DID THE APOSTLES EXPECT THE RETURN OF CHRIST IN THEIR TIME?
G. H. LANG
Something less than twenty years after the ascension of the Lord, about A.D. 51, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and said: "We that are alive, that are left unto the parousia of the Lord,Ē etc.† On the strength of this it has been asserted that "the writings [of the New Testament] have most pointedly and specifically identified themselves with the living" at the parousia, and the question of our title is held to require an affirmative answer.† But this depends upon the sense here of the "we," "we that are alive."
The usage of the "we" and "ye" does not amount to proof: it might mean this; it may not.
Num. 15: 2. At Kadesh
Barnea (ch. 14)
Deut. 11: 7. At the close of the desert
wanderings Moses said to the nation, "your eyes have seen all the great work of Jehovah which He did."† This included His works in
Jg. 2: 10, 11.† All who had come out of
4. Is. 64.† Speaking for the godly remnant to come in the last days, the prophet cries for God to come down, to melt the mountains, etc. (1, 2).† He glances at the far past, when God did come down and Sinai quaked, and says (3), "when Thou didst terrible things which we looked not for," though neither he nor those for whom he speaks had been at Sinai.
5. Dan. 9: 5, 6. The godly prophet says, "We have sinned, and have dealt perversely, have done wickedly, have rebelled, have turned aside from Thy precepts,Ē etc., though ch. 1: 4-8 show that from his youth Daniel personally had lived quite the reverse of this.
6. Tit. 3: 3.† Similarly, Paul says, "we also aforetime were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures,Ē etc., though he himself had not so lived, for he says that from his forefathers he had served God with a pure conscience (2 Tim. 1: 3, and see Acts 23: 1 and Phil. 3: 6).† While these statements do not mean that he had been sinless, they do forbid that he had been characterized by disobedience and given up to lusts and pleasures.
7. Rom. 6. When Paul (1) says, "Shall we continue in sin?" he does not intend that he personally had any such idea.† When he adds (8), "if we died with Christ," he is not raising a doubt as to himself, for he had [in a sense] been crucified with Christ and had died with Him as an accepted and experienced reality (Gal. 2: 19, 20; 6: 14).
8. Acts 6: 14. The accusers of Stephen speak of "the customs which Moses delivered unto us," though they lived fifteen centuries after Moses.
9. Acts 7: 38. So also Stephen speaks of Moses having "received living oracles to give unto us."
10. 2 Cor. 4: 14.† Still more decisively as to the point in hand, Paul himself said to the Corinthians that "God shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you."† What other meaning can this have than that Paul expected to die and be raised?† Had he, then, changed his mind since he wrote to the Thessalonians five years earlier?† If so, which of his expectations was from God?† And, if so, what becomes of his inspiration and his authority as a teacher?
is a common usage of "we" and the like
pronouns that the speaker thereby merely associates himself with the race,
society, or class of which he is a member.†
Thus: "I cannot promise myself to be
present, but I propose to the club that we join in this
celebration."† Or an
Englishman may say even now, "We won Trafalgar and
"We that are alive, that are left unto the parousia," can fairly mean no more than, "those of the Christian society that shall be alive at the parousia."
But more definitely.† The positive proof that Paul did not contemplate himself living in the parousia is of great weight.
1. 1Thes. 5: 1. "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that ought to be written unto you.† For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." The "but" of verse 1 (de) links that paragraph with the preceding.† It is a conjunctive particle super-adding somewhat to that which has preceded, not a disjunctive particle separating the clauses.† And there is no antecedent to "times and seasons" other than the parousia just mentioned. "But concerning the times and the seasons" for what?† The only answer is, For the events before stated.† In the same way the gar "For" connects verse 2 with verse 1, as the de of verse 1 connects with ch. 4: "You have no need that ought to be written unto you as to the times and the seasons, for as to them you know that the day of the Lord so cometh,Ē etc.† The argument contained in the gar simply prohibits the taking the "day of the Lord" as a new subject to which he now turns.† It does not need to be said that the chapter divisions are of no authority.† Here the division is most misleading. †It should have come at verse 13 of ch. 4.
