To commence our study with the testimony of the Gospel according to Matthew is to attempt to build without a foundation.The teaching of Matthew and the bulk of the New Testament rests upon the teaching of the Old Testament, not only for the fulfilment of prophecy in the coming of the Lord as Redeemer, but also for His coming again as the hope of His people.
It would not be difficult to prove that the very terms of Adam’s creation look forward to the Second Coming of the Lord. For example, the reference to the dominion given to man in Psalm 8, Psalm 72, Daniel 2 and 7, and Hebrews 2, etc., look forward to the coming reign of Christ the Messiah. The description of the garden of Eden looks forward to Revelation 22 and the promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head awaits the Second Coming of the Lord for its complete fulfilment (Rom. 16:20).
These passage, however, are too indirect for our present purpose, so the first point to which we call attention is:
The prophecy of Enoch
The words that constitute Enoch’s prophecy are not recorded in Genesis 5, but it matters not who it is that has preserved his utterance so long as it is found within the page of Scripture. We are indebted to Jude for the record. He writes:
- ‘And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him’ (Jude 14,15)
Before we can understand the import of this prophecy, we must observe the general trend of the epistle in order to see the appositeness of Enoch’s witness. If we glance at the earlier verses of Jude we shall see not only a reference to human sin of a deep dye in the mention of Sodom and Gomorrah, but a reference also to angels who kept not their first estate, and are therefore reserved for judgment.
Looking to the end of the epistle, such outstanding apostate as Cain, Balaam and Korah are brought forward as examples of the mockers who shall come in the last times. It is time, therefore, that we consider the structure of the epistle to see just where Enoch’s prophecy comes.
A 1,2. Benediction
B 3. Exhortation. Beloved. Earnestly contend for faith.
C 4. Ungodly men ‘of old’.
D 5. Remembrance. The Lord’s acts.
E 5-16. a 5-8. Three examples, Israël, angels and Sodom. b 9,10. Michael the Archangel. Unrecorded elsewhere. Reference to Satan. a 11-13. Three examples, Cain, Balaam and Korah. b 14-16. The Lord and holy myriads. Unrecorded elsewhere. Allusion to Satan.
D 17. Remembrance. The Lord’s words.
C 18,19. Ungodly of ‘last time’.
B 20-23. Exhortation. Beloved. Build up on faith.
A 24,25. Doxology.
A literal rendering of the words of Enoch recorded in Jude 14 must read: ‘Behold, the Lord came‘. While the true rendering of the aorist of the Greek verb is still somewhat of a moot point, the rightness of the above rendering is confirmed by the general usage and renderings of the A.V. The interested student may test this by noting the occurrence of elthe (part of the verb erchomai ‘to come’), which is usually translated ‘came’, see, for example, John. 1:7,11; 3:2; 7:50; 8:42; etc. If Enoch said, ‘Behold, the Lord came‘, he must have been referring back to some judgment that was past when he spoke. To what could he refer? The judgment of the flood had not then taken place, neither had judgment fallen upon Babel. The description given of the judgment could not refer to Genesis 3 or 4. To what then could it refer?
The reader will probably have travelled back in mind to Genesis 1:2, to the katabole kosmou, ‘the overthrow of the world’. This connection is more than countenanced by Peter in his second epistle which we have already found to be parallel with that of Jude.
The Second Coming and Overthrow (Gen. 1:2)
Enoch referred back to an overthrow that had taken place and said, ‘Behold the Lord came‘, and this reference to angels and Satan removes any sense of disproportion. Enoch also locked forward, and named his son Methuselah, ‘at his death it (namely the flood) shall be’, and in the year of the flood Methuselah died. Enoch’s two prophecies link the two floods Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 6 together.
‘Ten thousands of His saints‘. These words are quoted by Moses in the blessing of Israël:
- ‘The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them, He shined forth from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints: from His right hand went a fiery law for them’ (Deut. 33:2).
There can be no doubt as to the meaning of the word ‘saints’ here. The law of Sinai we know from various Scriptures was mediated by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2).
- ‘The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai’ (Psa. 68:17).
- ‘A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him’ (Dan. 7:10).
- ‘For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels’ (Matt. 17:27; cf. 25:31).
- ‘The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels’ (2 Thess. 1:7).
These quotations are sufficient to prove that the ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’ of Enoch’s prophecy are ‘angels’ and not the redeemed. This also is the meaning of Zechariah 14:5, ‘And the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee’, and of Joel 3:11, ‘Thither cause Thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD’; also of 1 Thessalonians 3:13, ‘The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints’.
Coming ‘for’ and ‘with’ His saints
There is quite a school of prophetic thought that stresses the distinction of the coming of the Lord ‘for’ and the coming of the Lord ‘with’ His saints. Supposing for the purpose of argument we accept this view, how does it stand examination? The Thessalonians were waiting for God’s Son from heaven (1:10), and exercising the patience of hope (1:3). They were told that their loved ones who had died would not meet the Lord earlier or later than those living at the time, but that both living and dead would be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air (4:15,16). Well then, what are we to make of 1 Thessalonians 3:13.
- ‘To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints‘.
If these ‘saints’ are His redeemed people, and if the Thessalonians were to wait for the Lord to come with all His redeemed people, then what place do the Thessalonians occupy? They were redeemed, they certainly were not the unwatchful who might have been left behind, for they were to be established ‘unblameable in holiness’, and if such can be left behind, who then shall go? The distinction between ‘coming with’ excludes those to whom the apostle wrote and contradicts the express statements of 1 Thessalonians 4:15,16 and 5:10. If we take 1 Thessalonians 3:13 to speak of the ‘holy ones’, the ‘saints’ of Deuteronomy 33 and of Enoch’s prophecy, we have the coming of the Lord WITH His angels and FOR His people set before us with clearness and without contradictory statements.
It is interesting to note that the Sinaitic MS. reads: ‘ten thousand of His holy angels’. The angels that shall come at the end of the age are doubtless the same that were instrumental in bringing about the overthrow of Genesis 1 and all the divine interpositions through the ages, until the last that is recorded in the Revelation:
- ‘And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean … and the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet … These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone’ (Rev. 19:14-20).
When once we are clear as to the fact that ‘the saints’ of Enoch’s prophecy are the holy angels, we begin to realize their relation in the context with the fallen angels. Moreover, the structure shows that Michael the archangel is placed in correspondence with the Lord and His angels, and both in conflict with Satan. Enoch’s prophecy, with its reference to Genesis 1:2, taken in conjunction with 2 Peter 3 [It is highly probable that Peter speaks of the Flood, but the flood of Genesis 6 is but an echo of the ‘deep’ of Genesis 1, and both catastrophies are associated with the fallen angels], where it is stated that the world that then was, was destroyed by water, and the heavens and earth which are now shall be destroyed by fire, lifts the doctrine of the Second Coming into its true place in the purpose of the ages. There has been a tendency to look upon the Second Coming as a kind of afterthought, the text best thing that could be done in the circumstances. What we call ‘the Second Coming’ was demanded by the purpose of the ages, whether Israël had received their Messiah and His prior presentation or not. Let the scoffers say what they will,
- ‘Behold, the Lord CAME’ (Jude 14), and ‘He that SHALL COME will come, and will not tarry’ (Heb. 10:37).
Job also must be allowed his witness:
- ‘For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at (in) the latter day upon the earth: and (following the margin) after I shall awake, though this body be destroyed, yet out of my flesh shall I see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. My reins within me are consumed with earnest desire (for that day)’ (Job 19:25-27).
Job was not limiting his vision to the Saviour at Bethlehem, but looked on to ‘the latter day’, a term parallel with ‘the last day’ of the prophets. Moreover, he looked to see his Redeemer standing in the latter day ‘upon the earth’. The parallel passage (Job 14:12) tells us that this shall not take place ’till the heavens be no more’, which refers to the same period as 2 Peter 3:7,10,11; Revelation 20:11 and Isaiah 51:6. Job entertained no hope of ‘going to heaven’. He belonged to that company who will wake after the Millennium, when ‘the heavens be no more’.
The song of Moses (Exod. 15:1-19), uttered at the overthrow of Pharaoh, necessitates the Second Coming for its true fulfillment, and it can never be complete until it is coupled with the song of the Lamb, sung, not upon the shores of the Red Sea, but by a sea of glass mingled with fire, celebrating a victory, not over Pharaoh, but over the Beast and his image (Rev. 15:1-3). The song of Moses, just before his death (Deut. 32:36-43), equally looks forward to the Second Coming for its fulfillment. These passages, however, may be considered too vague to stand alone, and can be better appreciated when the more precise statements of other Scriptures have been read. Traversing the history of Israël to the setting up of the kingdom, we find embedded in the Psalms several testimonies to the Second Coming of the Lord.
In his Psalms, David looks forward to the Coming of the Lord as the great goal of his desire. At the end of Psalm 72 he says, ‘ the prayers (or praises) of David the son of Jesse are ended’, and this climax is the Psalm of the King’s Son. There we read of this great King as the Judge and Deliverer of the poor and needy. Peace and prosperity are the result of His reign. His dominion is from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. All kings fall down before Him, all nations serve Him, and bless Him. The whole earth is full of His glory.
The figure used in verse 6 is liable to be misunderstood: ‘He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass’. There is no word for ‘grass’ in this verse, the word translated ‘mown grass’ being gez, which is also rendered by the word ‘fleece’ and ‘mowings’. To the farmer it is a disaster, not a blessing, for rain to fall upon his new mown grass. What the passage really refers to is the fall of the rain upon the parched earth after the grass has been cut and removed, as expressed in Amos 7:1: ‘The beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth: and lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings’. The figure of Psalm 72 is that the Coming of the Lord will be like the latter rain. Israël shall grow and flourish a second time, there shall be a blessed aftermath, they shall revive and their end shall be glorious.
