To those who are raised from the dead there is no more liability to death; their deliverance from his bondage is complete; his sting is taken away; his power is at an end; they can shout, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Even as ‘Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over him,’ so, at the Parousia, His people were emancipated for ever from the prison-house of the grave: ‘the last enemy, death, to them was destroyed.’

 

THE LIVING (SAINTS) CHANGED AT THE PAROUSIA.

1 Cor. xv. 51.---‘Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.’

This declaration supplies what was lacking in the statement made at ver. 24, and brings the whole into accordance with 1 Thess. iv. 17. The language of St. Paul implies that he was communicating a revelation which was new, and presumably made to himself. It cannot be said that it is derived from any recorded utterance of the Saviour, nor do we find any corresponding statement in any other apostolic writing. But the question for us is, To whom does the apostle refer when he says, ‘We shall not all sleep,’ etc.? Is it to some hypothetical persons living in some distant age of time, or is it of the Corinthians and himself that he is thinking? Why should he think of the distant future when it is certain that he considered the Parousia to be imminent? Why should he not refer to himself and the Corinthians when their common hope and expectation was that they should live to witness the Parousia? There is no conceivable reason, then, why we should depart from the proper grammatical force of the language. When the apostle says ‘we,’ he no doubt means the Christians of Corinth and himself. This conclusion Alford fully endorses: ‘We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,---in which number the apostle firmly believed that he himself should be. (See 2 Cor. v. 1 ff. And notes).’

The revelation, then, which the apostle here communicates, the secret concerning their future destiny, is this: That they would not all have to pass through the ordeal of death, but that such of them as were privileged to live until the Parousia would undergo a change by which they would be qualified to enter into the kingdom of God, without experiencing the pangs of dissolution. He had just before (ver. 50) been explaining that material and corruptible bodies of flesh and blood could not, in the nature of things, be fit for a spiritual and heavenly state of existence: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ Hence the necessity for a transformation of the material and corruptible into that which is immaterial and incorruptible. Here it is important to observe the representation of the true nature of ‘the kingdom of God.’ It is not ‘the gospel;’ nor ‘the Christian dispensation;’ nor any earthly state of things at all, but a heavenly state, into which flesh and blood are incapable of entering.

The sum of all is, that the apostle evidently contemplates the event of which he is speaking as nigh at hand: it is to come to pass in their own day, before the natural term of life expires. And is not this precisely what we have found in all the references of the New Testament to the time of the Parousia? That event is never spoken of as distant, but always as imminent. It is looked for, watched for, hoped for. Some even leap to the conclusion that it has arrived, but their precipitancy is checked by the apostle, who shows that certain antecedents must first take place. We conclude, therefore, that when St. Paul said, ‘We shall not all sleep,’ he referred to himself and the Christians of Corinth, who, when they received this letter and read these words, could put only one construction upon them, viz. that many, perhaps most, possibly all of them, would live to witness the consummation which he predicted.

But the objection will recur, How could all this take place without notice or record? First, as regards the resurrection of the dead, it is to be considered how little we know of its conditions and characteristics. Must it come with observation? Must it be cognizable by material organs? ‘It is raised a spiritual body.’ Is a spiritual body one which can be seen, touched, handled? We are not certain that the eye can see the spiritual, or the hand can grasp the immaterial. On the contrary, the presumption and the probability are that they cannot. All this resurrection of the dead and transmutation of the living take place in the region of the spiritual, into which earthly spectators and reporters do not enter, and could see nothing if they did. A miracle may be necessary to empower the 'unassisted eye’ to see the invisible. The prophet at Dothan saw the mountain full of ‘chariots of fire, and horses of fire,’ but the prophet’s servant saw nothing until Elisha prayed, ‘Lord, open his eyes, that he may see’ (2 Kings vi. 17). The first Christian martyr, full of the Holy Ghost, ‘saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,’ but none of the multitude that surrounded him beheld the vision (Acts vi. 56). Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus saw ‘that Just One,’ but his fellow-travellers saw no man (Acts ix. 7). It is not improbable that traditional and materialistic conceptions of the resurrection,---opening graves and emerging bodies, may bias the imagination on this subject, and make us overlook the fact that our material organs can apprehend only material objects.

Secondly, as regards the change of the living saints, which the apostle speaks of as instantaneous,---‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye;’---it is difficult to understand how so rapid a transition could be the subject of observation. The only thing we know of the change is its inconceivable suddenness. We know nothing of what residuum it leaves behind; what dissipation or resolution of the material substance. For aught we know, it may realise the fancy of the poet,---

‘Oh, the hour when this material

Shall have vanished as a cloud.’

All we know is that ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,’ the change is completed; ‘the corruptible puts on incorruption, the mortal puts on immortality, and death is swallowed up in victory.’

What, then, hinders the conclusion that such events might have taken place without observation, and without record? There is nothing unphilosophical, irrational, or impossible in the supposition. Least of all is there anything unscriptural, and this is all we need concern ourselves about. ‘What saith the Scripture?’ Does the language of St. Paul plainly affirm or imply that all this is just about to take place, within the lifetime of himself and those to whom he is writing? No fair and dispassionate mind will deny that it is so. Right or wrong, the apostle is committed to this representation of the coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the transmutation of the living saints, within the natural lifetime of the Corinthians and himself. We are placed therefore in this dilemma,---

1. Either the apostle was guided by the Spirit of God, and the events which he predicted came to pass; or,

2. The apostle was mistaken in his belief, and these things never took place.

 

THE PAROUSIA AND ‘THE LAST TRUMP.’

There is still one circumstance in this description which requires notice, as bearing upon the question of time. The change which is said to pass upon ‘us who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord’ follows immediately on the signal of ‘the last trump.’ It is remarkable that there are two other passages which connect the great event of the Parousia, and its concomitant transactions, with the sound of a trumpet. ‘He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect,’ etc. (Matt. xxiv. 31). So also St. Paul in 1 Thess. iv. 16: ‘The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God,’ etc. But the questions arises, Why the last trumpet? This epithet necessarily suggests other preceding trumpets or signals, and we are irresistibly reminded of the apocalyptic vision, in which seven angels are represented as sounding as many trumpets, each of which is the signal for the outpouring of judgments and woes upon the earth. Of course the seventh trumpet is the last, and it becomes an interesting question what connection there may be between the revelation in the Epistle and the vision in the Apocalypse. Alford (in opposition to Olshausen) considers that it is a refining upon the word last to identify it with the seventh trumpet of the Apocalypse; but his own suggestion, that it is the last ‘in a wide and popular sense,’ seems much less satisfactory. We refrain at this stage from entering upon any discussion of the apocalyptic symbols, but content ourselves with the single observation, that the sounding of the seventh trumpet in the Apocalypse is actually connected with the time of the judgment of the dead (Rev. xi. 18). The whole subject will come before us at a subsequent stage of the investigation, and we now pass on, merely taking note of the fact that we here find an undoubted link of connection between the prophetic element in the Epistles and that in the Apocalypse.

 

THE APOSTOLIC WATCHWORD, MARAN-ATHA,---THE LORD IS AT HAND.

1 Cor. xvi. 22.---‘Maran-atha.’ [The Lord cometh.]

The whole argument for the anticipated near approach of the Parousia is clenched by the last word of the apostle, which comes with the greater weight as written with his own hand, and conveying in one word the concentrated essence of his exhortation,---‘Maran-atha. The Lord is coming.’ This one utterance speaks volumes. It is the watchword which the apostle passes along the line of the Christian host; the rallying cry which inspired courage and hope in every heart. ‘The Lord is coming!’ It would have no meaning if the event to which it refers were distant or doubtful; all its force lies in its certainty and nearness. ‘A weighty watchword,’ says Alford, ‘tending to recall to them the nearness of His coming, and the duty of being found ready for it.’ Hengstenberg sees in it an obvious allusion to Mal. iii. 1: ‘The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple,. . . behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.’ ‘The word Maran-atha, which is so striking in an epistle written in Greek, and to Greeks, is in itself a sufficient indication of an Old Testament foundation. The retention of the Aramean form can only be explained on the supposition that it was a kind of watchword common to all the believers in Israel; and no expression could well have come to be so used if it had not been taken from the Scriptures. There can hardly be any doubt that it was taken from Mal. iii. 1.’ We may add that the occurrence of this Aramaic word in a Greek epistle suggests the existence of a strong Jewish element in the Corinthian church. This was probably true of all Gentile churches: the synagogue was the nucleus of the Christian congregation, and we know that in Corinth especially it was so: Justus, Crispus, and Sosthenes all belonged to the synagogue before they belonged to the church; and this fact explains what might otherwise appear a difficulty,---the direct interest of the church of Corinth in the great catastrophe the seat and centre of which was Judea.

 

THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.

 ANTICIPATION OF ‘THE END’ AND ‘THE DAY OF THE LORD.’

2 Cor. i. 13, 14.---‘Even to the end;’. . . ‘the day of the Lord Jesus.’

‘The end’ (ver. 13) does not mean ‘to the end of my life,’ as Alford says. It is the great consummation which the apostle ever keeps in view, the goal to which they were so rapidly advancing. has a definite and recognised signification in the New Testament, as may be seen by reference to such passages as Matt. xxiv. 6, 14; 1 Cor. xv. 24; Heb. iii. 16; vi. 11, etc.

In ver. 14 we find St. Paul anticipating the coming of the Lord as the time of joyful recompense to the faithful servants of God, and which was so near that, as he had told them in his former epistle, human judgments and censures might well be adjourned till its arrival. (1 Cor. iv. 5.) When that day came, the apostle and his converts would rejoice in each other. Can it be supposed that he could think of that day as otherwise than very near? Have those mutual rejoicings yet to begin? For if the day of the Lord be still future, so also must be the rejoicing.

 

 THE DEAD IN CHRIST TO BE PRESENTED ALONG WITH THE LIVING AT THE PAROUSIA.

2 Cor. iv. 14.---‘Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.’

We now enter upon a most important statement, which deserves special attention. Perhaps its true meaning has been somewhat obscured by regarding it as a general proposition, instead of something personal to the apostle himself. Conybeare and Howson observe:---

‘Great confusion is caused in many passages by not translating, according to his true meaning, in the first person singular; for thus it often happens that what St. Paul spoke of himself individually, appears to us as if it were meant for a general truth; instances of this will repeatedly occur in the Epistle to the Corinthians, especially the Second. We propose, therefore, to change the pronouns we and us in this passage into I and me.

We have already seen (1 Thess. iv. 15, and 1 Cor. xv. 51) that the apostle cherished the hope that he himself would be among those ‘who would be alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord.’ In this epistle, however, it would seem as if this hope regarding himself were somewhat shaken. His experience in the interval between the First Epistle and the Second had been such as to lead him to apprehend speedy death. (See chap. i. 8, etc.) His 'trouble in Asia’ had made him despair of life, and he probably felt that he could not calculate on escaping the malignant hostility of his enemies much longer. He had now ‘the sentence of death in himself;’ he bore about ‘in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus,’ and felt that he was ‘always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.’

But this anticipation did not diminish the confidence with which he looked forward to the future; for even should he die before the Parousia, he would not on that account lose his part in the triumphs and glories of that day. He was assured that ‘he which raised up the Lord Jesus would raise up him also by Jesus, and would present him along with the living saints who might survive to that period. He would not be absent from the great at the coming of the Lord (2 Thess. ii. 1), but would be ‘presented,’ along with his friends at Corinth and elsewhere, ‘before the presence of his glory.’ In fact, the apostle now comforts himself with the same words with which he had comforted the bereaved mourners in Thessalonica. He appears to have relinquished the hope that he would himself live to witness the glorious appearing of the Lord; but not the less was he persuaded that he would suffer no loss by having to die; for, as he had taught the Thessalonians, ‘them also which sleep in Jesus God would bring with him;’ and the living saints would in that day have no advantage above those who slept (1 Thess. iv. 14, 15).

  

EXPECTATION OF FUTURE BLESSEDNESS AT THE PAROUSIA.

2 Cor. v. 1-10,---‘For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (for we walk by faith, not by sight:) we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.’

This is the most complete account that we possess of the mysterious transition which the human spirit experiences when it quits its earthly tenement and enters the new organism prepared for its reception in the eternal world. It comes to us vouched by the highest authority,---it is the profession of his faith made by an inspired apostle,---one who could say ‘I know.’ It is the declaration of that hope which sustained St. Paul, and doubtless also the common faith of the whole Christian church. Nevertheless, the passage ought to be studied from the standpoint of the apostle, as his personal expectation and hope.

Observe the form of the statement---it is rather hypothetical than affirmative: "If my earthly tabernacle be dissolved,’ etc. This is not the way in which a Christian now would speak respecting the prospect of dying; there would be no ‘if’ in his utterance, for what more certain than death? He would say, "When this earthly tabernacle shall be taken down;" not, ‘if it should be,’ etc. But not so the apostle; to him death was a problematical event; he believed that many, perhaps most, of the faithful of his day would never suffer the change of dissolution; would not be unclothed, that is disembodied, but would ‘be alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.’ Perhaps at this time he had begun to have misgivings about his own survival; but what then? Even if the earthly tenement of his body were to be dissolved, he knew that there was provided for him a divinely prepared habitation, or vehicle of the soul; an indestructible and celestial mansion, not made with hands; not a material, but a spiritual body. His present residence in the body of flesh and blood he found to be attended with many sorrows and sufferings, under the burden of which he often groaned, and for deliverance from which he longed, earnestly desiring to be endued with the heavenly vesture which was awaiting him above (ver. 2). The Pagan conception of a disembodied spirit, a naked shivering ghost, was foreign to the ideas of St. Paul; his hope and wish were that he might be found ‘clothed, and not naked;’ ‘not to be unclothed, but clothed upon.’ Conybeare and Howson have, of all commentators, best caught and expressed the idea of the apostle: ‘If indeed I shall be found still clad in my fleshly garment.’ It was not death, but life, that the apostle anticipated and desired; not to be divested of the body, but invested with a more excellent organism, and endued with a nobler life. There is an unmistakable allusion in his language to the hope which he cherished of escaping the doom of mortality, ‘not for that we (I) would be unclothed,’ etc., i.e. ‘not that I wish to put off the body by dying,’ but to merge the mortal in the immortal, ‘that mortality might be swallowed up of life.’

The following comment of Dean Alford well conveys the sentiment of this important passage:---

‘The feeling expressed in these verses was one most natural to those who, like the apostles, regarded the coming of the Lord as near, and conceived the possibility of their living to behold it. It was no terror of death as to its consequences, but a natural reluctance to undergo the mere act of death as such, when it was written possibility that this mortal body might be superseded by the immortal one, without it.’

In the succeeding verses the apostle intimates his full confidence that in either alternative, living or dying, all was well. ‘To be at home in the body was to be absent from the Lord; to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord.’ In either case, whether present or absent, his great concern was to be accepted by the Lord at last; ‘For,’ he adds, ‘we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that every on may receive the things done in the body, according to that which he hath done, whether it be good or bad’ (verses 6-10).

Thus the apostle brings the whole question to a personal and practical issue. All were alike on their way to the judgment seat of Christ, and there they would all meet at last. Some might die before the coming of the Lord, and some might live to witness that event; but there, at the judgment seat, all would be gathered together; and to be accepted and approved there was, after all, a greater matter than living or dying, ‘falling asleep in the Lord,’ or being ‘changed’ without passing through the pangs of dissolution. The judgment seat was the goal before them all, and we have seen how near and imminent that solemn appearing was believed to be. That all this heartfelt faith and hope, cherished and taught by the inspired apostles of Christ, was after all a mere fallacy and delusion appears an intolerable supposition, fatal to the credit and authority of apostolic doctrine.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTLOTIC EPISTLES

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS.

     We find no direct allusion to the Parousia in the Epistle to the Galatians. It contributes, however, indirectly to the elucidation of the subject, by furnishing an illustration of the early appearance and rapid growth of that defection from the faith predicted by our Lord, and designated by St. Paul ‘the apostasy,’ or ‘falling away,’ which was a sign and precursor of the Parousia. (See Matt. xxiv. 12; 2 Thess. ii. 3; 1 Tim. iv.; 2 Tim. iii. Iv. 3, 4.) The plague had already broken out in the churches of Galatia, and we see in this epistle how earnestly the apostle endeavoured to check its progress, vehemently protesting against this perversion of the Gospel, and denouncing its originators and propagandists as enemies of the cross of Christ. The evil arose from the arts of the Judaising teachers, who were everywhere the inveterate opponents of St. Paul, and who seem to have been possessed with the same spirit of proselytism which distinguished the Pharisees, who ‘compasses sea and land to make one proselyte.’ In this manifestation of the predicted apostasy we have a marked indication of the approach of the ‘last times,’ or ‘the end of the age.’

  

‘THIS PRESENT EVIL AGE, OR AEON.’

Gal. i. 4.---‘Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world.’

     The apostle here speaks of the existing state of things as evil, and of the Lord Jesus Christ as the deliverer therefrom. The word age [aion] does not of course refer to the material world, the earth; but to the moral world, or age. It is equivalent to the phrase so often occurring in the gospels, ‘this wicked generation’ (Matt. xii. 45, etc.). ‘The present evil age’ is regarded as passing away, and about to be succeeded by a new order, the . (Heb. ii. 5.)

  

THE TWO JERUSALEMS---THE OLD AND THE NEW.

Gal. iv. 25, 26.---‘For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother.’

     It is not our intention at present to do more than simply take note of this remarkable contrast between the two cities, the new and the old Jerusalem. We purposely refrain at this stage from entering upon symbols and their significance, until the whole subject comes before us in the Book of Revelation.

     In the meantime the reader is requested to not well the contrast here presented. The Jerusalem which now is, and the Jerusalem which is to be; the earthly Jerusalem, and the heavenly Jerusalem; the Jerusalem which is in bondage, and the Jerusalem which is free; the Jerusalem which is beneath, and the Jerusalem which is above, the Jerusalem which is the mother of slaves; and the Jerusalem which is our mother. We shall yet find this contrast of no little use in determining the meaning of some of the symbols in the Apocalypse.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTLOTIC EPISTLES

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS.

     The allusion to the coming of the Lord in this epistle are not many in number, but they are very important and instructive. It is spoken of as a thing most surely believed and eagerly expected by the Christians of the apostolic age; and the fact of its nearness is either implied or affirmed in every allusion to the event.

THE DAY OF WRATH.

Rom. ii. 5, 6,---‘But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.’

Rom. ii. 12, 16,---‘As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.’

There can be no doubt concerning this ‘day of wrath’ and ‘revelation of the righteous judgment of God.’ It is the same which was predicted by Malachi as ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (Mal. iv. 5); by John the Baptist as ‘the coming wrath’ (Matt. iii. 7); and by the Lord Jesus Christ as ‘the day of judgment’ (Matt. xi. 22, 24). It was the closing act of the aeon, the . It is scarcely necessary to repeat that this ‘end’ is declared to fall within the period of the existing generation, when the Son of man, the appointed Judge, would render to every man according to his deeds’ (Matt. xvi. 27).

