THE LATTER DAYS ARE THE CHIEF PERIOD OF PROPHECY
It is a constant feature of prophetic scripture that they pass direct from the day of the prophet to the closing days of this present age, even to the era of Antichrist and the coming of Christ. The first of all predictions reveals this feature and gives character to the rest.
Genesis 3: 15.There is first intimated this salient feature of human history: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." The essential feature of at least six thousand years is thus summarized in a sentence, and the forecast leaps on at once to the second coming of Christ: "he shall bruise thy head." Only one single event, Calvary, is lifted into the light, as needful to be mentioned: "thou shalt bruise his heel."
Judges 14, 15.gives the next prophecy of early times, and shows that Enochís vision had passed from the days before the Flood direct to the coming of the Lord to judge accompanied by His holy angels. Compare Zech. 14: 5 : Matt. 25: 31 : Heb. I2: 22, 13, mgn. 13: Rev. 19: 14. No mention is made of any events of the thousands of years that were to intervene.
Genesis 12: 3.is the next prediction, as part of the covenant of God with Abraham. It guaranteed personal and national greatness; again some thousands of years are summarized in one age-enduring principle, that as men should deal with Abram so would God deal with them; and then at once the promise passes to the End Times for its accomplishment, because only under the reign of Messiah shall "all the families of the earth be blessed" with all the temporal and spiritual blessings promised to Abraham. It is in but very limited measure indeed that this promise finds now some spiritual fulfilment through the gospel (Gal. 3: 8).
Exodus 34: 10.When Israel had been just brought out Egypt, and had quickly lapsed at Horeb, God already directed them far forward to the closing times before the millennial era, by saying: "Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of Jehovah; for it is a terrible thing that I do with thee." Now no wonders exceeding those then lately wrought in Egypt have yet been wrought before Israel. But Joel 2: 30, 31 and the Revelation are full of much more terrible things.
This passage shows that such an expression as"the people among whom thou art" does not necessarily mean the actual persons then present, but may mean their successors in the same nation or society, which gives guidance in many subsequent passages, as 1 Thess. 4: 15, 17, "we that are alive."
Numbers 23. and 24.Passing over forty years, when Balaam had four general blessings on Israel, he added these words to Balak: "I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days" (24: 14). This is the first occurrence of this expression. He then speaks of the second advent of Christ, saying, "I see him, but not now: I behold him, but not nigh"; and then he describes the Star that shall rise and the Sceptre that shall smite and break, which same figures the Lord Jesus in Rev. 2: 27, 28 uses together of His return.
This Scripture shows that the term"the latter days" means the times of Messiah as the star and sceptre. There are other passages which amplify this prediction as to the dealings of Israel with Moab and the other surrounding nations of that time. Isa. 11: 14: etc.
Deuteronomy 31 and 32.At the close of the life of Moses - that is, at the same period that Balaam spoke of the latter days - the song given by God to Moses to teach to Israel was prefaced by an identical reference to the End Times: "I know that evil will befall you in the latter days" (31: 29). The song recites their call, the early prosperity, then their apostasy and punishment, and shortly (32: 29) there comes the exclamation, "Oh, that they would consider their latter end," and the song passes at once to the time when Jehovah shall repent Himself in favour of His servants (36), shall judge their enemies, and when in consequence all nations shall rejoice with His people Israel, and expiation shall be made for His land and for His people (43). This is the era when the promise to Abraham shall find accomplishment. It is deeply important that the divine promise is that the nations shall be brought into the blessings of Israel, not that Israel as a people shall be merged into the blessings of the church. That in this present time a small election of Gentiles rejoices in Christ through the gospel is only a small foretaste of the fulness of this prophecy. It is evident that the judging of Israel's enemies and the receiving of Israel as a people to favour, have no fulfilment as yet.
2 Samuel 7: 8-16.When making a covenant with David the words of God passed direct from David to the End Days by the assurance never yet realized: "I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more" (10). Then, after glancing at Solomon, as that one of the sons of David through whom the fulfilinent should come, again the thought passes to the far future: "Thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever: thy throne shall be established for ever."
The Psalms are strongly marked by this feature.
The1st. recites the contrasted and fundamental principles of life, and passes at once to the judgment which will separate between the righteous and the wicked. There is little doubt that "stand in the judgment" should be "rise in the, judgment," meaning that the wicked will not share in the first resurrection, that of the righteous. Both the LXX and the Vulgate so translate the Hebrew, giving respectively (anasteesontai) and resurgent.
The2nd. Psalm goes forthwith to the End Times, when the nations will unite against God and His Son, and when the latter shall reign at Zion, break to pieces His enemies with a rod of iron, and possess the uttermost parts of the earth. Preliminary illustrations of this defiance of God, such as that mentioned in Acts 4: 25, do not nullify the still later testimony of Christ himself in Rev. 2: 27, that the accomplishment of the psalm is still future, at the period when He will become the morning star, as foreseen by Balaam.
Psalm 22similarly joins the sorrows of Calvary to the glories of the kingdom without touching upon intervening matters. In ver. 22 the Lord Jesus, the Sufferer of the former part of the psalm, is leading the praises of His brethren in heavenly glory (Heb. 2: 10-12); then Israel is seen honouring Him and satisfied (23-26) and then "all the ends of the earth" turn to Him (27-31).
That great time is a chief theme of the Psalms. See, e.g.,44-48; 65-69; 92-100; 145-I5O.
The PROPHETS repeatedly show the same feature.
Isaiah's prefatory announcement opens with a denunciation of Israel as then found, but at once lifts the vision to the End Days by saying: "I will turn My hand upon thee, and thoroughly purge away thy dross, and will take away all thy sin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning (see John 24: 31) :afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, a faithful town. Zion will be redeemed with justice, and her converts with righteousness" (1: 25-27). There never yet has been a time when Zion deserved this title; it and its people have never been notorious for righteousness.
Chapter 2is a preface and key to all subsequent prophecies, and it begins with a picture of the millennial era: "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of Jehovahís house shall be established at the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." This is followed by Jehovah judging the peoples, and these living in peace, learning war no more (2-4).
Chapters. 7-12are another section. It shows distinctly the same feature. The then impending invasion by Assyria is intertwined with an invasion by that power of Palestine known as "Immanuel's land," which description could not, of course, apply strictly till after the child bearing this significant name should have been born (7: 14; 8: 8; 9: 6). The name means "God is with us," and His presence is advanced as the reason why the devices of the "peoples" and "far countries" against Israel should fail, and these peoples themselves be "broken in pieces" (8: 9, 10). Now in chapter 9 this is connected with a great light shining in Galilee, with the people being multiplied in number, increased in joy, the staff of their oppressors being broken and their armour and clothing being burned up; and all this because of the Son that had been born, the Prince of Peace, and the establishment of His government upon the throne of David for ever (9: 7). The destruction of Jerusalem forty years after the death of Christ, and its history ever since, shows that these great things did not attend that shining of the light in Galilee which came when Jesus commenced to preach there, which shows that that was a fulfilment of but not the accomplishment of this prophecy. It awaits the End Days, when the Holy One of Israel shall be in the midst of Zion (12. 6).