The events just mentioned, the parousia, resurrection, and rapture, are therefore connected with the day of the Lord, and so to the times and the seasons for them Paul had already, when with them, given instruction.
The second, and quickly following, letter ([2 Thess.] ch. 2: 1, 2) similarly joins the parousia, our gathering together with Christ, and the day of the Lord, and most expressly warns them against the notion that that day of the Lord had already set in, for it could not do so until certain events had occurred and the Lawless One had been revealed.† He was reminding them with emphasis not to expect the parousia, our gathering together, or the day of the Lord before these events.† He considered such a false expectation as a beguilement, and hints that there were spirits, as well as men, who would seek the deception of saints upon this point.
A.V. rendering of [the Greek word] huper
"I beseech you by the parousia,Ē etc., is incorrect and misleading.† It makes the parousia and the gathering of the saints a ground
of the appeal that they be not shaken in mind, and seems to disconnect those
events from the day of the Lord.† Of the
some 160 places where the word is found it is not once elsewhere rendered by,
and it is a force the word does not have.†
This is one instance from many how the A.V. prevents the reader from
accurate knowledge in prophetic study.†
The R.V. "We beseech you touching
with its margin "Gr. In behalf of,"
i.e. in reference to, connects the parousia
and the gathering with the day of the Lord, the former being events to take
place within that Day.† For this meaning of huper
Now whoever will visualize the tremendous series of world events that the prophets and the Lord foretold as to lead up to the Day of the Lord must surely pause before asserting that Paul considered that they might commence and be completed within his lifetime, or rather in that shorter portion that he could expect when writing to the Thessalonians.† Only ten years later he spoke of himself as aged (Philemon 9).† There was no sign of them in the year A.D. 52 when he was writing.
The attempt to break this argument by asserting that Paul is not here speaking of the parousia at the Day of the Lord, but of a previous and secret parousia only revealed to him when he was writing to the Thessalonians, and not made known before, is inadmissible, being without evidence or reason in support, contrary to these passages and all passages.† The definite article in 2 Thess. 2: 1, "touching the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ," shows that Paul knew of only one parousia, the one when we shall be gathered unto Him, therefore the one mentioned in the former letter, [1 Thess.] ch. 4; and the contexts in both letters prove this to be connected with the Day of the Lord.† Scripture knows of no previous parousia or descent from the throne of God, as far as we can find.† He is to sit there until the time for the subjection of His enemies.† The suggestion in question requires Him to leave the throne and come down to the air before that subjugation is to commence, indeed, before the greatest of all His enemies, the Beast, has even come on the scene. We shall revert to this point in para. 5 below.
Details will compel and confirm this idea of Paulís attitude and will show that he could not, at the time he wrote, have been expecting a near return of Christ.
2. Peter was not yet dead, nor yet old (Jonn. 21: 18, 19). It is assumed here that he was about the same age as his Master when he was called by Him.† Both events had to take place, as all the brethren knew.† It was this expectation, not in that of the return of Christ in his life, that Peter lived.† The Lord had said unto him, "when thou shalt be old another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldst not."† John understood this to "signify the manner of death by which Peter should glorify God."† Over thirty years later than Christ spoke Peter wrote: "I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you by putting you in remembrance; knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me" (2 Pet. 1: 13, 14).† What Christ had signified, therefore, was that John understood, Peterís death, not any spiritual experience, as has fancifully suggested, but "the putting off of his tabernacle," which he at once turns into its literal sense by adding, "Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance."