  

THE ESCHATOLOGY OF ST. PAUL.

Rom. viii. 18-23.---‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed [which is about to be revealed] in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature [] waiteth [is looking eagerly] for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’

There are some things in this passage which are, and must probably remain, obscure from the nature of the subject; but there is also much that is plain and clear. We cannot mistake the exulting anticipation expressed by St. Paul of a coming day of deliverance from the sufferings and miseries of the present; a deliverance which was at hand, and not far off. There was a day of redemption coming which would bring freedom and glory to the sons of God, in the benefits of which the whole creation would participate. The arrival that hoped-for consummation was eagerly expected and desired, not only by those who like the apostle himself had the prospect of an endless and glorious inheritance above, but by the burdened and groaning creation at large, by whom they were surrounded. So exhilarating was the prospect of the coming emancipation that in the view of it the apostle could say, ‘I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which is about to be revealed in us;’ or, as in a similar passage, ‘our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ (2 Cor. iv. 17).

We now proceed to examine the whole passage more particularly.

The first point that demands attention is the distinct indication of the nearness of this coming glory. This is entirely lost sight of in our Authorised Version; and it has been similarly ignored by almost all commentators. Even Alford, who is usually so careful in his attention to tenses, passes by this glaring instance without remark, though nothing can be more grammatically emphatic than the indication of the nearness of the expected revelation. Tholuck notices that the apostle speaks of the time as near,---‘In joyful exultation the apostle conceives its commencement at hand,’---but regards him as mistaken, and carried away by his feelings. Conybeare and Howson give the proper force of the language,---‘the glory which is about to be revealed, which shall soon be revealed.’ [ ]. ‘The coming glory’ is the counterpart or antithesis of ‘the coming wrath;’ different aspects of the same great event; for the Parousia, which was the revelation of glory to the sons of God, was the revelation of the day of wrath to His enemies (Rom. ii. 5, 7).

Thus, it will be perceived it is not to death that the apostle looks as the period of deliverance from present evils; still less to some far distant epoch in the future. It would indeed have been cold comfort to men writhing under the anguish their sufferings to tell them of a period in some future age which would bring them compensation for their present distress. The apostle does not so mock them with hope deferred. The day of deliverance was at hand; the glory was just about to be revealed; and so near and so great was that ‘weight of glory’ that it reduced to insignificance the passing inconveniences of the present hour.

The next point that deserves notice is the statement which the apostle proceeds to make respecting the interest felt in that approaching consummation beyond the limits of the suffering people of God. These indeed were to be the chief gainers by the coming redemption, but its benefits were to extend far beyond them.

This is a most important and interesting topic, and requires very careful consideration.

‘For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.’

Whatever meaning we attach to the word ‘creature’ it will make no difference to the eager and expectant attitude in which it is represented as waiting for the coming consummation. Lange observes that as the word means to expect with raised head, implies intense expectation, and intense longing, waiting for satisfaction. But this very attitude implies the nearness, or a persuasion of the nearness, of the wished-for deliverance. Taking, then, these two statements together, first, that the glory is ‘soon to be revealed;’ secondly, that the is ‘waiting with intense longing for its manifestation,’ we have as strong demonstration as it is possible to conceive that the event in question is represented by the apostle as nigh at hand.

But what is meant by the creature or creation? Some commentators regard it as embracing the whole universe, or the material creation, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational,---the whole frame of nature. They speak of the earthquake, the storm, and the volcano as symptoms of the sore distemper of the natural world. But this seems far too vague and general for the argument of the apostle. It is evident that the can only refer to conscious, voluntary, rational, and moral beings. It has ‘intense longings;’ it has ‘its own will;’ it has ‘hope;’ it is capable of being ‘made subject to vanity;’ of being ‘set free from corruption;’ of participating in ‘the glory of the children of God.’ These characters exclude the inanimate and irrational creation, and include the human race in its totality. Besides, the antithesis in verse 23 between the as a whole, and ‘ourselves who have the first-fruits of the Spirit,’ would be very unnatural and imperfect if it did not differentiate Christians, not from beasts and plants, but from other men. The true contrast lies between those who have the first-fruits of the Spirit and those who have not the first-fruits of the Spirit; and it would be manifestly incongruous to speak of the irrational and inanimate creation as ‘not having the Spirit.’ To make the apostle refer here to universal nature may be admissible perhaps as poetry, but would be quite out of place in a sober and serious argument. We understand, then, by ---the human race, mankind generally; the meaning which the word bears in such passages as Mark xiv. 15, ‘Preach the gospel to every creature’ ; Col. i. 23, ‘Which was preached to every creature which is under heaven’.

This brings us to the question, Can the human race be said to be in this eager and expectant attitude, groaning and travailing in pain, waiting and longing for deliverance and freedom? Undoubtedly it may; and never more truly so than in the very period when the apostle wrote. It was an age of the deepest social corruption and degradation; humanity might be said to groan under the burden of its misery and bondage; and yet there was a strange and mysterious feeling in the minds of men that, somehow and somewhere, deliverance was at hand. How accurately the description of the apostle suits the moral and social condition of the Jewish people at this period needs no proof. They groaned under the yoke of Roman bondage. They eagerly panted for the promised Deliverer. The case of the Greeks and the Romans was not very dissimilar, as the following passages from Conybeare and Howson strikingly prove; indeed, they might have been written as a commentary on the passage before us:---

‘The social condition of the Greeks had been falling, during this period, into the lowest corruption;. . . but the very diffusion and development of this corruption was preparing the way, because it showed the necessity, for the interposition of a gospel. The disease itself seemed to call for a Healer. And if the prevailing evils of the Greek population presented obstacles on a large scale to the progress of Christianity, yet they showed to all future time the weakness of man’s highest powers if unassisted from above; and there must have been many who groaned under the bondage of a corruption which they could not shake off, and who were ready to welcome the voice of Him "who took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses."’

So much for the state of the Greeks: the condition of the Roman world is thus described:---

‘It would be a delusion to imagine that when the world was reduced under one sceptre, any real principle of unity held its different parts together. The emperor was deified because men were enslaved. There was no true peace when Augustus closed the temple of Janus. The Empire was only the order of external government, with a chaos both of opinions and morals within. The writings of Tacitus and Juvenal remain to attest the corruption which festered in all ranks, alike in the Senate and the family. The old soverity of manners, and the old faith in the better part of the Roman religion, were gone. The licentious creeds and practices of Greece and the East had inundated Italy and the West, and the Pantheon was only the monument of a compromise among a multitude of effete superstitions. It is true that a remarkable toleration was produced by this state of things, and it is probable that for some short time Christianity itself shared the advantage of it. But, still, the temper of the times was essentially both cruel and profane, and the apostles were soon exposed to its bitter persecution. The Roman Empire was destitute of that unity which the Gospel give to mankind. It was a kingdom of this world, and the human race were groaning for the better peace of a "kingdom not of this world."

‘Thus in the very condition of the Roman Empire, and the miserable state of its mixed population, we can recognise a negative preparation for the Gospel of Christ. This tyranny and oppression called for a Consoler as much as the moral sickness of the Greeks called for a Healer. A Messiah was needed by the whole Empire as much as by the Jews, though not looked for with the same conscious expectation. But we have no difficulty in going much further than this, and we cannot hesitate to discover in the circumstances of the world at this period significant traces of a positive preparation for the Gospel.’

It is certainly remarkable that a description of the social and moral condition of the world in the apostolic age, written apparently without any view to the illustration of the passage now before us, should unwittingly adopt not merely the spirit, but to a great extent the very words, in which St. Paul sets forth the misery, the bondage, the groaning, and the yearning for deliverance of the creation as it appeared to his apprehension. But, it may be said, Was there anything in the immediate future to respond to and satisfy this eager longing of the enslaved and groaning world? What is this ‘terminus ad quem?’ this revelation of the sons of God? And in what sense could it, or did it, bring deliverance and consolation to oppressed humanity?

The answer to this question is found in almost every page of the apostle’s writings. To his view a great event appeared just at hand; the Lord was about to come, according to His promise, to exercise His kingly power, to give recompense and salvation to His people, and to tread His enemies under His feet. But the Parousia was to bring more than this. It marked a great epoch in the divine government of man. It terminated the period of exclusive privilege for Israel. It dissolved the covenant-bond between Jehovah and the Jewish people, and made way for a new and better covenant which embraced all mankind. Christianity is the proclamation of the universal Fatherhood of God, but the new era was not fully inaugurated until the narrow and local theocratic kingdom was superseded, and the Theocratic King resigned His jurisdiction into the Father’s hands. Then the national and exclusive relation between God and one single people was dissolved, or merged in the all-comprehensive and world-wide system in which ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but only Man. Christ had made all men One, ‘that God might be All in all.’

Surely, this was an adequate response to the groans and travail of suffering and down-trodden humanity; the prospect of such a consummation may well be represented as the dawn of a day of redemption. It was nothing less than opening the gates of mercy to mankind; it was the emancipation of the human race from the hopeless despair which was crushing them down into ever deeper corruption and degradation; it was introducing them ‘into the glorious liberty of the children of God;’ investing Gentiles, ‘aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise,’ with the privileges of ‘fellow-citizenship with the saints and membership of the household of God.’

It is this admission of the whole human race into [adoption of sons] which had hitherto been the exclusive privilege of the chosen people, of which the apostle speaks in such glowing language in Rom. viii. 19-21. It was a theme on which he was never weary of expatiating, and which filled his whole soul with wonder and thanksgiving. He speaks of it as ‘the mystery that was hid from ages and from generations’---the manifold wisdom of God’ (Ephes. iii. 10; Col. i. 26). The first three chapters of the Epistle to the Ephesians are occupied with an animated description of the revolution which had been brought about by the redemptive work of Christ in the relation between God and the uncovenanted Gentiles. ‘The dispensation of the fulness of times’ had arrived, in which God meant ‘to gather together in one all things in Christ, making him head over all things,’ breaking down the barriers of separation between Jew and Gentile, making both one; abolishing the ceremonial law, fusing the heterogeneous elements into one homogeneous whole, reconciling the mutual antipathy, and bringing both to unite as one family at the feet of the common Father.

But it may be said, Had not all this been already accomplished by the atoning death of the cross? And is it not a revelation of a future and approaching glory, to which the apostle here alludes? No doubt it is so. Yet the New Testament always speaks of the work of redemption being incomplete till the Parousia. It will be observed that the apostle, in the twenty-third verse, represents himself and his fellow-believers as still waiting for the . Even the sons of God had only received the earnest and first-fruits, and not the full harvest of their sonship. That was not to be completely theirs until the coming of the Lord, when ‘the saints who were alive and remained,’ would exchange the present mortal and corruptible body for a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The Parousia was the public and formal proclamation that the Messianic or Theocratic dispensation had come to an end; and that the new order, in which God was All in all, was inaugurated. Until the judgment of Israel had taken place, all things were not put under Christ the Theocratic King; His enemies even were not yet made His footstool. Until that time the adoption [] might still be said, ‘to pertain to Israel.’ When the apostle wrote this epistle Christ was ‘expecting till his enemies should be made his footstool.’ There was still an incompleteness in His work until the whole visible fabric and frame of Judaism were swept away. This fact is clearly brought out in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer states that ‘the way into the holy place has not yet been made manifest, so long as the first, or outer, tabernacle is still standing.’ He says that this tabernacle is ‘a figure or parable for the present time’---serving a temporary purpose---‘until a time of reformation,’ that is, the introduction of a new order (Heb. ix. 8, 9). This passage is of very great importance in connection with this discussion, and the following observations of Conybeare and Howson set forth its meaning very clearly:---

‘It may be asked, How could it be said, after Christ’s ascension, that the way into the holy place was not made fully manifest? The explanation is, that while the temple-worship, with its exclusion of all but the high priest from the holy of holies, still existed, the way of salvation would not be fully manifest to those who adhered to the outward and typical observances, instead of being thereby led to the antitype.’---Life and Epistles of St. Paul, chap. xxviii.

There was a fitness and fulness of time at which the old covenant was to be superseded by the new; the old and the new were permitted to subsist for a time together; the goodness and forbearance of God delaying the final stroke of judgment. Although, therefore, the great barriers to the introduction of all men, without distinction, into the privileges of the children of God were virtually removed by the death of Christ upon the cross, yet the formal and final demonstration that ‘the way into the holiest of all’ was not thrown open to all mankind, was not made until the whole framework of the Mosaic economy, with its ritual, and temple, and city, and people, was publicly and solemnly repudiated; and Judaism, with all that pertained to it, was for ever swept away.

There is still one portion of this deeply interesting passage on which much obscurity rests. In the twentieth verse the apostle states that ‘the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who had subjected the same in hope,’ etc. The common interpretation put upon these words is, that ‘the visible creation has been laid under the sentence of decay and dissolution, not by its own choice, but by the act of God, who has not, however, left it without hope.

This no doubt gives a good sense to the passage, though we venture to think not exactly the sense which the apostle intended. It fails to apprehend the nature of the evil to which ‘the creation’ was made subject; and consequently the nature of the deliverance from that evil which is hoped for.

Understanding by [creature] the human race, for the reasons already specified, we observe that it is said to have been made subject to vanity. What is this vanity? The word is a very significant one, especially in the lips of a Jew. To such an one ‘vanity’ was a synonym for idolatry. It is the word which the Septuagint employs to denote the folly of idol-worship. Idols are ‘lying vanities’ (Ps. xxxi. 6; Jonah ii. 8); ‘the stock is a doctrine of vanities;’ idols are ‘vanity, and the work of errors’ (Jer. x. 8, 15). ‘They that make a graven image are all of them vanity’ (Isa. xliv. 9). The word is almost set apart for this special use. The same may be said of the New Testament usage. At Lystra St. Paul besought the people ‘to turn from those vanities [] i.e. idolatrous worship, to serve the living God (Acts xiv. 15). In this very epistle (Rom. i. 21) we have a remarkable instance of the use of the word, where St. Paul, accounting for the apostasy of the human race from God, explains it by the fact that ‘they became vain’ in their imaginations []; a passage in which Alford, with Bengel, Locke, and many others, recognises the allusion to idolatrous worship. It is only necessary to look at the passage to see its bearing upon the origin and prevalence of idolatry (see also Ephes. iv. 17). here looks back upon in chap. i. 21, and thus furnishes us with the key to the true interpretation. Idolatry was the ‘vanity’ to which the human race was subjected; idolatry, the religion of the Gentiles, the degradation of man, the dishonour of God.

But can it be said that man was made subject to this evil by the act of God---(‘by reason of him who hath subjected the same’)? Undoubtedly, such a statement would be in harmony with the Word of God. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans the significant fact is thrice stated, ‘God gave them up,’ in reference to this very apostasy (Rom. i. 24, 26, 28). This abandonment can only be regarded as a judicial act. We find a still stronger expression in Rom. xi. 32 ‘God hath concluded [] them all in unbelief;’ which Alford makes equivalent to ‘subjected to.’ Indeed, the doctrine that God delivers over the contumacious and rebellious to the fatal consequences of their sin pervades in Scriptures. Thus it may be said that the subjection of the human race to the evil of idolatry was not simply the will of man himself, but the judicial act of divine justice.

Yet it was not a hopeless decree. ‘The preservation of one nation from the universal apostasy had in it a germ of hope for mankind. In the fulness of the time God’s purpose of mercy and redemption for the human race was manifested, and ‘the adoption of sons,’ which had been the exclusive privilege of one people, was now declared to be open to all without distinction. For this high privilege the race is represented as waiting with eager expectation, and now the Gospel, which was the divinely appointed means of rescuing men from the moral corruption and degradation of heathenism, was proclaiming deliverance and salvation ‘to Gentile and Jew, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free.’

In what sense this proclamation of the new era may be said to be made in the most public and formal manner at the Parousia has been already shown.

 

THE NEARNESS OF THE COMING SALVATION.

Rom. xiii. 11, 12.---‘And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand,’ etc.

It is not possible for words more clearly to express the apostle’s conviction that the great deliverance was at hand. It would be preposterous to regard this language, with Moses Stuart, as referring to the near approach of death and eternity. In that case the apostle would have said, ‘The day is far spent, the night is at hand.’ But this is not the manner of the New Testament; it is never death and the grave, but the Parousia, the ‘blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ,’ to which the apostles look forward. Professor Jowett justly observes that ‘in the New Testament we find no exhortation grounded on the shortness of life. It seems as if the end of life had no practical importance for the first believers, because it would surely be anticipated by the day of the Lord.’ This undoubtedly true; but what then? Either the apostle was in error, or our confidence must be withheld from him as an authoritative expounder of divine truth; or else he was under the guidance of the spirit of God, and what he taught was unerring truth. To this dilemma those expositors are shut up who cannot bring themselves even to imagine the possibility of the Parousia having come to pass according to the teaching of St. Paul. It is curious to see the shifts to which they resort in order to find some way of escape from the inevitable conclusion.

Tholuck frankly admits the expectation of the apostle, but at the sacrifice of his authority:---

‘From the day when the faithful first assembled around their Messiah until the date of this epistle, a series of years had elapsed; the full daybreak, as Paul deemed, was already close at hand. We find here corroborated, what is also evident from several other passages, that the apostle expected the speedy advent of the Lord. The reason of this lay, partly in the general law that man is fond to imagine the object of his hope at hand, partly in the circumstance that the Saviour had often delivered the admonition to be every moment prepared for the crisis in question, and had also, according to the usus loquendi of the prophets, described the period as fast approaching.’

Stuart protests against Tholuck’s surrender of the correctness of the apostle’s judgment, but adopts the untenable position that St. Paul is here speaking of---

‘The spiritual salvation which believers are to experience when transferred to the world of everlasting life and glory.’

Alford, on the other hand, admits that---

‘A fair exegesis of this passage can hardly fail to recognise the fact that the apostle here, as well as elsewhere (1 Thess. iv. 17; 1 Cor. xv. 51), speaks of the coming of the Lord as rapidly approaching. To reason, as Stuart does, that because Paul corrects in the Thessalonians the mistake of imagining it to be immediately at hand (or even actually come), therefore he did not himself expect it soon, is surely quite beside the purpose.’

The American editor of Lange’s Commentary on the Romans has the following note:---

‘Dr. Hodge objects at some length to the reference to the second coming of Christ. On the other hand most modern German commentators defend this reference. Olshaousen, De Wette, Philippi, Meyer, and others, think no other view in the least degree tenable; and Dr. Lange, while careful to guard against extreme theories on this point, denies the reference to eternal blessedness, and admits that the Parousia is intended. This opinion gains ground among Anglo-Saxon exegetes.’

