THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM.
By G. H. PEMBER
LUKE 17: 20-37.
IT will be remembered that, at the time of our Lord’s first
sojourn upon earth, prophecies uttered centuries before had excited a general
expectation of His coming - an expectation which had wandered far beyond the
* Luke 2: 38.
There is, however, no difficulty in tracing this strange blindness to its cause. It is true that, at the appointed time, many Jews were looking for the Deliverer - or, at least, said that they were - but the object of their hope was an idol Messiah, a creation of their own carnal minds, and not the promised Christ Whose first and greatest work was to save His people from their sins. Devoid as they seem to have been of all God-consciousness, they were troubled by the penalty of sin rather than by its guilt, and so longed only for a Messiah Who would break in pieces the Roman yoke, and restore to them their freedom and their power.
Such being their desires, they naturally sought authority for them, and, by dwelling upon some of the Messianic prophecies and ignoring or misapplying others, contrived to extract it even from the Scriptures, and were thus confirmed in their error. Hence the manner of Christ’s entry into the world was by no means in accord with their views, while His subsequent teaching and conduct were still more at variance with all that they had conceived of Him.
It is often so. When God foretells, men, if they be not altogether indifferent to the utterance, lay hold only of what pleases them, and make use of it to form an ideal promise, for the realization of which they wait in vain. Hence they will sometimes gaze upon the fulfilment of a prediction in absolute ignorance of what is going on; or even rush madly into danger, like Balaam, whose spiritual vision was so dimmed by greed that he could not see the gleam of the angel’s sword, and was indebted to the quicker sight of the beast upon which he rode for the preservation of his life.
Evidently, therefore, misconceptions will prevail at the period of the Second Advent, just as they did at that of the first. And, indeed, the Word of God declares that not only the world, but a large portion even of the professing Church, will be taken by surprise, as completely as an animal which in the midst of its fleet career is wrenched back by a snare; as dismally as the Antediluvians, when, at the close of their hundred and twenty years of scoffing, they perceived that the fountains of the great deep were actually broken up, and the windows of heaven opened; or the Sodomites, when they turned in consternation from their buying and selling as the first droppings of the fiery storm began to fall in their streets.
How important, then, is the minute and accurate study of Scripture, that we may comprehend the great event which is
likely to take place in our own days, and may be in the immediate future! How pressing a need have we of ceaseless
prayer, that the Lord may remove every veil from our eyes, and enable us to see
clearly what is before us, and to have understanding of the times, that we may
know what we ought to do! And it is
under a deep impression of this solemn truth that we would now examine a
revelation uttered by the Lord Himself, on His last sad journey to
Some of the Pharisees, those unwearied foes with whom He had
just before been contending, had again drawn near to assail Him with questions,* and, if
possible, to entangle Him in His words, and extract something which they might
report to the authorities. When, they
demanded, will this
* Luke 17: 20.
Let us for a moment review the position of these questioners, that we may be enabled to make a practical application of their case to our own times. They were the orthodox leaders of the national religion, the chief supporters of a system indisputably founded upon direct revelations from the Almighty, but which they had fearfully corrupted. They prided themselves upon the fact that they were children of Abraham, and, therefore, heirs of the promises. And had mention been made of Daniel’s prophecy, that, in the latter days, the God of Heaven would set up a Kingdom upon earth and an everlasting Dominion, they would have affirmed, without hesitation or scruple, that both Kingdom and Dominion were reserved for them, and their claim would have been backed by the whole nation.
Hence the reason why they came to the Lord, with a feeling of some curiosity, perhaps, but in a half mocking and certainly contemptuous spirit. Hence it was that they did not ask by what means, or in what manner, they might enter the Kingdom: for they deliberately regarded it as their own by inalienable right, and only inquired when they might expect to receive it.
Alas for them! There was no Kingdom in the vista of their future - nothing but wrath and sore destruction. They had forgotten that those who hope to share glory with God must first find means to purify themselves, even as He is pure. Their idea of the Kingdom was not without a foundation of truth; but they knew nothing of the preparation necessary for it, and satisfied themselves with empty forms and ceremonies, which could never take away sin, and were enjoined only as a means of instruction and a test of obedience.