Thatchapters 14 and 15 of Isaiah carry the mind to the End Days, and declare a destruction of Babylon still future.
It was in the year that king Ahaz died that a destruction of Philistia was foreseen connected with Jehovah founding Zion as a refuge for His people, a conjunction of events yet waiting fulfilment (14: 28-32).
Chapter 19is wholly future. It concerns a day never yet seen, when Judah shall be a terror to Egypt (17), though the opposite has often been seen; a day when Egypt, Assyria, and Israel, each and all hitherto enemies, shall be in unity with God and each other, blessed and a blessing in the earth. One of the truly significant facts of this our time is the simultaneous reconstituting of these three lands, with road and railway connecting Egypt and Palestine, and projected with Mesopotamia.
Chapters. 24-27further picture that era never yet seen. It concerns the "earth" the "uttermost parts of the earth" (24: 1-20); it is the time when the angel rebels of heaven shall be shut up in prison (24: 21-23; 27: 1; Rev. 12: 7-12; 20: 1-3); when Jehovah of hosts shall reign on Zion (24: 23), and Jerusalem shall be the centre of His worship (27: 12, 13).
It were simple to show that most of the remainder of Isaiah similarly goes forward to the End Times. It is the great theme ofchapter 40 to the end, as the opening statements show. Israel's warfare is viewed as accomplished, her iniquity pardoned, her era of comfort come. And though here and there the vision looks back, as to Cyrus or to Messiah in humiliation, it is ever that such periods may be quickly linked on in thought to the consummation of the age. This is seen markedly in chapter 53, where the vision of Messiahís sufferings is prefaced (52: 13-15) by a prediction of His exaltation and supremacy; then the remark that His visage and form were to be marred is explained in 53: 1-10, and at once this is linked with His being satisfied and with His sovereignty over mighty peoples. Thereupon 54 describes the restoration and joy of Israel, and 55 extends the call to all peoples, to "every one," to share the divine covenant with David; and then is proclaimed again the removal of the curse from nature around. Thus shall Godís house be at last the centre for all peoples, for "others" shall be gathered to Israel besides Israelites (56: 1-8).
Chapters 56-60is a new section, reciting once again the doleful tale of Israelís sins and chastisements, but all is still speedily linked with their restoration in the day of Jehovah, when He shall be their everlasting light, and the days of their mourning shall be ended (60: 20).
Chapter 61is crucial, for Christ himself showed at Nazareth how prophecy is to be divided as to eras, and how the past and the final future may be conjoined in one sentence. As far as to the clause "the acceptable year of the Lord" He read in the synagogue, for thus far the predictions were finding a preliminary fulfilment in His ministry of grace. But He did not read the next clause because the "day of vengeance" had not then arrived, nor therefore the time to give joy to Zion and to comfort its mourners. For the moral preparation indispensable to their comfort and joy requires that "day of vengeance" as its means. On the contrary, Christ later predicted a further overthrow of Jerusalem and scattering of its people to follow their rejection of Himself, and looked on yet further to the final destruction and scattering at the end of the Times of the Gentiles (Matt. 24.; Mark. 13.; Luke. 21.).
No arguing can alter the fact that Christ thus indicated that some interval, and, as it has proved, a vast interval, lay in Isaiahís prophecy. And a precisely similar break, and an intervening period, can be seen inIsa. 9: 6, 7, between the birth of the Son and His takng the throne of David; and at Isa. 10: 11, 12, where the, boasting of Sennacherib passes on to when Jehovah shall have performed His whole work on Mount Zion, which even yet is not the case; also at Jr. 25: 12, where the close of Israel's seventy years in Babylon passes on to a destruction of Babylon which is to involve "all the nations" (13) and "all the kingdoms of the world which are upon the face of the earth" (26), even "all the inhabitants of the earth" (29), even "all flesh" (31), "from one end of the earth unto the other end of the earth" (33). We find the same break at Daniel 9: 26, for "Messiah shall be cut off and shall have nothing," and then the next event is the destruction of the city. Even those who refuse to see here an interval extending to Antichrist must admit some break, for it was almost forty years after Messiah was cut off before Titus destroyed the city.
Micah 5shows (1) the birth of Christ at Bethlehem ; (2) His being smitten upon the cheek; (3) then an interval during which Israel is "given up," and (4) His feeding His flock in majesty, His being "great unto the ends of the earth," and then that destruction the Assyrian opened up in Isaiah in connection with the purging and exalting of Israel.
The last but one of the prophets,Zechariah, has the same interval. Chapter 9: 9 describes Israel's King entering Jerusalem on a colt, and the next verse passes direct to the destruction of Israel's enemies and Messiah speaking peace to the nations and ruling to the ends of the earth. Again, chapter 13: 7 tells of the sword smiting the Shepherd at Calvary, and the next verse passes to the last refining of Israel as gold, and their subsequent communion with Jehovah; which topics are enlarged in chapter 14.
All these places show one and the same undefined interval, and also illustrate the main point of this discussion.
Returning toIsaiah, the prominent fact of prophetic scripture under review may meet another difficulty. Chapter 61 before us continues the theme of Israelís coming glory, as does 62. Chapter 63 opens with a vision of the Conqueror. At verse 7 the prophet reviews the early dealings of God with Israel in the days of Moses, and at verse 15 begins an impassioned appeal to Jehovah to renew those former loving kindnesses. He speaks (18) of Israel having enjoyed their land but a "little while." In the fact this covered, some seven centuries to Isaiah's day, which usage suggests how it may be needful to understand such expressions in other passages. Comp. Hk. 2: 3 : Hb. 10: 37; etc. He goes on to urge that Godís holy house had been "trodden down" (63: 18) and "burned with fire" (64: 11), and that the land is a wilderness. It has been urged that this had not yet become fact when Isaiah lived, that he would not describe as fact what was yet future, and that therefore another person (the "second Isaiah") must have written this part of the prophecy after the destruction of Nebuchadnezzar.
But the linking of the far future to the then present makes this suggestion unnecessary. The prophets were often transported in spirit into the future, and described as having taken place or as taking place what they thus saw. Asaph saw the first temple built and led the song in it; yet he, like Isaiah, describes it as destroyed and burnt (Psa. 74). The Revelation from chapter 4 is another instance. Though all was wholly future (4: 1) John describes things as taking place or as having done so, because in his consciousness he was in the future. See e.g., 5: 7: "He hath taken the book." Thus also Enoch had described the coming of the Lord with His holy ones as a past event : "the Lord came" (Jd. 14), and Paul and Peter speak of the saints as having been already glorified (Rom. 8: 30 : 1 Pet. 1: 8).