Coming to Psalm 96 we read of millennial conditions. All the earth is called upon to ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song’. His glory is to be declared among the nations, and the Gentiles are called upon to bring an offering and to come into His courts:
- ‘Say among the heathen. The LORD reigneth … let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof … FOR HE COMETH, for He cometh to judge the earth’ (Psa. 96:10-13).
This coming is further described in the next Psalm:
- ‘The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about Him … a fire goeth before Him … The hills melted like wax AT THE PRESENCE of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord the whole earth’ (Psa. 97:1-5).
Psalm 98 ends with the words ‘For He cometh’, etc., and gives additional details of that day. Psalm 110 anticipates the coming of the Lord:
- ‘The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. The LORD shall send the rod of Thy strenght out of Zion … the Lord at Thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath’ (Psa. 110:1-5).
This reflects upon the character of the Millennium. The closing words of Psalm 150, ‘Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD, Praise ye the LORD’, look forward to Revelation 5:13 for the time of their fulfillment.
Enoch’s prophecy, Job’s patience, Moses’ song and David’s prayer, all bear their testimony that the Lord is coming to this earth once again. Coming in judgment upon the ungodly (Enoch), coming with resurrection life for those who own Him as Redeemer (Job), coming to lead a mightier exodus that that through the Red Sea (Moses), coming to reign as the greater that Solomon, David’s Son and David’s Lord.
Daniel’s dream, given in chapter 7, shows that the setting up of this kingdom takes place at the second Coming of the Lord. Once more we adhere to the one theme before us, deferring the question as to whether the four beast are parallel with the metals of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, or whether they have a different time period both for commencement and for fulfillment. The theme of the Second Coming is found in verses 9-14. In these verses we have the Apocalypse of the Old Testament:
- ‘I beheld till the thrones were cast done (set), and the Ancient of days did sit, Whose garment was white as snow and the hair of His head like the pure wool: His throne was like the fiery flame, and His wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him: thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened … I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed’ (Dan. 7:9-14).
Daniel, desiring fuller information concerning the dream, asked one of them that stood by concerning it. He was told that the saints of the Most High would take the kingdom, and in answer to a yet closer questioning concerning the fourth beast and the ten horns, he was informed of the condition of things that would obtain at the end, when the Beast would blaspheme God, and ‘wear out the saints of the Most High’. This, however, was for a time; oppression would at length give place to judgment.
- ‘And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, Whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominion shall serve and obey Him’ (Dan. 7:27).
The sphere of the dream, as also of Nebuchadnezzar’s, is limited to the kingdoms of this world. It is ‘under the whole heaven’ (7:27), it fills ‘the whole earth’ (2:35), it takes the place of kingdoms ruled by man, and its dominion includes peoples, nations and languages. A reference to Daniel 3:4 will show that this was the language of Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation when the herald called upon all in his dominion to bow down to the golden image in the plain of Dura. There is moreover a parallel with this in dominion of Babylon at the time of the end: ‘The waters which thou sawest … are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues’ (Rev. 17:15). It is also the description of the dominion of the Beast: ‘power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations’ (Rev. 13:7). At the sounding of the seventh trumpet ‘the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign unto the ages of the ages’ (Rev. 11:15). There is no necessity to labour the proof of the identity of the dreams of Daniel and the visions of John. Both refer to the Son of Man at His Coming to the earth to rule and reign.
The visions of Zechariah
There are allusions to the Second Coming in the minor prophets, such as Habakkuk 2:3,4 (with Heb. 10:37), Haggai 2:7-9, and Joel 3:13-16 (with Rev. 14:15-18), which the reader should search out in order to make full acquaintance with Old Testament testimony to this important aspect of truth. For the present, however, we will turn to the visions of Zechariah:
- ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion: shout, O daugther of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’ (Zech. 9:9).
There is a notable omission in the quotation of this prophecy in Matthew 21:5 (cf. John 12:15):
- ‘Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass’.
The multitudes ‘shouted’, they cried ‘Hosannah’, which means ‘save now’, but not so the inspired writer. He omits the ‘shout’ and the ‘salvation’. Not until the Lord comes the second time will Zion cry out and shout, or salvation be brought to her.
Following the passage quoted from Zechariah 9:9 comes the resulting peace and dominion:
- ‘And I will (He shall LXX) cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and He shall speak peace unto the heathen: and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth’ (Zech. 9:10).
Our conception of ‘meekness’ does not fit in with the idea of triumph and conquest, and some may object to the application of this passage to Revelation 19 and the Rider on the white horse. Psalm 45:4,5 however, shows that there is no incongruity:
- ‘And in Thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness … Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies’.
Jerusalem is the centre of interest in Zechariah, and is prominent in the prophetic sections that speak of the Lord’s Coming. For example, chapter 12, verse 2, says: ‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about’. And it is in connection with the sore straits of the besiege city that Zechariah speaks of the Second coming:
- ‘In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem ,,, and it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplications: and they shall look upon Me Whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him’ (Zech. 12:8-10).
John 19:34-37 leaves us in no doubt as the identity of Him Who was thus pierced, and Revelation 1:7 reveals with equal certainty that Zechariah 12 is future:
- ‘Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds (tribes) of the land shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen’.
There has never been a national mourning by Israël for the death of Christ, there has never been a destruction of the enemies of Jerusalem since New Testament times, and since the partial beginning at Pentecost there has never been poured out upon Israël the spirit of grace.
The Mount of Olives
Zechariah resumes the theme of Jerusalem’s trouble and the Lord’s deliverance:
- ‘I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle … Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations … and His feet shall stand … upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east … and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee’ (Zech. 14:2-5).
There can be no doubt as to the literality of the Mount of Olives. It is described geographically as being ‘before Jerusalem on the east’. Moreover, to question the identity of the place would be to introduce a serious problem into Acts 1:
- ‘A cloud received Him out of their sight … This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet’ (Acts 1:9-12).
The direct association between the Second Coming of Acts 1 and Zechariah 14 established by the angels’ message, confirms the appropriateness of the apostles’ question as to the restoration of the kingdom to Israël (Acts 1:6), and leaves no room for ‘the church’ in this aspect of hope. It can be none other than ‘the hope of Israël’ mentioned by Paul as still obtaining in Acts 28:20.
The visions of Zechariah concerning the Second Coming can be summed up in his own words: ‘Jerusalem, thy King cometh‘.
From one end of his prophecy to the other, Jerusalem its deliverance and restoration are prominent, and the coming Lord is set forth as Israëli’s King when the reign of righteousness has commenced.
What is true of Zechariah is true of all the prophets:
- ‘He shall send Jesus Christ … Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began’ (Acts 3:20,21).
The burden of Malachi
The last oft the prophets, Malachi, anticipates the duel ministry of the two forerunners of the Messiah, John the Baptist and Elijah. The name Malachi means ‘My messenger’:
- ‘Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me’ (Mal. 3:1).
- ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee … John did baptize in the wilderness’ (Mark 1:1-4).
- ‘John … sent two of his disciples … Jesus began to say … concerning John … this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee’ (Matt. 11:2-10).
With the purport of these passages before us, we cannot avoid seeing that in Malachi 3:1, John the Baptist is in view, yet when we read on we are conscious of the conflicting fact that verse 2 introduces a very different atmosphere from that of the four gospels and John’s day. Let us notice the language:
- ‘But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? … He shall purify the sons of Levi … then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years’ (Mal. 3:2-4).
This passage most surely speaks of the Second Coming, yet it is closely associated with John the Baptist. In Malachi 4:1,2 we read:
- ‘For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud … shall be stubble … but unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings’.
Here there is close association with another messenger and forerunner, namely Elijah:
- ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children … lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’ (Mal. 4:5,6).
What, then, is the connection between these two personages and the two comings? Turning to the New Testament we shall find that the two messengers are intimately related. When the birth of John the Baptist was announced to his father, Zacharias, the angel said to John: ‘Many of the children of Israël shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah’ (Luk 1:16,17). When John was asked by the priests and Levites, ‘Art thou Elijah?’ he said, ‘I am not’ (John 1:21).
The Lord, however, when He had vindicated John the Baptist, as we have already seen in Matthew 11, spoke of the kingdom of heaven suffering violence and opposition. Then alluding to John, He says: ‘And if ye will receive it (i.e. the kingdom), this is Elijah, which was for to come’ (Matt. 11:14). That this was a cryptic, or parabolic, utterance seems certain by the added words, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear’ (verse 15).
When the Lord descended from the mount of Transfiguration, the disciples raised the question of Elijah coming:
- ‘Why then say the scribes that Elias (Elijah) must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias (Elijah) truly shall first come, and restore all things’ (Matt. 17:10,11).
Here is a plain answer, endorsing the belief that Elijah himself must come before the restoration of all things can take place. But the Lord then proceeds to bring the spirit of the passage to bear upon the time then present, continuing:
- ‘But I say unto you, That Elias (Elijah) is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist’ (Matt. 17:12,13).
While there were, therefore, at the first Coming of the Lord, provisional arrangements sufficient to remove all idea that the non-repentance of Israël was destined and therefore without responsibility, He Who knew all things in a manner we cannot even imagine, knew that the Messiah would be rejected. John the Baptist was not Elijah, but he came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Except in a typical, anticipatory fashion the kingdom was not set up. The great work of redemption was accomplished, but the real coming and restoration of the kingdom await the day of days toward which all the prophets point.