The result was such as might have been anticipated. Scarce forty years had gone by when their
polity was overthrown, their City and Sanctuary became a
desolation, and those of them who survived the fire, the sword, and the
cross, were scattered abroad. Another
lapse of sixty years, and they had somewhat recovered themselves, and were once
more expectant. Again they cried, Lo,
here! as they gathered around the proud and stately
form of Barcochab, and thought that a Messiah after
their own heart had come at last. But
the illusion was quickly dispelled, and the Roman eagles forced their way
triumphantly into the
Thus the hopes of the Pharisees perished never to revive
again. Nor will the Kingdom be restored
* Zeph. 3: 11, 12.
Such were the men who demanded of Christ when the
Now the reader will notice that our rendering of the last
clause differs from that of the Authorised Version, which has “the
* See Luke7: 29, 30.
We must, therefore, adopt the marginal rendering “among you,” or, “in the midst of you,” which will be an expression analogous to “There standeth One among you,”* or, “Yet a little while is the light among you.”** In Xenophon’s “Anabasis” the very word used by Luke occurs in a context which compels us to translate it as we have done above.
*John. 1: 6.
**John 7: 35.
*** Anab. 1. 10. 3, where [the Greek …] means “Whatever the Greeks had in the midst of them,” or, “within their lines.”
Aided by this correction we shall quickly perceive the meaning
which the Lord’s answer is intended to convey.
Do you, He says, inquire concerning the
* Lev. 26: 8.
You are altogether mistaken: you will never see anything approaching to such an ideal. Nor is it possible that the Kingdom should be discovered by such watching as yours: for even now it is in the midst of you, and yet with all your observation you have failed to perceive it.
We need be at no loss to understand the significance of the last sentence. The Lord Himself, around Whom both the Pharisees and His own disciples were at the moment clustered, was at once the King and the embodiment of the Kingdom. In Him was centred, not only its authority, but its life, its righteousness, its wisdom, and its power; and those who would become partakers in it must do so by believing in Him, and abiding in Him, until the day of instantaneous and glorious manifestation should have come.
Such, then, was the Lord’s answer to the Pharisees; nor would He grant them a word of further information. For, with overwhelming evidence before their eyes, they had refused to receive Him as the Christ. Even the very people, from whom they had in great measure concealed the Scriptures, had been moved to exclaim;- “When the Christ shall come will He do more signs than those which this Man hath done?”* yet they had themselves remained unaffected. And the Lord will not cast His pearls before swine, nor give that which is holy to dogs. He will not reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom to those who reject His salvation, but will keep His secrets for them that trust [and obey**] Him.
* John 7: 31. [** Acts 5: 32.]
And yet many Christians have been wont to misinterpret this answer, and then to quote it as if it included all that the Lord had to say upon the subject. See, they have urged triumphantly, the Kingdom comes not with observation, but is internal and spiritual: therefore, all your hopes of the personal return and reign of Christ are vain.
Could there be a more striking example of the way in which the will of man overrides his reason? And in this instance the false doctrine is altogether without excuse; since the Lord at once, and on the spot, turned away from the Pharisees to His own disciples, to whom He immediately gave a vivid and thrilling account of the manner in which the outward manifestation of the Kingdom should take place. For they had already received Him into their hearts: they had sworn allegiance to the King: they were abiding with Him in His temptations. It was for them that the Kingdom was appointed: they should know of its outward manifestation, and of all else that concerned it.
Accordingly, the Lord unveils the future to their wondering
gaze. Until the Kingdom come, there will
be suffering and depression for those who are to enjoy it, and many endeavours
on the part of Satan to draw them aside by means of false hopes. But, at last, a glorious deliverance shall
break like lightning through the gloom - a deliverance, however, which must needs be preceded by the rejection and suffering of Him
Who shall bring it. Meanwhile, the
dwellers upon earth will be absorbed in the pleasures and occupations of this
short life, and, by reason of selfish indulgence, will grow so blind and deaf
and insensible to everything spiritual, that the coming of the Son of Man will
be to them as an unexpected knell of doom suddenly resounding over the broad
earth, and spreading the wildest consternation and despair. Let the disciple, then, beware of lapsing
into the world’s insensibility; for when the summons of the Lord goes forth,
there must be an instant response. If any man hesitates but for
a moment, he may, like
* Only, of course, as regards this life: for if he is really Christ’s, he will be guided safely into His presence even out of the Great Tribulation. But he may have to endure martyrdom either under the Harlot or the Beast; or may suffer, even to death, from the plagues that will be sent upon the earth - for it is only to the hundred and forty-four thousand sealed Israelites that any exemption from them is promised.