SimilarlyIsaiah puts the treading of the winepress by Messiah as a past event : "I have trodden the winepress ... I trod down the peoples" (63: 1-6). Thus in the same chapter (63), first one certainly future event, Messiah's intervention, is put in the past and described by the term "trodden down," and why therefore should not a second future event, the destruction of the temple, be also put as past, being described by the same term, "trodden down"?
In answer to the impassioned appeal by the people, voiced by the prophet, God replies in65 that He is being sought by them who had not formerly asked after Him, a glance, as we know from Rom. 10: 20, 21, at the effect of the gospel in this age; but that, as to Israel, they had been rebellious and provocative (2, 3), and that He will first "measure their work into their bosom" (17). Thus is condensed the extended period of their national chastisement. Then immediately the force of this word "first" is shown. There will not be total extinction of that people, but a seed shall be preserved - the small remnant of chapters 1 and 2 - and shall inherit Palestine in security (8-10) and former troubles shall be forgotten (16). Thus again is the past linked to the final outcome, and the vision is carried on to a new heaven and new earth (17), with Jerusalem joying in God and God joying in His people, with nature freed from all calamity and violence.
The lastchapter, 66, follows the same order. First reproach because of apostasy, with tumult and vengeance (1-6), but this connected with a sudden rebirth of the land, with joy and peace at that birth (7-14). This is a result from Jehovah coming on the scene with fire and tempest, destroying His enemies (15-17), evangelizing the remoter nations (19), with Israel gathered from afar (20, 21), and the house of Jehovah in Jerusalem the centre of world worship (23).
This being thus so dominant a feature of the richest of the O.T. books, it is only to be expected that it will be found in the rest. And it is.
JEREMIAHtakes up his stern task of standing for God in days national apostasy. Sorrowfully, but severely, God through him upbraids His faithless people and denounces their dreadful and hastening destruction (chapters. 1 and 2). But quickly (3: 1) the call is heard to the harlot to return, and it is repeated in verse 14. Nor can it be said that the return of the small remnant from Babylon seventy years later was in view here; for when this return takes place men "shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it," nor shall men walk any more after the stubbornness of their own heart.
The long thunders of wrath roll and reverberate; the darkness deepens; but the light of mercy and the voice of peace break in again, sometimes mentioning a return after only seventy years, but later a far grander return and a final. For inchapter 30 the scene passes on from Jeremiahís time to a day so great that "none is like it" (7), a day when Israel shall serve Jehovah and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them (9: 21); and this intermingling of wrath and restoration shall be "in the latter days" (24).
The same passing on to the End Days is found again and again, as in chapters32, 33, 48, 49, 50, 51.
Then shall Jacob be"the chief of the nations" (31: 7); joy, prosperity, and numerical increase shall return then; and all this shall be established according to a new covenant (31: 31-34). While in Hebrews chapter 8 this covenant is given a wider application to Gentiles (as in Isaiah 55: 1-5), that does not annul its primary application to Israel as Israel, for its terms are followed immediately by the explicit assurance that not till sun, moon, and stars, the ordinances of heaven, fail, "shall Israel cease from being a nation before Me for ever." Not till men can perform the impossibilities of measuring heaven and searching out the foundation of the earth will God cast off all the seed of Israel (35-37). This guarantee is accompanied by details of the rebuilding of the city, and its enlargement, details it were idle to attempt to "spiritualize," for they can yield no sense at all except the literal.
For example, what "spiritual" or metaphorical meaning can be assigned to the tower of Hananel, the gate of the corner, the hill Gareb Goah, the valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, the brook Kidron, or the corner of the horse-gate toward the east? (38-40). To Jeremiah and his hearers all these, spots were perfectly well known, and the mention of them could suggest no other meaning than the names carried. But as the literal sense is here imperative, so must be literally fulfilled the accompanying promise concerning Jerusalem, "it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down, any more for ever " (31: 38-40). Nothing more severely condemns the "spiritualizing" treatment of Scripture than its utter inability to face the plain force of the prophetic statements. Indeed, this is not treatment, but ill-treatment of the Word of God.
Even a more extreme "spiritualizer" has admitted that the Israel promises of the O.T., if taken in their simple and ordinary meaning, will naturally be understood as securing for the nation of Israel the safe occupancy of their ancient land and a proud pre-eminence and sovereignty over the nations of the world. Then, in order to explain why the prophets wrote in so misleading a style, the same writer adds that the prophets saw the glory that was coming [i.e., of the supposed merging of Israel and the nations into one general church, without national distinctions], but necessarily described it in the terms of their limited horizon. But were the inspired prophets describing things according to their own limited conceptions, or was God by His Spirit causing them to reveal truth? Let this diminishing of the full inspiration of the prophets be noted. It is significant.
Chapters 50, 51.Much of the prophecies concerning Babylon has never found fulfilment, which requires an accomplishment yet to come. The proof of this will be given in Revelation 17 and 18. In connection with the foretold destruction of Babylon, the earth, not merely Palestine, shall have rest, because the hammer that broke to pieces the whole earth shall itself be broken (50: 34, 23). It were futile to say that this has happened.
LAMENTATIONS.Even in the midst of the desolations here pictured the then far distant future breaks through the deep gloom with brilliant ray, for verse 21, 22 of chapter 4 combine the judgment upon Edom with the permanent deliverance of Zion, saying : "The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion : He will no more carry thee away into captivity."
EZEKIEL.The opening chapters concern the sins and judgments of the era of the prophet ; but chapter 16, after recalling the national infidelity of Judah and Israel under the figure of adulterous women, concludes by connecting that period with a time when Sodom, Samaria, and Jerusalem shall be restored to their former estate (53-55), and Israel's youth shall be revived in a glorious maturity under an everlasting covenant which Jehovah shall establish (60-63), and which therefore shall not prove transitory, as did the covenant of their youth through Moses.
20: 1-44is exactly parallel with chapter 16.
Chapter 21regards the then imminent destruction of Jerusalem as to continue "until He come whose right it [the sovereignty] is and I will give it to Him" (27), that is, Messiah.
Inchapters 26 and 27 the destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar is spoken of as concluding in an overthrow so complete that "thou shalt never be found again, saith the Lord Jehovah" (26: 21). As if this were not sufficiently emphatic it is repeated at 27: 36, "thou shalt nevermore have any being." But after Nebuchadnezzar Tyre shortly rose again to power and wealth, and it was clear that his conquest did not filfill the predictions. Nor did the more thorough destruction by Alexander three centuries later, for not even at this date can it be said that Tyre shall not be found, though it be saught for, because the traveller today, as we ourselves have twice seen, sees a town there without having to search for it.