Five or six years later than when he wrote to the Thessalonians Paul was a
prisoner in Jerusalem, and received from the Lord, present in prison, the
specific announcement, "Be of good cheer: for as
thou hast testified concerning Me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also
at Rome" (Acts. 23: 11).† Three reflections arise. (a) That Paul could
not henceforth expect the parousia
until, at the earliest, after he should have testified at
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians the gospel had reached but a small portion
of even the Roman world and it had to be taken to the whole earth.† The thought must not be confined to that
invention of prophetic students "the Roman earth"
or "the prophetic earth."† Great territories were known to exist that
It is very uncertain whether Paul reached
5. Those who maintain that we ought to be expecting the parousia momentarily, because, as they say, the apostles did so, commonly assert that the supposed secret rapture they teach was revealed for the first time when Paul was writing his first letter to the Thessalonians.† They are obliged so to assert for, as has always been admitted, it is plain that the Old Testament and the Gospels speak only of the coming of Christ in glory.† This admission involves that when present at Thessalonica Paul could only have spoken of the latter event, the coming in glory, no other coming or rapture having been revealed until later, i.e., when he wrote to them.† Yet, as seen above, his second letter (2: 1, 5) shows incontrovertibly that when with them he had told them of "the parouisia of the Lord," our gathering together unto Him, and the Day of the Lord: "Remember ye not that when I was with you I told you these things?"
Therefore, as the secret rapture, prior to the rise of the Lawless One, had not been revealed when Paul was with them (as we wholly agree), that parousia and gathering to the Lord of which he did speak at that time cannot have been this alleged secret coming and rapture, for these, as the theory owns, had not then been revealed.† It could only have been that the parousia and gathering of which Christ had spoken (Matt. 24: 29-31), and which were to follow next after the tribulation of those Latter Days, for no other coming and gathering had been made known.† And the reason is, that there is to be no other coming of Christ than that of which He himself spoke.† Of this Paul himself is a witness in chief, for he has declared with the utmost preciseness that "the blessed hope" of the church is "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit. 2: 13), and not any prior and secret event.† See later under prosdechomai.
It cannot be alleged that when with them he had indeed spoken of the same coming and gathering as taught by Christ, but that now, in his first letter, he was bringing before them something fresh, for the first letter shows (5: 1, 2) and the second letter distinctly asserts (2: 5) that he was reminding them of the very things he had told them by word of mouth.
If any disputant will now give up the assertion in question, and, changing ground, will say that the secret coming was revealed before Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, it will be his duty to prove this by Scripture, which, as far as we know, cannot be done nor has been attempted.
Thus the facts as to Paul are, that about A.D. 50 or 51 he was teaching at Thessalonica that the apostasy must come before the return of the Lord and our gathering together unto Him: that shortly after, when writing his letters to that city, he repeated the same things: that five or six years later he wrote to the Corinthians about his being raised from the dead to be presented with them before the Lord: that within two years thereafter he was explicitly told by the Lord that he would live to testify at Rome: that perhaps nine years later he wrote to Timothy that his death was now at hand, and gave him instructions as to continuing the teaching by passing on to other faithful men what he had heard from himself (2 Tim. 4: 6; 2: 2).
Thus his attitude was exactly that of Peter, contemplating death and taking steps to perpetuate the testimony after his departure.† It is impossible to thrust into this consistent attitude and teaching the notion, so contradictory and dislocating, that when he wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians he set forth a new scheme as to the parousia never heard of before and never mentioned again.† The other great passage on resurrection and rapture (1 Cor. 50: 15-58) contains not a word that requires its fulfilment before the Tribulation, but the references to the last trump and the swallowing up of death in victory connect most naturally with Rev. 11: 15-18 and Hosea. 13: 14, both dealing with the Day of the Lord at the end of the Tribulation. The same is true of 1 Thes. 4: 13-18.† Taken by itself it can be as well put after the Antichrist period as before, for it gives no hint either way; but taken in its proper connection with the paragraph next following, it agrees with the Corinthian passage as to this point.† But deprive the theory of a secret, any moment rapture of these two scriptures and it really has nothing left.
6. The apostolic outlook was of necessity conditioned by the statements of the Lord made to them (1) that he was going on a long journey ("a man going into a far country," Luke 19: 12), and (2) it would be only "after a long time" that the Master of the house would return (Matt. 25: 19): and (3) His further statement a few weeks later, noticed above, extended that "long time" until at least Peter should have grown old and have died a violent death (John. 21: 18-23).† The first of these statements was made in public; the second to four apostles, of whom Peter was one (Mark. 13: 3); the last "went forth among the brethren," i.e., passed beyond the seven present (verse 2) to the brethren generally.