With this general idea of our Lord’s address, let us now proceed to examine it in detail. Greatly must the disciples have been startled by its first sentence, which snatched away all their cherished hopes in regard to the immediate coming of the Kingdom.
For they had given little heed to His previous saying in regard to the time when the Bridegroom should be taken away, and the children of the Bridechamber find cause enough for weeping.* Like very many who have come after them, they had eagerly grasped the pleasant things in His teaching, and, almost unconsciously, ignored whatever did not harmonize with their own thoughts. And so it was that, even after His resurrection, they were still impatient for the glory,** although their cowardly desertion of Him in the hour of trial should have revealed to them their need of further discipline.
* Matt. 9: 15. ** Acts 1: 6.
But He was well acquainted with their hearts, and, while resolved to lose none of those whom the Father had given to Him, could not suffer them to enter His Kingdom, until He had completed their sanctification through suffering. Accordingly, He set before their eyes a long vista of sorrow and trial in the touching words;- “The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and ye shall not see it.”
Perhaps the disciples who heard this sympathetic warning could understand its import better than we can. Experience had taught them, that, while the Lord’s people can look upon Him face to face, it is not merely grace and strength to endure which He gives.
No: He utters the word of power, and the restless burning fever has fled!
He commands, and the slave of tormenting demons is free!
He raises His omnipotent hand, and the furious billow that is beating the ship to pieces, and pitilessly sweeping the deck, falls back abashed!
He speaks, as with tear-stained face He stands the central figure of a weeping company, and at His bidding the grave gives up its dead. Without a moment’s delay, wrenched from the grasp of the King of Terrors, and brought up from the very depths of Hades, the beloved and lost one is in the arms of his bewildered friends!
For not only is He our Life, He is also the Light of Life to all them that love Him. Even now, while He is with us only in His Spirit, He is the Light of our spirit, and thereby strengthens us to endure temptation, and to overcome the world. But as soon as He draws near in bodily presence, He will remove every trial, and never again shall gloom and sorrow assail us - no, not even through the medium of our bodies, nor by means of any materialistic surroundings.
We may thus form some conception of what the Lord meant when He said, that we should desire to see one of His days, and should not see it. And surely there are very few [regenerate] believers to whom such an experience is unknown.
When gazing upon the face of a dear invalid in the bed, have we never as the lights were being kindled, and we were looking forward to dark and restless hours of pain which we could do little to relieve; or at the earliest dawn, when the solemn stillness begins to be broken by an occasional weird sound, and when to dying eyes
“The casement slowly grows a glimmering square”-
at such times have we never longed that there were One upon earth now to Whom we might send the trustful message, “Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick”?
Or have we passed through still more painful trial? Have we been compelled to look on helplessly while the mind of a beloved one was growing more and more distraught; while rest was giving place to unrest, order to disorder, and love to a suspicion, a hatred, and a malignity, which we were sure did not come from the spirit of the sufferer? If so heart-rending an experience has been ours, did we not often yearn for the possibility of casting ourselves at His feet; did we not think how we would follow Him with our entreaties, through street and lane, regardless of what His disciples or the crowd might say, until at last He turned, as we knew He would, and flooded our hearts with joy as He said;- “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt”?
Or it may be that, in our own person, we have known what it is to be worn down by years of disease, and to lie weak, crippled, or sightless, for many days on a bed of weariness, counting the monotonous hours, and ever and anon tempted, perhaps, to forget the greater sufferings of our Saviour-God, to murmur and ask ourselves, What is the end of life? to reject the noble thought of the blind poet -
“They also serve who only stand and wait,”
and to be brought back to a right mind only by the sudden recollection that the Lord “scourgeth every son whom He receiveth!” In such hours of gloom, how would our hearts have leapt for joy could we have heard glad voices in the street crying, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by!”