Thus Ezekielís prophecy carries the mind into the still future for its accomplishment, which can be seen further inchapters. 34, 36, 38 and 39, and 40 to 48. The last word of this prophet being that "the name of Jerusalem from that day shall be Jehovah Shammah, Jehovah is there" (48: 35). This still awaits fulfilment.
DANIEL.This prophet presents the same feature in marked degree.
Chapter 2.The vision of the image sketches in brief outline the history of the four world-empires as far as to the end, the feet. But it enlarges upon that closing period of Messiah's intervention.
Chapter 7has as its burden the End Days, the destruction of the kingdom of the Beast and the establishing of that of the saints (9-11, 26-28).
Chapter 8sketches briefly the overthrow of Persia by Greece under Alexander (1-8), and then passes to the "little horn," the same simile and description as in the preceding chapter, thus indicating the same period and person. In my Daniel it is argued that Pusey, Anderson and others were right in declining the view that Antiochus Epiphanes was in view in this prophecy.
Chapter 9.The vision of the seventy sevens is expressly stated to belong to the "end," even the "full end," that is, to the completing of "the desolation's that are determined" (26, 27).
Chapters. 10, 11.In my Daniel it is shown (with Tregelles) that these chapters are throughout concerned with the End Times.
HOSEAíS opening statement combines the then approaching rejection of Israel with their future restoration. Now they are Lo-ruhama, the one that hath not obtained mercy : then they will be Ruhama, that bath obtained mercy (1: 6; 2: 1).
Chapter 2is to the same effect, and 3 also: they seek Jehovah their God and David their king. Through the remaining chapters their then present sin and judgment are depicted at length, but chapter 14 connects all this with their final return, their healing, and the revived exhibition of the changeless love of Jehovah.
JOEL'S prophecy is occupied wholly with the day of Jehovah (1: 15; 2: 1, 2). It makes no mention of the kings under whom he lived, their history not coming into the book as being immaterial to his message. He begins with an invasion unparalleled before and never to be equalled after (2: 2.: comp. Matt. 24: 21). Of necessity there cannot be two events, one subsequent to the other, of which this can be rightly affirmed. The "very small remnant" of Isaiah is shown pleading in the temple (2: 15-17); Jehovah intervenes for them and His land; the enemy is overthrown; the gathering of the nations to Jerusalem, and their judgment there, takes place (comp. Matt. 25: 31-46); the Spirit is, poured out, nature is revived "and Jehovah dwells in Zion, His holy mountain" (2: 18; 3: 21). But, say the "spiritualizers," all this wealth of precise statements now means something quite different, even that, according to the N.T., Israel and the nations lose their distinctive identities and become merged in the church of God. Thus is the N.T. forced to contradict and cancel the O.T.
AMOS.Joel ends with Jehovah roaring from Zion (3: 16); Amos begins with the same statement (1: 2). Surveying the wickedness of various peoples, including Israel, the book rounds off all to the same point where it had started, by foretelling the restoration of the tabernacle of David (9: 11-15), and glances at the overthrow of Edom and its possession by Israel. When James employs this prophecy in application to this present age, it is significant that he does not include the reference to Edom as having present fulfilment, but in this clause seems to follow the LXX, though not in the surrounding clauses. The "spiritualizers" will find it hard to give any sense to Edom here, but the mention here harmonizes with all that other prophets say as to that land at the End.
And when this prophet is fulfilled Israel shall be planted upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land (9: 15), a confirmation of the literal sense of the covenant with David before noticed. Thus Amos also encloses all his predictions within references to the days of Messiah.
OBADIAHdeals specifically with Edom, its pride, cruelties, and doom. And all is connected with that same "day of Jehovah upon all the nations" (15), when the remnant in Zion (see Isaiah and Joel) shall escape, when Zion shall be holy, and the Kingdom shall be Jehovah's (21).
JONAHis history; typical history, as all God's histories are but it has no specific prophecies as to any remote future.
MICAH, as Amos, commences with Jehovah "coming forth out of His place," and coming down to the earth, with mountains melting and valleys cleaving (1: 2-4), physical disturbances often elsewhere predicted to attend that coming, and surely not unnatural accompaniments seeing what took place at Sinai. The coming in view affects "all peoples," all dwellers on earth. It is the light of this coming that he views his own times of sin and ruin, the only clear light in which any time is to be surveyed with profit. But he quickly passes on to the latter days, giving the same sentences and arresting simile as Isaiah's opening vision (Micah 4: 1-5: Isaiah 2. 1-4). Jerusalem is seen established as the world's centre, the Lord judges the nations, wars cease, peace and plenty pevail; Jehovah reigns in Zion for ever, and Jerusalem enjoys her former supremacy (4: 4-9).
Inchapter 5 there is another striking instance of widely separated events being set in one sentence. In verse 1 and 2 the judge of Israel is (1) "from everlasting," (2) is to be born in Bethlehem, (3) is to be "smitten with a rod upon the cheek," (4) is to be ruler in Israel. Thus is eternity linked with Bethlehem; then the thought passes over the thirty years of the life to Calvary, and thence goes straight to the kingdom, and Messiah is at once shown (verse 4) feeding His regathered flock, the children of Israel, in the strength and majesty of Jehovah. The interval of long centuries for Israel is compressed into five words, "He will give them up."
Recurring again to the sins of his own times (6:1; 7:6), and the consequent miseries, Micah goes on again to the future and final salvation, when Jehovah will give light (7: 7-9), when Israel's walls shall be built (2), when, as before noted, the marvels promised as soon as they had left Egypt shall be performed (15 : Ex 34: 10), and when the truth and lovingkindness promised to their first father, Abraham, shall be enjoyed (7:20). Thus, as by Moses, so by Micah eight centuries later, 1500 B.C. is linked in a sentence with the far distant period when the purposes and covenant of God shall at last find accomplishment.
NAHUM.Whatever indirect reference this prophecy may have had to the overthrow of Nineveh about 612 B.C., it contains expressions most certainly not then fulfilled and even yet awaiting fulfilment. For the presence of Jehovah is intimated, so that the mountains quake, the hills melt, the earth is upheaved, and this universally, for it affects "the world, and all that dwell therein" (1: 5). The final deliverance is promised in verse 12 : "Though I have afflicted thee I will afflict thee no more." Clearly this was not accomplished by the former overthrow of Nineveh, for thereafter Israel's afflictions continued under Babylon, and then under Syrian and Roman conquerors, and still endure.
We deplore and protest against the indefinite treatment of Holy Scripture which, in contexts like these, emasculates such words as"no more," making them to mean no more for a time. We hold that the words of the prophets were of God, and we dare not treat them thus. At that future time in view the heart of Israel will have been changed, they will not provoke their God by new guilt, their afflictions will consequently have ceased for ever, and no more will mean no more.