There are some interpreters who evade the difficulty by denying that such terms as near and distant have any reference to time at all. For example, we are told that---

‘This is in line of all our Lord’s teaching, which represents the decisive day of Christ’s second appearing as at hand, to keep believers ever in the attitude of wakeful expectancy, but without reference to the chronological nearness or distance of that event.’

This is a non-natural method of interpretation, which simply evacuates words of all meaning. There is only one way out of the difficulty, and that is to believe that the apostle says what he means, and means what he says. He was the inspired apostle and ambassador of Christ, and the Lord let none of his words fall to the ground. His continual watchword and warning cry to the churches of the primitive age was, ‘The Lord is at hand.’ He believed this; he taught this; and it was the faith and hope of the whole church.

Was he mistaken? Did the whole primitive church live and die in the belief of a lie? Did nothing corresponding to their expectation come to pass? Where is the temple of God? Where is the city of Jerusalem? Where is the law of Moses? Where is the Jewish nationality? But all these things perished at the same moment; and all these were predicted to pass away at the Parousia. The fulfilment of those other events in the region of the spiritual and unseen which were indissolubly connected therewith, but of which, in the nature of things, there can be no record in the pages of human history.

 

 PROSPECT OF SPEEDY DELIVERANCE.

Rom. xvi. 20.---‘And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.’

We have here another unmistakable reference to the near approach of the day of deliverance. The bruising of the serpent’s head is the victory of Christ, and that victory was shortly to be won. Among the enemies who were to be made His footstool was death, and he that had the power of death, that is, the Devil.

In the prospect of His crucifixion, the Lord declared, ‘Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out,’ and we have already endeavoured to show in what sense and how truly that prediction was fulfilled. In like manner a day was approaching when suffering and persecuted Christians would be delivered by the Parousia from the enemies by whom they were surrounded, and when the malignant instigator and abettor of all that enmity would lie prostrate beneath their feet.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE APOSTLOTIC EPISTLES

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS.

     In none of St. Paul’s Epistles do we find less a direct mention of the Parousia, and yet it may be said there is none which is more pervaded by the idea of that event. The thought of it underlies almost every expression of the apostle; it is implied in ‘the hope which is laid up for you in heaven;’ ‘the inheritance of the saints in light;’ ‘the kingdom of his dear Son;’ ‘the reconciliation of all things to God;’ ‘the presentation of his people holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight.’

     But there is a least one very distinct allusion to the Parousia in which the apostle speaks of the expected consummation.

 

THE APPROACHING MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST.

Col. iii. 4.---‘When Christ who is our life, shall appear [shall be made manifest], then shall you also appear [be made manifest] with him in glory.’

We find here a distinct allusion to the same event and the same period as in Rom. viii. 19, viz. ‘the manifestation of the sons of God.’ In both passages it is evidently conceived to be near. In Rom viii. 19, indeed, it is expressly affirmed to be so; the glory is ‘about to be revealed;’ while here the Colossian disciples are represented as ‘dead,’ and waiting for the life and glory which would be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ, i.e. at the Parousia. It is inconceivable that the apostle could speak in such terms of a far-off event; its nearness is evidently one of the elements in his exhortation that they should ‘set their heart on things above, and not on things on the earth.’ Are we to suppose that they are still in a state of death---that their life is still hidden? Yet their life and glory are represented as contingent on the ‘manifestation of Jesus Christ.’

 

 THE COMING WRATH.

Col. iii. 6.---‘On account of which [idolatry] the wrath of God is coming.’

The foregoing conclusion (respecting the nearness of the coming glory) is confirmed by the apostle’s reference to the nearness of the coming wrath. The clause ‘on the children of disobedience’ is not found in some of the most ancient MSS. and is omitted by Alford. It has probably been added from Ephes. v. 6. Taking the passage as thus read, there is something very suggestive as well as emphatic in its declaration, ‘The wrath of God is coming.’ There is an unmistakable contrast between ‘the coming glory of the people of God’ and ‘the coming wrath’ upon His enemies. No less distinct is the allusion to ‘the coming wrath’ predicted by John the Baptist, and so frequently referred to by our Lord and His apostles. Both the glory and the wrath are ‘about to be revealed;’ they were coincident with the Parousia of Christ; and of the speedy manifestation of both the apostolic churches were in constant expectation.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.

THE ECONOMY OF THE FULNESS OF THE TIMES.

Ephes. i. 9, 10.---‘Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation [] of the fulness of the times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in the earth,’ etc.

Though this passage does not affirm anything directly respecting the nearness of the Parousia, yet it has a very distinct bearing upon the event itself. The field of investigation which it opens is indeed far too wide for us now to explore, yet we cannot wholly pass it by. The theme is one on which the apostle loves to expatiate, and nowhere does he dwell upon it more rapturously than in this epistle. It may be presumed therefore that, however obscure it may seem to us in some respects, it was not unintelligible to the Christians of Ephesus, or those to whom this epistle was sent, for, as Paley well observes, no man write unintelligibly on purpose. We may also expect to find allusions to the same subject in other parts of the apostle’s writings, which may serve to elucidate dark sayings in this.

There are two questions which are raised by the passage before us: (1) What is meant by the ‘gathering together in one of all things in Christ?’ (2) What is the period designated ‘the economy of the fulness of the times,’ in which this ‘gathering together in one’ is to take place?

1. With regard to the first point we are greatly assisted in determination by the expression which the apostle employs in relation to it, viz. ‘the mystery of his will.’ This is a favourite word of St. Paul in speaking of that new and wonderful discovery which never failed to fill his soul with adoring gratitude and praise,---the admission of the Gentiles into all the privileges of the covenant nation. It is difficult for us to form a conception of the shock of surprise and incredulity which the announcement of such a revolution in the divine administration excited in the Jewish mind. We know that even the apostles themselves were unprepared for it, and that it was with something like hesitation and suspicion that they at length yielded to the overpowering evidence of facts,---‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life’ (Acts xi. 18). But to the apostle of the Gentiles this was the glorious charter of universal emancipation. Of all men he saw its divine beauty and glory, its transcendent mystery and marvelousness, most clearly. He saw the barriers of separation between Jew and Gentile, the antipathies of races, ‘the middle wall of partition,’ broken down by Christ, and one great family of brotherhood formed out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, under the all-reconciling and uniting power of the atoning blood. We cannot be mistaken, then, in understanding this mystery of the ‘gathering together in one all things in Christ’ as the same which is more fully explained in chap. iii. 5,6, ‘the mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.’ This is the unification, ‘the summing up,’ or consummation [], to which the apostle makes such frequent reference in this epistle: ‘the making of both one,’ ‘the making of twain one new man;’ ‘reconciling both unto God in one body’ (Ephes. ii. 14, 15, 16). This was the grand secret of God, which had been hidden from past generations, but was now disclosed to the admiration and gratitude of heaven and earth.

But it may be said, How can the reception of the Gentiles into the privileges of Israel be called the comprehension of all things, both which are in the heavens, and in the earth?

Some very able critics have supposed that the words heaven and earth in this, and in several other passages, are to be understood in a limited and, so to speak, technical sense. To the Jewish mind, the covenant nation, the peculiar people of God might fitly be styled ‘heavenly,’ while the degraded and uncovenanted Gentiles belonged to an inferior, an earthly, condition. This is the view taken by Locke in his note on this passage:---

‘That St. Paul should use "heaven" and "earth" for Jews and Gentiles will not be thought so very strange if we consider that Daniel himself expresses the nation of the Jews by the name of "heaven" (Dan. viii. 10). Nor does he want an example of it in our Saviour Himself, who (Luke xxi. 26) by "powers of heaven" plainly signifies the great men of the Jewish nation. Nor is this the only place in this Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians which will bear this interpretation of heaven and earth. He who shall read the first fifteen verses of chap. iii. and carefully weigh the expressions, and observe the drift of the apostle in them, will not find that he does manifest violence to St. Paul’s sense if he understand by "the family in heaven and earth" (ver. 15) the united body of Christians, made up of Jews and Gentiles, living still promiscuously among those two sorts of people who continued in their unbelief. However, this interpretation I am not positive in, but offer it as matter of inquiry to those who think an impartial search into the true meaning of the Sacred Scriptures the best employment of all the time they have.’

It is in favour of such an interpretation of ‘heaven and earth’ that these expressions must apparently be taken in a similar restricted sense in other passages where they occur. For example, ‘Till heaven and earth pass’ (Matt. v. 18); ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away’ (Luke xxi. 33). In the first of these passages the context shows that it cannot possibly refer to the final dissolution of the material creation, for that would assert the perpetuity of every jot and tittle of that which has long ago been abrogated and annulled. We must, therefore, understand the ‘passing away of heaven and earth’ in a tropical sense. A judicious expositor makes the following observations on this passage:---

‘A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens. (See Isa. lxv. 17, and lxvi. 22.) The period of the close of the one dispensation and the commencement of the other, is spoken of as "the last days," and "the end of the world," and is described as such a shaking of the earth and heavens, as should lead to the removal of the things which were shaken (Hag. ii. 6; Heb. xiv. 26, 27).’

There seems, therefore, to be Scripture warrant for understanding ‘things in heaven and things in earth’ in the sense indicated by Locke, as meaning Jew and Gentiles. It is possible, however, that the words point to a still wider comprehension and a more glorious consummation. They may imply that the human race, separated from God and all holy beings, and divided by mutual enmity and alienation, was destined by the gracious purpose of God to be reclaimed, restored, and reunited under one common Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, to the one God and Father of mankind, and to all holy and happy beings in heaven. The whole intelligent universe, according to this view, was to be brought under one dominion, the dominion of God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the great consummation presented to us in so many forms in the New Testament. It is the ‘regeneration’ of Matt. xix. 28; the ‘times of refreshing’; and the ‘times of restoration of all things’ of Acts. iii. 19, 21; the ‘subjection of all things to Christ’ of 1 Cor. xv. 28; the ‘reconciliation of all things to God’ [] of Col. i. 20; the ‘time of reformation’ of Heb. ix. 10; the ‘ ’---‘the new age’---of Ephes. i. 21. All these are only different forms and expressions of the same thing, and all point to the same great coming era; and to this category we may unhesitatingly assign the phrase, ‘the economy of the fulness of the times,’ and ‘the gathering together in one of all things in Christ.’

Before this universal dominion of the Father could be publicly assumed and proclaimed, it was necessary that the exclusive and limited relation of God to a single nation should be superseded and abolished. The Theocracy had therefore to be set aside, in order to make way for the universal Fatherhood of God: ‘that God might be All in all.’

2. The next question for consideration is, Have we any indication of the period at which this consummation was to take place?

We have the most explicit statements on this point; for almost every on of those equivalent designations of the event enables us to fix the time. The regeneration is ‘when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory;’ the times of ‘restitution of all thing’ are when ‘God shall send Jesus Christ;’ the ‘subjection of all things to Christ’ is ‘at his coming’ and ‘the end.’ In other words, all these events coincide with the Parousia; and this, therefore, is the period of ‘the reuniting of all things’ under Christ.

We arrive at the same conclusion from the consideration of the phrase, ‘the economy of the fulness of the times.’ An economy is an arrangement or order of things, and appears to be equivalent to the phrase , or covenant. The Mosaic dispensation or economy is designated the ‘old covenant’ (2 Cor. iii. 14), in contrast to the ‘new covenant,’ or the ‘Gospel dispensation.’ The ‘old covenant’ or economy is represented as ‘decaying, waxing old, and ready to vanish away,’---that is to say, the Mosaic dispensation was about to be abolished, and to be superseded by the Christian dispensation’ (Heb. viii. 13). Sometimes the old, or Jewish, economy is spoken of as this aeon, the present aeon ; and the Christian, or Gospel, dispensation as ‘the coming aeon,’ and the ‘world to come’  (Ephes. i. 21; Heb. ii. 5). The close of the Jewish age or economy is called ‘the end of the age’, and it is reasonable to conclude that the end of the old is the beginning of the new. It follows, therefore, that the economy of the fulness of the times is that state or order of things which immediately succeeds and supersedes the old Jewish economy. The economy of the fulness of the times is the final and crowning dispensation; the ‘kingdom which cannot be moved;’ ‘the better covenant, established upon better promises.’ Since, then, the old economy was finally set aside and abrogated at the destruction of Jerusalem, we conclude that the new aeon, or ‘economy of the fulness of times,’ received its solemn and public inauguration at the same period, which coincides with the Parousia.

 

 THE DAY OF REDEMPTION.

Ephes. i. 13, 14.---‘The holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until [for] the redemption of the purchased possession.’

Ephes. iv. 30.---‘The holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption.’

These two passages obviously point to the same act and the same period. What is the redemption here referred to---the redemption of the purchased possession? Ancient Israel is called the Lord’s inheritance (Deut. xxxii. 9); and the people of God are said to be His inheritance (Ephes. i. 11, Alford’s translation). Here, however, it is not God’s inheritance, but our inheritance, that is referred to; and that inheritance is not yet in possession, but in prospect; the pledge or earnest of it only (viz. the Holy Spirit) having been received. We are therefore compelled to understand by the inheritance the future glory and felicity awaiting the Christian in heaven. This, then, is the inheritance, and also the purchased possession, for they both refer to the same thing. Obviously it is something future, yet not distant, for it is already purchased, though not yet possessed. It stood in the same relation to the Ephesian Christians as the land of Canaan to the ancient Israelites in the wilderness. It was the promised rest, into which they hoped to live to enter. The day when the Lord Jesus should be revealed from heaven was the day of redemption to which the apostolic churches were looking forward. Our Lord had foretold the tokens of that day’s approach. ‘When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.’ He had also declared that the existing generation should not pass away till all was fulfilled’ (Luke xxi. 28, 32). The day of redemption, therefore, was in their view drawing nigh.

In the same manner St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, speaks of the eager longing with which they were ‘waiting for the adoption, or redemption of their body from the bondage of corruption’ (Rom. viii. 23). This passage is precisely parallel with Ephes. i. 14 and iv. 30. There is the same inheritance, the same earnest of it, the same full redemption in prospect. The change of the material and mortal body into an incorruptible and spiritual body was an important part of the inheritance. This was what the apostle and their converts expected at the Parousia. The day of redemption, therefore, is coincident with the Parousia.

  

THE PRESENT AEON AND THAT WHICH IS COMING.

Ephes. i. 21.---‘Not only in this world [aeon], but also in that which is to come’ [which is coming].

We have often had occasion to remark upon the true sense of the word , so often mistranslated ‘world,’ Locke observes: ‘It may be worth while to consider whether hath not ordinarily a more natural signification of the New Testament by standing for a considerable length of time, passing under some one remarkable dispensation.’ There were in the apostle’s view at least two great periods or aeons: the one present, but drawing to a close; the other future, and just about to open. The former was the present order of things under the Mosaic law; the latter was the new and glorious epoch which was to be inaugurated by the Parousia.

 

 ‘THE AGES [AEONS] TO COME.’

Ephes. ii. 7.---‘That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace.’ etc.

On this passage the following observation is made by Conybeare and Howson:---

"In the ages which are coming;" viz. the time of Christ’s perfect triumph over evil, always contemplated in the New Testament as near at hand.’

It would be perhaps be more proper to say that it refers to the approaching salvation of these Gentile believers, and their glorification with Christ; for this is the consummation always contemplated in the New Testament as near at hand (Rom. xiii. 11).

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.

THE DAY OF CHRIST.

Phil. i. 6.---‘He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’

Phil. i. 10.---‘That ye may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ.’

The day of Christ is evidently regarded by the apostle as the consummation of the moral discipline and probation of believers. There can be no doubt that he has in view the day of the Lord’s coming, when He would ‘render to every man according to his works.’ On the supposition that the day of Christ is still future, it follows that the moral discipline of the Philippians is not yet completed; that their probation is not finished; and that the good work begun in them is not yet perfected.

Alford’s note on this passage (chap. i. 6.) deserves notice. ‘The assumes the nearness of the coming of the Lord. Here, as elsewhere, commentators have endeavoured to escape from this inference,’ etc. This is just; but Alford’s own inference, that St. Paul was mistaken, is equally untenable.

 

THE EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA.

Phil. iii. 20, 21.---‘For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,’ etc.

These words bear decisive testimony to the expectation cherished by the apostle, and the Christians of his time, of the speedy coming of the Lord. It was not death they looked for, and waited for, as we do; but that which would swallow up death in victory: the change which would supersede the necessity of dying. Alford’s notes on this passage is as follows:---

‘The words assume, as St. Paul always does when speaking incidentally, his surviving to witness the coming of the Lord. The change from the dust of death in the resurrection, however we may accommodate the expression to it, was not originally contemplated by it.’

 

NEARNESS OF THE PAROUSIA.

Phil. iv. 5.---‘The Lord is at hand.’

Here the apostle repeats the well-known watchword of the early church, ‘The Lord is at hand:’---equivalent to the ‘Maran-atha’ of 1 Cor. xvi. 22. To doubt his full conviction of the nearness of Christ’s coming is incompatible with a due respect for the plain meaning of words; to set down this conviction as a mistake is incompatible with a due respect for his apostolic authority and inspiration.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.

THE APOSTASY OF THE LAST DAYS.

1 Tim. iv. 1-3.---‘Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart [apostatize] from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons] speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared as with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.’

     One of the signs which our Lord predicted as among the precursors of the great catastrophe which was to overwhelm the Jewish polity and people was a wide-spread and portentous defection from the faith, manifesting itself among the professed disciples of Christ. Our Lord’s reference to this defection, though distinct and pointed, is not so minute and detailed as the description of it which we find in the Epistles of St. Paul; hence we infer, as the language of the first verse of this chapter also suggests, that subsequent revelations of its nature and features had been made to the apostles. It is designated by St. Paul, in 2 Thess. ii. 3, ‘the apostasy,’---but he does not there stay to delineate its characteristic features, hastening on to portray the lineaments of ‘the man of sin.’ We have already pointed out the distinction between ‘the apostasy’ and ‘the man of sin,’ to confound which has been a common but egregious mistake. We shall find in the sequel that St. Paul’s description of the apostasy is as minute as that of the ‘man of sin,’ so as to enable us to identify the one as readily as the other.

The first point which it will be well to determine is the period of the apostasy; i.e. the time when it was to declare itself. It is said to be ‘in the latter times’ , an expression which, taken by itself, might seem somewhat indefinite, but when compared with other similar phrases will undoubtedly be found to denote a specific and definite period, well understood by Timothy and all the apostolic churches. It will be convenient to bring together into one view all the passages which refer to this momentous and critical epoch, which is the goal and terminus to which, by New Testament showing, all things were rapidly hastening.

 

ESCHATOLOGICAL TABLE, OR CONSPECTUS OF PASSAGES RELATING TO THE LAST TIMES.