It is therefore beyond credence that only a few weeks later Peter was publicly assuring the Jewish people that, if only they as a nation would repent, Christ would then and there return.† This is an impossible sense to import into his words in Acts. 3: 19-21.† He knew from the Lordís own words that the nation would not repent, but was rejected, and that their city would be destroyed and themselves dispersed.† The sense imposed upon what he here said throws it into disharmony with his appeal in the preceding chapter: "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (2: 40), the contrary idea to that of the generation being saved.
But in fact Peterís words in ch. 3 carry the refutation of this misleading notion.† He declared that "the heavens must receive [Messiah] until the times of the restitution of all things whereof God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old". †Thus Peter asserts that the whole of those mighty world changes of which the Old Testament so largely speaks must take place in connection with the return of Christ, and he would know that they could not be condensed into a brief time, but would take years to complete. The last "week" of Daniel 9 alone would require seven years.
7. In connection with the prediction of Peterís death, and in answer to a question by Peter as to what awaited John, the Lord said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"† The disciples then showed they were like disciples are to-day, quick carelessly to read into words what is not said.† They took these words to mean that John would not die, but should live till the Lord should come again.† Late in life John took pains to correct this false notion, pointing out that Christ had not said that, thus hinting incidentally that words must be construed strictly, not be taken loosely.† The fact that this mistaken expectation was held concerning one particular believer shows that it was not held concerning all believers.† If it had been the expectation that all believers might live to the return of Christ, no special word would have been needed to create that expectation as to one of them.† But the emphasis in the Greek makes clear that the notion was based on that special saying and was confined to John: "Went out therefore this the word among the brethren that that disciple would not die"
8. Further, the Lordís definite assertions quoted, that His absence would be lengthy, must be remembered steadily when the sense is sought of His earlier statements that His followers are to be like unto men waiting for their Lord.† It were grievous irreverence to suppose that at first He created an assumption that He had afterwards to correct.† Yet to this there is no alternative if it be held that His earlier teaching had meant that the apostles and their contemporaries were to expect His return in the near future.
One of the earliest of these sayings is typical of others (Luke 12: 35-40):"Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their Lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto Him."
The very picture employed forbids that the servants should imagine that their Master might return "at any moment" or without notice.† They were too well acquainted with the bustle and excitement attending an eastern marriage procession to gather the notion that it might arrive and no one know it was near, if he was awake.† Thus in the parable of the virgins a "cry" went forth "Behold the bridegroom"; and in the same discourse it was said, "When ye see all these things know ye that He is nigh" (Mt. 24: 33).† Thus the Lordís teaching was never consistent; not cannot it be said that this does not refer to the coming for the church, for the warning to the church at Sardis is to the same effect, implying that the watchful will know when the hour has come, while the unwatchful will in no wise know: "IF therefore thou shalt not watch I will come as a thief, and thou shalt in no wise know what hour I will come upon thee" (Rev. 3: 3).
Moreover, (1) the servants knew that the bridegroom had to go to the house of the brideís father; that there the customary ceremonies and festivities (usually protracted affairs) had to be accomplished; and that the return journey had to be made. (2) The picture implied that therefore they need not expect him during the first watch of the night (6 to 9 p.m.) of which Christ made no mention; and it was left open if it might be in the second watch (9 to 12 p.m.), or whether it might not be till the third (12 to 3 a.m.). (3) In the explication of this parable the Lord contemplated the business of His house going on so long that a good servant might degenerate into a bad one; for he says, "My Lord delayeth his coming," which it would not occur to any one to say until some considerable lapse of time after the master had left and beyond the full time when he might have returned.† The good servant turning from his fidelity is the clear force of what is said.† It is only when he starts to entertain the notion of the delay of his lord that he "begins" his misconduct, which means that up till then he had done his duty.† The pronoun "that evil servant" is emphatic: If an evil servant, or if any evil servant: but He did not so speak.
a later occasion (Lk. 17: 20), answering a question as to when "the
These remarks apply to the parables in Matt. 24 and 25. In Matt. 13 a series of parables had already indicated developments and changes to go on throughout this present age, from the time when the Son of Man began sowing the good seed until the harvest, which latter would be when the Son of Man should send forth His angels at the consummation of the age (49).† All that then was intimated had to come to pass before that consummation and harvest could come; and so later, in Matt. 24: 14, it was repeated that the gospel [Ďof the kingdomí] had to be taken to the whole world, and many other mighty events come to pass, before the Son of Man would send forth those angels.† It was in the light of His prior instruction that the Lord repeated the call and warning as to the servants of His household watching as men ready for their lord, and the watching required cannot nullify the earlier instruction that many things would take place before He would come.