Verse 15 of chapter 1: "Behold, upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings," is to be compared with Isaiah 40: 9; 52: 7, leading on to the time when God shall reign at Zion.
HABAKKUKbegins by describing a state of injustice and violence that may well have been around him, but he likewise goes on to the last days. He is told expressly that what he is seeing in the vision is "yet for the appointed time and hasteth toward the end." The word "hasteth" is panteth, picturing a runner who has toiled so far and fast that he is panting as he nears the goal (2: 1-3).
That all is indeed in, the End Days is marked by a double note of time, for it will be when Jehovah is in His holy temple and all the earth shall keep silence before Him (2: 20) and. when in consequence "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah" (2: 14).
ZEPHANIAHbegins by foretelling a fearful judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem. In measure it had some answer soon after his day, which was the time of Josiah, through Nebuchadnezzar, but let it not be hastily affirmed that this was his direct message. That invasion did not "consume all things from off the face of the ground" (1: 2), for the poorest of the people were left to till the land (2 Kings 25: 12, 22). Nor were the birds or the fishes of the sea then destroyed (3). But the prophet passes at once to "the presence of the Lord Jehovah" and the "day of Jehovah," Who has a sacrifice with consecrated guests. Comp. Isaiah 18: 5, 6; 56: 9: Ezekiel 39: 17-20 : Revelation 19: 17, 18, 21, all passages connected with the advent of Christ at what Zephaniah next terms "the great day of Jehovah" now near and hastening greatly (1: 14).
That this day is yet to come is shown by2: 11, for at that time there shall take place what has not yet taken place, even that "men shall worship Him, every one from his place, even all the coastlands of the nations." Then shall Israel, like a sick man from whom the deadly cancer of pride has been excised (3: 12), no more do iniquity (3: 13), but shall sing for joy, with the king of Israel, even Jehovah, in their midst, mighty to save them, Himself joying in them, and making them a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth (3: 14-20). But my readers must understand that nothing of all this awaits real fulfilment, because the "spiritualizers" say that Israel and the nations are to be merged in one general company, the church.
HAGGAIis a brilliant example of the conjunction of the then present with the final salvation of Israel. The second temple that was then being built is to be filled with glory greater than Solomon bestowed upon the former temple, and this is to be accompanied by peace in Jerusalem (2: 8, 9). These cojoined conditions have never had fulfilment. But the prophet (2: 22) points onward to the shaking of the heavens and the earth which Hebrews 12: 26, 27 tells us is still to come. The day in question is the day when Zerubbabel will be rewarded for his faithful service to God and the despised people of God in that long past day (2: 23). Thus is the past joined on to the distant future.
ZECHARIAHcommences by turning the minds of his bearers backward to the obstinacy of their fathers, and makes that the basis of an appeal to his contemporaries (1: 1-6). His first vision announces that at that time the earth was still and at rest; there were no wars (1: 7-11). Then follows an angelic appeal to Jehovah to have mercy upon Jerusalem against which He had been indignant for the seventy years just ended. A comforting answer is given as to the rebuilding of the city, the temple, and the surrounding cities (1: 12-17). This is followed by a vision of four destroyers of the four world powers that had scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.
Now down to Zechariah's day only one power had scattered all these three, namely Babylon. Assyria had dealt hardly with Israel, but had not prevailed to scatter Judah and Jerusalem, for God had frustrated the attempt of Sennacherib. Moreover, both of these powers, these"horns," had been already "frayed" and "cast down," which forbids that they should be subjects of events to transpire thereafter. As to Persia, the then sovereign power, so far from scattering Israel and Judah, it had rather re-established them in their land. Therefore at this early point the visions pass to the future, with only this brief summary of the history of the nation through the long stretch down to the present time and what may remain of the period of their dispersion. This very short condensation of over two and a half millenniums of years is to be noted. And then immediately the far distant consummation bursts into view: Jerusalem is seen restored, "for I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about her, and I will be the glory in the midst of her" (2: 5).
Chapter 3pictures a symbolic removing of guilt from Israelís national representative before God, the high priest, and the installing him in his office, which it connects with the arising of the Branch, that is, Messiah, and the "removing of the iniquity of the land in one day" (8, 9). That removing has not yet come, nor has the Branch.
Chapter 4.The vision of the two "sons of oil that stand by the Lord of the whole earth" is carried into the future by Revelation 11: 4, in a vision immediately preceding the hour when great voices in heaven say, "The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Messiah: and He shall reign for ever and ever."
Chapter 6leads on the thought to the grand consummation, the crowning day of faithful servants of Jehovah, when the Branch, Messiah, shall build the temple of Jehovah and be a priest upon His throne.
Chapters 7 and 8answer certain questions as to the feasts of the prophets' time, but connect the then judgments (which even now are still continuing) with the final restoration, for "Thus saith Jehovah: I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth ; and the mountain of Jehovah of hosts, the holy mountain" (8: 3). But again I must notify my readers that this does not mean what it seems to mean; for though some "spiritualizers" admit there is to be a millennial kingdom on earth, they say the Lord will not Himself be there to reign at Zion, but that the kingdom will have no particular centre, and Jerusalem no particular place in it, nor will Israel as a nation exist. It is all to be governed from heaven after a "spiritual" manner, whatever this may mean.
Chapter 9foretells judgments upon cities adjacent to Palestine, north and south, linked with a time when, saith Jehovah, "I will encamp about My house . . . and no oppressor shall pass through them any more" (8). Thus as the first prophecy in Scripture linked Eden, Calvary, and the conquest of the Enemy, so this chapter glances at the entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem riding upon an ass (9), but passes immediately to the day when He shall "cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Judah; and the battle bow shall be cut off; and He shall speak peace unto the nations; and His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth" (I0).
Chapter 11describes judgments upon Israel connected with their base sale of their Shepherd for thirty pieces of silver, but chapter 12 adds a vivid account of Jerusalem besieged, of Jehovah intervening for their salvation, of His pouring upon them the spirit of grace and supplication and mourning (comp. Joel 2: 15-17), and Jerusalem thereafter dwelling in safety.
Inchapter 13 the opening of the fountain that shall cleanse them (i.e., the river of the water of life, the outpouring of the Spirit) is shown to depend upon the smiting of the Shepherd, wounded in the house of those who should have been His friends, and the consequent scattering of the flock; but this is linked on to a judgment that shall refine the remnant of the people. The supplication, already mentioned, shall be accepted, and Jehovah shall say of Israel, "It is My people; and they shall say, Jehovah is my God" (13: 9). It is plain that these promised results did not follow in Israel when this Scripture had a very partial application by Christís few followers forsaking Him the night of His betrayal (Mark 14: 27).