It must be obvious to all that any system of interpretation that takes up the teaching of the Second Coming without due regard to this consistent and far-reaching line of witnesses, is of necessity liable to lead its exponents into tremendous mistakes.
The Coming of the Lord and The New Testament Fulfilment
The sunteleia. The times of refreshing. The presence of the Lord.
The passages we have looked at in Matthew’s Gospel, while adding their quota to the teaching of the New Testament concerning the Second Coming of the Lord, are nevertheless isolated and fragmentary in character.
Matthew 24, on the other hand, is a discourse wholly devoted to the subject. This notable discourse is introduce by the closing verses of Matthew 23:
- ‘O 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 gathered 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’ (Matt. 23:37-39).
We have here a quotation from Psalm 118:25,26:
- ‘Save now (Hosannah), I beseech Thee, O LORD … Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD’.
The Hosannah quotation is found in Matthew 21:9. It is important to notice that the cry, ‘Blessed be He that cometh’, is closely associated with ‘the house of the Lord’. This adds point to the Lord’s words ‘your house is left unto you desolate’, and also provides a reason for the disciples’ remarks concerning the building of the temple. When the Lord told them that there should not be left one stone upon another, it is evident by their threefold question that this desolation was connected in their minds with the Coming of the Lord.
The threefold question
This threefold question and its answer occupies the whole of Matthew 24 from verse 3:
- ‘And as He sat upon mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us: —
- When shall these things be?
- And what shall be the sign of Thy Coming.
- And the end of the world (age)?’
In answering the disciples’ question, the Lord deals with them in the reverse order:
- The end of the age (4-24).
- The sign of the coming (25-31).
- When these things shall be (32-42).
The answer of the Lord as to the end of the age is twofold. First, negative — ‘the is not yet’; –‘all these are the beginning of sorrows’. Second positively — ‘then shall the end come’. Before going further we must notice that there are two words here translated ‘end’. In verse 3 it is sunteleia. In verses 6,13, and 14 it is telos. The phrase ‘the sunteleia of the age’ occurs only in the Gospel of Matthew, whilst ‘the sunteleia of the ages’ occurs but once, viz., in Hebrews:
‘The harvest is the end of the age’ (Matt. 13:39). ‘So shall it be in (at) the end of this age’ (Matt. 13:40,49). ‘The end of the age’ (Matt. 24:3). ‘Even unto the end of the age’ (Matt. 28:20). ‘Once in the end of the ages’ (Heb. 9:26).
The first occurrence connects the term with the harvest, and in this lies the explanation of the word, for the first occurrence of the same word in the LXX of Exodus 23:16 refers to the same period:
- ‘The feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering (sunteleia), which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field’.
At first it seems that there is a discrepancy between the Lord’s words in Matthew 13:39 and the passage. The Lord said that the harvest was the sunteleia, whereas Exodus 23 speaks of a feast of harvest, as distinct from the feast of the sunteleia. The answer is suggested by the presence of the word ‘firstfruits’, and by this particular kind of harvest in view — ‘which thou hast sown in the field’. A reference to Exodus 34:22, however, makes all plain: ‘thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfuits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end’.
Now the disciples being Jews and taught in the law, knew the order of their feast and much of their typical nature. Unless the reader has definitely studied the feasts of Israël, he is at a disadvantage here, and before he can hope to appreciate the teaching of Matthew 24, he must supply the deficiency. There is one chapter in the law that sets out the feasts of Israël in their order, namely, Leviticus 23, and to that we must turn.
The feast of the Lord
The sabbaths (Lev. 23:1-3). The first of the feasts to be mentioned is the weekly sabbath. This underlies the whole of God’s dealings with Israël. There are the following sabbaths mentioned:
- Sabbath of seven days (Lev. 23:3).
- Sabbath of seven weeks (Lev. 23:15).
- Sabbath of seven months (Lev. 23:34).
- Sabbath of seven years (Lev. 25:2-7).
- Sabbath of seven times seven years (Lev. 25:8-17).
- Sabbath of seventy years (Dan. 9:2), and finally the
- Sabbath of seventy times seven (Dan. 9:24), in which the whole purpose of God for Israel shall be accomplished.
This emphasis is too insistent to be avoided. Underlying the whole history of Israël is this sabbatic element. From verse 4 of Leviticus 23 feast ‘in their seasons’ are recorded, which also conform to the sabbatic character. We have, in verse 5, the feast of the first month detailed, and in verses 34 and 39 that the seventh month described. Between these two all the other feasts are found, so that while Israël’s year had twelve months, with an intercalary thirteenth month at intervals, its typical year took note only of seven of these months.
We must now tabulate the feasts in order to place the sunteleia:
- THE SABBATH — Impressing the character of Israel’s typical history (see Heb. 4:9 Greek)
- THE PASSOVER — Redemption, deliverance ‘out of’.
- THE UNLEAVENED BREAD — The sheaf waved (Lev. 23:10). A firstfruits.
- PENTECOST — TWO wave loaves. Fifty days. Jubilee anticipated.
- FEAST OF TRUMPETS — Joel 2:1,15; 1 Cor. 15:52.
- THE DAY OF ATONEMENT — Repentance (Lev. 23:28,29). Reconciliation and access.
- TABERNACLES — The sunteleia. Harvest and ingathering. The eighth day stressed (Lev. 23:39).
While, experimentally, we must all begin with redemption — Passover, the first month of the year to you‘ (Exod. 12:2), God begins with the Sabbath, and the purpose of the age is to restore that which is past.
Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and the Firstfruits have received their fulfillment (1 Cor. 5:7,8; Acts 2; 1 Cor. 15:20). Between Pentecost and Trumpets is an interval of some months, with no feast to mark it, only a reference to ‘the poor’, and to the stranger (Lev. 23:22). Here, in these silent months between Pentecost and Trumpets, is where the unrevealed dispensation of the Mystery finds its place.
The feast of Tabernacles, being the sunteleia, must be given a little closer attention. This feast celebrates both the harvest of ‘the corn and the wine’ (Deut. 16:13). At the return of the captivity under Ezra, and again under Nehemiah (Ezra 3:4 and Neh. 8:14) it was observed, and this is the feast picked out by God for annual observance by all the nations that are left after the coming of the Lord (Zech. 14:16-19). The association of ‘tabernacles’ and the Coming of the Lord explains Peter’s suggestion on the mount of Transfiguration, that he should make three tabernacles (Matt. 17:4).
After the detailed statement of Leviticus 23:34-36, the writer returns to the Feast of Tabernacles to give further particulars (verses 39-43), thus marking it as of great importance. Here we have the command to take boughs of trees and to dwell in booths or tabernacles. Here also is emphasized the ‘eighth day’ which is ‘the last day, that great day of the feast’ (John 7:2 and 37), when the Lord spake of the full outpouring of the Spirit — upon His own glorification — partially fulfilled at Pentecost, but awaiting His Second Coming for its complete fulfillment.
The ‘eight day’ brings us to Resurrection. The tabernacles speak of true ‘peace and safety’, and all these typical observances are covered by the word sunteleia used by the disciples when they came to the Lord with their question ‘What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and the end of the age? That ‘end’ they knew was harvest, ingathering, rejoicing, peace; all inseparable from the Coming of the Lord. Until He is ‘glorified’, that ‘consummation’, though devoutly to be wished, is as unattainable as utopia, a mirage, the will-o’-the-wisp of politicians and reformers who have not grasped the essential relation between ‘the times of refreshing’ and ‘the presence of the Lord’. That wholesome lesson it is hoped we have learned. And now, having some understanding of what the question of Matthew 24:3 includes and implies, we can give more earnest heed to the answer that follow.
The Lord’s threefold answer as to ‘When? and ‘What?’ (Matthew 24)
Having seen the Scriptural meaning of the ‘end’, and its type in the feast of tabernacles, we now proceed to the continuation of the Lord’s answers to His disciples’ questions. In verse 4 to 24 He takes up this question of the ‘end’. The first and last words in this section deal with deception:
- ‘And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name … and shall deceive many’ (verses 4,5).
- ‘For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they deceive the very elect’ (verse 24).
Following this opening warning concerning the false Christs, the Lord tells of the features indicative of the beginning of sorrows, but adds, ‘the end is not yet’. Verses 6 to 14 are occupied with the characteristic features that lead up to the ‘end’ (telos):
- Negative — ‘The end is not yet’ (verse 6).
- Explanatory — ‘All these things are the beginning of sorrows’ (verse 8).
- Exhortative — ‘Endure unto the end … be saved’ (verse 13).
- Positive — ‘Then shall the end come’ (verse 14).
As with the prophecies of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah, ‘the nations’ are involved in this period of the ‘end’. Wars and rumors of wars, with nation rising against nation, form part of the beginning of sorrows. Hatred by all nations for a witness, ushers in the end.
The ‘end’ is marked by ‘tribulation’ in two phases. Firstly, during the ‘beginning of sorrows’ the Lord says: ‘They shall deliver you up to be tribulated‘ (afflicted, as in verses 21 and 29). Secondly, there comes ‘great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world till now, no, nor ever shall be’ (verse 21).
We may visualize the outstanding features of this first answer:
A 24:4,5. Warning against deception by false Christs.
B 6-14. The beginning of sorrows. ‘Endure’ ‘saved’.