The End of the Age

Matt. xiii. 39.---‘The harvest is the end of the age.’
Matt. xiii. 40.---‘So shall it be in the end of this age.’
Matt. xiii. 49.---‘So shall it be at the end of the age.’
Matt. xxiv. 3.---‘What shall be the sign of thy coming [p a r o u s i a ] and of the end of the age?’
Matt. xxviii. 20.---‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.’
Heb. ix. 26.---‘But now once in the end of the ages’ [t v n a i w n w n ]

The End

Matt. x. 22.---‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved.’
Matt. xxiv. 6.---‘But the end is not yet’ (Mark xiii. 9; Luke xxi. 9).
Matt. xxiv. 13.---‘But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved’ (Mark xiii. 13).
Matt. xxiv. 14.---‘Then shall the end come.’
1 Cor. i. 8.---‘Who shall also confirm you unto the end.’
1 Cor. x. 11.---‘Upon whom the ends of the ages are come.’
1 Cor. xv. 24.---‘Then cometh the end.’
Heb. iii. 6.---‘Firm unto the end.’
Heb. iii. 14.---‘Stedfast unto the end.’
Heb. vi. 11.---‘Diligence unto the end.’
1 Pet. ii. 7.---‘The end of all things is at hand.’
Rev. ii. 26.---‘He that keepeth my works unto the end.’

The Last Times, Days, etc.

1 Tim. iv. 1.---‘In the latter times some shall apostatise’
2 Tim. iii. 1.---‘In the last days perilous times shall come’ .
Heb. i. 2.---‘In these last days [God] hath spoken to us’.
James v. 3.---‘Ye have heaped up treasure in the last days’ .
1 Peter i. 5.---‘Salvation, ready to be revealed in the last .
1 Peter i. 20.---‘Who was manifest in these last times for .
2 Peter iii. 3.---‘There shall come in the last days scoffers’ .
1 John ii. 18.---‘It is the last time’ [hour].
Jude, ver. 18.---‘That there should be mockers in the last time’ 

EQUIVALENT PHRASES REFERRING TO THE SAME PERIOD.

The Day.

Matt. xxv. 13.---‘Ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man cometh.’
Luke xvii. 30.---‘The day when the Son of man is revealed.’
Rom. ii. 16.---‘In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.’
1 Cor. iii. 13.---‘The day shall declare it.’
Heb. x. 25.---‘Ye see the day approaching.’

That Day.

Matt. vii. 22.---‘Many shall say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord.’
Matt. xxiv. 36.---‘But of that day and that hour knoweth no man.’
Luke x. 12.---‘It shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom.’
Luke xxi. 34.---‘And so that day come upon you unawares.’
1 Thess. v. 4.---‘That that day should overtake you as a thief.’
2 Thess. ii. 3.---‘That day shall not come except there come the apostasy.’
2 Tim. i. 12.---‘Which I have committed unto him against that day.’
2 Tim. i. 18.---‘That he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.
2 Tim. iv. 8.---‘A crown . . . which the Lord . . . shall give me at that day.’

The Day of the Lord.

1 Cor. i. 8.---‘That ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
1 Cor. v. 5.---‘That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’
2 Cor. i. 14.---‘Ye are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.’
Phil. ii. 16.---‘That I may rejoice in the day of Christ.’
1 Thess. v. 2.---‘The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.’

The Day of God.

2 Peter iii. 12.---‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.’

The Great Day.

Acts ii. 20.---‘That great and notable day of the Lord.’
Jude, ver. 6.---‘The judgment of the great day.’
Rev. vi. 17.---‘The great day of his wrath is come.’
Rev. xvi. 14.---‘The battle of the great day.’

The Day of Wrath.

Rom. ii. 5.---‘Treasurest up wrath against the day of wrath.’
Rev. vi. 17.---‘The great day of his wrath is come.’

The Day of Judgment.

Matt. x. 15.---‘It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment’ (Mark vi. 11).
Matt. xi. 22.---‘It shall be more tolerable . . . in the day of judgment.’
Matt. xi. 24.---‘It shall be more tolerable . . . in the day of judgment.’
Matt. xii. 36.---‘They shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.’
2 Peter ii. 9.---‘To reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment.’
2 Peter iii. 7.---‘The day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.’
1 John iv. 17.---‘That we may have boldness in the day of judgment.’

The Day of Redemption.

Ephes. iv. 30.---‘Sealed unto the day of redemption.’

The Last Day.

John vi. 39.---‘That I should raise it up at the last day.’
John vi. 40.---‘I will raise him up at the last day.’
John vi. 44.---‘And I will raise him up at the last day.’
John vi. 54.---‘And I will raise him up at the last day.’
John xi. 24.---‘He shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’


    From the comparison of these passages it will appear,---

1.      That they all refer to one and the same period---a certain definite and specific time.

2.      That they all either assume or affirm that the period in question is not far distant.

3.      The limit beyond which it is not permissible to go in determining the period called ‘the last times’ is indicated in the New Testament scriptures, viz. the lifetime of the generation which rejected Christ.

4.      This brings us to the period of the destruction of Jerusalem, as marking ‘the close of the age,’ ‘the day of the Lord,’ ‘the end.’ That is to say, the coming of the Lord, or the Parousia.

 

DESCRIPTION OF THE APOSTASY.

     Having thus brought into one view the passages which speak of the period of the apostasy, it will be proper to follow a similar method with respect to the passages which describe the features and character of the apostasy itself. This fatal defection throws its dark shadow over the whole field of New Testament history, from our Lord’s prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, and even earlier, to the Apocalypse of St. John. It is instructive to observe how, as the time of its development and manifestation approaches, the shadow becomes darker and darker, until it reaches its deepest gloom in the revelation of the Antichrist.

 

CONSPECTUS OF PASSAGES RELATING TO THE APOSTASY OF THE LAST TIMES.

 

1.      The Apostasy, predicted by our Lord.

False Prophets.-Matt. vii. 15.-‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’

Ditto.-Matt. vii. 22.-‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name,’ etc.

False Christs.-Matt. xxiv. 5-‘Many will come in my name, and shall deceive many.’

False Prophets.-Matt. xxiv. 11.-‘And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.’

False Christs and false Prophets-Matt. xxiv. 24.-‘For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders.’

General defection.-Matt. xxiv. 10.-‘And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.’

Matt. xxiv. 12.-‘And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.’

 

2.      The Apostasy, predicted by St. Paul.

False Teachers.-Acts xx. 29, 30.-‘For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’

The Apostasy.-2 Thess. ii. 3-‘That day shall not come, except there come first the apostasy.’

False Apostles.-2 Cor. xi. 13, 14.-‘For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.’

False Teachers.-Gal. i. 7.-‘But there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.’

False Brethren.-Gal. ii. 4.-‘False brethren unawares brought in.’

Deceivers and Schismatics.-Rom. xvi. 17, 18.-‘Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.’

False Teachers.-Col. ii. 8.-‘Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,’ etc.

Ditto.-Col. ii. 18.-‘Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.’

Judaising Teachers.-Phil. iii. 2.-‘Beware of dogs; beware of evil workers; beware of the concision.’

Enemies of the Cross.-Phil. iii. 18.-‘For many walk, of whom I have told you often . . . that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.’

Sensualists.-Phil. iii. 19.-‘Whose end is destruction: whose god is their belly.’

False Teachers.-1 Tim. i. 3, 4.-‘That thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine; neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies.’

Judaisers.-1 Tim. i. 6, 7.-‘Some having swerved, have turned aside into vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law,’ etc.

Apostates.-1 Tim. i. 19.-‘Some have put away (faith and a good conscience) concerning faith have made shipwreck.’

Ditto. Liars and Hypocrites.-1 Tim. iv. 1, 2.-‘Now the spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron.’

False Teachers.-1 Tim. iv. 3.-‘Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats,’ etc.

Ditto.-1 Tim iv. 20, 21.-‘Avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith.’

Ditto.-2 Tim. ii. 16-18.-‘But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.’

Immorality of the Apostasy.-2 Tim. iii. 1-6, 8.-‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: . . . they creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins,’ etc. ‘Men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.’

False Teachers.-2 Tim. iii. 13.-‘Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’

Ditto.-2 Tim. iv. 3, 4.-‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.’

Judaising Teachers.-Titus i. 10.-‘For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision.’

Ditto.-Titus i. 14.-‘Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.’

Immoral.-Titus i. 16.-‘They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.’

 

3.      The Apostasy, predicted by St. Peter.

False Teachers.-2 Peter ii. 1.-‘But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.’

Immorality of the Apostasy.-2 Peter ii. 10, 13, 14.-‘They walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you: having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin,’ etc.

Scoffers.-2 Peter iii. 3.-‘Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.’

 

4.      The Apostasy, predicted by St. Jude.

False Teachers.-Jude.-Passim. See 2 Peter ii.

 

5.      The Apostasy, predicted by St. John.

Antichrist, Apostates.-1 John ii. 18, 19.-‘Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us,’ etc.

Antichrist.-1 John ii. 22.-‘Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son.’

False Teachers.-1 John ii. 26.-‘These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.’

False Prophets.-1 John iv. 1.-‘Many false prophets are gone out into the world.’

Antichrist.-1 John iv. 3.-‘Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world.’

Deceivers and Antichrists.-2 John, ver. 7.-‘For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.’

 

 CONCLUSIONS RESPECTING THE APOSTASY.

     From a consideration and comparison of these passages it will appear,---

1.      That they all refer to the same great defection from the faith, designated by St. Paul ‘the apostasy.’

2.      That this apostasy was to be very general and widespread.

3.      That it was to be marked by an extreme depravity of morals, particularly by sins of the flesh.

4.      That it was to be accompanied by pretensions to miraculous power.

5.      That it was largely, if not chiefly, Jewish in its character.

6.      That it rejected the incarnation and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ,---i.e. was the predicted Antichrist.

7.      That it was to reach its full development in the ‘last times,’ and was to be the precursor of the Parousia.

     Having thus taken a general survey of the New Testament doctrine concerning the apostasy, it only remains to notice some objections which may possibly be made to the foregoing conclusions.

1. It may be asked, What evidence have we that such errors and heresies prevailed in apostolic times? The answer is, The New Testament itself furnishes the proof. The evils which are described by St. Paul as future, are represented by St. Peter and St. John as actually present. The characteristics of the apostasy as set forth by the one are precisely those which are described by the others. Asceticism and immorality are conspicuous in the prophetic delineations of the apostasy by St. Paul, and we find the same features in the historical descriptions by St. Peter and St. John.

2. It may be objected that the period called ‘the latter times,’ or ‘the last times,’ is not strictly defined, and may, for aught we know, be still future.

But, in the first place, the injunctions given by St. Paul to Timothy clearly imply that it was not a distant, but a present, or at all events an impending, evil of which he was speaking. It is manifest that the symptoms of the apostasy had already begun to show themselves, and the whole tenor of the apostle’s exhortation implies that the evils specified would come under the notice of Timothy (1 Tim. vi. 20, 21).

Nothing can be more certain than that the apostles considered themselves to be living in ‘the last times.’ We shall have occasion in the sequel to see this distinctly proved. Meanwhile it may be observed that the passages arranged under the heading ‘the Last Times’ in our Eschatological Table, all refer to the same great crisis. It was ‘the close of the age’ [s u n t e l e i a t o u a i v n o z ], of which our Lord so often spoke. The apostasy was the predicted precursor of that end.

 

TIMOTHY AND THE PAROUSIA.

1 Tim. vi. 14.---[I give thee charge] ‘that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall show,’ etc.

     This implies that Timothy might expect to live until that event took place. The apostle does not say, ‘Keep this commandment as long as you live;’ nor, ‘Keep it until death;’ but ‘until the appearing of Jesus Christ.’ These expressions are by not means equivalent. The ‘appearing’ [e p i f a n e i a ] is identical with the Parousia, an event which St. Paul and Timothy alike believed to be at hand.

Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. After quoting Bengel’s remark ‘that the faithful in the apostolic age were accustomed to look forward to the day of Christ as approaching; whereas we are accustomed to look forward to the day of death in like manner,’ he goes on to observe:---

‘We may fairly say that whatever impression is betrayed by the words that the coming of the Lord would be in Timotheus’s life-time, is chastened and corrected by the k a i r o i z i d i o i z [his own times]of the next verse.’

In other words, the erroneous opinion of one sentence is corrected by the cautious vagueness of the next! Is it possible to accept such a statement? Is there anything in k a i r o i z i d i o i z to justify such a comment? Or is such an estimate of the apostle’s language compatible with a belief in his inspiration? It was no ‘impression’ that the apostle ‘betrayed,’ but a conviction and an assurance founded on the express promises of Christ and the revelations of His Spirit.

No less exceptionable is the concluding refection:---

‘From such passages as this we see that the apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages,---constant expectation of the Lord’s return.’

But if this expectation was nothing more than a false impression, is not their attitude rather a caution than an example? We now see (assuming that the Parousia never took place) that they cherished a vain hope, and lived in the belief of a delusion. And if they were mistaken in this, the most confident and cherished of their convictions, how can we have any reliance on their other opinions? To regard the apostles and primitive Christians as all involved in an egregious delusion on a subject which had a foremost place in their faith and hope, is to strike a fatal blow at the inspiration and authority of the New Testament. When St. Paul declared, again and again, ‘The Lord is at hand,’ he did not give utterance to his private opinion, but spoke with authority as an organ of the Holy Ghost. Dean Alford’s observations may be best answered in the words of his own rejoinder to Professor Jowett:---

‘Was the apostle or was he not writing in the power of a spirit higher than his own? Have we, in any sense, God speaking in the Bible, or have we not? If we have, then of all passages it is in these which treat so confidently of futurity that we must recognise His voice: if we have it not in these passages, then where are we to listen for it all?’

We find the same apologetic tone in Dr. Ellicott’s remarks on this passage:---

‘It may, perhaps, be admitted that the sacred writers have used language in reference to the Lord’s return which seems to show that the longings of hope had almost become the convictions of belief.’

Strange that the plainest, strongest, most oft-repeated affirmations of his faith and hope by St. Paul should produce in the mind of a reader so faint an impression of his convictions as this. But there is not faltering in the declaration of the apostle; it is no peradventure that he utters; it is with a firm and confident tone that he raises the exulting cry, ‘The Lord is at hand.’ He does not express his own surmises, or hopes, or longings, but delivers the message with which he was charged, and, as a faithful witness for Christ, everywhere proclaims the speedy coming of the Lord.

 

THE APOSTASY ALREADY MANIFESTING ITSELF.

1 Tim. vi. 20, 21.---‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so-called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith.’

It is important to notice that from several intimations in this epistle it appears that the defection from the faith which was to characterise the latter days had already set in. St. Paul warns Timothy against ‘false teachers,’ with their ‘fables and endless genealogies,’---against those ‘who concerning the faith had made shipwreck;’ against others ‘who doted about questions, and strifes of words,---men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth.’ These ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ were evidently already devouring the flock. To place the apostasy therefore in a post-apostolic age is to overlook the obvious teaching of the epistle. It was a present and not a distant evil which the apostle deprecated: the plague had begun in the camp.

 

 THE PAROUSIA IN THE SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.

‘THAT DAY’---VIZ. THE PAROUSIA---ANTICIPATED.

2 Tim. i. 12.---‘He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.’
2 Tim. i. 18.---‘The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.’
2 Tim. iv. 8.---‘The crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.’

     The allusion in all these passages is to ‘the day of the Lord;’ the day par excellence; the day of His appearing; the Parousia.

     The whole tenor of these passages indicates that St. Paul regarded ‘that day’ as now very near. In the anticipation of it he breaks forth into a burst of triumphant exultation, as if he were just about to receive the crown of victory,---‘I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day; and not to me only, but to all who love his appearing.’ How evidently all these events,---his own departure, his crown, ‘that day,’ and the Lord’s appearing, are anticipated as at hand! Shall we say that his anticipations were too sanguine? That the day has not yet come? That his crown is still ‘laid up’? that Onesiphorus has not yet found mercy? The supposition is incredible.

THE APOSTASY OF THE ‘LAST DAYS’ IMMINENT.

2 Tim. iii. 1-9.---‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.’

The ‘last days’ of this passage are evidently identical with the ‘latter times’ of 1 Tim. iv. 1. This is so obvious as to need no proof. The attempt to make a distinction between the ‘latter’ times and the ‘last’ times, which Bengel seems to sanction, is therefore futile. It is scarcely necessary to add that ‘the last days’ were the apostle’s own days---the time then present. He is speaking, not of the distant future, but of a time already commencing; for it is plain that he draws the picture of the characters described from the life. Indications of the coming apostasy were already apparent,---‘of this sort are they,’ etc. (ver. 6). It is assumed that Timothy would encounter those times, and those evil men from whom he is exhorted to turn away. The following note from Conybeare and Howson comes very near the truth, though it falls short of the whole truth:---

‘This phrase (e s c a t a i z h m e r a i z , used without the article, as having become a familiar expression) generally denotes the termination of the Mosaic dispensation. (See Acts ii. 17; 1 Pet. i. 5, 20; Heb. i. 2.) Thus the expression generally denotes (in the apostolic age) the time present; but here it points to a future immediately at hand, which is, however, blended with the present (see vers. 6, 8), and was in fact the end of the apostolic age. (Compare 1 John ii. 18, ‘It is the last hour.’) The long duration of this last period of the world’s development was not revealed to the apostles: they expected that their Lord’s return would end it, in their own generation; and thus His words were fulfilled, that none should foresee the time of His coming.

This closing explanation is what no one who believes that the apostles spoke and wrote by the power of the Holy Ghost can admit; and, notwithstanding the almost unanimous opinion of their critics that they were certainly mistaken, we hold by the apostles rather than by their critics.

Alford’s comment on this passage is painfully self-contradictory, and shows to what shifts learned men are reduced in order to save the credit of the apostles when they cannot believe their plain declarations. He says:---

‘The apostle for the most part wrote and spoke of it (the coming of the Lord) as soon to appear, not however without many and sufficient hints, furnished by the Spirit, of an interval, and that no short one, first to elapse.’

But how could and event be ‘soon to appear’ and yet a long period first to elapse? Or, are we to suppose that the Holy Spirit taught one thing while the apostles wrote and spoke quite another? If they said what they did respecting the nearness of the Parousia when they really had no knowledge and no revelation on the subject, they clearly exceeded their commission, and committed what the Word of God pronounces on of the most presumptuous sins,---added to the words of the prophecy which they were commissioned to convey. We reject the explanation in toto. It is not only a non-natural interpretation, but wholly inconsistent with any theory of inspiration of the word of God.

The passage before us is most important as delineating the character of ‘the apostasy.’ The dreaded apparition had already begun to reveal itself, and the apostle evidently describes it from actual observation. Phygellus and Hermogenes, who deserted the apostle; Hymenaeus and Philetus, with their profane and vain babbling; the fawning deceivers, who made proselytes of weak-minded women; the men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith, who resisted the truth; these were the vanguard of the locust army of errorists and apostates which was coming up to overspread and devastate the fair face of early Christianity. Their appearance indicated that ‘the last times’ had arrived, and that the Parousia was at hand. We might at first suppose that the hideous catalogue of reprobates contained in the opening verses of chapter iii. describes the general corruption of society outside the Christian church, but it is too evident that the apostle is alluding to men who had once professed the faith of Christ. They had ‘a form of godliness;’ they had ‘made shipwreck of faith,’ they were truly ‘apostates.’