Chapter 14explains this refining fire as a siege of Jerusalem with all nations gathered. The attack succeeds, and is followed by a sack of the city, with half of the people being dragged into captivity, but the rest being left there. This forbids a reference to A.D. 70, for Titus removed all who survived the capture. But all is suddenly changed by the Lord joining personally in the fray: "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of 0lives" (4); His sway shall become universal, "Jehovah shall be King over all the earth" (9); and all common vessels shall be sacred to Him, usable in the sacrifices that will be offered in the temple that He, the Branch, shall build (14: 20, 21; 6: 12, 13).
MALACHIdenounces the wickedness of Edom and Judah, but connects the judgments already begun or threatened with a time when it shall be owned that "Jehovah is magnified beyond the border of Israel" (1: 5), and when His "name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place, incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the Gentiles, saith Jehovah of hosts." This has never yet been; rather at this day peoples which once owned that Name are refusing longer to honour it. But it will be it must be; for the word of the Lord must be accomplished so that here also the past is put in contact with the End Times.
Chapter 2speaks severely of then existing evils in the priesthood, to which is joined a prophecy of Messiah coming as a refining fire for their purification, so that their offerings shall become righteous and acceptable (3: 1-4).
Again the prophet complains of those around him (3: 13-15). Some fear the Lord and give heed, and their names are recorded before Him (16). But their recompense is promised "in the day that I do make, saith Jeliovah" (17, 18), the day when the righteous shall be at last clearly distinguished from the wicked (comp. Matthew 25: 31-46, the sheep separated from the goats), the day which shall burn up the godless as stubble in the furnace, but shall bring joy and triumph to the righteous by the Sun of righteousness arising with healing in His wings (4: 1-3).
At the time in question the law of Moses, with its statutes and ordinances, is to be observed, which shows that it is as Jews, not as Christians, that the remnant of Israel will stand before the eyes of Jehovah, and that therefore it is no question of all men merging into one company, the church. Elijah will come to strengthen them in this path of preparation for meeting their Messiah (4-6).
Thus the O.T. closes with the same feature with which it commenced, and which pervades it in every part, making its testimony one united consentient message, even the feature of linking the time of the prophet with the great goal of human history from the Fall and throughout, the goal of the psalmist who cried in ecstatic expectation:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice . . .
Before Jehovah; for He cometh,
For He cometh to judge the earth:
He will judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.(Psalm 96: 11-13)
It is in comparatively few passages that it may be difficult to see whether the end of the Gentile period is in view or some preceding time. It is the former when such expressions are used as"the latter days," the "end," a "full end," "the consummation determined." Also when the "whole earth," "all nations" and other universal terms are found; as well as when there is described a permanent and holy condition of peace and plenty, with nature also freed from the curse and flourishing. When Israel is pictured as renewed in heart, sin being no more found in them, God's blessing being guaranteed for ever, the people to be no more rooted up from their land, the presence of Jehovah in visible glory at Zion, Jerusalem the city of the great King and the centre of rule and worship for all nations - then the era is millennial. And those places which foretell the climax of human rebellion against God under the last emperor, and the culmination of divine wrath, as preparatory to the kingdom of the heavens, these also are concerned with the last days. Now in the great mass of predictive passages these signs are so clear as to show that the End Days are the chief subject of prophecy.
The picture thus afforded of the development of the plans of God for this earth is full, consistent, and entrancing. The attempt to give a so-called "spiritual" sense to this vast mass of predictions involves an eliminating of any real sense or value from the greater part by far of prophetic Scripture; for in its first and obvious sense the major part of it has to do with the End Days, with the nation of Israel, and with the Gentile nations as nations. If the detail is not to be fulfilled literally it might as well not have been given.
Nor is it difficult to see why the beginnings and endings of history are linked together and occupy the field of Scripture, while the intermediate stretches are seldom surveyed. In the former the principles characterizing rebellious man and the principles directing the government of God are sufficiently exhibited. Now these both are constant, unvarying factors, which is why history repeats itself; and thus their interacting and clash will be ever producing similar effects in the affairs of earth. These, then, having been once adequately illustrated in the histories, there would be no moral advantage in a frequent repetition of their details in either the histories or the prophecies.
But what is of supreme value, indeed indispensable to faith and piety, is to be forewarned as to the closing perils of the ages, and adequately informed of the final stages of the conflict that will lead to victory. The satanic fury and intensity of those never-to-be-equalled days will be a dreadful danger to the majority who have some love for Christ, even as He said:"Because iniquity shall be multiplied the love of the many [the majority] shall wax cold": Matthew 24. 12. Therefore the grace of God has told fully of those days, that when they arrive faith may stand firm, knowing that then redemption will have drawn nigh (Luke 21: 28).
We shall now study this same dominant feature in the prophecies of the New Testament.
THE NEW TESTAMENT
For four centuries after Malachi God sent no prophet of whom any record is preserved, but then the coming into the world of the greatest Prophet, the Son of God, was occasion for an outburst of prophesying.
The first prophecy of N.T. times shows the same feature that marked the first in the O.T., the then present being linked to the second advent of Christ. Gabriel told Mary that her son to be born was to be called Jesus, and that"the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1: 32, 33). No reference was made to any intervening work that the Saviour should do, not even to Calvary, or to any events of the following two millenniums of years. It is evident that the angel took literally the promise to David as to a son to rule, and therefore also the predictions as to His government, such as Isaiah 9: 6, 7.
The second prophetic utterance was the song of Mary (Luke 1: 46-55), and it is plain that she too regarded the promised events in the same sense as did Gabriel, even the fulfilment of "mercy covenanted to Abraham and his seed for ever," which would include the "scattering of the proud" and the "putting down princes from their thrones" (51, 52), deeds which, as regards Israel and Christ, God did not do when Jesus was here, for it was the proud and enthroned that derided and killed Him.
The third prophecy was Zachariasí noble declaration concerning the Messiah, whose way his son John should prepare (Luke 1: 67-79). It is clear that Zacharias expected far greater events than followed the sojourn among men of Jesus of Nazareth. He, like Mary, looked for the fulfilment of the sworn covenant with Abraham (73), which concerned Godís people Israel, and included "salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us" (71), in order that, being thus delivered, Israel should be able to serve God without fear (74). This was part of the message of former times, and a part that still waits realization at the second coming of Messiah.
Thus this third prophecy of the N.T. contains this same feature.
Simeon and Anna also connected the birth of Jesus with its final outcome, the"glory of Thy people Israel" and "the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2: 32, 38). Simeon touched briefly upon Calvary: "a sword shall pierce through thine own soul"; but to such as these it was not simply a matter of personal salvation in the spiritual realm and in eternity, nor of individual Gentiles and Jews becoming members of the church of God, for they had not been informed of that still reserved part of the counsels of God. They looked for a glory promised to Israel as a people, which should include the deliverance of the city of Jerusalem, the divinely appointed centre of that people. The plain sense of their words is based on the equally plain sense of the promises of God they knew.