The parable of the ten virgins as distinctly implied a lengthy absence as did the parable from Luke. 12 considered above.† The bridegroom has gone to fetch the bride, and he is away so long that the virgins pass the interval sleeping.† This is followed by a further picture of the household during the Masterís absence (Matt. 25: 14), which ends only after "a long time."† It is to be observed how frequently this figure of the "house" is employed, and in passages regularly to do with the coming of the Son of Man.† As to what is the "house" during the absence of the Lord there can be no question.† The later New Testament writings settle this.† The "house of God" is the "church of the living God" (1 Tm. 3: 15: etc., etc.).† So that the house, the church, is to continue on earth until the coming of the Son of Man,* that coming of which His parables speak, which indeed is the only future coming known to Scripture.
[* Not the whole Ďchurch,í that is, every regenerate believer; for the watchful, who are Ďable to escapeí will be removed via rapture, before the Great Tribulation commences, (Luke 21: 34-36).]
9. We pass now to expressions which some think to be inconsistent with this view of New Testament.
The terms "wait for," "look for," do not in themselves carry the force of momentary expectation, but are used of events known to be distant and to take place after other events to precede.
used (a) of the man at the pool waiting for the moving of the
water (John. 5: 3).† This took place (kata kairon), which term in
(2) Apekdechomai, the intensive form, is used (a) of the creation waiting for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8: 19); yet this is unintelligent waiting, since the creation cannot enter consciously into the plans of God, which shows that no "any moment" attitude is necessary to the word. (b) And even when used of the believer waiting for the redemption of the body (Rom. 8: 23), it is (c) then at once shown (verse 25) that it is a patient waiting, as for something that is not expected instantly. †(d) It is therefore in this sense of patience of hope that (e) "we wait for a Saviour" (Phil. 3: 20), that (f) He will be manifested to them that wait for Him (Heb. 9: 28), and (g) that the apostles waited for His coming (1 Cor. 1: 7), and (g) for the hope of righteousness (Gal. 5: 8). †The force of this word lies in the intensity of the longing, and this is not dependent upon brevity of interval.
(3) Prosdokao is another cognate. †It is used of Peter looking for events so admittedly far distant as the parousia of the Day of God and the coming of the new heavens and earth, which are to be later than the millennial era itself (2 Pet. 3: 12-14).
The derivative prosdokia comes only twice. (a) The Jews were expecting Herod to execute Peter (Acts 12: 11), but they could not know just what day the king would fix, whether near or later. †(b) In the last days menís hearts will be failing for fear and for expectation of what terrors the future may hold (Luke 21: 26); but again the fear is undefined as to the precise events or the time of their occurrence. †It is this very vagueness which causes and aggravates the fear.
Prosdechomai. †The same sense attaches to this word. †So much of uncertainty may lie in it that it
is used (a) of men looking for a promise of which it is quite
uncertain whether it will be given at all, that of the chief captain to bring
Paul before the council (Acts 23: 21). †Then it is used (b) of Simeon looking
for the consolation of
is both certain and significant that Paul so employed the word, and indicates
that his attitude was as here shown, for he says that the Christian is to be
"looking for the blessed hope and [even the, or, which is the] appearing of the glory of the great God our Saviour Jesus
Christ" (Tit. 2: 13). †The grammar simply forbids the common but
erroneous notion that the "blessed hope" is a first event and the
"appearing" a later. Alford remarks:
"Hope and appearing belong together." So
It is thus clear that this word, like its cognates, is used of events that are known to be distant and may be preceded by other expected occurrences, so that the sense of immediacy is no necessary part of their New Testament meaning. †They deny any validity to the assertion that one cannot be looking for an event if he thinks that other events may first occur, as that one cannot be looking for Christ if he thinks that Antichrist must come first. †In the New Testament sense of these words one can be so looking for Christ, and very many have been and are thus looking for Him. †What is positively contrary to New Testament facts and usage is that the apostles were looking for Him in any other manner. †Linking, as before noticed, the parousia of Christ, our gathering unto Him, and His Day, Paul has most categorically affirmed that "it will not be except the apostacy come first and the man of lawlessness be revealed" and that any other notion is a deception (2 Thes. 2: 1-3). †It will not be affirmed that no one looks for, waits for, expects, new heavens and earth because we all expect other events first.