Yes, there are indeed seasons of perplexity, heaviness, sorrow, and the shadow of death, times of bereavement, loss, and broken hopes, when every one who believes what is revealed of the Son of Man must desire to see one of His days. And even when there happens to be no special pressure upon ourselves or ours, and for the moment we are disposed to be content, too content, with the present life; surely one glance at the distracted condition of Christendom, the ceaseless dissemination of error and corruption, the multitudes which we see harassed and scattered abroad as sheep that have no shepherd,* and the poor sin-stricken anguished world around us, is more than sufficient to drive all our selfish feeling away, and make us cry from the depths of our hearts. - Come, Lord Jesus: come quickly!
[* NOTE. The “sheep that have no shepherd,” would be a fitting description of those duped by Satan, and sitting under the ministry of an Anti-millennialist! How our Lord’s heart must bleed, when He looks upon the spiritual state of Christendom today, and listens to words of defiance and rejection of His millennial reign upon this earth!]
For we must not forget that, by so speaking to His disciples, the Lord would teach us that we have no hope of any but the most temporary relief, until He comes. “And ye now, therefore, have sorrow,” He said on another occasion; “but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh from you.”* So also His apostle comforted the afflicted Thessalonians with the words;- “And to you that are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven.”**
* John 16: 22. ** 2 Thess. 1: 7.
But, while the coming of the Kingdom in the Person of the King is our only hope, there is danger lest, when wearied and faint in our minds, we should listen to those who would point us to false sources of comfort, saying, Lo, here! or, Lo, there! And many an instance of such delusions might be cited from the past history of the Church.
Christians were relieved from persecution by the policy of
By so wrongful an appropriation the Church lost all knowledge of God’s purposes in regard to the children of Abraham; and, becoming wise in her own conceits, fell into the very snare against which Paul had so faithfully warned her.* Moreover, the false principle of interpretation which she had admitted, when more generally applied, enabled Satan so to confuse and mystify the Scriptures that many altogether ceased to believe in their plain and literal meaning.
* Rom. 11: 25, 26.
Another memorable cry of Lo, here! was
heard at the time of the Reformation, and again men began to
think that the Kingdom had come, though they saw not the King. But they were soon to learn that any triumphs
won by the Church during her Lord’s absence are but for a moment, being
probably due to temporary angelic interferences similar to that which was
revealed to Daniel respecting Persia.* For the Jesuit
counteraction followed, and, even where it was not altogether successful, did
not fail to plant the seeds of spiritual deadness and rationalism. It is true that the Lord has recently given
us times of refreshing; but let us not be again beguiled. Spiritual revivals can only be as passing
waves until He comes, and very often they are but His means of gathering in His
own before the hour of judgment. Who can
tell whether the showers of blessing which we have received during the reign of
our beloved Queen may not be as the great revival in the days of Josiah, which
so immediately preceded the fall of
* Dan. 10: 13, 20, 21. This subject is fully discussed in “Earth’s Earliest Ages,” Chapter III.
But - to omit many other instances of this kind - the last few years have seen the Lord’s prediction more literally fulfilled. Not merely the Kingdom, but the King Himself has been represented as appearing in this place, or in that. Spiritualists claim to have been visited by Him in divers closets and private apartments, and many mystics declare that His advent is even now a fact.
To all such suggestions our reply must be decisive, and in accord with His command - “Go not after them, nor follow them.” Nor should we ever be harassed by a doubt in obeying Him: for He assures us that, when He does arrive, we shall not need any to point Him out. His second entrance into the world will be very different from His first: it will neither be necessary to seek for Him, nor to consider His words and actions, in order that we may discover Who He is; since He will no longer be burdened with our sins and marred by our sicknesses, but will appear with all the signs of outward power as the Son of God. And as there will be no necessity, so will there be neither time nor place in which to contemplate Him: for
“instant, like sudden lightning
In the depths of a tranquil sky,”
His glory will flash forth, and, in a moment, enwrap the globe. Who can say of the lightning, It is in the East, or, It is in the West: for before a word can be uttered, it has spanned the vault of heaven. “So shall also the Son of Man be in His Day.”