Thus the prophecies which accompanied the birth of the Prophet concur in directing the mind to (1) a literal fulfilment of the O.T. predictions; and (2) in connecting the birth of the King with the establishment of His kingdom on earth, a surely very natural connection, but one which we now know to have been very far in the future.
Nor can it be said that these were but the expectations of pious but unenlightened Jews, but that we are to learn from fuller N.T. instruction that their earthly notions were not the real meaning of the O.T.; because (1) any supposed ignorance in them cannot be imputed to the first messenger, the angel Gabriel come from standing in the presence of God, sent specially to announce the birth of the Son as to sit on Davidís throne; and (2) Zacharias spoke as a prophet by the fulness of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1: 67); and (3) it is emphasized that the same Spirit was upon Simeon, and guided him to the temple just as Jesus was brought there; and (4) Anna is distinctly called a prophetess; nor (5) can piety attribute Maryís sudden and exalted song to any less agent than the Spirit who a moment before had filled and inspired Elizabethís utterance concerning her.
Moreover, if the plain sense of their words was not correct, but the fact was that the literal Israel was past in the plan of God, and there remained only a merging of the spiritual of them into the church, why were these inspired but now misleading utterances put on record later by the Spirit to be read by readers of the Gospels long after the church period had commenced? On the supposition in view, the repeating of such statements could only confuse and mislead Christians, no warning whatever of the change suggested being given in the narratives.
The next prophecies were those of John the Immerser concerning Jesus (Matthew 3.: Mark 1.: Luke 3.: Johnn 1.). They present four features belonging to our subject. (1) That the kingdom of the heavens had drawn nigh, i.e., in the King being present in person. (2) That Jesus was the sin-bearer, the Lamb of God; i.e., the thought goes to Calvary. (3) That He would baptize men in the Holy Spirit, i.e., Pentecost. (4) And then the predictions leap the whole present age to its closing days and go to the judgment day predicted in the first psalm and other Scriptures, when the godly shall be gathered into safety, as wheat into the garner, and the chaff be burned up.
The teachings and prophecies of our Lord follow.
MATTHEW 5-7.The Sermon on the Mount gives principles and precepts for the present observance of all subjects of the kingdom of the heavens. It promises trials in this age, but sets all in the light of that coming Day. The believer is directed to heaven as the place of reward (Matt. 5: 12), "great is your reward in heaven." Peter tells us later that this reward will be received at the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven (1 Peter 1: 13; 4: 13). Disciples are taught to offer the prayer "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth," which further links the sermon to the second advent of the King. And all conduct is to be tested at that great day which will fall as a tempest to test each manís building, a figure borrowed from O.T. prophecies of the Day of the Lord (Psalm 18: 9-16: Isaiah 28: 2; 29: 6: etc.).
MATTHEW 13.The parables of the kingdom bear the same mark. They indicate the chief moral conditions that develop all through this age, now here, now there, and so far are a brief outline of the period. That they begin with Christís own work is clear from His words, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man" (37). This beginning is at once linked with the close of the period, for "the harvest is the consummation of the age" (39). Details of the long centuries during which the sowing is to be continued are not needed, nor is any description required of incidents that may happen in connection with the last parable, the casting and dragging of the net. Such details are, so to say, customary and commonplace, incidental to the operations; but in the latter parable again the thought hastens straight to the "consummation of the age," the point of separation of good from bad.
LUKE 12.It is the same with the Lordís instruction as His ministry draws to its end. Disciples are to expect tribulation, but need not be anxious in mind. The Holy Spirit will aid them in every emergency (12); their Father will care for them in every need, for He purposes to give them the kingdom (22-34). Thus the thought passes from these general facts of the age to the coming kingdom. Let disciples, then, be like men looking for the return of their Lord (35, 36). The business of the overseers of His house during the, say, two thousand years of His absence is comprised sufficiently in one sentence, to give food in season to the household. Details of household affairs are here not necessary. Let them only be ready to give an account with joy when their Master shall suddenly come.
LUKE 17: 22-37.How striking is the same conjunction in the statements in this chapter. You will not need to be told that the Son of Man has come, even as you do not need to be told that the lightning flash has blazed from east to west, for that Coming will not be a secret affair. But before glory comes suffering: "first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation" (25). "First," before what? before the long and weary centuries of persecution? Nay: first before that Coming in glory; and therefore the next statement goes direct to the days to precede that Coming, which will be like those before the Flood and those before the destruction of Sodom. Thus, because the histories of the ancient past are with us, it is unnecessary to detail the events of the intervening future, for reference to the histories suffices. And so Calvary and the Coming were linked, almost as if nothing would come between. Yet the Speaker knew very well that much must be done between, but it was not needful to detail the work.
LUKE 19.That the Lord knew that the interval would be long, and wished His followers to know it, is seen in His comparison of Himself to a nobleman going into a far country to secure a kingdom. In those days a long journey took a long time, and so also would the negotiations to secure a disputed title to a throne. Indeed, the parable was spoken expressly to correct their erroneous supposition that the advent of the kingdom in glory was near. Even more distinct is the corresponding parable in Matt. 25, spoken but a few days later, for then Christ said plainly, "Now after a long time the Lord of those servants cometh" (19).
The two parables indicate (1) the business of the nobleman while absent - the securing His rights to the Kingdom. This will not be accomplished in fact until the Prince of this world shall have been dispossessed of all status in heaven and cast out thence, as seen inRevelation 12: 9, 10. (2) The business of His servants during His absence - even looking after His interests while He is away. (3) The attitude to Him of some of His subjects, even open antagonism. These matters being briefly made clear, the instruction passes forthwith to the Return and its issues for all parties.
MATTHEW 19. 23 to 20. 16.Riches and Entering the Kingdom. The Labourers in the Vineyard. Entrance into the kingdom demands the sacrifice of oneís all* - here is a feature of the whole age; the recompense will be found "in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory" (19: 28). Labourers must toil all the day, and it is "when even was come," the close of the day, that all were paid together. Thus Paul said : I have won my crown, and it will be given to me "in that Day" (2 Timothy 4: 8). The expression is emphatic as to the special day meant: "in that day". See Greek text.
[* That is, when called upon to do so. - Ed.]
LUKE 19. 41-44: MATTHEW 23. 37-49.
Drawing near to Jerusalem, as foretold byZechariah, the Lord burst into tears and announced its overthrow, then less than forty years off. With that brief mention, repeated in the temple a few days later, the curtain drops on Israelís history, to be lifted only when that people shall say of Jesus, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." Thus are conjoined the first and the last centuries of this age. Details of Israelís long wanderings are not material: the period had been sufficiently sketched by Moses (Lev. 26).