That this ‘falling away’ from the truth had already set in is evident from the reiterated exhortations and warning which the apostle addresses to Timothy. Why should he speak with such impassioned earnestness if the evil was not to make its appearance for twenty or forty centuries? It is absurd to say that St. Paul was writing for the benefit of future ages. He was as truly a man living in his own age, and writing to a man of his own time concerning matters of present and personal interest to both, as any of us who now pour out our thoughts in a letter to an absent friend. There is an utter unreality in any other view of the apostolic epistles. It is impossible to read them without feeling the heart-throbs that beat in every line; all is vivid, intense, alive,. It is not a distant danger, seen through the haze of centuries, but one that is instant and urgent: the enemy was at the gate, and the veteran warrior, about to sink on the field of conflict, cheers on the young soldier to fidelity, and resistance to the end.

 

ANTICIPATIONS OF THE APPROACHING END.

2 Tim. iv. 1, 2.---‘I adjure thee before God, and Jesus Christ, who is about to judge the living and the dead; and by his appearing and his kingdom, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.’

     We find associated together in this passage as contemporaneous events the Parousia, the judgment, and the kingdom of Christ. These are all connected and related in their nature and in the time of their occurrence. We find the same collocation of events in Matt. xxv. 31, ‘When the Son of man shall come in his glory, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all the nations,’ etc.

The nearness of this consummation is distinctly affirmed. It is not, as in our Authorised Version, ‘who shall judge,’ but ‘who is about to judge’. One statement like this might suffice to settle the question both as to the fact and the apostle’s belief of the fact, that the time of the Parousia was at hand. But, instead of a single affirmation, we have the constant and uniform tenor of the whole New Testament doctrine on the subject. Those who say the apostles were in error on this point must have ‘a verifying faculty’ to distinguish between their inspired and their uninspired utterances. If St. Paul was inspired to write k r i n e i n , was he not equally inspired to write m e l l o n t o z ?

This imminency of the Parousia explains the fervour with which the apostle urges Timothy to put forth every effort in discharging the duties of his office: ‘Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.’ These injunctions are sometimes employed to set forth the normal intensity and urgency with which the pastoral function should be discharged (and we do not condemn the application); but it is plain that St. Paul is not speaking of ordinary times and ordinary efforts. It is the agony of a tremendous crisis; the time is short; it is now or never; victory or death. These are not the common-place phrases about the diligent discharge of duty, but the alarm of the sentinel who sees the enemy at the gates, and blows the trumpet to warn the city. 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO TITUS.

 ANTICIPATION OF THE PAROUSIA.

‘Titus ii. 13.---‘Looking for that blessed hope, and the revelation of the glory of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’

     We again find here, what we have long come to recognise, the habitual attitude of the Christians of the apostolic age, the expectation of the Lord’s coming. It is inculcated as one of the primary Christian duties, and ranks with sober, righteous, and godly living. This implies that the event was regarded as at hand, for how could a powerful motive to watchfulness be derived from a remote and unknown contingency lying in the distant future? Or, how could it be the duty of Christians to be ‘looking’ for that which was not to happen for hundreds and thousands of years? The apostle evidently regards the present aeon, t o n n u n a i v n a , as drawing to a close, and exhorts Christians to live in the attitude of expectancy of the Parousia, which was to introduce the new order, ‘the aiwno mellwn .’

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.

     It does not fall within the scope of this investigation to discuss the question of the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Even if it do not come from the same pen which wrote the Epistle to the Romans, and few who are familiar with the style of St. Paul will affirm that it does, yet its spirit and teaching are essentially Pauline, and we may justly regard it as one of the most precious legacies of the apostolic age. Its value as a key to the meaning of the Levitical economy, and as a contribution to Christian doctrine and living, is inestimable; and whether we ascribe its authorship to Barnabas or Apollos, or any other fellow-labourer with St. Paul, we may unhesitatingly accept it, ‘not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God.’

     We now enter still more deeply into the dark shadow of the predicted apostasy. It was to combat this formidable antagonist of the Gospel that this epistle was written; and the Judaic character of the anti-Christian movement is apparent from the line of argument which the author adopts. We find ourselves at once in ‘the last days.’

 

THE LAST DAYS ALREADY COME.

Heb. i. 1, 2.---‘God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.’

     The phrase ‘in these last days,’ or ‘in the end of these days,’ shows that the writer regarded the time of Christ’s incarnation and ministry as the closing period of a dispensation or aeon. We fin a somewhat similar expression in chap. ix. 26, ‘Now, in the end of the ages’ where the reference is to the time of our Saviour’s incarnation and atoning sacrifice. And old era, call it Mosaic, Judaic, or Old Testament, was now running out; many things that had seemed immovable and eternal were about to vanish away; and ‘the end of the age,’ or ‘the last times,’ had arrived.


THE AEONS, AGES, OR WORLD-PERIODS.

Heb. i. 2.---‘By whom also he made the worlds’ [aeons].

     Much confusion has arisen from the indiscriminate use of the word ‘world’ as the translation of the different Greek words a i w n , k o z m o z , o i k o u m e n h , and g h . The unlearned reader who meets with the phrase ‘the end of the world,’ inevitably thinks of the destruction of the material globe, whereas if he read ‘conclusion of the age, or aeon,’ he would as naturally think of the close of a certain period of time---which is its proper meaning. We have already had occasion to observe that a i w n is properly a designation of time, an age; and it is doubtful whether it ever has any other signification in the New Testament. Its equivalent in Latin is aevum, which is really the Greek a i w n in a Latin dress. The proper word for the earth, or world, is k o s m o z , which is used to designate both the material and the moral world. O i k o u m e n h is properly the inhabited world, ‘the habitable,’ and in the New Testament refers often to the Roman Empire, sometimes to so small a portion of it as Palestine. G h , though it sometimes signifies the earth generally, in the gospels more frequently refers to the land of Israel. Much light is thrown upon many passages by a proper understanding of these words.

     It is certain that the Jews in our Saviour’s time were accustomed to make a division of time into two great periods or aeons, the present aeon, and the coming. The coming aeon was that of the Messiah, or ‘the kingdom of God.’ The same division is recognised in the New Testament, and we have already seen that, in the view of the writer of this epistle, the close of the present aeon was approaching. (See Stuart’s Comm. on Heb. in loc.; Alford’s Greek Testament; Wahl’s Lexicon, voc. a i w n ).

     It may be said, however, that though the word does primarily signify an age, yet in this instance the sense of the passage obviously requires us to translate a i w n a z , worlds. It must be acknowledged that it seems uncouth to our ears to say, ‘God made the ages by Jesus Christ,’ and very simple and natural to say, ‘He made the world;’ yet when we consider that the writer of this epistle had no conception of worlds in the sense in which we now use that expression, it may perhaps modify our opinion. We are very apt to credit the author with our astronomical ideas, and suppose that he is referring to the sun, moon, and stars as so many worlds. But we have no reason to believe that he had any such notion. The heavenly bodies were to him lights, but not worlds. With aeons, however, the author of this epistle, as a man of letters, must have been perfectly familiar. What, then, did he mean by God making the aeons? These were the great eras, or epochs of time, which the Supreme Wisdom had ordained and arranged; world-periods, as we may call them, which constituted acts in the great drama of Providence. There seems to be an allusion to this ordering of the ages, or world-periods, in Acts xvii. 26: ‘Having determined the times before appointed’; as also in Ephes. i. 10: ‘The dispensation of the fulness of the times.’ It is strongly in favour of this view that it is substantially that which is adopted by the Greek Fathers.

 

THE WORLD TO COME, OR THE NEW ORDER.

Heb. ii. 5.---‘For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak.’

     This passage elucidates the subject still more. We have here one of the aeons---the world to come---i.e. not a material world, but a system or order of things analogous to the Mosaic dispensation. There is an evident comparison or contrast between the Mosaic economy and the new, or Christian, state. The former was placed under the administration of angels; it was ‘the word spoken by angels;’ it was given by ‘the disposition of angels’ (Acts vii. 53); it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator (Gal. iii. 19). But the new aeon, the kingdom of heaven, was administered by one greater than the angels, the Son of God Himself; a proof of the superiority of the Christian over the Jewish dispensation.

It is certainly somewhat singular that we should find the word o i k o u m e n h here, where we should have expected to find a i w n a . Had it been o i k o n o m i a n , as in Ephes. i. 10, it would have been more in accordance with our ideas of the true purport; but there is no warrant for supposing that the one word has been substituted for the other. That the allusion is to the system or order of things inaugurated by Christ there can be no doubt, and the phrase is equivalent to ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ It may be added that it is said to be ‘coming,’ m e l l o u s a , a word which implies nearness, like ‘the coming wrath,’ ‘the coming glory,’ ‘the coming age.’

 

THE END, i.e. OF THE AGE, OR AEON.

Heb. iii. 6.---‘If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.’
Heb. iii. 14.---‘If we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.’
Heb. vi. 11.---‘The full assurance of hope unto the end.’

     We have already had occasion to remark upon the significant phrase ‘the end,’ as it is used in the New Testament. It does not mean to the last, or to the end of life; but to the close of the aeon. Alford correctly observes,---

‘The end thought of, is not the death of each individual, but the coming of the Lord, which is constantly called by this name.’

 

THE PROMISE OF THE REST OF GOD.

Heb. iv. 1-11.---‘Let us therefore fear, since a promise still remaineth of entering into his rest, lest any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us good tidings have been brought as well as unto them, but the report which they heard did not profit them, because it met with no belief in those that heard it. For we that have believed are entering into the (promised) rest, even as he hath said, So I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest. (Although his works were finished ever since the foundation of the world. For he hath spoken in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest on the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, They shall not enter into my rest.) Since, therefore, it still remaineth that some must enter therein, and they who first received the glad tidings entered not in because of disobedience, he again limiteth a certain day, saying in David, After so long a time, to-day; as it hath been said before, To-day, if ye hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, then God would not afterwards speak of another day. There still remaineth a rest [sabbath keeping] for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, hath himself also rested from his own works, as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of disobedience.’

This is an exceedingly important and interesting passage, not without its obscurities and difficulties, which have occasioned much diversity of interpretation. Some have found in it an argument for the perpetuity of the Fourth Commandment, and the observance of the first day of the week as the Christian sabbath. Others have interpreted the whole argument in an ethical and subjective sense, as if the writer exhorted to the attainment of a certain state of mind called the rest of faith: a ceasing from doubt and from self-dependence, and obtaining perfect repose of mind by full trust in God. Such interpretations, however, wholly miss the point of the argument, and are rather ingenious glosses than legitimate deductions.

What is the drift of the argument? It is very evident that the object of the writer is to warn Hebrew Christians against unbelief and disobedience by setting before them, on the one hand, the reward of obedience, and, on the other, the penalty of disobedience. There was ready to his hand a signal example, memorable to all Israelites, viz. the forfeiture of the land Canaan by their fathers in consequence of their unbelief. They had provoked the Lord to swear in His wrath, ‘They shall not enter into my rest.’

In the view of the writer there was a remarkable correspondence between the situation of the Israelites approaching the land of promise and the situation of Christians expecting the fulfilment of their hope, the promise of rest. To make this correspondence more clear he shows that the rest promised to ancient Israel, and that promised to the people of God now, were really one and the same thing. The entrance into the land of Canaan was by no means the whole, nor even the principal part, of the promised rest of God. This he proves by showing that long after the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan, the Lord, by the mouth of David, in Psalm xcv., virtually repeats the promise made to the Israelites in the wilderness, and says to the people, ‘To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ The repetition of the command implies the repetition of the promise, and also of the threatening; as if God were saying, ‘Believe, and ye shall enter into my rest. Disbelieve, and ye shall not enter into my rest.’ Hence it follows that there is a rest besides and beyond the rest of Canaan.

Then follows the explanation of the rest referred to, viz. the ‘rest of God,’ that which He calls ‘My rest.’ Certainly that name was never given to the land of Canaan, nor can it be applied to any other than that ‘rest’ of which we read in the account of the creation, when God did rest from all ‘his work which he had made’ (Gen. ii. 2, 3). This was God’s sabbath, the rest which He hallowed and called His own. It must be to this rest therefore---the holy, sabbatic, heavenly repose---that the promise chiefly refers. Of that rest of God Canaan was no doubt the type, for that was the rest of the Israelites after the perils and fatigues of the wilderness; but the possession of Canaan was far from exhausting the full meaning of the promise, and therefore it still remained, and was kept in reserve for the people of God. ‘There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God.’

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews evidently regarded the ‘rest of God’ as a consummation not far distant. He says of it, ‘We that have believed are entering into that rest.’ This does not mean ‘going to heaven at death,’ but the expectation of the speedily coming kingdom of God, the hope so strongly cherished by the first Christians (Rom. viii. 18-25). To regard these exhortations and appeals as the ordinary commonplaces of religious teaching, is to rob them of half their significance. True, there is a sense in which they may be applicable to all times, but they had a meaning and a force at that particular juncture which it is difficult for us now to comprehend. The Christians of that epoch stood, as it were, on the border-line between the old and the new, between the aeon that was closing and that which was opening. They believed that the day of the Lord was just at hand,---that Christ would soon return, and that they would enter along with Him into the kingdom of heaven, the rest of God. Hence the duty of ‘exhorting one another; and so much the more as they saw the day approaching;’ of holding the beginning of their confidence stedfast unto the end; of ‘striving to enter into that rest, lest any many should fall,’ or ‘seem to come short of it.’

The writer of this epistle, in verses 9 and 10 of this chapter, shows the propriety of calling this promised rest a ‘sabbatism,’ or sabbatic rest. ‘There remaineth therefore a sabbatism for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath rested from his own works, as God did from his.’ There is an ambiguity in this language both in the Greek and in the English. It may mean that all the faithful departed have ceased from the toils of earth, and now enjoy the repose and reward of heaven. This is the sense usually attached to the words. (See Stuart’s Commentary on Hebrews, in loc.; Conybeare and Howson, etc.) It must be confessed, however, that the relevance of this language so interpreted, to the matter in hand, is not very apparent, and that the grammatical construction will hardly warrant such an explanation. The argument affirms, not that Christians have entered into that rest, but just the contrary. The writer states, as Conybeare and Howson very properly show, ‘that God’s people have never yet enjoyed that perfect rest, therefore its enjoyment is still future.’ Who, then, is ‘he that entered in’? Evidently it is Christ, the Forerunner, who entered on our behalf within the veil; our great High Priest, who is passed into the heavens; the New Testament Joshua, the Captain of our salvation, who ‘entered into his rest,’ ceasing from His work of redemption, even as His Father did from His own work of creation. This shows the fitness of heaven being called a ‘sabbatism,’ a ‘rest of God,’ for there both the Father and the Son keep eternal sabbath. It may be added that this interpretation relieves us from the sense of incongruity which is felt in comparing a Christian’s ceasing from his labours to God’s ceasing from the work of creation; it is also perfectly relevant to the argument in the context.

Not only will the words bear this sense, but they will not bear any other, as Alford very well shows. (See Greek Testament, in loc.) We can now see the force of the argument as a whole. The writer shows the fatal consequences of unbelief and disobedience by the example of the ancient Israelites (chap. iii. 7-19). They had a great promise of entering into the rest of God, which they forfeited by their unbelief (chap. iii. 7-19). But that promise of rest is still offered, and my be still forfeited. It was offered to Israel again in the time and by the mouth of David; it was therefore not exhausted by the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan (chap. iv. 4-8). The promise, then had reference to the heavenly state, the rest of God Himself, when He kept sabbath after the work of creation (chap. iv. 3-5). But Christ also keeps His sabbath, having ceased from the work of redemption, as His Father did from that of creation (chap. iv. 10). There still remains therefore a sabbath, or heavenly rest for the people of God (chap. iv. 9). Let us, therefore, strive to enter into that rest of Christ and of God, warned against unbelief and disobedience by the example of ancient Israel (chap. iv. 11).

We shall find in the sequel much light thrown upon this whole subject of entrance into the heavenly state, and the relation in which the saints stood to it both before and since the coming of Christ.

 

THE END OF THE AGES.

Heb. ix. 26.---‘For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world [k o s m o u ]: but now once, in the end of the world [a i w n w n ], hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’

     In this verse we have a striking instance of the confusion arising from the translation of the two different words kosmos and aion by the same word ‘world.’

The expression s u n t e l e i a t w n a i w n w n has precisely the same meaning as s u n t e l e i a t o u a i w n o z , and refers to the Jewish age which was about to close. Moses Stuart renders the passage thus: ‘But now, at the close of the [Jewish] dispensation, He has once for all made His appearance,’ etc. This is another decisive proof that ‘the end of the age’ was regarded by the apostolic churches as at hand.

 

EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA.

Heb. ix. 28.---‘And unto them that look for him shall he appear a second time, without sin, unto salvation.’

The attitude of expectation maintained by the Christians of the apostolic age is here incidentally shown. They waited in hope and confidence for the fulfillment of the promise of His coming. To suppose that they thus waited for an event which did not happen is to impute to them and to their teachers an amount of ignorance and error incompatible with respect of their beliefs on any other subject.

 

THE PAROUSIA APPROACHING.

Heb. x. 25.---‘Exhorting one another, and so much more as ye see the day approaching.’

     ‘The day’ means, of course, ‘the day of the Lord,’ the time of His appearing,---the Parousia. It was now at hand; they could see it approaching. Doubtless the indications of its approach predicted by our Lord were apparent, and His disciples recognised them, remembering His words, ‘When ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors’ (Mark xiii. 29). It is not fair to palter with these words in a non-natural or double sense, and say with Alford,---

‘That day, in its great and final sense, is always near, always ready to break forth upon the church; but these Hebrews lived actually close upon one of those great types and foretastes of it, the destruction of the Holy City.’

To the same effect is his note on Heb. ix. 26:---

‘The first Christians universally spoke of the second coming of the Lord as close at hand, and indeed it ever was and is.’

The Hebrew Christians lived close upon the actual Parousia which our Lord predicted, and His church expected before the passing away of that generation. It is not true that the Parousia ‘is always near, and always ready to break forth upon the church,’ any more than that the birth of Christ, His crucifixion, or His resurrection, is always ready to break forth. The Parousia was as distinctly a specific event, with its proper place in time, as the incarnation or the crucifixion; and it is to evacuate the word of all meaning to make it a phantom shape, appearing and disappearing, always coming and never come, distant and near, past and future. We believe that Christ in his prophetic discourse had a real event full in his view; an event with a place in history and chronology; an event the period of which He Himself distinctly indicated,---not indeed the hour, nor the day, nor even the precise year, yet within limits well defined,---the period of the existing generation. Such was manifestly the belief of the writer of this epistle. To him the Parousia was a very definite event, and one the approach of which he could see; nor can any trace be detected in his language, or in the language of any of the epistles, of a double sense, or of a partial and preliminary Parousia and a great and final one.