0 moment of awful majesty, of vindication, and of glorious righteousness appearing at last! And yet the Lord turns directly from the contemplation of it to Gethsemane, to the night of anguish, the agonising cross, and the gloom of darkness which was soon to surround Him, while, separated from His Father’s presence, He should pour out His soul unto death for the sins of the world. “But first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” To His mind there was no incongruity in the association of the sufferings with the indescribable majesty. Nay, love had linked together these seemingly diverse things: for He well knew that He had not, left the bright heavens to return to them Alone. If He must plunge into the dark deep gulf of human misery, submitting, Prince of Life as He was, to the loathsome horrors of death, yet should He presently merge from thence drawing, after Him a long train of those who else had been appointed to die.
For such a purpose of love He was willing to resign His equality with God, to empty Himself of His glory, and, after He had been born as a man of low degree, to humble Himself still further by becoming obedient unto death, even to the slave’s death on the cross.
But if He, Who is Lord of all, could thus endure to put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself, how transcendent a claim has He upon our love: how infinite a right to demand that we also, like Himself, should possess our souls in patience!* And who, after His wonderful example, will dare to refuse Him when He says;- “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls”?**
* Luke 19: 19. ** Matt. 11: 29, 30.
Yet, although the Mighty God has given His Son for it, although the Son has shed His blood on its behalf, the world remains unmoved. In vain does the Saviour appeal to men, by His sufferings and death, as if with the touching words of the prophet; “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by! Behold, and see, if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow, which is done unto Me, whereby the Lord hath afflicted Me in the day of His fierce anger.”* There are but few that regard: day by day men grow more and more insensible, and they will finally be prepared for the slaughter by becoming even as the godless crowds who were swept away by the flood, or the wicked of filthy conversation who were burnt out of life in the Cities of the Plain.
* Lam. 1: 12.
It is remarkable that, in citing these terrible examples of man’s depravity and God’s righteous judgment, the Lord should make no reference to the violence and unnatural crime which are so prominent in the Mosaic record. Perhaps we may partly account for the omission on the ground that He mentions only those sins into which His own people are prone to fall. But, possibly, there may be a deeper reason.
For, after all, the grosser sins are nothing more than symptoms of the terrible disease within, and, in themselves, are often the result of what men would call purely accidental circumstances. It does not of necessity follow that there is any real moral difference between the ragged thief and the cultured and well-to-do person upon whom the theft has been committed. It is only in this life that covetousness has an advantage over thieving; and if any one forbears to be unjust merely from a calculation of expediency, he must not expect to fare better on the great Day than the man who has yielded to stress of temptation.
In this world it is, of course, necessary to put a broad distinction between the two cases, because we can judge only by outward conduct: but in God’s sight clean hands are not in themselves satisfactory; there must also be a pure heart. And He cannot be deceived, as we always must be, in a case where circumstances have forced from one man an outward expression of that wickedness which lies dormant, though quite as susceptible of excitement, in the breast of another.
Hence the most frightful of all sins are those which effect our separation from God, and so harden our hearts to Him that we are no longer restrained by His fear, and are, consequently, liable to any temptation which it may please Satan to select. Such may be one reason, at least, why the Lord here mentions only those things which are most commonly instrumental in destroying men’s God-consciousness, and leaves us to determine the appalling crimes which must naturally follow.
In reviewing the acts specified by Him, we may regard eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, as standing generally for indulgence of the body. This, if it be the great pleasure of our lives, may prove fatal to us though we never step over the line of worldly morality and propriety. Absorption in business and commerce, that most prominent characteristic of modern times, is indicated by buying and selling. And in building and planting, we discern the use to which wealth is usually applied, that is, for comfortable settlement in the doomed world.
Now the exclusive, or too eager, pursuit of these things deprives men of all spiritual perception; so that they laugh at the threats of God, until the very moment of judgment has arrived. And yet even [regenerate] believers cannot avoid more or less entanglement in the actions mentioned, which are not, of course, necessarily sinful. The latter must, therefore, watch and pray, lest, becoming absorbed in that which is earthly, they should be surprised by the coming of the Son of Man, and so should be left by Him to endure the hour of temptation with the world.