B 15-22. The Tribulation in full course. ‘Shortened’ ‘saved’.
A 23,24. Warning against deception by false Christs.
Intermingled with the conflict of nations we have famines, pestilence and earthquakes, as signs of the beginning of sorrows. A gleam of hope is found in these passages of gloom in the word ‘sorrow’. Odin and odino speak, not of sorrow in general, but pains in particular, ‘pains that issue in birth’. There are altogether seven occurrences:
- ‘Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death’ (Acts 2:24).
- ‘As travail upon a woman with child’ (1 Thess. 5:3),
(and in all the other references, viz., Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:8; Gal. 4:19,27 and Rev. 12:2).
This last references is illuminated by Matthew 24 and send back light in return. The birth pains of Revelation 12:2 are followed by the rise of the Beast and the False Prophet, and the war on the saints of chapter 13. There also, in Revelation 13, is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.
The sign of the Coming
Passing from the question of the ‘end’, the Lord comes to the related question of ‘the sign of the Coming’. This too, is introduced by warnings against deception. The two foci of this second answer are found in verses 24,30, and 31:
- ‘Signs and wonders … if possible deceive the very elect’ (Matt. 24:24).
- ‘The sign of the Son of man in heaven … gather together His elect’ (Matt. 24:30,31).
The false signs and wonders are described in Revelation 13 and 2 Thessalonians 2:
- ‘And he doeth great wonders … and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth, by the means of those miracles’ (Rev. 13:13,14).
- ‘And then shall that Wicked (one) be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming (parousia): even him, whose coming (parousia) is after the working of Satan … with all deceivableness of unrighteousness’ (2 Thess. 2:8-10).
By referring to Hebrews 2:4 we shall see how close is the parody of Satan:
- ‘God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of holy spirit’ (Heb. 2:4 author’s translation).
- ‘After the working of Satan with all power and signs and wonders of the lie’ (2 Thess. 2:9 author’s translation).
Moreover, both the Lord and the false christ are to have a parousia, as the word is for ‘coming’.
Not only are there these two signs, but there are also two gatherings:
- ‘For wheresoever the carcase is, there will be eagles be gathered together (sunnago)’ (Matt. 24:28).
- ‘He shall send His angels with a trumpet, and a great voice (margin), (a Hebraism possibly, but suggestive of 1 Thess. 4:16), and they shall gather together (episunago) His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’ (Matt. 24:31).
None need be deceived. Look at the difference between pettifogging, ‘Behold, He is in the desert’ or ‘Behold, He is in the secret chambers’, and the worldwide, open, and manifest shining ‘from the east even unto the west’. Or again, the actual gathering together of the elect ‘from one end of heaven to the other’. Some have been deceived by being told that the Millennium has already dawned, and that Christ has already come in secret. The very sign of the times! There will be no true possibility of saying, ‘Lo, there’, for neither the Beast nor the False Prophet can cause the sun to be darkened, nor the moon to cease to give her light, neither can they cause the stars to fall from heaven nor the powers of heaven to be shaken. And these things are the immediate forerunners of the Lord: ‘And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven’ (Matt. 24:30).
The structure of the second answer concerning the ‘sign of His Coming’ may be set out as follows:
A 24:24. The false signs.
B 24:26,27. Not ‘In the secret place’ but like the lightning, etc.
C 24:28. The gathering. Eagles, carcase.
B 24:29. Sun, moon, stars.
A 24:30. The sign of the Son of man.
C 24:31 The gathering. Angels, elect.
As one considers the warnings given in this passage, one wonders what will be the outcome of much that goes by the name of Pentecostalism today. Believing men and women are agonizing in prayer for ‘signs and wonders’. What will they do when the signs suddenly appear? It is blessed to know that the very elect will not be finally deceived, but some will come perilously near to it.
The Second Coming ‘dated’!
The close of the answer to the question concerning the ‘sign’ merges into the third answer, which deals with the question: ‘when shall these things be?’. We say the Second Coming is dated, yet we would not be misunderstood. We feel called upon to repudiate all attempts to fix a date for the Coming of the Lord, whether by computations of dates from Scriptures, the year-day theory, or from the so-called divine chronology of the Great Pyramid:
- ‘But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only’ (Matt. 24:36).
- ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power’ (Acts 1:7).
Such definite statements of Scripture are sufficient. Yet we can say, in one sense, that the Second Coming is dated. This the passage in Matthew 24:29 does for us: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days’. Those who ‘wait for God’s Son from heaven’, who wait for ‘the Lord Himself to descent from heaven with a shout, voice of trumpet’ (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:16 with Matt. 24:31 margin), who await ‘the gathering together unto Him’ (episunago, 2 Thess. 2:1,2 with Matt. 24:31) cannot Scriptually contemplate escaping the Great Tribulation if they should be ‘alive and remain unto the Coming of the Lord’. For in Matthew 24 and in 1 and 2 Thessalonians the same coming (parousia) is in view, with all its accompaniments.
A further hint as to time is given by the Lord in verses 32 and 33:
- ‘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 (or He) is near, even at the doors’ (Matt. 24:32,33).
While we may not attempt to forecast the day and the hour, we should learn the parable of the fig tree. The fig stands for Israel in one of its aspects, as do the vine and olive in others. The key to prophecy has always been Israël and Jerusalem.
The Lord follows His word with regard to the time with a reference to Noah and the suddenness of the flood, saying:
- ‘So shall also the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Matt. 24:39).
This note is again sounded in the reference to the two women grinding at the mill, and the two in the field. Luke’s addition: ‘In that night there shall be two men in one bed’ (Luke 17:34) completes the whole day and night. Working in the field represents the day time, grinding at the mill the early hours of the morning, and sleeping in a bed, the night. The parable of the virgins likewise speaks of this same thing, concluding as it does, with words almost identical with Matthew 24:42:
- ‘Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh’ (Matt. 25:13).
The one thing that appears from the various passages that deal with the question, ‘when shall these things be?’ is that the Lord did not tell them. What He did was to urge readiness because the day and the hour were unrevealed.
Before concluding this section on Matthew 24 we draw attention to some of the passages of the Old Testament Scriptures cited, or alluded to, by the Lord, which but confirm the growing conviction that the Second Coming, as revealed in Matthew 24 is entirely connected with Israël:
- Matthew 24:7 — Citation Isaiah 19:2 — ‘Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom’.
It is important to observe the connection made here with Egypt, for that land has a part to play.
Isaiah 19:3 says that as a result of this upheaval of kingdoms, ‘they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards’. These will introduce ‘the signs and wonders and miracles of the lie’, and lead the world into tragedy of the end. It behoves those who have eyes opened to see, to avoid the slightest approach to these things of darkness.
- Matthew 24:15 — Citation Daniel 9:27 — ‘The abomination of desolation’.
This ‘desolation’ must be connected with 23:38, ‘Your house is left unto you desolate‘. It is most clearly associated with Israël — see the whole of Daniel 9.
- Matthew 24:21 — Citation Daniel 12:1 — ‘Then shall be great tribulation’.
A comparison of these two passages will prove that they refer to one event.
- ‘Matthew 24:24 — Reference Isaiah 8:18 — ‘Signs and wonders’.
There are false ‘signs and wonders’ that are spoken of in the Scriptures, and these will be fulfilled as surely as those signs that accompanied the Messiah’s first advent (Matt. 11:4-6). In Isaiah 8 there is the great contrast between the God-given signs and wonders, and the result of the efforts of wizards that peep and mutter and which seek unto the dead (see also Isa. 19:3).
- ‘Matthew 24:29 — Citation Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 — ‘Sun to be darkened. Moon not to give light. Stars shall fall’.
Isaiah 13:9-13 declares that this shall be in the day of the Lord, which shall be characterized by wrath and fierce anger. The passage connects it with the fall of Babylon in verse 19, and in Isaiah 34:5 it is connected with wrath upon Idumea.
- ‘Matthew 24:30 — Citation Zechariah 12:10-12 — ‘The tribes of the earth (land) shall mourn’.
There shall be a national mourning for the death of Christ (Messias), the great fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which will be followed by the blessed ingathering, or sunteleia.
- ‘Matthew 24:30 — Citation Daniel 7:13 — ‘The Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’.
To read this citation in its context in Daniel 7:9-14 is to see that the Coming of the Lord, as set forth in Matthew 24 has no reference to ‘the church’ but is essentially connected with the kingdom and its restoration to Israel, for it ‘shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High’ (Dan. 7:27).
While much has been omitted in our survey, we hope that nothing that bears upon the point of our inquiry has been pass over, and sufficient has been set out to leave the reader in possession of the true import of this wonderful prophecy given by our Lord upon the Mount of Olives; fit place for such a revelation!
The Witness of Peter and James to the dispersion
As all that we have yet seen of our subject has been very definitely connected with Israël, it would seem wise to leave Paul’s testimony until we have completed our study of the remainder of the New Testament, and considered the testimony of James, Peter and John as ministers to the circumcision (Gal. 2:7-9). Accordingly we turn to the epistle of James.
The true rendering of the word ‘James’ is ‘Jacob’. That the translators of the King James’ Version should use this name is not surprising when we remember that followers of King James were called ‘Jacobites’. The opening verse of the epistle reads, therefore:
- ‘Jacob, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the TWELVE TRIBES which are scattered abroad’.
If any reader maintains that the ‘twelve tribes’ is an appropriate title of the church (ecclesia) which knows neither Greek nor Jew, we cannot approve of this logic, though we can readily admit his consistency if he takes to himself the whole epistle; but for those who have learned to distinguish things that differ, a letter addressed to the twelve tribes, though it may possess the full authority and blessing which belong to ‘all Scriptures’, must of necessity contain much that cannot strictly refer to the Church (ecclesia).