The comment of Conybeare and Howson is far more satisfactory:

‘"The day" of Christ’s coming was seen approaching at this time by the threatening prelude of the great Jewish war, wherein He came to judge that nation.’

 

THE PAROUSIA IMMINENT.

Heb. x. 37.---‘For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’

This statement looks in the same direction as the preceding. The phrase, ‘he that shall come’ [o e r c o m e n o z ] is the customary designation of the Messiah,---‘the coming One.’ That coming was now at hand. The language to this effect is far more expressive of the nearness of the time in the Greek than in English: ‘Yet a very, very little while;’ or, as Tregelles renders it, ‘A little while, how little, how little!’ The reduplication of the thought in the close of the verse,---‘will come, and will not tarry,’ is also indicative of the certainty and speed of the approaching event. Moses Stuart’s comment on this passage is,---

‘The Messiah will speedily come, and, by destroying the Jewish power, put an end to the sufferings which your persecutors inflict upon you.’

This is only part of the truth; the Parousia brought much more than this to the people of God, if we are to believe the assurances of the inspired apostles of Christ.

 

THE PAROUSIA AND THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS.

Heb. xi. 39, 40.---‘And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, obtained not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.’

The argument which is here brought to a conclusion is one of great importance, and deserves very careful consideration. It will be found to lend a powerful indirect support to the views propounded in this investigation, which in fact afford the true key to its explanation.

Having in this eleventh chapter illustrated his main position,---that faith in God was the distinguishing characteristic of the worthies whose names adorn the annals of the Old Testament, the writer draws attention to the fact that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were never actually put in possession of the inheritance which had been promised them. They did not obtain the land of Canaan; they never saw the earthly Jerusalem: ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises’ (ver. 13). He then goes on to state that these fathers of Israel were aware of a deeper significance in the promise of God than a mere temporal and earthly inheritance. Abraham, while dwelling as a stranger and sojourner in the land of promise, looked beyond to ‘the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God’ (ver. 10). It is evident that this cannot refer to the earthly Jerusalem, and yet the language seems to point to some well-known city so described. But to what other city can the allusion be than to the city described in the Apocalypse as ‘having twelve foundations,’ ‘the city of the living God,’ the heavenly Jerusalem? The correspondence cannot be accidental, and affords more than a presumption that whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews had read the description of the New Jerusalem in the Apocalypse. It is not a city, but the city; not which hath foundations, but ‘the foundations;’ a particular and well-known city.

But to return. The confession of the fathers that they were strangers and pilgrims in the land, was a declaration of their faith in the existence of a ‘better country,’ ‘for they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country,’ not indeed any earthly country, but ‘a better, that is, a heavenly’ (vers. 14, 16). This faith in a future and heavenly inheritance, which they saw only ‘afar off,’ was true not only of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but of the whole company of the ancient believers (ver. 39). Not one of them received the fulfilment of that divine promise which their faith had embraced: ‘these all, being borne witness to through faith, received not the promise’ (ver. 39).

This is a fact worthy to be pondered. Up to that time, according to the author of this epistle, the Old Testament saints had been kept waiting, and were waiting still, for the fulfilment of the great promise of God made to Abraham and his seed, and had not yet received the inheritance, nor entered into the better country, nor seen the God-built city with the foundations. How was this? What could be the cause of the long delay? What obstacle stood in the way of their entrance upon the full enjoyment of the inheritance? The question has been anticipated and answered. ‘The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest,’ as was signified by the continued existence of the temple and its services (chap. ix. 8). Access into the place of sanctity and privilege was not permitted until the way had been opened by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the great High Priest, the Mediator of the new covenant; it could not give a perfect title to its subjects by which they might be admitted to enter on the possession of the inheritance (chap. ix. 9). Mere ritual could not remove the barriers which sin had created between God and man; and therefore there was not admission even for the faithful under the old covenant into the full privileges of saintship and sonship. But this barrier was removed by the perfect sacrifice of the great High Priest. ‘The Mediator of the new covenant,’ by the offering of himself to God, redeemed the transgressions committed under the old covenant, or Mosaic economy, thus freeing the subjects of that covenant from their disabilities, and making it competent for the chosen ‘to receive the promise of the eternal inheritance’ (chap. ix. 11-15).

The argument of the epistle, then, requires us to suppose that until the atoning sacrifice of the cross was offered, the blessedness of the Old Testament saints was incomplete. In this respect they were at a disadvantage as compared with believers under the new covenant. The latter were at once put in possession of that for which the former had to wait a long time. The superiority of believers now, under the Christian dispensation, over believers under the former dispensation, is a strong point in the argument. We, says the writer, have no lengthened period of delay interposed between us and the promised inheritance,---we are near it; ‘we are come unto it;’ ‘we are entering into it.’ ‘God hath provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect’ (ver. 40). That is to say, the ancient believers had not only no precedence in the enjoyment of the promised inheritance over Christians, but had to wait long, until the fulness of the time should come when, Christ having opened the way into the holiest of all, they might enter, along with us, into the possession of the promised inheritance.

It is scarcely necessary to ask, What is this promised inheritance of which so much is here spoken, and to which the Old Testament saints looked forward in faith? Unquestionably it is that thing which God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (ver. 9); that which the patriarchs saw afar off (ver. 13); that which their illustrious successors believed, but never obtained (ver. 19). It is ‘the promise of eternal inheritance’ (chap. ix. 15); ‘the hope set before us’ (chap. vi. 18); ‘the city which hath the foundations’ (chap. xi. 10); ‘a better, even a heavenly country’ (chap. xi. 16); ‘a kingdom which cannot be moved’ (chap. xii. 28). It is, in fact, the true Canaan; the promised land; the ‘rest of God;’ ‘the sabbath-keeping which remaineth for the people of God’ (chap. iv.9). It is one thing of which the writer speaks all the way through. Let the reader carry his thoughts back to the fourth chapter, where the discussion respecting the promised rest first begins. Evidently that ‘promised rest’ is identical with the ‘promised land,’ and the ‘promised land’ is identical with the ‘promised inheritance;’ and all these different designations---city, country, kingdom, inheritance, promise,---all mean one and the same thing. The earthly Canaan was not the whole, was not the reality, but only the symbol of the inheritance which God gave by promise to Abraham and his seed. That promise, far from having been exhaustively fulfilled by the possession of the land under Joshua, was still kept in reserve for the people of God. But now the time was come when the inheritance was about to be actually entered and enjoyed, and the believers of the old covenant, with those of the new, were to enter at once and together into the promised rest.

There is a remarkable correspondence between the argument contained in this passage and the statements of St. Paul in his epistles to the Galatians and Romans, serving not only to throw additional light upon the whole subject, but also to prove how entirely Pauline is the argument in Hebrews. We select a few of the leading thoughts in Gal. iii. by way of illustration:---

Ver. 16.---‘Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.’

Ver. 18.---‘For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.’

Ver. 19.---‘Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made,’ etc.

Ver. 22.---‘Howbeit, the scripture shut up all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’

Ver. 23.---‘But before faith came, we were kept in ward, shut up under the law unto the faith which was afterward to be revealed.’

Ver. 29.---‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’

Now, making allowance for the difference in the object which St. Paul has in view in writing to the Galatians, it will be seen how remarkably his statements support those in the Epistle of Hebrews.

1.      In both we find the same subject,---the promised inheritance.

2.      In both it is admitted that the inheritance was not actually possessed and enjoyed by those to whom it was first promised.

3.      In both it is shown that the fulfilment of the promise was suspended until the coming of Christ.

4.      In both it is shown that this event (the coming of Christ) produced a change in the situation of those who expected this inheritance.

5.      In both it is argued that faith is the condition of inheriting the promise.

6.      In both it is asserted that the time has at length arrived when the actual possession of the inheritance is about to be realised.

Very similar is the scope of the argument in the Epistle to the Romans:---

Rom. iv. 13.---‘For the promise that he should be the heir of the world [land, k o s m o z = g h ] was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.’

Ver. 16.---‘For this cause it was of faith that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.’

Rom. v. 1.---‘Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’

In these verses we find,---

1.      The same promised inheritance (ver. 13).

2.      The same condition of its possession, viz. faith (ver. 2).

3.      The suspension of the fulfilment of the promise during the period of the law (vers. 14, 16).

4.      The entrance of believers under the Christian dispensation into the state of privilege and heirship (chap. v. 2).

5.      The expectation of the full possession of the inheritance: ‘We rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (chap. v. 1).

Taking all these passages together, we may deduce from them the following conclusions:---

1.      That the great object of faith and hope so constantly set forth in the Scriptures as the consummation of the happiness of believers both under the Old Testament and under the New, is one and the same; and, whether called by the name of ‘the promised land,’ ‘the promised inheritance,’ ‘the kingdom of God,’ ‘the glory to be revealed,’ ‘the rest of God,’ ‘the hope which is set before us,’---they all mean the same thing, and point to a heavenly, and not an earthly , reward.

2.      That this was the true meaning of the promise made to Abraham.

3.      That the fulfilment of this promise could not take place until the true ‘seed’ of Abraham appeared and the sacrifice of the cross was offered.

4.      That the Old Testament saints had to wait until then before they could receive the promised inheritance,---that is, enter into the full possession and enjoyment of the heavenly state.

5.      That the New Testament saints had this advantage over their predecessors,---that they had not to wait for the realisation of their hope.

6.      That the Old Testament saints, and believers under the New Testament, were to enter at the same period into the possession of the inheritance; not ‘they without us,’ nor ‘we without them,’ but simultaneously (Heb. xi. 40).

It is evident, however, that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews did not consider that as yet either the Old Testament or the New Testament saints had actually entered upon the possession of the inheritance. The very purpose and aim of all his exhortations and appeals to the Hebrew believers is to warn them against the danger of forfeiting the inheritance by apostasy, and to encourage them to stedfastness and perseverance, that they might receive the promise. ‘Let us therefore fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it’ (Heb. iv. 1); ‘Ye have need of patience that ye may receive the promise’ (Heb. x. 36). It was not theirs as yet, then, in actual possession; but the whole tenor of the argument implies that it was very near, so near that it might almost be said to be within reach. ‘We which believe are entering into the rest’ (Heb. iv. 3); ‘Yet a very, very little while, and he that is coming shall come, and shall not tarry’ (chap. x. 37). This clearly indicates the period of the expected entrance on the inheritance: it is the Parousia; ‘the coming of the Lord;’ the long looked-for day; the fulness of the time, when the saints of the old covenant and those of the new should enter simultaneously into the possession of the promised inheritance; the land of rest; the city with the foundations; the better country, that is, the heavenly; the kingdom which cannot be moved; ‘the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading, ready to be revealed in the last time.’

But it may be objected, If the seed has come ‘to whom the promise was made; ‘if the sacrifice of Calvary has been offered; if the great High Priest has rent the veil and removed the barrier; if the way into the holiest has thus been opened up,---does it not follow that the possession of the inheritance would be immediately bestowed upon the Old Testament believers, and that they would at once, along with the risen and triumphant Redeemer, enter into the promised rest?

This is the view which many theologians have adopted, who fix the resurrection of Christ as the period of advancement and glory for the Old Testament saints. But it is clear that the apostolic doctrine fixes that period at the Parousia, and that for the reason given in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chap. x. 12, 13). Though the great High Priest had offered His one sacrifice for sin; though He had sate down on the right hand of God; yet His triumph had not fully come. He was ‘henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.’ To the same effect is the statement of St. Paul in 1 Cor. xv. 22. The consummation is reached by successive steps; first, the resurrection of Christ; afterwards, they that are Christ’s at His coming; then ‘then end.’ The edifice was not crowned until the Parousia, when the Son of man came in His kingdom, and His enemies were put under His feet. That was the consummation, the end, when the Messianic delegated government was to cease; the ceremonial, local, and temporary to be merged in the spiritual, universal, and everlasting; when God was to be revealed as the Father not of a nation, but of man; when all sectional and national distinctions were to be abolished, and ‘God to be All in all.’

Meantime, when this epistle was written, the Mosaic system seemed to be unimpaired; ‘the outer tabernacle’ was still standing; Judaism, though a hollow trunk, out of which the heart had utterly decayed, still had a semblance of vigour; but the hour was at hand when the whole economy was to be swept away. A deluge of wrath was about to burst on the land, and overwhelm the city, the temple, and the nation; the judgment of the impenitent and the apostate people would then take place, and the Old Testament saints, along with the believers in Christ, would together ‘enter into rest,’ and ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.’

When we remember that this epistle was written, according to some expositors, on the verge of the great Jewish war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem; or, according to others, after its actual outbreak, we may conceive what an intense expectancy such an approaching crisis must have produced in Christian hearts. The long looked-for consummation was now not a question of years, but of months or days.

Before quitting this very interesting passage it may be proper to advert to the opinions of some of the most eminent expositors regarding it.

Professor Stuart wholly misses his way. He pronounces Heb. xi. 40 ‘an exceedingly difficult verse, about the meaning of which there have been a multitude of conjectures;’ and expresses his opinion that ‘the better thing’ reserved for Christians is not a reward in heaven; for such a reward was proffered also to the ancient saints.

‘I must therefore,’ he adds, ‘adopt another exegesis of the whole passage, which refers e p a g g e l i a n [the promise] to the promised blessing of the Messiah. I construe the whole passage, then, in this manner:---The ancient worthies persevered in their faith, although the Messiah was known to them only by promise. We are under greater obligations than they to persevere; for God has fulfilled His promise respecting the Messiah, and thus placed us in a condition better adapted to perseverance than theirs. So much is our condition preferable to theirs that we may even say, without the blessing which we enjoy their happiness could not be completed. In other words, the coming of the Messiah was essential to the consummation of their happiness in glory, i.e. was necessary to their t e l e i o s i z .’

It will be seen that Stuart entirely mistakes the meaning of the writer. The e p a g g e l i a is not the Messiah, but the inheritance, the promise of entering into the rest. He fails also to apprehend the bearing of the subject on the time then present, and that the whole force of the argument lies in the fact that the moment was at hand when the great promise of God was to be fulfilled.

Dr. Alford apprehends the argument much more clearly, yet fails to grasp the precise sense of the whole. How nearly he approaches the true solution of the difficulty may be seen from the following note:---

‘The writer implies, as indeed chap. x. 14 seems to testify, that the advent and work of Christ have changed the state of the Old Testament fathers and saints into greater and more perfect bliss, an inference which is forced on us by many other places in Scripture. So that their perfection was dependent on our perfection: their and our perfection were all brought in at the same time, when Christ "by one offering perfected for ever them that are sanctified." So that the result with regard to them is, that their spirits, from the time when Christ descended into Hades and ascended up into heaven, enjoy heavenly blessedness, and are waiting, with all who have followed their glorified High Priest within the veil, for the resurrection of their bodies, the regeneration, the renovation of all things.’

This explanation, though in some respects not far from the truth, is inconsistent with the statements in the epistle, for it supposes the Old Testament saints to be still waiting for their complete felicity, and it reduces even the New Testament believers to the same condition of waiting for a consummation still future. What becomes, then, of the k r e i t t o n t i , the ‘some better thing,’ which God (according to the writer) had provided for Christians? The advantage of which he makes so much wholly disappears. And if the Parousia never took place, the New Testament believers have no advantage whatever over the ancient saints.

Dr. Tholuck has the following remarks on the state of the departed saints previous to the advent of Christ:---

‘The Old Testament saints were gathered with the fathers, and perhaps partly translated into a higher sphere of life; but as complete salvation is only to be attained through union with Christ, the indwelling Spirit of whom shall also quicken our newly glorified bodies, so the fathers gathered to God had to wait for the advent of Christ, as He said of Abraham himself, that he rejoiced to see His day.’

It is curious to find very similar opinions expressed by Dr. Owen, in his treatise on Hebrews (vol. v. p. 311):---

‘I think that the fathers who died under the Old Testament had a nearer admission into the presence of God upon the ascension of Christ than they had enjoyed before. They were in heaven before the sanctuary of God, but were not admitted within the veil, into the most holy place, where all the counsels of God are displayed and represented.’

Much that is true is here blended with something erroneous. All these opinions agree in the conclusion that the redemptive work of Christ had a powerful influence on the state of the Old Testament believers; but none of them apprehend the fact, so legibly written on the face of this epistle, that until the external fabric of Judaism had been swept away, and Christ had come in His kingdom, the way to the promised inheritance was not open either to the Old or the New Testament believers, and that the Parousia was the appointed time for both to enter together into the possession of the ‘rest of God.’

 

THE GREAT CONSUMMATION NEAR.

Contrast between the Situation of the Hebrew Christians and that of the Israelites at Sinai.

Heb. xii. 18-24.---‘For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire. . . . But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.’

We have in this passage a powerful exhortation to stedfastness in the faith, enforced by a vivid parallel, or rather contrast, between the situation of their Hebrew ancestors as they stood quaking before Mount Sinai and the position occupied by themselves standing, as it were, in full view of Mount Sion and all the glories of the promised inheritance. There are, indeed, in this representation both a parallel and a contrast. The resemblance lies in the nearness of the object---the meeting with God. Like the Israelites at Mount Sinai, the Hebrew Christians had drawn near [p r o s e l h l u q a t e ] to the Mount Sion; like their fathers, they were come face to face with God. But in other respects there was a striking contrast in their circumstances. At Mount Sinai all was terrible and awful; at Mount Sion all was inviting and attractive. And this was the prospect now full in their view. A few more steps and they would be in the midst of these scenes of glory and joy, safe in the promised land. There can be no question respecting the identity of the scene here described: it is a near view of the ‘inheritance,’ ‘the rest of God,’ so constantly set forth in this epistle as the ultimatum of the believer,---once beheld, afar off, by patriarchs, prophets, and saints of olden time, but now visible to all and within a few days’ march,---‘the city with the foundations,’ the ‘better country, that is the heavenly.’

Here an interesting question presents itself. From what source did the writer draw this glowing description of the heavenly inheritance? It is of course easy to say, It is an original and independent utterance of the Spirit which spake by the prophets. But the author of the epistle evidently writes as if the Hebrew Christians knew, and were familiar with, the things of which he speaks. The picture of Mount Sinai and its attendant circumstances is evidently derived from the book of Exodus; and if we find the materials for the picture of Mount Sion ready to our hand in any particular book of the New Testament, if is not unfair to presume that the description is borrowed from thence. Now we actually find every element of this description in the Book of Revelation; and when the reader compares every separate feature of the scene depicted in the epistle with its counterpart in the Apocalypse, it will be easy for him to judge whether the correspondence can be undesigned or not, and which is the original picture:---

Mount Sion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. xiv.1.
The city of the living God . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. iii. 12; xxi. 10.
The heavenly Jerusalem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. iii. 12, xxi. 10.
The innumerable company of angels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. v. 11; vii. 11.
The general assembly and church of the first-born, etc. . . . . . Rev iii. 12; vii. 4; xiv. 1-4.
God the Judge of all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. xx. 11, 12.
The spirits of just men made perfect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. xiv. 5.
Jesus the mediator of the new covenant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. v. 6-9.
The blood of sprinkling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rev. v. 9.