10. It has been shown that "I come quickly" does not mean soon, but swiftly. †Difficulty, however, is felt by some with such statements as "Yet a very little while the Coming One shall come, and will not tarry" (Heb. 10: 37). †It is urged that such phrases would not have been used by men who did not expect the event shortly, and they are made a basis for the charge that the apostles taught their converts an outlook which time falsified. †Yet moderate attention to the facts of Scripture usage would avoid this misconception.
(1) Habakkuk 2: 3 is similar. †"The vision is yet for the appointed time and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay." †"The end" is to be when "Jehovah is in His holy temple" and "all the earth [is to] keep silence before him" (verse 20). †Under Seal 6 this will be shown to mean the day of the Lord. †The vision is pictured as a runner panting as he nears the goal. †Yet time is implied in the words "though it tarry." †The words "it will not delay" explain the "He will not tarry" of Heb. 10: 37. †There is only delay or tarrying if the person lingers beyond the appointed time for moving. †In Matt. 25: 5 the translation "while the bridegroom tarried," though the same word as in Heb. 10, is misleading, for there would be no set hour for the cessation of the festivities at the brideís house and so no tarrying. †The sense is: "As the bridegroom did not come for some long time"; and this gave occasion for the virgins to slumber. †Thus this parable, like others, suggested some lengthy absence of Christ.
(2) Many centuries earlier than Habakkuk Moses had sung of Israelís "end" (Deut. 32: 20), even their "latter end" (verse 29), and had said: "the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that are to come upon them shall make haste," which is at once connected with their final restoration (35 and ff.). †Thus the Bible language "at hand" may mean three and a half millenniums later and "make haste" means quick work once it has commenced.
(3) Again, Isaiah (56: 1), speaking of the still future day of Messiah, said: "Thus saith Jehovah ... My salvation is near to come," yet we still await it.
speaks from His own standpoint and outlook, and measures distance by His own
standards, not by manís [standards]. †It is for
us reverently to habituate our thinking to His, not to reduce His conceptions
to our measures. †A strong man might
point to his homestead across the valley, and say, We
shall soon be there, but this weary little boy might think the walk very long. †It is strictly in this connection that Peter
says that the Lord is not careless as to His promise to return, and that we are
not to forget that Godís unit of time measurement is not a day but a millennium
of years. †From His standpoint His
Speaking of the overthrow of "the terrible one,"
Antichrist, and the salvation of
It will be shown shortly that there is another view-point (a human, as the foregoing is the divine) from which these phrases may be regarded, each view being consistent with the other.
The conceptions of Scripture are everywhere consistent, and the expressions of them also; but the force of the words must be gained from Scripture itself, not from inexact colloquial English usage. †Yet even if the strict force of the English terms expect, look for, wait for, be observed, it can be seen that these, as surely as the Greek words they translate, do not necessarily require immediacy as part of their meaning, but are equally proper when a lengthy interval may be in question. †From the hour that a husband leaves his home on a lengthy foreign journey his wife will expect, look for, wait for his return. †Indeed, waiting of necessity implies some lapse of time in which to wait; looking for a person implies that he is not yet in sight; expecting an event implies no more than it will take place. †Such expressions will be equally applicable if it is known that the time is near, or distant, or is quite undetermined.