The theme of the epistle is that of patience in tribulation, with glory in prospect at the end. With this theme the first chapter opens, and with it the last chapter closes:
- ‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh … Ye have heard of the patience of Job …’ (James 5:7-11).
- ‘After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight … He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth’ (Hosea 6:2,3).
Joel also, speaks of the former and latter rain in direct connection with the restoration and Pentecost (2:23-31). It is not by accident that, towards the close of chapter 5, James speaks again of the rain, this time of its being withheld from the earth for a period of three years and a half (5:17). As we have already seen, James writes to Israël, urging patience, and using the figure of the husbandman; and he includes the actual period of three and a half years that Revelation indicates to be the time of Israël’s greatest testing (Rev. 13:5). Moreover, in chapter 5, he speaks of the ‘Judge standing before the door’ (James 5:9).
We now pass on to the fuller testimony of Peter. In the opening greeting of the epistle of James the wording is literally, ‘To the twelve tribes, to those in the dispersion (en te diaspora). Peter follows the same course and addresses his epistle to the ‘sojourners of a dispersion (diasporas). The word diaspeiro implies the thought of sowing, as seed, the choice of the term being in harmony with the prophecy of Hosea 2:23 and the title of Jezreel.
James speaks of the need of patience during the time of tribulation; Peter also speaks of the need of patience and a similar time of fiery trial. In connection with this period of trial the apostle brings into prominence the Second coming of the Lord:
- ‘That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth (though it — i.e. perishing gold — be tried with fire), might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing (revelation) of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:7).
It is necessary to keep distinct the two words, ‘appearing’ and ‘revelation’. The translators of the Authorized Version not having seen the dispensational distribution of terms dealing with the Lord’s Coming, have used the word ‘appearing’ here for ‘revelation’, but this is not sufficiently accurate. Apokalupsis should always be translated by the word ‘revelation’; the translators themselves have rendered its verbal form ‘revealed’ in 1 Peter 1:5 and 12, while in 1 Peter 1:13 the actual word is correctly rendered:
- ‘Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end (or perfectly) for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’.
The apostle reverts to the fiery trial and its connection with the Coming of the Lord in chapter 4:
- ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you … but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy’ (1 Pet. 4:12,13).
This perfect balance of teaching is the more strikingly emphasized when we remember that the true rendering of 1 Peter 1:11 is not, ‘the sufferings of Christ’, but the ‘sufferings for Christ, and the glories that should follow’. This does not, of course, by any means deny the truth that the one great basis of all glory is the suffering of Christ, and to this Peter refers before his epistle closes:
- ‘The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God … And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away’ (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
In this passage we have portrayed the intimate connection between the sufferings of Christ, and the sufferings for Christ, for a ‘witness’ here, is not a mere spectator, but one who is willing, if need be, to seal his testimony by death. The word is translated ‘witness’ and ‘martyr’ in Revelation (1:5 and 2:13). Martyrdom was not faraway from those to whom Peter wrote, and in his closing words he still has this in mind:
- ‘But the God of all grace, Who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect … ‘ (1 Pet. 5:10).
The second epistle does not add materially to the teaching of the first on this subject, but is concerned with the denial of the Lord’s Coming and the problem of its apparent delay. ‘Knowing this first’ are the keywords:
- ‘Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation (its own unfolding)’ (2 Pet. 1:20).
- ‘Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers’ (2 Pet. 3:3).
This first passage deals with the certainty of the fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the Lord’s Coming: the second deals with those who, by misunderstanding the results of certain dispensational changes, denied the fulfillment of the promise altogether. In both contexts there is, as we shall see, an appeal to Scripture:
‘For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 1:16).
This statement the apostle established in two ways: first, by introducing the type of the Mount of Transfiguration; and secondly, by the word of prophecy made more sure.
In chapter 3, Peter still holds most firmly to the truth, and will not for a moment admit that the Lord is slack concerning His promise. It is unwise, the apostle declares, even to measure length of time by our own understandings, for in some of God’s dealings a day may be as a thousand years, or a thousand years as a day. The Coming of the Lord for which Peter waited, however, was that Coming which is connected with the day of the Lord, the dissolving of the heavens, and the burning up of the elements, events that usher in the new heavens and the new earth. There is no uncertainty as to what Peter hoped for; the uncertainty comes in at the point where the subject passes from Peter’s province to Paul’s. Referring to the apparent delay in the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord’s return, Peter says:
- ‘Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction’ (2 Pet. 3:15,16).
Several items of importance are contained in these words:
- Paul’s epistles are classed with ‘the other Scriptures’ and these Peter has already testified to be inspired (2 Pet. 1:16-21).
- Peter, though an apostle, confesses that some of Paul’s teaching is ‘hard to understood’.
- The fact that the coming of the Lord had not taken place as had been expected must not, says the apostle, be considered ‘slackness’, but for a full and inspired explanation of the purpose of God during this interval, one man only had received a message, and that man was Paul.
Not one word has been added by either James or Peter that is not a legitimate expansion of Old Testament prophecy. The Second Coming of the Lord is rooted deep in the Scriptures of the old covenant.
Turning to Paul’s epistles, we find the hope of the Lord’s Coming occupying an important place in the two epistles to the Thessalonians. In the first chapter of first Thessalonians we read:
- ‘Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:3).
This is enlarged in verses 9 and 10:
- ‘Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven … even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come’ (1:9,10).
That verses 9 and 10 are an expansion of verse 3 seems to be clear from the structure:
1 Thessalonians 1:3-10
A 1:3. a Work of faith. b Labour of love. c Patience of hope.
B 4,5 ‘For’ The gospel to d Not only. e But also. f What manner.
C 6. Followers of us.
D 6. The word received.
C 7. Examples to others.
B 8,9. ‘For’ The word from d Not only. e But also. f What manner.
A 9,10. a Turned to God. b Serve God. c Wait for His Son from heaven.
Let us look at the epistle as a whole.
A 1:3. The patience of hope.
B 1:10. Waiting for God’s Son. ‘Wrath’.
C 2:19. Servant’s joy at Lord’s coming. ‘Our’.
D 3:13. Lord’s coming with holy ones (angels).
D 4:15,16. Lord’s coming with shout (archangel).
C 5:2,3. World’s sorrow at Lord’s coming. ‘They’.
B 5:8,9. The hope of salvation. ‘Wrath’.
A 5:23. Preserve blameless.
It will be seen by comparing 1:10 with 5:8,9 that deliverance from wrath by the coming of God’s Son from heaven constituted the believer’s helmet, ‘the hope of salvation’. The reader will remember that the aspect is changed in Ephesians 6 where the helmet is simply the helmet of salvation’. The wrath that hung over the Acts period was closely associated with the day of the Lord and with Israël, for we read in 1 Thessalonians 2:16, that ‘wrath is come upon them to the uttermost’. Those who look at 1 Thessalonians 4 as a revelation as to their hope should consider this association with ‘wrath’, and the archangel’s close link with Israël (Dan. 12:1).
The patience of hope in 1:3 is connected with the Thessalonians’ manifest ‘election’; the ‘preserving blameless’ in 5:23 is connected with their ‘calling’. The reference in verse 23 to the hope of being preserve in spirit, soul and body blameless at the Coming of the Lord has special reference to the hope of living and remaining on the earth at that time. Sanctification is stressed in 4:3-7, but the sanctification here seems to include the preservation of the individual, the word ‘wholly’ being oloteles — ‘completely whole’. It has reference to the preservation expressed in 4:17 as being ‘alive and remaining’ until the Coming of the Lord. This hope of living and remaining until the Coming of the Christ is characteristic of the Acts period; it is warranted by the testimony of Acts 3:19,20 as well as of Matthew 16:27,28 and other passages.
It has often been taught that chapter 5 indicates that ‘times and season’ did not belong to the Thessalonians as members of the church (ecclesia), and that the coming of the Lord for them was unrelated to the day of the Lord or to any time fulfillment of prophecy. We must remember this when we turn to the second epistle, but even in chapter 5 of this epistle we find a very different reason given by the apostle:
- ‘But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you … ‘ (1 Thess. 5:1).
Why? Because the hope of the church (ecclesia) was unrelated to times and seasons? No; rather for the obvious reason given by the apostle:
- ‘For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night’ (1 Thess. 5:2).
This does not teach that the Coming of the Lord is to be considered as a ‘secret rapture’. The passage simply states that, unlike the world, proclaiming ‘ peace and safety’ with sudden destruction imminent, the church (ecclesia) was so instructed as to know that the day of the Lord was to come like a thief in the night, and that, knowing this, it would not be ‘overtaken like a thief’. The church (ecclesia) is contrasted with the overtaken’ world just as children of light are contrasted with darkness. They are urged to vigilance and to put on the armour in view of the hope of salvation. This exhortation arises naturally out of the earlier verses as written, but it has no meaning if this church (ecclesia) expected to be taken away before that day had come.
There is an intimate connection which may be easily seen between the close of 1 Thessalonians 4 and the opening of 1 Thessalonians 5. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 opens with the words ‘I would not have you ignorant’, and in verse 2 of chapter 5 the apostle continues, ‘You yourselves know perfectly’. Both sections deal with ‘sleep’ and both end with the thought of ‘comfort’. In 1 Thessalonians 4:14 we read:
- ‘For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him’.