Looking at the exact correspondence between the representations in the epistle and those in the Apocalypse, it seems impossible to resist the conclusion that the writer of this epistle had the descriptions of the Apocalypse in his mind; and his language presupposes the knowledge of that book by the Hebrews Christians. This conclusion involves the inference that the Apocalypse was written before the Epistle to the Hebrews, and consequently before the destruction of Jerusalem. The subject will come before us again when we enter upon the consideration of the Book of Revelation; meantime, let it suffice to observe that both in this epistle and in the Apocalypse the events spoken of are regarded as so near as to be described as actually present; in the epistle the church militant is viewed as already come to the inheritance, and in the Apocalypse the things which are shortly to come to pass are viewed as accomplished facts.

 

THE NEARNESS AND FINALITY OF THE CONSUMMATION.

Heb. xii. 25-29.---‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.’

The parallel, or rather contrast, between the situation of the ancient Israelites drawing near to God at Mount Sinai and that of the Hebrew Christians expecting the Parousia is here further carried out, with the view of urging the latter to endurance and perseverance. If it was perilous to disregard the words spoken from Mount Sinai---the voice of God by the lips of Moses; how much more perilous to turn away from Him who speaks from heaven---the voice of God by His Son? That voice at Sinai shook the earth (Exod. Xix. 18; Ps. lxviii. 8); but a more terrible convulsion was at hand, by which, not only earth, but also heaven, were to be finally and fore ever removed.

But what is this impending and final ‘shaking and removing of earth and heaven’? According to Alford,---

‘It is clearly wrong to understand, with some interpreters, by this shaking the mere breaking down of Judaism before the Gospel, or of anything else which shall be fulfilled during the Christian economy, short of its glorious end and accomplishment.’

At the same time he admits that---

‘The period which shall elapse [before this shaking takes place] shall be but one, not admitting of being broken into many; and that one but short.’

But if so, surely the catastrophe must have been an immediate one; for, on the supposition that it belongs to the distant future, the interval must necessarily be very long, and divisible into many periods, as years, decades, centuries, and even millenniums.

Moses Stuart’s comment is far more to the point:---

‘That the passage has respect to the changes which would be introduced by the coming of the Messiah, and the new dispensation which He would commence, is evident from Haggai ii. 7-9. Such figurative language is frequent in the Scriptures, and denotes great changes which are to take place. So the apostle explains it here, in the very next verse. (Comp. Isa. xiii. 13; Haggai ii. 21, 22; Joel iii. 16; Matt. xxiv. 29-37.)’

The key to the interpretation of this passage is to be found in the prophecy of Haggai. On comparing the prophetic symbols in that book it will be seen that ‘shaking heaven and earth’ is evidently emblematic of, and synonymous with, ‘overthrowing thrones, destroy kingdoms,’ and similar social and political revolutions (Haggai ii. 21, 22). Such tropes and metaphors are the very elements of prophetic description, and it would be absurd to insist upon the literal fulfilment of such figures. Prodigies and convulsions in the natural world are constantly used to express great social or moral revolutions. Let those who find it difficult to believe that the abrogation of the Mosaic dispensation could be shadowed forth in language of such awful sublimity consider the magnificence of the language employed by prophets and psalmists in describing its inauguration. (See Ps. lxviii. 7, 8, 16, 17; cxiv. 1-8; Habak. iii. 1-6).

What, then, is the great catastrophe symbolically represented as the shaking of the earth and heavens? No doubt it is the overthrow and abolition of the Mosaic dispensation, or old covenant; the destruction of the Jewish church and state, together with all the institutions and ordinances connected therewith. There were ‘heavenly things’ belonging to that dispensation: the laws, and statutes, and ordinances, which were divine in their origin, and might be properly called the ‘spiritualia’ of Judaism---these were the heavens, which were to be shaken and removed. There were also ‘earthly things:’ the literal Jerusalem, the material temple, the land of Canaan- these were the earth, which was in like manner to be shaken and removed. The symbols are, in fact, equivalent to those employed by our Lord when predicting the doom of Israel. ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days [the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem] shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken’ (Matt. xxiv. 29). Both passages refer to the same catastrophe and employ very similar figures; besides which we have the authority of our Lord for fixing the event and the period of which He speaks within the limits of the generation then in existence; that is to say, the references can only be to the judgment of the Jewish nation and the abrogation of the Mosaic economy at the Parousia.

That great event was to clear the way for a new and higher order of things. A kingdom which cannot be moved was to supersede the material and mutable institutions which were imperfect in their nature and temporary in their duration; the material would give place to the spiritual; the temporary to the eternal; and the earthly to the heavenly. This was by far the greatest revolution the world had ever witnessed. It far transcended in importance and grandeur even the giving of the law from Mount Sinai; and as that was accompanied by fearful signs and wonders, physical convulsions, and portentous phenomena, it was fitting that similar, and still more awful, prodigies should attend its abrogation and the opening of a new era. That such portents did actually precede the destruction of Jerusalem we have no difficulty in believing, first, on the ground of analogy; secondly, from the testimony of Josephus; and, above all, on the authority of our Lord’s prophetic discourse.

But it is not so much to any new era here upon the earth as to the glorious rest and reward of the people of God in the heavenly state, that the author of the epistle directs the hope of the Hebrew Christians. Into that eternal kingdom the faithful servants of Christ believed they were just about to enter, and no consideration was more calculated to strengthen the weak and confirm the wavering. ‘Since therefore we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us be filled with thankfulness, whereby we may offer acceptable worship unto God with reverent fear: for our God is a consuming fire.’

 

EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA.

Heb. xiii. 14.---‘For here have we no continuing city, but we seek for that which is coming.’

Alford well says:---

‘This verse comes with a solemn tone on the reader, considering how short a time the m e n o u s a p o l i z [abiding city] did actually remain, and how soon the destruction of Jerusalem put an end to the Jewish polity, which was supposed to be so enduring.’

This is unexceptionable, and we may say, ‘O si sic omnia!’ The commentator sees clearly in this instance the relation of the writer’s language to the actual circumstances of the Hebrews. This principle would have been a safe guide in other instances in which he seems to us to have entirely missed the point of the argument. The Christians to whom the epistle was written were come to the closing scene of the Jewish polity; the final catastrophe was just at hand. They heard the call, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her plagues.’ Jerusalem, the holy city, with her sacred temple, her towers and palaces, her walls and bulwarks, was no longer ‘a continuing city;’ it was on the eve of being ‘shaken and removed.’ But the Hebrew saint could see through his tears another Jerusalem, the city of the living God; an enduring and heavenly home, drawing very near, and ‘coming down,’ as it were ‘from heaven.’ This was the coming city [t h n m e l l o u s a n = the city soon to come] to which the writer alludes, and which he believed they were just about to receive. (Heb. xxi. 28.)

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE OF JAMES.

 

     There is a special interest attached to this epistle inasmuch as it manifestly belongs to the ‘last days,’ the closing period of the dispensation. It is a voice to the scattered Israel of God from within the doomed city whose catastrophe was now at hand. It is the last testimony of a faithful witness to the nation both within and without the bounds of Palestine. Though addressed to believing Hebrews, it contains evidences of the degeneracy in the Christian church and the extreme corruption of the nation. Iniquity abounds, and the love of many has waxed cold. But James of Jerusalem, like one of the old prophets of Israel, bears his testimony for truth and righteousness with unfaltering fidelity, till he wins the crown of martyrdom. The direct allusions to the Parousia in this epistle are few in number, but distinct and decisive in character; and it is plain that the whole epistle is written under the deep impression of the approaching consummation.

THE LAST DAYS COME.

Jas. v. 1, 3.---‘Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming . . . . Ye laid up treasure in the last days.’

     This bold denunciation of the powerful oppressors and robbers of the poor in the last days of the Jewish State recalls to our minds the warnings of the prophet Malachi: ‘I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless; and them that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Mal. iii. 5). That judgment was now drawing nigh, and ‘the judge was at the door.’

     Nothing can be more frank than the recognition which Alford give of the historical significance of this combination, and its express reference to the times of the apostle. Accounting for the absence of any direct exhortation to penitence in this denunciation, he says,---

‘That such does not here appear is owing chiefly to the close proximity of judgment which the writer has before him.’ Again he observes, ‘"Howl" [o l o l u x e i n ] is a word in the Old Testament confined to the prophets, and used, as here, with reference to the near approach of God’s judgments.’ Again: ‘These miseries are not to be thought of as the natural and determined end of all worldly riches, but are the judgments connected with the coming of the Lord: cf. ver. 8,---"the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." It may be that this prospect was as yet intimately bound up with the approaching destruction of the Jewish city and polity, for it must be remembered that they are Jews who are here addressed.’

The only drawback to this explanation is the unfortunate ‘may be’ in the last sentence. How could a peradventure be thought of in a case so plain? Our concern is with what was in the mind of the apostle, and surely no words can convey a stronger testimony to his conviction that ‘the last days’ and ‘the end’ were all but come.

In his note on ver. 3, Alford gives the apostle’s meaning with perfect accuracy:---

‘The last days (i.e. in these, the last days before the coming of the Lord), etc.’

It is interesting to find Dr. Manton, a theologian who lived in days when rigorous exegesis was not much practised and Scripture exposition was whatever Scripture might be made to mean, has with great perspicacity discerned the historical significance of this and other allusions of St. James to the Parousia. For example, on the clause, ‘The rust of them shall eat your flesh as it were fire,’ Monton says,---

‘Possibly there may be here some latent allusion to the manner of Jerusalem’s ruin, in which many thousands perished by fire.’ Again, on the clause, ‘Ye heaped treasure together for the last days,’ he remarks: ‘There is no cogent reason why we should take this in a metaphorical sense, especially since, with good leave from the context, scope of the apostle, and the state of those times, the literal may be retained. I should, therefore, simply understand the words as an intimation of their approaching judgments; and so the apostle seemeth to me to tax their vanity in hoarding and heaping up wealth when those scattering and fatal days to the Jewish commonwealth were even ready to overtake them.’

 

NEARNESS OF THE PAROUSIA.

Jas. v. 7.---‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.’
Jas. v. 8.---‘The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.’
Jas. v. 9.---‘Behold, the judge standeth before the door.’

Three distinct utterances, short, sharp, startling, all significant of the imminent arrival of ‘the day of the Lord.’

Manton’s comment on these passages, though he is haunted by the phantom of the double sense, is, on the whole, excellent:---

‘What is meant here? (Jas. v. 7.) Any particular coming of Christ, or His solemn coming to general judgment? I answer, Both may be intended; the primitive Christians thought both would fall out together. 1. It may be meant of Christ’s particular coming to judge these wicked men. This epistle was written about thirty years after Christ’s death, and there was but a little time between that and Jerusalem’s last, so that unto the coming of the Lord is until the overwhelming of Jerusalem, which is also elsewhere expressed by coming, if we may believe Chrysostom and Oecumenius on John xxi. 22: "If I will that he tarry till I come," that is, say they, come to Jerusalem’s destruction.’

He then goes on to give an alternative meaning, according to the usage of double-sense expositors.

On the eighth verse, ‘For the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,’ Manton observes:---

‘Either, first, to them by a particular judgment; for there were but a few years, and then all was lost; and probably that may be it which the apostles mean when they speak so often of the nearness of Christ’s coming. But you will say, How could this be propounded as an argument of patience to the godly Hebrews that Christ would come and destroy the temple and city? I answer, (1) The time of Christ’s solemn judiciary process against the Jews was the time when He did acquit Himself with honour upon His adversaries, and the scandal and reproach of His death was rolled away. (2) The approach of His general judgment ended the persecution; and when the godly were provided for at Pella, the unbelievers perished by the Roman sword,’ etc.

On ver. 9, ‘Behold, the judge standeth before the door,’ Manton entirely discards the double sense, and gives the following unexceptionable explanation:---

‘He had said before, "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh;" now he addeth that "he is at the door," a phrase that doth not only imply the sureness, but the suddenness, of judgment. See Matt. xxiv. 33: "Know that it is near, even at the door;" so that this phrase intendeth also the speediness of the Jewish ruin.’

It is easy to see that the pardonable anxiety to find a present didactic and edifying use in all Scripture lies at the foundation of much of the exposition of such divines as Manton, and inclines them to adopt alternative meanings and accommodations, which a strict exegesis cannot admit. But the language of the apostle in this instance stands in need of no elucidation, it speaks for itself. It shows the attitude of expectation and hope in which the apostolic churches waited for the manifestation of their returning Lord. A persecuted church had need of patience under the wrongs inflicted by their oppressors. Their cry was, ‘O Lord, how long?’ They were comforted by the assurance that the day of deliverance was at hand; ‘the judge,’ the avenger of their wrongs was already ‘at the door;’ ‘Yet a very, very little while, and he who is coming shall come, and shall not tarry.’ How is it possible to reconcile this confident expectation of almost immediate deliverance with a consummation still future after eighteen centuries have passed away? There are but two alternatives possible: either St. James and his fellow-apostles were grossly deceived in their expectation of the Parousia, or that event did come to pass, according to their expectation and the Lord’s prediction, at the close of the aeon, or Jewish age. If we adopt the latter alternative, the only one compatible with Christian faith, we must accept the inference that the Parousia was the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ to abolish the Mosaic dispensation, execute judgment on the guilty nation, and receive His faithful people into His heavenly kingdom and glory.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLES OF ST. PETER

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER.

     It is evident that this epistle, like that of St. James, belongs to the period called ‘the last times.’ Like his fellow-witness and brother-apostle James, St. Peter addresses his exhortations to Hebrew Christians of the dispersion; for this is the only natural interpretation of the title give to them in the first verse. The contents sufficiently evince that the epistle was written in a time of suffering for the sake of Christ. The disciples were ‘in heaviness through manifold temptations;’ but a far severer time of trial was approaching, and for this they are exhorted to prepare: ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you’ (1 Pet. iv. 12). They are comforted, moreover, with the prospect of final and speedy deliverance.

It is necessary to read this epistle in the light of the actual circumstances of the time when, and of the persons to whom, it was written. Whatever may be its uses and lessons for other times and persons, its primary and special bearing upon the Jews of the dispersion in the apostolic age must not be lost sight of.


SALVATION READY TO BE REVEALED IN THE LAST TIME.

1 Pet. i. 5.---‘You, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed I the last time.’

Every word in this opening address is full of meaning, and implies the near approach of a great and decisive crisis. In ver. 4 we have a very distinct allusion to the ‘inheritance,’ which is the theme of so large a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that is to say, the true Canaan, ‘the rest remaining for the people of God.’ In very similar language St. Peter styles it ‘the inheritance reserved in heaven,’ and represents the entering upon it by believers as now very near. Salvation is ‘ready to be revealed.’ What this ‘salvation’ means is very evident; it is not the personal glorification of individual souls at death, but a great and collective deliverance, in which the people of God generally are to participate: such a salvation as God wrought for Israel on the shores of the Red Sea. In the same way St. Paul uses the same word with reference to this same approaching consummation: ‘Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed’ (Rom. xiii. 11).

This great general deliverance was not a distant event, it was now ‘ready to be revealed,’ on the very eve of being made manifest. As Alford remarks, the word e t o i m h n [ready] is stronger than m e l l o u s a n . To understand this as referring to individual believers entering into heaven one by one at the hour of death, or as an admission into a heavenly state which has not yet been granted, is utterly repugnant to the plain sense of the words.

The salvation is ready to be revealed in ‘the last time,’ that is to say, ‘now,’ the time then present. We have already had occasion to notice that the apostles call their own time ‘the last time.’ They believed and they taught that they were living in the last times, and this must be reconcilable with fact, if their credit as faithful and authorised witnesses for Christ is to be maintained. They were justified in their belief: they were living in the last times, in the closing period of the Jewish aeon or age. In the twentieth verse of this chapter we find the same designation given to the time of Christ’s incarnation: ‘Who was manifested in these last times [at the last of the times] for you.’ To say that the apostle regards the whole period from the beginning of the New Testament dispensation till Christ’s coming in glory, in some future and possibly still distant age, as one short time called the last days, is a most unnatural and forced interpretation. The apostle is evidently speaking of a period of crisis, and to make a crisis extend over thousands of years is to do violence not only to the grammatical sense of words but to the nature of things.

At the risk of repetition we may here observe, that, according to New Testament usage, we are to conceive of the period between the incarnation of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem as the close of an epoch or aeon. It was in the end of the age [e p i s u n t e l i a t w n a i w n w n = close upon the end of the ages] that ‘Christ appeared to put away sin, by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb. ix. 26). This whole period of about seventy years is regarded as ‘the last time;’ but it is natural that the phrase should have a sharper accentuation when the Jewish war, the beginning of the end, was on the eve of breaking out, if it had not already begun.

 

THE APPROACHING REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST.

1 Pet. i. 7.---‘That the trial of your faith . . . may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’

1 Pet. i. 13.---‘Hope conclusively for the grace which is being brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’

Everything in the apostle’s exhortation conveys the idea of eager expectancy and preparation. The salvation is ready to be revealed; the tried and persecuted believers are to ‘gird up the loins of their mind;’ the expected boon, the grace, is on its way,---it is being brought unto them. Alford properly remarks that the word f e r o m e n h n [being brought] signifies ‘the near impending of the event spoken of; q.d. which is even now bearing down on you.’ Does not this plainly prove that St. Peter understood, and wished his readers to understand, that this apocalypse of Jesus Christ was just at hand? It would have been mockery to tell suffering and persecuted men to get ready to receive a salvation which was not due for hundreds and thousands of years.

 

THE RELATION OF THE REDEMPTION OF CHRIST TO THE ANTEDILUVIAN WORLD.

1 Pet. iii. 18-20.---‘For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit: in which he also went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which were once disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing.’ etc.

The common interpretation of this difficult passage given by the majority of Protestant expositors is, that Christ, in effect, preached to the antediluvians by His Holy Spirit through the ministry of Noah. This no doubt asserts a truth, and has besides the advantage of keeping within the lines of well-known historical facts, and avoiding what seems dark and doubtful speculation. Nevertheless, as a question of grammar, this interpretation is wholly untenable. First, it is reasonable to expect a chronological sequence in the various parts of the apostle’s statement, describing what Christ did after ‘being put to death in the flesh.’ What would be more harsh and abrupt than the sudden transition from the narrative of what Christ did and suffered in the flesh to what He had done, in a sense, some thousands of years before, in the days of Noah? Further, the rendering ‘being quickened by the Spirit,’ and ‘by which also,’ implying that the Holy Spirit was the agent by whom Christ was made alive, and by whom He preached, etc., is clearly wrong. It ought to be, ‘Being put to death in [his] flesh, but made alive in [his] spirit,’---the flesh being His body, and the Spirit His soul. Then the apostle adds, ‘in which also,’ viz. in his soul, or human spirit. Further, as Ellicott has pointed out, p o r e u q e i z [having gone] ‘suggests a literal and local descent.’