The other term to be examined is gregoreo, usually rendered watch. †It comes from egeiro, to rouse from sleep, to cause to rise up; hence, to live (1 Thes. 5: 10); then, to be awake, and hence to watch. †It is found first at Matt. 24: 42: "Watch therefore; for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh." †This follows an intimation that the parousia of the Son of Man will be as it was in the days of Noah and the coming of the Flood. †For that dread event Noah surely waited and watched in faith, though he knew it was not to come until after he had built and stored the ark, and his family and the beasts should have been gathered therein. †Here is a Scriptural picture of watching; it means to be thoroughly alive to a situation and taking all measures required in the light of what is expected.
last thought is the essence of the Biblical idea of watching. †It means exactly the reverse of so regarding
an event that one does nothing, but lapses into inactivity. †Said the humorous Spurgeon: ĎYe
The faithful wife, by nurturing constant desire of heart for her husbandís return, and by caring well for his house and interests while he is away, will be more truly "watching" for him than if she sat at a window all day gazing down the street. †Her heart would ceaselessly watch, that is, be alive to his return, looking for it, longing for it, even though she knew much must transpire ere he could return from a distant land.
That about the year A.D. 30 Christ did not intend His followers so to watch as if He might return very shortly may be inferred from the fact that sixty years later He was still exhorting His people to watch (Rev. 3: 2; 6: 15).
One other consideration is important and illuminating. †Prophetic utterance was often ecstatic, the speaker, as to his consciousness, being transported from his own place and time into the realm and period concerning which he prophesied. †The very first prophetic utterance given through a man demonstrates this. †Enoch spoke of the coming of the Lord as if he had seen it happen, saying, "the Lord came with ten thousands of His holy ones" (Jude 14). †Similarly the last prophet says: "I became in spirit in the Day of the Lord" (Rev. 1: 10). †Hence the descriptions he sometimes gives of events as having taken place, for they had done so in vision before his consciousness. †An elder says to him: "These are they who are coming out of the Tribulation," as if they were watching the procession in motion (7: 14): and later, great voices proclaim that "the kingdom of the world became the kingdom of our Lord" (11: 15). †It is in keeping with this that God himself, to Whom the future is as the present, speaks of His salvation as near, and that in a very little while Christ shall come. †More will be said on this aspect later.
The assertion that the Lord taught the apostles, and they their converts, that His return might be in that generation carries serious and destructive implications. †Time quickly and completely falsified the notion. †So, then, either:
1. The Lord misled them and they the church, in which case the modernistic challenge of their and His authority is justified. †But more. †The Lord declared that "as the Father taught Me, I speak ... I spake not from Myself, but the Father who sent Me He hath given Me a commandment what to say, and what I should speak" (John 8: 28; 12: 49; 14: 10). †He further said that it would be thus with the [Holy] Spirit of truth also: He too would not "speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear shall He speak: and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come" (John 16: 13). †The misleading therefore upon this weighty matter of prophecy must be attributed finally to God the Father; the Son and the [Holy] Spirit and the disciples being all misled. †But this being impossible, no such teaching can have been given. †Therefore:
2. Neither the words of the Lord nor of the apostles carry the sense supposed, but their meaning was everywhere consistent with what God knew the facts would be. †If the present discussion contributes in any measure to the demonstrating of this it will be of value. †That the prophecies of the Bible always find exact [and literal] fulfilment is a chief and self-employed evidence of its truth and of its being from God. †Yet some who glory in this as to the Old Testament have laboured a scheme of interpretation which falsifies it as to the New Testament, by maintaining that Christ and His apostles encouraged a hope which failed utterly. †These are among the wounds which He receives in the house of His lovers.
Note. The opinion, expounded in this commentary, that there is to be a removal of watchful believers prior to the End Days does not conflict with what is above mentioned, that the Lord will not leave the throne of the Father and come to the air till the close of the reign of Antichrist. †For the Lord will not come for those thus removed: they will simply be caught away as were Enoch and Elijah.
But this removal of the watchful of the days in question, though deeply important for its bearing on the conscience and life, will affect only a very small minority of the church of God, and is exegetically but subordinate to the main prophetic programme of the End Times.