For He will, it would seem, pass as lightning round the whole globe, summoning all those [“accounted worthy”]* who profess His name to leave home and kindred, and ascend to Him. And whosoever loves Him better than aught besides, and really wishes to obey, will prove able to do so, even as the impotent man, when he made an effort to respond to the Lord’s command, found that the power to rise and walk was present with him. But he who hesitates, remembering something which he must first do, or turning in his heart to any object of love other than Christ, will have lost his opportunity.
[* (Luke 21: 36, A.V.) cf. Rev. 3: 10.]
“In that day,” continues the Lord, “he which
shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to
take them away: and let him that is in the field likewise not return back.”* Now in considering these clauses we must be careful to notice
that there is no command to fly, as in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew,
where nearly the same words occur in an altogether different connection. For there the Lord is giving directions to
His earthly people, the Jews, in regard to their flight from
At that instant, he that is on the housetop must have no thought of precious things within the house, but must stand where he is, ready to be caught into the Presence. Not that there will be any time for actual motion before the King has gone by with His train, and the awful moment has passed: it is but the inclination of the heart one way or another that will decide the matter. The attractive power, which will proceed from the Lord during His progress, will be sufficient to draw to Him only those who are not weighted with earth-ward desires.
So, again, he that is in the field must not seek to return back. He may have father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and little ones, at home: but not a thought must he bestow upon them when the sudden summons comes. Up to that time it is his duty to think and care for them: the law written for him is - “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”* But the instant he becomes conscious that the Lord is near, the duties of this life are ended. His love for his Creator, Saviour, and King, must overpower all other love; and his trust must so abound that he can at once resign even his dearest ones to the Almighty and tender care of Him into Whose presence he has been called.
* 1 Tim. 5: 8.
Such must be the condition of every believer who would be able to respond to the Master’ voice. But there are very many who, remembering that the summons will come suddenly, at an hour when they think not, and that literally no more than an instant will be given for its acceptance, are disposed to fall into a deep despondency. “How,” they say, “can we prepare ourselves for so indefinite a time: how can we be always watching? Is it possible to be altogether rid of sin while we are yet in the body?” No: it certainly is not; and yet to speak thus is to betray an utter ignorance of God’s dealings with man. We never can either prepare or keep ourselves. By His own love and power He has justified us, and by that same love and power He must sanctify us. On our side it is only required that with purpose of heart, and not merely in sentiment, we put ourselves into His hands, being willing that He should do with us whatsoever He sees to be necessary.
To us the command is given - “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God Which worketh in you, both to will, and to do, of His good pleasure!”* Of Him, then, is our preparation, just as from Him the very desire for it comes into our hearts. And as soon as we recognise this fact, all our perplexities vanish, and there is no longer any ground for despair. For it is His touch that transmutes all things to gold: it is He Who chooses the base things of the earth to make them honourable, Who “raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.”**
* Phil. 2: 12, 13. **1 Sam. 2: 8.
Let us, then, if doubts oppress us, cast the burden of them upon Him, and remember the prayer of Paul for the Thessalonians in regard to the very point which is now before us. For after the Apostle has urged them to walk worthily of their vocation, he closes his address with the pregnant words;- “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He That calleth you, Who will also do it.”*
* 1 Thess. 5: 23, 24.
The last sentence should be our comfort and stay. We do not know the hour of our Lord’s return; but He Who is calling us to be Christ’s at His coming is well aware of it, and, if we walk in the light with Him, may be trusted to give us whatever notice we need. But if at any time our heart is moved in an unwonted manner, either by the pressure of trouble, or by the shadow of death thrown across our path, or by the voice of the preacher, or from our own meditation on the Scripture, or by the sudden and unbidden entry of solemn thoughts into our minds, let us not resist the influence: it may, perchance, be God’s warning to us that the flash is just about to break from the clouds.
In spite, however, of all warnings, the fateful Day will
overtake many before they are prepared to leave the world, and the Lord
intimates as much by adding the grave caution that we should “remember
* 2 Peter 2: 7, 8. ** Gen. 19: 9.