There seems no escape therefore, according to the true and natural sense of words, from the interpretation---that our Lord, after His death on the cross, went in His disembodied state into Hades, the place of departed spirits, and there made proclamation [preached] to the spirits in prison, viz. the antediluvians, who in the days of Noah disbelieved the prophet’s warnings and perished in the flood. This, which is the most ancient interpretation, is now generally conceded by the most eminent critics. It is that which is embodied in the Apostle’s Creed; it has the sanction of Luther and Calvin; and it seems to be supported by other passages in Scripture which are in harmony with this explanation. In St. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 27-31) there is a distinct allusion to the soul of Christ having been in Hades; also in Ephes. iv. 9,---‘Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?’ It is difficult to suppose that the burial of the body is all that is meant by His descending into the lower parts of the earth.

The more important question remains,---What was the object of our Lord’s descent into Hades? It can hardly be doubted that it was a gracious one. The apostle says, ‘He preached to the spirits in prison,’---and what could He preach but glad tidings? This fact gives a new and larger significance to the terms of our Lord’s commission: ‘He hat sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound’ (Isa. lxi. 1). The hypothesis of Bishop Horsley and others that those spirits in prison were in fact saints, or at least penitents, awaiting the period of their full salvation, scarcely requires refutation. If any thing is clear on the face of the question, it is that they were the spirits of those who had perished for their disobedience, and in their disobedience. As Bishop Ellicott remarks, a p e i q h s a s i n means, not ‘who were disobedient,’ but ‘inasmuch as they were disobedient.’

But it may be said, Why should the disobedient antediluvians have been selected as the objects of a gracious mission? Were there no other lost souls in Hades, and why should these find grace beyond others? Bishop Horsley owns this to be a difficulty, and the greatest by which his interpretation is embarrassed. Alford finds a reason, if we rightly apprehend him, in the manner of their death. ‘The reason of mentioning here these sinners above other sinners, appears to be their connection with the type of baptism which follows;’ but surely this is to ascribe an efficacy to that institution beyond the boldest theories of baptismal regeneration. We venture to suggest that the true reason lies in the nature of that great judicial act which took place at the deluge. That was the close of an age or aeon, and ended in a catastrophe, as the aeon then in progress was just about to terminate. The two cases were analogous. As the deluge was the close and consummation of a former aeon, or world-period, so the destruction of Jerusalem and the abrogation of the Jewish economy were about to close the existing world-period or aeon. What more natural on the eve of such a catastrophe as the apostle anticipated, than to advert to the catastrophe of a former aeon? What more pertinent than to note the fact that the ‘coming salvation’ had a retrospective effect upon those bygone ages? It is not difficult to see the connection of the ideas in the apostle’s train of thought. The deluge was the s u n t e l e i a t o u a i w n o z of Noah’s time; another s u n t e l e i a was just at hand. The ‘old world, that then was,’ perished in the baptismal waters of the flood; the ‘world which now is’---the Mosaic order, the Jewish polity and people---was about to be submerged in a baptism of fire (Mal. iv. 1; Matt. iii. 11, 12; 1 Cor. iii. 13; 2 Thess. i. 7-10). Was it not appropriate to show that the redemptive work of Christ joined, and indeed covered, both these aeons, and looked backward on the past as well as forward to the future?

Notwithstanding, then, the mystery and obscurity which confessedly overhand the subject, we are led to the conclusion that the apostle in this passage does plainly teach that our blessed Lord, after His death upon the cross, descended as a disembodied spirit into Hades, the place of departed spirits, and there proclaimed the glad tidings of His accomplished redemption to the multitudes of the lost who perished at the catastrophe or final judgment of the former aeon; and though we have in the present passage no express affirmation that those who heard the announcement made by our Saviour were in consequence delivered from their prison-house, and introduced into ‘the glorious liberty of the sons of God,’ yet it seems not incredible, it is even presumable, that this emancipation was both the object and result of Christ’s interposition. We have already referred to Ephes. iv. 9 as lending support to this view. ‘Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?’ Bishop Hersley shows that the phrase ‘the lower parts of the earth’ in the proper and customary designation of Hades. In the same passage the apostle speaks of the triumphant ascension of Christ in these words: ‘When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.’ Does not the teaching of St. Peter with reference to ‘the spirits in prison’ throw light on this ‘leading of captivity captive?’ Does it not suggest that the returning Saviour, having fought the fight and won the victory, enjoyed also the triumph---that He brought back with Him to heaven a great multitude whom He had rescued from captivity; the spirits in prison to whom He carried the glad tidings of redemption achieved; and who, being brought out of their prison-house, accompanied the returning conqueror to His Father’s house, at once the ransomed by His blood and the trophies of His power?

Before quitting this subject it may be well to quote some opinions of Biblical critics in reference to it.

Steiger, who treats the whole passage in a most candid and scholarly manner, says,---

‘The plain and literal sense of the words in this verse (19), viewed in connection with the following one, compels us to adopt the opinion that Christ manifested Himself to the unbelieving dead.’ ‘We must admit that the discourse here is of a proclamation of the Gospel among those who had died in unbelief, but we know not whether it found an entrance into many or few.’ ‘The expression e n f u l a k h (which the Syriac renders by Sheol; the fathers use it as synonymous with Hades) shows that the discourse can only be respecting unbelievers.’ ‘He who lay under death, entered into the empire of the dead as a conqueror, proclaiming freedom to its imprisoned subjects.’

Dean Alford’s opinion is very decided:---

‘From all, then, that has been said, it will be gathered that, with the great majority of commentators, ancient and modern, I understand these words to say that our Lord, in His disembodied state, did go to the place of detention of departed spirits, and did there announce His work of redemption, preach salvation, in fact, to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God when the judgment of the flood was hanging over them. Why these rather than others are mentioned---whether merely as a sample of like gracious work on others, or for some special reason unimaginable by us,---we cannot say.’

In an interesting discourse on ‘The Intermediate State,’ by the Rev. J. Stratten, the following observations occur:---

‘If this passage mean no more than that the Holy Spirit assisted Noah in preaching to the antediluvians, it is a most obscure, entangled, and unaccountable manner of expressing a most clear and simple principle. Would any of us employ this language, or any at all like it, to express that sentiment? I think not, and it seems to be only the refuge of a mind that does not understand the apostle, or seeks to misinterpret him.’

We may here, in passing, notice that such a deliverance from Hades serves vividly to illustrate the saying of St. Paul in 1 Cor. xv. 26: ‘The last enemy, death, shall be destroyed.’

 

NEARNESS OF JUDGMENT AND OF THE END OF ALL THINGS.

1 Pet. iv. 5, 7.---‘Who shall give an account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. . . . But the end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.’

In these passages we find again, what we have so often found before, the clear apprehension of the judgment and of the end as nigh at hand.

In ver. 5 the apostle intimates that God was about to sit in judgment upon the living and the dead. This cannot possibly refer to that particular act of judgment which is, as we believe, always near to every man, in the same sense as death and eternity are always near. It is obviously a solemn, public, general adjudication, in which the living and the dead were together to answer for themselves before the tribunal of God. This approach of judgment follows course from the approach of the Parousia, which is so distinctly intimated in chap. i. 5. All that has been stated in regard to that passage applies with equal force to this; e t o i m w z e c o n t i = having it in readiness to judge, is a stronger expression than m e l l o n t i , and can by no means refer to any but an almost immediate event.

No less decisive is the statement in ver. 7, ‘The end of all things is at hand.’ Whatever that end may mean it is certain that the apostle conceives of it as near, for he urges it as a motive to vigilance and prayer. To comprehend the full force of the exhortation we must place ourselves in the situation of these apostolic Christians. As year after year lessened the distance to the passing away of the generation that saw and rejected the Son of man, the anticipation of the arrival of the great predicted consummation must have become more and more vivid in the minds of Christian believers. What their conceptions were as to the nature and extent of that consummation; whether they imagined that it involved the dissolution of the whole frame and fabric of the material world or not, it is not for us to determine. What we have to do with is not the private opinions of the apostles, but their public utterances. But that the consummation designated by our Lord ‘the end,’ and ‘the end of the age,’ was rapidly approaching, is not an open question, but a point of faith involving the truth of all His claims. There can be no doubt that in a Judaic or religious sense, that is, so far as the national polity and ecclesiastical system of Judaism were concerned, ‘the end of all things was at hand.’ All that lay beneath the eye of our Lord as He sate on the brow of Olivet was swiftly hurrying to destruction. This is the key to the meaning of St. Peter in this passage, and furnishes the only tenable and scriptural explanation.

We quote with entire satisfaction and approval the observations of a judicious expositor on the passage now before us:---

‘After some deliberation I have been led to adopt the opinion of those who hold that "the end of all things" here is the entire and final end of the Jewish economy in the destruction of the city and the temple of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the holy people. That was at hand; for this epistle seems to have been written a very short while before these events took place, not improbably after the commencement of the "wars and rumours of wars" of which our Lord spake. This view will not appear strange to any one who has carefully weighed the terms in which our Lord had predicted these events, and the close connection which the fulfilment of these predictions had with the interests and duties of Christians, whether in Judea or in Gentile countries.

‘It is quite plain that in our Lord’s predictions the expressions "the end," and probably "the end of the world," are used in reference to the entire dissolution of the Jewish economy. The events of that period were very minutely foretold, and our Lord distinctly stated that the existing generation should not pass away till all things respecting "this end" should be fulfilled. This was to be a season of suffering to all; of trial, severe trial, to the followers of Christ; of dreadful judgment on His Jewish opposers, and of glorious triumph to His religion. To this period there are repeated references to the apostolical epistles. "Knowing the time," says the Apostle Paul, "that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand." "Be patient," says the Apostle James; "stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." "The Judge standeth before the door." Our Lord’s predictions must have been very familiar to the minds of Christians at the time this was written. They must have been looking forward with mingled awe and joy, fear and hope, to their accomplishment: "looking for the things which were coming upon the earth;" and it was peculiarly natural for Peter to refer to these events, and to refer to them in words similar to those used by our Lord, as he was one of the disciples who, sitting with his Lord in full view of the city and temple, heard these predictions uttered.

‘The Christians inhabiting Judea had a peculiar interest in these predictions and their fulfilment. But all Christians had a deep interest in them. The Christians of the regions in which those to whom Peter wrote resided were chiefly converted Jews. As Christians they had cause to rejoice in the prospect of the accomplishment of the predictions, as greatly confirming the truth of Christianity and removing some of the greatest obstructions in the way of its progress, such as persecutions by the Jews, and the confounding of Christianity with Judaism on the part of the Gentiles, who were accustomed to view its professors as a Jewish sect. But while they rejoice, they cause to "rejoice with trembling," as their Lord had plainly intimated that it was to be a season of severe trial to His friends, as well as of fearful vengeance against His enemies. "The end of all things," which was at hand, seems to be the same thing as the judgment of the quick and the dead, which the Lord was ready to enter on---the judgment, the time for which was come, which was to begin with the house of God, the unbelieving Jews, in which the righteous should scarcely be saved, and the ungodly and wicked should be fearfully punished.

‘The contemplation of such events as just at hand was well fitted to operate as a motive to sobriety and vigilance unto prayer. These were just the tempers and exercises peculiarly called for in such circumstances, and they were just the dispositions and employments required by our Lord when He speaks of those days of trial and wrath: "Take heed to yourselves," says our Lord, "lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares; for as a snare shall it come upon all who dwell on the earth. Watch, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are about to come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." It is difficult to believe that the apostle had not these very words in his mind when he wrote the passage now before us.’---Expository Discourses on 1 Peter, by Dr. John Brown, Edinburgh, vol. ii. pp. 292-294.

 

THE GOOD TIDINGS ANNOUNCED TO THE DEAD.

1 Pet. iv. 6.---‘For, for this cause was the gospel preached to the dead also, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’

Perhaps the passage above cited can scarcely be said to fall within the scope of this discussion, as it does not seem to have any direct bearing upon the time of the Parousia; and its extreme difficulty might be a good reason for avoiding its examination altogether. Nevertheless, as it manifestly belongs to the eschatology of the New Testament, and as we have no right to look upon it as hopelessly insoluble, it seems better not to pass it by in silence.

There can be little doubt that the present is one of a class of difficult passages which, though obscure to us, were intelligible and easy to the original readers of the epistles. (See 1 Cor. xi. 10; xv. 29.) A passing allusion might bring up a whole train of thought in their minds, so that they easily comprehended what hopelessly embarrasses us. Paley, in his Horae Paulinae, chap. x. No. 1, adverts to this difficulty in a real correspondence falling into the hands of a third party.

The general scope of the argument is sufficiently plain. The apostle begins the chapter by calling upon the suffering and persecuted disciples to imitate the example of their once suffering but now victorious Lord : ‘Arm yourselves with the same resolution,’ i.e. suffer as He did, even unto death, if need be. In the next verses he alludes to their former godless and sensual life, and the offence which the change to the purity of a Christian behaviour gave to their heathen neighbours (vers. 2, 3, 4). This silent but living protest against the immorality of heathenism appears to have been one cause of the general antipathy to the Gospel which found vent in slanderous imputations against the unoffending Christians,---‘Speaking evil of you’. But these calumniators and persecutors would soon be called to account by Him who was about to judge both the living and the dead (ver. 5).

It will be found very important to bear in mind this opening of the apostle’s argument, as leading up to the statement in ver. 6.

Let us now look at that statement. ‘For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’

It may be truly said that there are here as many difficulties as there are words. When, where, and by whom was the Gospel preached to the dead? Who were the dead to whom the Gospel was preached? Why was it preached to them? How could the dead be judged according to men in the flesh? How could they live according to God in the spirit? And how did the preaching of the Gospel to the dead bring about this result,---‘that they should live according to God in the spirit’?

It would answer no good purpose to pass in review the multitude of explanations of this obscure passage proposed by different commentators. Let is suffice to look at one or two of the most plausible.

To the question, Who were the dead to whom the Gospel is said to have been preached? some think it a sufficient answer to reply, They are those, now dead, who were alive in the flesh when the Gospel was preached unto them. This would be an easy solution if it were permissible so to construe the words of the apostle; but it is a fatal objection to this explanation that it makes the apostle state a very simple and obvious fact in an unaccountably obscure and ambiguous way. The words themselves reject such an explanation. Alford does not speak too strongly when he says,---

‘If kai nekroiz euhggelisqh may mean "the gospel was preached to some during their lifetime who are now dead," exegesis has no longer any fixed rule, and Scripture may be made to prove anything.’

Others suppose that by the ‘dead’ in ver. 6 are to be understood the spiritually dead; but to this there are two insurmountable objections: first, this does not discriminate a particular class, for all men are spiritually dead when the Gospel is first preached to them; and, secondly, it gives to the word nekroi [the dead] in ver. 6 a different meaning from the same word in ver. 5---‘the living and the dead.’ According to this interpretation, the word ‘dead’ is used in a literal sense in ver. 5, and in an ethical sense in ver. 6. But, as Alford justly says,---

‘All interpretations must be false which do not give nekroiz in ver. 6 the same meaning as nekrouz in ver. 5, i.e. that of dead men, literally and simply so called; men who have died, and are in their graves.’

But probably the most common opinion is that the apostle here alludes again to the preaching of Christ to the spirits in prison referred to in chap. iii. 19, 20; and at first this seems the most natural explanation. That was, no doubt, a preaching of the Gospel to the dead, and also to a particular class of the dead, the antediluvians who formerly were disobedient in the days of Noah, and who were overtaken by the judgment of God.

But when we come to examine more closely the statement of the apostle we find that this application of his words will by no means suit the persons designated ‘the spirits in prison.’ How could the antediluvians be said to be ‘judged according to men in the flesh’? They perished by the visitation of God, and not by the judgment or act of man; and it appears evident that the succeeding clause---‘that they might live according to God in the spirit’---implies the reversal of the human condemnation which had been passed upon the dead while still in the body.

None of the ordinary explanations, therefore, seems to meet the requirements of the case. Those requirements are, to find a class of the dead to whom the Gospel was preached after their death; who were condemned to death when in the flesh by the judgment of men, but who are destined to live in the spirit, according to the judgment of God, and this is consequence of the Gospel being preached to them after death.

We are at once led to conclude that this particular class, judged or condemned by human judgment, must refer to persecuted disciples of Christ. It is to such and of such that the apostle is speaking, as is evident from the opening verses of the chapter. It would be quite proper to say of such, that though (unjustly) condemned by man they would be vindicated by God. It is also proper to say of such (especially, if martyrs for the faith) that they had ‘suffered in the flesh’---had been put to death by human judgment, but were made alive in spirit, or as to their spirits, and this according to God, or by the divine judgment. But there still remains the formidable difficulty presented by the words ‘the gospel was preached to them that are dead.’ We have no account in the New Testament of any such preaching to Christian martyrs after their death. But are we necessarily obliged to give this sense to the word euhggelisqh? It is here, we believe, that the key to the true explication of this passage will be found; and it is the wrong interpretation of this word that has misled commentators. Though it is very commonly used in the technical sense of preaching the Gospel, this is by no means its invariable use in the New Testament. It is employed to signify the announcement of any good news, and not exclusively the glad tidings of the Gospel. Thus in Heb. iv. 2, improperly rendered in our Authorized Version ‘to us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them,’ there is no allusion to the preaching of the Gospel in the technical sense of the phrase, but simply to the fact that ‘to us as well as to the ancient Israelites good news have been brought’, the good news in both cases being the promise of entering into God’s rest. So in a still more general sense the word is used to denote any pleasing intelligence, as in 1 Thess. iii. 6: ‘When Timotheus brought us good tidings of your faith,’ etc.  So also in Rev. x. 7: ‘As he hath declared [euhggelisen = made a comforting declaration] to his servants the prophets.’ (See also Gal. iii. 8).

But the question still recurs, Where have we in the New Testament any allusion to such good news, pleasing intelligence, or comforting declarations, made to any Christian confessors or martyrs after their death? The apostle seems to speak of some fact familiarly known to the persons to whom he wrote, and which he had only to allude to in order that they should at once recognise his meaning. Now, we actually have a historical representation in the New Testament in which we find all these circumstances present. We have a scene depicted in which Christian martyrs, who had been condemned and put to death in the flesh by the judgment of man, appeal to the justice of God against their persecutors, and a comforting declaration is brought to them, after their death, giving them the assurance of speedy vindication and of a glorious heavenly recompense.