If we interpret this to mean that when the Lord Jesus returns He will bring the saints who have fallen asleep with Him from heaven, what can be the meaning of the next verses, which distinctly teach that the living shall take no precedence over the saints who have died, but that together they shall meet the Lord in the air, and thus only, be for ever ‘with the Lord’? The passage refers to the resurrection: ‘We believe that God will bring — ago — (from the dead) with Him’ (Who was also brought from the dead — anago — Hebrews 13:20). The apostle was ministering the comfort of the Scriptures to those who were sorrowing for the dead in Christ, and his comfort is resurrection at the Lord’s Coming. The actual return of the Lord is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16:
- ‘The Lord Himself shall descent from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God’.
We see no reason to teach that the ‘Lord Himself’ is the archangel’ here. We have already seen, in considering the teaching of Jude, that ‘Michael the archangel’ is closely linked with the Lord’s Coming. Moreover Daniel 12:1,2 is a passage which must not be lightly set aside:
- ‘And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake’.
Now if the archangel of 1 Thessalonians be the Michael of Daniel 12, we have a strong link established between the hope of Israel and the hope of the church (ecclesia) during the Acts. Further links come to light in 2 Thessalonians, but our space is limited, and we may be able to look back to the epistle when dealing with the second letter to the same church (ecclesia).
If it should be asked how it has come about that so many errors have been introduced into the teaching of these epistles, we can only put it down to the fact that as a result of confusing the two dispensations divided by Acts 28, truth gathered from Paul’s later ministry has been brought back into this earlier period.
Unless it had been seriously urged upon us that the teaching of 1 Thessalonians deals with a secret phase of the Lord’s Coming, while that of 2 Thessalonians refers to an aspect very different from the hope of the church (ecclesia), we should not feel it necessary to draw attention to the obvious fact that these two epistles were written to the same church (ecclesia) upon the same theme, and that there is not the slightest warrant for the strange teaching that they have been used to support.
We have already seen in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 that the apostle remembered the work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope of this church (ecclesia). In 2 Thessalonians 1:3,4 he takes up this same theme:
- ‘We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity (love) of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure’.
This church (ecclesia) had received the word in tribulation (1 Thess. 1:6), and in every place their faith had gone forth. In 2 Thessalonians this tribulation had continued. And the churches of God had heard of the Thessalonians’ attitude through the apostle’s boasting concerning them. In each of the four qualities, faith, love, hope and patience, these saints had grown. Yet we are asked by some teachers to believe that a special secret rapture awaited 1 Thessalonians’ believers, while the believers of the second epistle were to pass through the tribulation of the day of the Lord and experience the sufferings of the reign of the beast!
While it may be easy at this distance to settle the hopes of the early saints, it would have proved more difficult to have persuaded the Thessalonians themselves by such illogical deduction. The process of reasoning seems to be somewhat as follows: 1 Thessalonians 4 must be a secret rapture, and so 1 Thessalonians 5 can have no connection with times and seasons, or with the day of the Lord. 2 Thessalonians, however, speaks of the coming of the Lord as not taking place until after the manifestation of the man of sin, and of the coming of the Lord in flaming fire. It is therefore assumed that the coming of 1 Thessalonians 4 takes place before the rise of the man of sin, and the coming of 2 Thessalonians after that manifestation.
The recognition that the true ‘secret rapture’ belongs to the prison ministry of the apostle (Col. 3:1-4), set us free from this vain attempt to find the hope of the One body in the earlier epistles. The saints, sorrowing for those who have fallen asleep, are comforted by the fact that they, together with those who have fallen asleep, and at the same time, shall meet the Lord in the air. The same saints in their sorrow on account of their own tribulation through which they are passing, are comforted by the fact that ‘rest’ shall be theirs:
- ‘When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God’ (2 Thess. 1:7,8).
It was of this same event that the apostle had written in 1 Thessalonians 3:13:
- ‘To the end He may established your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His holy ones (angels)’ (author’s translation).
And in verse 2 the apostle speaks of sending Timothy to comfort them — ‘that no man should be moved by these tribulations’ (3:3).
We have not to rest our faith merely upon deduction, comparison and inference, for in 2 Thessalonians 2:1,2 the apostle declares that those who were spreading abroad the teaching that the day of the Lord was at hand, were false teachers, speaking the doctrine of demons:
- ‘Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by SPIRIT, nor by WORD, nor by LETTER as from us, as that the day of Christ (or of the Lord) is at hand’ (2 Thess. 2:1,2).
This was a threefold attempt to deceive. The words ‘by spirit’ refer to the miraculous gifts in the church, which being travestied by Satan, required to be ‘tried’ to see that they were ‘of God’. The evil is countered in this chapter by that sanctification of ‘the Spirit’ that is associated with ‘belief of the truth’ (2:13).
‘By word’ refers to the method of passing on the instruction. The apostle, at the close of chapter 2, reminds them of the source of authority:
- ‘Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle’ (2 Thess. 2:15).
And in 3:17 he pointedly refers to the false ‘epistle’:
- ‘The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write‘.
Returning to chapter 2, we find that the apostle declares that a series of prophetic events must taken place before the Lord’s Coming:
- The apostasy must come, for such is the word ‘falling away’.
- The man of sin must be revealed.
- The revelation of the wicked One must take place.
- This will be preceded by great Satanic signs, and wonders and lying miracles.
When these things have come to pass, then only will the Coming of the Lord take place:
- ‘Whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming’ (2 Thess. 2:8).
This takes us back to the first chapter, unless we are to understand that upon two separate occasions the Lord shall be revealed in flaming fire taking vengeance. As we have no warrant for this suggestion, we conclude that the ‘tribulation’ from which these believers should find ‘rest’ at the Coming of the Lord is the tribulation connected with the ‘man of sin’ of chapter 2. This tribulation is ‘such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be’ (Matt. 24:21). This unparalleled intensity of tribulation irresistible takes us back to Daniel 12, where Michael the archangel is linked with a time of trouble ‘such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time’. Unless we can believe the contradiction of two unprecedented times of trouble, 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Thessalonians 1 and 2 must be inseparable and refer to one event. This being so, the hope of 1 and 2 Thessalonians coincides with that of Matthew 24, for we have the same events foretold in each case:
- The desolation in the holy place (Matt. 24:15 and 2 Thess. 2:4).
- The great tribulation (Matt. 24:21 and 2 Thess. 1:6,7; Dan. 12:1).
- The false Christ and false prophets (Matt. 24:24 and 2 Thess. 2:3-8).
- The great signs and miracles (Matt. 24:24 and 2 Thess. 2:9,10).
- The brightness of His coming (Matt. 24:27 and 2 Thess. 1:8; 2:8).
- The Coming of the Lord after the tribulation, and the ‘gathering’ of His ‘elect’ (Matt. 24:29-31; 2 Thess. 2:1) (episunago).
- The angels and the trumpet (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16; 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:7).
- The parable of the fig tree ‘When ye see … it is near’ (Matt. 24:32,33; 2 Thess. 2:1-9).
The attempt to divorce the hope of Israel from that of the church of the Acts fails completely. No attempt to do so would have been made if it had been recognize that the church (ecclesia) of the One Body came into being after Acts 28. The church (ecclesia) at Thessalonica held the teaching of Matthew 24 and Daniel 12 as their own, and knew that their hope will find its setting amid the ‘blood and fire and pillars of smoke’ of the Pentecostal remnant. This leads us to the day of the Lord, the great unveiling, and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
We conclude this survey, omitting some epistles, the book of the Revelation, and Paul’s prison epistles, by considering the testimony of the epistle to the Romans. We shall not find in it the precision of 1 Thessalonians 4 because the hope was by time well taught and believed. Instead, we have references to the various accompaniments of the Lord’s Coming, these being necessary to complete the body of truth.
The seven passage in Romans
Seven passage in the epistle refer to the coming of the Lord, or to some event that necessitates it. These passages taken together form a complete whole:
A 2:1-16. Jew and Gentile. Reward and punishment.
B 8:17-25. Deliverance from bondage of the creature.
C 11:26. The Deliverer. Isa. 59:20 quoted.
D 13:11-14. Salvation nearer than when we believed.
C 14:9-12. The Judge. Isa. 45:23 quoted.
A 15:12,,13. Jew and Gentile. The hope.
B 16:20. Satan bruised shortly.
Jew and Gentile
The first passage is one of judgment, and the judgment yet to come: ‘The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ (Rom. 2:5). This judgment of God administered by the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel’ (Rom. 2:16). Jew and Gentile are in view in this passage, but there is appended the statement that ‘there is no respect of person with God’ (Rom. 2:11).
The parallel passage of Romans 15:12,13 brings Jew and Gentile together in hope. The force of this passage is blunted in the Authorized by the rendering of the word ‘hope’ in verse 12 by the word ‘trust’. The passage should read:
- ‘There shall be a Root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles: in Him shall the Gentiles HOPE (elpizo);now the God of HOPE (elpis) fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in the HOPE, through the power of the Holy Ghost’.
The argument of chapter 2 is that the Jew, equally with the Gentile, shall be judged; the argument of chapter 15 is that the Gentile, equally with the Jew, shares in the hope brought in by the ‘Root of Jesse’.
The creature (Romans 8)
Here we have Jew and Gentile, and deal with the creature as such. In Romans 5:12 Adam is introduced, and from that verse to the end of chapter 8 we are dealing with deeper issues than those connected with either Gentile or Jew, considered separately. Here we find suffering endured in view of glory:
- ‘The glory that shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation (apokalupsis) of the sons of God’ (Rom. 8:18,19 author’s translation).