It was not long before the hour of judgment had arrived. The destroying angels appeared in the house of
Lot, and their presence excited an outburst of wickedness among the people of
The application of this history is obvious. It is in times of leisure that our fate is decided; when the crisis overtakes us, we instinctively feel and act according to our wont. If [regenerate] believers will mingle with the world and seek after its pleasures, if, despite warnings, they will suffer their affections to become rooted in it, they must certainly, so far as this life is concerned, be involved in its ruin. Weighted by earthward desires, they will be unable to ascend to their Lord, when He calls them: therefore, He will not deliver them from the hour of temptation which is coming upon the whole world; but will leave them to be purified in the furnace of affliction heated seven times more than it usually is.
For “whosoever,” the Lord goes on to say, “shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it!” This is the general law to which every human being who has heard of the Lord Jesus must be subjected. If we insist upon having our good things now, by making them the main object of our life, we must have evil things hereafter: if we will enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season in this world, we must bear its penalties in the next.
And, as regards those who are alive when Christ comes, there will be an application of the principle of this law even to the saved. For he who demands neither joy nor rest here, but willingly resigns all things for the love of his Saviour, shall, immediately upon the Lord’s descent, be called into such a fulness and enjoyment of life as he cannot now conceive. But every [regenerate] believer who is found striving to obtain pleasure from this world, will be left below, for a time, in circumstances sufficiently terrible to change his existence into a living death, until he loathes those evil things which he once desired.
The fact, then, that there will be many Christians of both types at the time of the Coming will render temporary separations unavoidable: for in that crisis the Lord will show no favour, nor suffer the faithfulness of any to atone for the lack of his fellow. As the lightning of His presence speeds through the night, husband and wife may be reposing on the same bed: the one is borne away, and the other is left to weep alone on the dark earth. Two women may be employed together in some ordinary work, such as the Eastern duty of grinding corn, for the day’s food, in the early morning: in an instant the one is removed in a flood of glory, while her companion must labour on in bitterest grief. Two men may be tilling the ground in the heat of the day: a sudden flash far exceeds the brightness of the sun; and when it has passed, there remains but a solitary figure in the field.
This is the only sign of His presence in the air which the Lord will grant to unready believers and the world. As soon as it has taken place, restraint will be removed from the Powers of Darkness, the floodgates of evil will be opened, and the Man of Sin revealed. The grand scene of the fourth and fifth chapters of the Apocalypse will be enacted, and then will follow the consecutive series of Seals, Trumpets, and Vials.
The discourse had ended: but the disciples asked a question which called forth another sentence from the Master, certainly more difficult and obscure than any which He had previously spoken. “Where, Lord?” they inquired; and He replied enigmatically;- “Where the carcase is, thither will the vultures also be gathered together.”
But before we attempt to explain our Lord’s answer, we must find out to which part of His address the disciples’ question was intended to apply. It has usually been referred to the verses immediately preceding, in which the rapture of believers into the Presence is described: and, in that case, the answer has been supposed to mean, that, wherever the Lord is, thither will the saints assemble around Him; just as vultures gather together from every part of heaven to a carcase. But, to our mind, the mere statement of such an idea is a sufficient refutation of it: nor could we admit so incongruous a metaphor even if we were unable to offer any other explanation.
Possibly, however, we may push back the reference of the
question to the thirtieth verse, where,
after speaking of the destruction in the times of Noah and
If, therefore, we understand the disciples to have inquired where the destruction in the Day of the Son of Man should take place, a suitable meaning may be given to the figure in our Lord’s reply.
The Greek word, which is usually translated “eagle,” includes also the vulture tribe, and is frequently used of it exclusively. Evidently this is the case in the passage before us: for the eagle does not delight, as the vulture does, in putrefying carcases, but loves to kill its prey. And the same remark applies to the Hebrew equivalent of …; so that we may at once decide against the rendering it “eagle,” in the thirty-ninth chapter of Job, as soon as we read -
“And where the slain are, there is she.”*
* Job. 39: 30.
But it is the vulture’s special work in nature to devour and clear away that which is already dead, and either putrid or in danger of becoming so.* And hence the bird is used as a figure of those avenging powers which God sends forth to remove nations and peoples, when, having become spiritually dead and insensible to Divine influence, they are
* In “The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia,” Sir Samuel Baker gives a very interesting account of the carrion birds, from which we make the following extract.
“From their immense elevation, the birds of prey possess an extraordinary field of vision; and, although they are invisible from the, earth, there can be no doubt that they are perpetually hunting in circles within sight of each other. Thus, should one bird discover some object upon the surface of the earth below, his sudden pounce would be at once observed and imitated by every vulture in succession. Should one vulture nearest the earth perceive a body, or even should he notice the buzzards collecting at a given point, he would at once become aware of a prey; and his rush towards the spot would act like a telegraphic signal to others, that would be rapidly communicated to every vulture at successive airy stations.
* * * * *
I have frequently watched them when I have shot an animal, and my people have commenced the process of skinning. At first, not a bird has been in sight, as I have lain on my back and gazed into the spotless blue sky; but hardly has the skin been half withdrawn before specks have appeared in the heavens, rapidly increasing. ... The specks have increased to winged creatures, at the great height resembling flies, when presently a rushing sound behind me, like a whirlwind, has been followed by the pounce of a red-faced vulture, that has fallen from the heavens in haste with closed wings to the bloody feast, followed quickly by many of his brethren. The sky has become alive with black specks in the far distant blue, with wings hurrying from all quarters. At length a coronet of steady soaring vultures forms a wide circle far above, as they hesitate to descend, but continue to revolve around the object of attraction. The great bare-necked vulture suddenly appears. The animal has been skinned, and the required flesh secured by the men: we withdraw a hundred paces from the scene. A general rush and descent takes place: hundreds of hungry beaks are tearing at the offal.”
The value of these birds as scavengers in tropical climates
may be readily understood, contaminating the world with their corruption. Thus the threat in view of
* Deut. 28: 49. ** Hab. 1: 8. ***Hosea 8: 1.
Now in the passages hitherto cited the metaphor is used only of earthly powers: but in the last verse of the eighth chapter of the Apocalypse the seer says - “And I saw and heard a vulture flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the three angels, who are yet to sound.” An attempt has been made to get rid of the difficulty in this verse by reading “angel” instead of “vulture”;* but the evidence in favour of the latter is overwhelming. And, from what has been adduced above, we may perhaps conclude that this vulture is one of God's angelic executioners ; in accordance with which explanation, we may notice that his cry speaks neither of promise nor hope, but only of judgment.
* Of course the word may be rendered “eagle,” as in the R. V., if that meaning be preferred: since, in this case, it is not from anything in the context, but only from a comparison with other passages that we make our choice.
If this exegesis be accepted, it is easy to understand the Lord’s meaning in the passage which we are considering. Where the carcase is, that is, where there are to be found persons who cannot respond to the appeals of the Holy Spirit, and are, therefore, spiritually dead, and incapable of any influence except that of corrupting the air around them and spreading spiritual disease and death, thither the ministers of God, appointed for that purpose, will descend to remove them.
Precisely the same idea is expressed by the Lord in other words when He says;- “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the wailing and the gnashing of teeth.”* And we may recognise another intimation of this event after the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet, when the Elders declare that the time is come for God to destroy them that destroy, or corrupt, the earth.** But all the plagues of God must be poured out before that time can arrive; since the object of His inflictions, whether introduced by the Seals, the Trumpets or the Vials, is, if it may be, to goad the senseless body of Christendom back to spiritual life. And it is only upon the failure of these final and extreme means that angels will be sent forth to do a work analogous to that of vultures in nature, to remove the corrupting carcases from the earth, and to cast them into the furnace of fire.
* Matt. 13: 41, 42. * Rev. 11: 18.
Thus, when the Lord comes, the last of His Seven Parables will find its complete fulfilment. He will separate between and finally dispose of those who, up to the time, will have been permitted to choose whether they will receive or reject Him.
It is for us to consider whether, while it is yet in our power to do so, we are following after that “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord”; whether our sanctification is so progressing day by day, that, if the awful moment of decision should overtake us, the inclination of our heart would be turned from the world and unto “Him that loveth us and loosed us from our sins by His blood.”
“In an hour that ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”