This revelation of the sons of God awaits resurrection, when:
- ‘The creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God … waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body’ (Rom. 8:21-23 author’s translation).
This ‘salvation by hope’ that looks forward to the complete emancipation of ‘the creature’ and the ‘redemption of the body’, demands such intimate acquaintance with the arguments of chapters 5,6 and 7 that we leave this passage also for closer study indue course. For the moment the one thing that concerns us is the gathering up of the varied items in Romans that illuminate the doctrine of the Lord’s Coming.
With this passage that goes back to Adam and Eden, it is only natural we should take Romans 16:20, that likewise goes back to the same occasion:
- ‘The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet ‘shortly’ (Rom. 16:20).
- ‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’ (Gen. 3:15).
While in the first instance this prophecy looks to Christ Himself at Calvary, it also looks forward to the Second Coming when all the ‘seed’ shall have entered by ‘adoption’ into their glorious portion. Romans 8 and 16 deals with phases of the hope that transcend all limitations and dispensational boundaries, and make no difference to the most exclusive presentations of truth as given in the epistles written either before or since Acts 28.
Deliverer and Judge
Romans 11:26 is part of a large section, occupying chapters 9 to 11, which deals with the dispensational position of Israel and the Gentiles. Romans 14:9-12 is is part of a section, occupying the whole of chapter 14 and part of 15. which deals with the particular inter-relationship of Israel and the Gentile, the later being now received and saved by the same Christ. In Romans 11:26 Gentiles are warned that a limit is set to the period of Israël’s blindness: ‘And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob’. The hope of Israël can only be deferred to God’s good time: it can never fail.
A salutary word is given in Romans 14, possibly to the Gentile believer in his new-found liberty, wherein he was liable to despice the weaker scruples of his Hebrew brother:
- ‘But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ’ (Rom. 14:10).
That judgment seat will be set up at the coming of the Lord, and is in view in 1 John 2:28 and other similar passages. It remains therefore to heed Romans 13:11-14:
- ‘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: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light’.
Whether it be Peter (2 Pet. 3:11), James (Jas. 5:7) John (1 John 3:1-3), or Paul (Rom. 13:11-14), all agree in the moral issue, the practical outcome of the doctrine of the Lord’s Coming, viz., ‘Be ye also ready‘.
We now briefly consider the teaching of the Epistles of the Mystery written after Acts 28, when Israël’s hope was suspended, and they became lo-ammi ‘not My people’.
One thing at least has been established by this study, that the doctrine of the Second Coming is not by any means peculiar to the New Testament. Indeed it has been forced upon us by the sheer weight of the available evidence that there is not one New Testament reference to the Second Coming yet noticed, that is not either a quotation from the Old Testament or an expansion of its teaching. The reader may find profitable study in traversing the ground already covered to discover the Old Testament links. They are manifestly on the surface in Matthew 24 and the Apocalypse. 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 is not a new revelation; the mystery mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:51 relates, not to the Coming of the Lord, but to the ‘change’ of the living believer at His Coming; and the mystery of Romans 11:25 refers, not to the Coming of the Deliverer, but to the duration of Israel’s blindness.
The one hope of your calling
If the prison epistles belong to the same dispensation as that which obtains throughout the rest of the New Testament, or even in that part of it which follows the Gospels, then the hope will be the same, and will be expressed in similar terms. It will take place at the same time, in similar circumstances, and in the same sphere. There need be no mystery about our quest here; we have but to ‘search and see’. While it is true that spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned, it is also true that the spirit of wisdom and revelation is not needed to count the number of times the parousia is mentioned in Ephesians, or to determine whether or not the archangel’s voice is said to arouse the members of the One Body.
In Ephesians 1:17-23 we have a wonderful prayer recorded. It was in the first instance the prayer of the apostle Paul for the Ephesians saints, and he prays for nothing less than the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge (or acknowledgment) of ‘Him’ — either of Him (the Lord) or of it (the mystery) or probably of both, for they are inseparable (Col. 2:2 R.V.). This spirit of revelation is, in the first instance, that ‘ye may know what is the hope of His calling’. Now if the hope before the Ephesians had been already expounded in Paul’s earlier epistles and public ministry, why should teaching cease at Ephesians 1:16 and prayer for revelation commence? The prayer includes three subjects, two of which are confessedly new:
- ‘The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’ and ‘The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe … when He raised Him from the dead … far above all’ (Eph. 1:18-21).
The hope of His calling forms one of the seven features in the unity of the Spirit given in Ephesians 4, where it is called ‘the hope of your calling’. This one hope cannot be severed from the ‘one body’ and the ‘one Spirit’, for they are linked by the words ‘even as ye are called — in one hope of your calling’.
There is no actual mention of the Second Coming of the Lord in Ephesians, but one or two statements are given that look forward to the end, and we must consider the evidence which they provide. ‘The dispensation of the fulness of times’ when all things shall be gathered up in Christ, whether things in heaven or in earth, may refer to the great consummation towards which the purpose of the ages moves, but if it does, nothing is said as to the Lord’s Coming from heaven to earth.
The prior hope
In Ephesians 1:12 we read: ‘that we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ’. The word for ‘first trusted’ is, in the original, proelpizo, and does not occur elsewhere in either the New Testament, or the LXX — its literal meaning is ‘pre-hoped’, if we could tolerate so un-English a word. The passage is in correspondence with the words of verse 6 as shown in the structure:
A Predestinated as children.
B According to the good pleasure of his will.
C To the praise of the glory of His grace.
D Highly favoured in the Beloved.
A Predestinated as children.
B According to purpose … will.
C To praise of His glory.
D Who forehoped in Christ.
Pro in composition indicates either place, time, or preference. Instances of the third meaning are found in Romans 3:9 and 12:10: ‘are we better that they?’ and ‘in honour preferring one another’. And this meaning harmonizes with the parallel, ‘highly favoured’, of verse 6. The hope of Ephesians is ‘prior’ not only and not so much in the sense of time, although this is undoubtedly true, but rather in the sense of high favour and dignity — indeed, it is to be enjoyed ‘far above all principality’. ‘The exceeding riches of His grace’ follow closely upon the statement of our being ‘made to sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:6,7).
It must be acknowledge that positive teaching concerning the Second Coming of the Lord does not enter into the revelation of the Mystery in this epistle. If, however, we believe that ‘the hope of Israël’ was entertained by the apostle up to the time of his visit to Rome and his all-day conference with the leaders of the Jews there, then we are faced with two alternatives: either we must believe that the one hope concerning which the apostle prayed so deeply in Ephesian 1 was a hope known to all familiar with those Old Testament passages consider in this series, or we must believe that with the revelation of the Mystery was made known a new and corresponding hope. If the latter of these alternatives is not true, then the character of our hope is not, after all, distinctive or unique, and our calling, associated with a Mystery hitherto unrevealed (Eph. 3) and a sphere and period hitherto unknown (Eph. 1:3,4) has no corresponding hope. But such is not the case; our hope and our calling are in harmony.
The Mystery that fills up the Word of God ‘The hope of glory’ (Colossians)
It will be remembered that in writing to both the Thessalonians and the Corinthians, the apostle brings together in very vital connection ‘faith, hope and love’. This blessed trio is found both in Ephesians and Colossians. In Ephesians we read:
- ‘That we should be to the praise of His glory, who had a prior hope in Christ … after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints’ (Eph. 1:12-15 author’s translation).
The passage in Colossians is somewhat similar, the order, however, being reversed and hope mentioned last:
- ‘We give thanks … since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have unto all the saints, on account of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel … in all the world’ (Col. 1:3-6 author’s translation).
The subject that receives the fullest attention in this passage is ‘the hope’. Let us note the various items in its definition:
- It is laid up in heaven.
- It formed part of the ‘word of the truth of the gospel’.
- Which had all the world in view.
A superficial reading has led some to make of this passage a close parallel with 1 Peter 1:4: ‘An inheritance … reserved in heaven for you’. The words ‘reserve’ and ‘lay up’ however, are different, and the occasion when this inheritance is entered is very different also. ‘To lay up’ is the translation of apokeimai, which occurs four times in the New Testament:
- ‘Here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin’ (Luke 19:20).
- ‘The hope which is laid up for you in heaven’ (Col. 1:5).
- ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Tim. 4:8).
- ‘As it is appointed unto men once to die’ (Heb. 9:27).
The first occurrence, a non-doctrinal usage, gives the elementary meaning of the word, ‘laid up as in a napkin’. The parallel passage (Matt. 25:18) indicates that this man ‘went and digged in the earth, and hid (apokrupto) his lord’s money’.
We are already acquainted with the fact that the Mystery as revealed in Ephesians and Colossians is said to have been ‘hidden’ from ages and generations (Col. 1:26; Eph. 3:9), and that the very life of the members of the One Body is said to be ‘hid’ with Christ in God, so that a hope ‘laid up’ as a talent in a napkin is in harmony with a life ‘hid’ and a mystery hitherto unrevealed.
This hope is laid up ‘in heaven’. In one sense this is true of all blessings, for ‘every good and every perfect gift cometh from above’, but it is not true that every blessing will be enjoyed ‘in heaven’. Some will be enjoyed on earth, and some in the new Jerusalem. Those blessings that are not only heavenly in character, but which can only be enjoyed ‘in the heavenly places far above all’, are those which pertain to the high calling of the mystery.
This special hope was made known to the Colossians by ‘the word of the true of the gospel’, an expression so in line with Ephesians 1:13 as to be an ‘intentional reference to the same thing. Let us put them together:
- ‘Who had a prior hope in Christ, in Whom, ye also, upon hearing THE WORD OF TRUTH, THE GOSPEL of your salvation … having believed, were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise’ (Eph. 1:12,13 author’s translation).
‘For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL; which … bringeth forth fruit … your love in the spirit’ (Col. 1:5-8).
This gospel had come unto the Colossians and all the world. The word ‘come’ does not imply that when the apostle wrote these words the gospel referred to had actually been ‘preached’ in all the world. The word ‘come’ is parontos, a participle of the verb pareimi, ‘to be beside’, which also supplies us with the more familiar parousia, which means the actual, personal, presence of the Lord.
Peter, it will be remembered, emphasized that which he called ‘present truth’ in 2 Peter 1:12, which had in view the Coming of the Lord as the day-star of Old Testament prophecy (2 Pet. 1:16-21). That phase of truth was ‘present’ or, as we sometimes say, ‘obtained’, for those to whom Paul ministers in these prison epistles. This is ‘the present true’ for us, and just as Peter prayed that his hearers might be established in the present truth, so likewise Paul prayed (Col. 1:28). What we do well to remember is that a redeemed Israëlite, called under the dispensation ministered by Peter, could not be ‘established’ in truth that belonged to members of the One body; it would not be present truth to him. And just in the same way, the members of the One body cannot be established in truth outside that which is present to them, but only in that which has to do with the high calling of the Mystery.
The apostle expands this idea of ‘present truth’ in the same chapter. After claiming the ministry of the One Body as something very exclusively his own, by reason of a dispensation given to him by God, ‘even the mystery’ hitherto hidden from the ages and generations, he proceeds:
- ‘But now is made manifest to His saints (see “all saints” in 1:4): to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery (see Eph. 1:18: “The hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints”), among the Gentiles (see Col. 1:6: “Unto you and all the world”); which is Christ in (among) you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:26,27).
The very fact that, in spite of the setting aside of Israel, and in spite of the cessation of supernatural gifts, Christ could be preached ‘among the Gentiles’ necessitated some basis other than that given in earlier Scriptures. For, where, apart from the Mystery epistles, can we find warrant for going with a message of supernatural grace and glory to Gentiles, independently of Israel, the New Covenant, and the promises made to Abraham? Neither Israël, the New Covenant, nor the promises to Abraham enter into the gospel and hope of the church (ecclesia) which is His body.
The third chapter contains a further statement concerning our hope:
- ‘When Christ, Who is our life, shall be made manifest, then shall ye also be made manifest with Him IN GLORY’ (Col. 3:4 author’s translation).
With this passage we should read Titus 2:13.
His appearing (2 Timothy)
Colossians 3:4 and Titus 2:13 have two features in common which are specially connected with the hope of the Mystery.
The first is the word ‘appearing’; the second the word ‘glory’. In Colossians 3:4 ‘appear’ in the original is phaneroo, and in Titus 2:13 it is the cognate word epiphaneia. Before Acts 28 Paul uses the two words parousia and apokalupsis (‘coming’ and ‘revelation’) when speaking of the Lord’s Coming, using epiphaneia once when speaking of the ‘brightness’ of the parousia (2 Thess. 2:8). After Acts 28 he never again uses either of the words parousia or apokalupsis to define the Second Coming of the Lord, but takes up and uses the word epiphaneia. The very distinction of terms is eloquent. If the inspired apostle thus indicates a difference by the marked way he uses the terms, it is for us, if we really believe God’s Word, to acknowledge the difference and approve the things that are more excellent.
Epiphaneia occurs in Paul’s epistles after Acts 28 as follows:
- ‘Keep … until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Tim. 6:4).
- ‘The appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Tim. 1:10).
- ‘The Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom’ (2 Tim. 4:1).
- ‘Them also that love His appearing‘ (2 Tim. 4:8).
- ‘The glorious appearing of the great God’ (Titus 2:13).
The first reference in 2 Timothy does not relate to the Second Coming, which leaves us four passages. This ‘appearing’ was the object, not only of the apostle’s hope, but also of his love. He speaks of a crown of righteousness which shall be given not to himself only, but also to all those who have loved His appearing. That this love is most practical, is evident by reading the verses that follow. In direct contrast with those who ‘have loved His appearing’ is the pitiable example of Demas, who forsook the apostle — ‘having loved this present age’.
There are some who put the doctrine of the Second Coming aside as being most impracticable teaching, and likely to breed a company of mere dreamers. 2 Timothy 4 reveals that this is far from the true, and Titus 2 is most positive in its teaching concerning the practical value of the hope of the Church (ecclesia).
Titus 2 gives words of practical instruction to old and young; men and women. Servants, or more strictly speaking slaves, are exhorted to ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’, and this practical exhortation is emphasized by the passage with the hope of the church (ecclesia):
- ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’ (Titus 2:11-14).
The gist of this passage appears to be that the grace of God not only saves, but teaches us how to live subsequently, and that new life is expressed negatively by the denial of worldly lusts, and positively by righteousness, which, in its turn, is further expanded by placing in contrast ‘this present world’ and ‘the glorious appearing’, as in 2 Timothy 4:8-10.
The simple sentence shorn of all explanatory matter is — ‘the grace of God teaches us that we should live looking‘. This is in marked contrast with 2 Timothy 4 where Demas ‘loved this present age’. Here we are taught how to live ‘in this present age’. Demas is contrasted with those who ‘love His appearing’; here the true life in this present age is characterized by ‘looking for … the appearing’. The words ‘glorious appearing’ should read ‘the appearing of the glory’. It will be remembered that in Colossians 1:27 we found that the preaching of Christ among the Gentiles during this parenthetical period (‘to fill up the Word of God’, Col. 1:25) was pledge of their hope of glory, and that when Christ, Who is our life, shall be made manifest, then we also, shall be made manifest with Him in glory. So it it with Titus 2:13, ‘the Blessed Hope’ is the manifestation of the glory. When hope is realized, then that which has only seen partially enjoyed ‘by faith’ will be entered in reality. Even now ‘by faith’ we are raised together and made to sit together in the heavenlies: then, when hope is realized, we shall sit there in reality.
It would not be a realization of my calling to find myself in the millennial kingdom, however blessed and far beyond all merit such a lot would be. It would not be realization of my calling to find myself, for any possible reason, occupying one of the twelve thrones of the apostles. No, my faith has received the testimony of God concerning this dispensation of the Mystery, and the hope of that calling can only be realized ‘far above all’. At present the Lord Jesus waits until the time appointed shall come. Before He descends with all His angels, to take the kingdom and reign, He will be made manifest ‘in glory’.
There will be a moment which will be ‘the manifestation of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ’. When that takes place, every member of the blessed company that constitutes ‘the church (ecclesia) which is His Body’ shall be made manifest with Him in (that) glory’. How do they get there? We are not told, and some questions of a similar nature are not answer (1 Cor. 15:35). No one, whatever be his calling, can enter into the realization of it apart from resurrection, but whatever the resurrection of this church (ecclesia) will be individual or collective, visible or invisible, is not revealed. The church (ecclesia) of the Mystery is not numbered among the denominations of Christendom. Its sudden cessation would have no effect upon the religious world. Its inception, its course, and its conclusion, are alike secret. Some will hear the archangel’s voice, some will hear the last trump; but not so the church (ecclesia) of the One Body. Before the archangel speaks, or that last trump shall have sounded, every member of this company shall have been manifested with Him in glory’.
We have not included Philippians 3:20 in our study, believing that there the apostle deals with the prize of the high calling and not its hope. We mention this in case our readers should think that it had been overlooked. This ‘blessed hope’ is unconnected with signs of the times, except that as we see on the horizon the gathering together of events prophesied in Scripture, we know that our own hope is nearer. If only we could just ‘live … looking’, this present age would have no hold upon us; we should indeed ‘love his appearing’.
We have now given the doctrine of the Lord’s Coming a survey, in which, though we have had to pass over many interesting details, we have not consciously omitted any item importance. Apart from the hope of the One Body, the whole doctrine of both Old and New Testaments on this subject is one and indivisible. While we dare not attempt to decide for others what constitutes their hope, it is plain to ourselves that 1 Thessalonians 4 is not the blessed hope of Titus or of Colossians 1 and 3.
Here we must take leave of the subject, and in closing return to the point from which we commenced. The Second coming of the Lord, as generally received, is not the theme of the prison epistles, and as their peculiar message is the basis of our testimony, the absence of that doctrine from the pages of The Berean Expositor in the past can be easily understood. We do, however, entirely endorse the teaching that the world can never grow better apart from the personal presence of the Lord, neither can the great and precious promises to Israël, the nations, or creation itself, be realized apart from his return. All this is true, without altering our own sphere of blessing and hope. Though different companies of the redeemed have as their respective hopes varying phases of the Lord’s manifestation, differing as greatly as the hope of those whose inheritance is found ‘above all principality’ differs from that of those meek ones who shall ‘inherit the earth’, nevertheless all — Kingdom, Church, Body or Bride — are united in the one blessed fact that the Lord Himself is their hope. Let us ‘live … looking’.
Out: An Alphabetical Analysis / Prophetic Truth / By Charles H. Welch
THE CHAPEL OF THE OPENED BOOK / LONDON:
www.levendwater.org / Bediening van het Geheimenis … Efeze 3:9
www.everread.nl / Doe je graag Bijbelstudie?
Dagelijks nieuws uit het Midden-Oosten:
ISRAEL: / USA:
Gerard J.C. Plas