The VINEYARD(Mt 21. 33-46: Mk 12. 1-12: Lk 20. 9-18). This presents (1) the time then present - the murder of the Son, and the vengeance on the murderers (A.D. 70). (2) The whole present gospel age in one sentence - the vineyard entrusted to others. (3) The end of this age - the stone falling, crushing opponents to powder and scattering them as dust. Comp. Daniel 2.
THE MARRIAGE FEAST (Mt 22. 1-14).
This gives (1) the then present - guests invited, but rejecting the call, ill-treating the messengers, and they and their city destroyed (A.D. 70). (2) Others invited - the work of the gospel age condensed in two verses (8, 9). (3) The close of the age - the King viewing His guests at the time of the feast, which is the main point of the parable.
THE OLIVET DISCOURSE (Matthew 24; 25: Mark 13: Luke 21).
This most important utterance of the Lord shows exactly what we see elsewhere. The present age is outlined briefly; but"the End is not immediately." Certain features will be seen during the whole age, but by verse 13 of Matthew the thought has gone on to that End, and certain events will be "the beginning of travail." As often, attention to the figure of speech used avoids error by giving the clue to the true meaning. The Speaker has passed to the very close of this age, for, though the expectant mother is liable to more or less distress throughout the period she carries the child, yet "travail" is only the brief though most acute time immediately before the birth. If but the force of this one figure had been grasped the church of God might have been spared from books innumerable and bulky, written on the futile plan of trying to make the details of nineteen centuries fit the details of prophetic scriptures, especially the book of Revelation.
Thus in this major prophecy the whole gospel age is summarized briefly, while its closing days are elaborated fully.
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS (Matt. 25: 1-13) is not a forecast of his whole age. Upon this the particle with which it commences is emphatic. The Lord had been dealing with the period immediately and directly before His appearing, and He said: "Then ( at that particular time) the kingdom of the heavens shall be made like unto ten virgins" (Darby : it is the future passive). A common notion is that the virgins represent the church slumbering through the long centuries, and that the awakening midnight cry went forth early in the 19th century by the renewed interest in the subject of the second Advent. This is excluded by the distinct note of time "then." It has been acutely remarked that, if that notion were correct, the foolish virgins would by now have had a good long time to go and buy oil; but the parable indicates the exact contrary: the time between the "cry" and the Coming did not suffice for even this purpose. This shows that the parable belongs to the very End Days.
THE TALENTS have been noticed above.
THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS (Matt. 25: 31-46).
The separation between these is to take place"When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him" (25: 31). Comp. Joel 3: 11.12: Zechariah 14: 5 : Hebrews 12: 22, 23, all applying to the Advent in glory which is to close this age of grief and open that next age of bliss.
ACTS 1: 6-11."Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" The question proves that nothing in the teaching they had heard from Christ had caused the apostles to doubt that the apparent meaning of the O.T. was the real meaning, and that the kingdom would be restored to Israel. The only question was as to the time for this.
Nor did the answer to the question at all correct this idea. The season for that restoration was not their then concern; let them leave it, and go about the task of the intervening period, witnessing to their Lord unto the utmost parts of the earth. Thus again the whole age was condensed in a sentence, and forthwith their Lord was taken up into heaven, and immediately two angels at once carried their minds to the end of the age now set in, by assuring them of His due return.
Thus the book ofActs opens with our feature, as did Genesis and the Gospels.
ACTS 2: 16-21.After ten days Peter, explaining the then outpouring of the Spirit, uses a scripture (Joel 2) which connects that event with the "last days," and specifically with the coming of "the day of the Lord, the great and notable Day."
ACTS 3: 18-21.Similarly, a short time later, Peter, explaining the healing of the cripple, connects that working of God with the "seasons of refreshing" and "the restoration of all things" foretold by prophets of old as to attend the return of Messiah.
ACTS 15.Peter had reminded the assembly at Jerusalem of the first bringing in of Gentiles into the church of God (7-11). Paul and Barnabas had narrated the extension of that work through their labours (12), James pointed out that the prophets agree in intimating this part of the divine program, and quoted Amos 9: 11, 12. Now Amos had said that "in that day" God will do certain works, but James changes this to "after these things" God will do these works. The prophet had said that those works would be done in the day when God had destroyed all the sinners out of His people Israel; but Jamesí words cannot mean that, for this last work had not been done when he was speaking. Nor has it yet been done. "After these things" can only mean, "after the completion of that work," the beginning and progress of which has just been narrated to us. Thus the work in question as James described it, is the "taking out from among nations a people for God's, name," i.e., the church.
Here, then, once more this whole age of outgathering is covered by a sentence: and"after these things," what then? Then the End Times, bringing fulfilment of the prophets in three chief matters:
"After these things"
1."I will return" - the second Advent.
2."I will build again the ruins of the tabernacle of David, and I will set it up" - the restoration of the kingdom to David and Israel, in the person of David's Son. Not a word is given to suggest that this does not now mean what it says, but means the same as the former statement of the gathering of the church.
3. The general turning of the Gentile peoples to Jehovah, according to the prophets. See, e.g.,Isaiah 66: 20-23: Zechariah 14: 1:6-19 : Psalm 67: etc. The terms James used (that, in order that) make unmistakable that the re-establishment of the house of David is a condition precedent to and a cause of the rest of the Gentiles seeking the Lord, and all the prophets put the two things in that order. It is the denial of the idea that through the gospel now proclaimed the very vast majority of Jew and Gentile will enter the church, the irreclaimable minority be destroyed in judgment, and the house of David, as such, never be restored at all. The denying to Israel of prior place among the nations is a cancellation of the Old Testament and a confusing of the New Testament.
ACTS 17: 30, 31.If we listen to Paul preaching to Gentiles at Athens we shall hear him call men everywhere to repent - the call of this whole gospel age - and then at once direct their minds to the day of judgment.
It is thus in Paulís letters.
ROMANS.The present is the time of suffering, but this is set in connection with the glory that is to be revealed to usward (8: 17, 18). Creation groans, but this will end when the sons of God are revealed in glory (8: 19-25). The mystery of the stumbling of Israel as a people, and the room thus found for the favour of God reaching out to Gentiles, does not nullify the O.T. promises; for repentant and believing Israel shall be grafted in again, and "there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer: He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (11: 25-29). And believers are to rejoice that thus the prophets will be fulfilled, in that "all the peoples" shall at last praise God and submit to the rule of the "Root of Jesse," i.e., to Israelís Messiah (15: 8-13).
In this discussion by Paul of the relative positions and prospects of Gentile believers and Israel, there is to be noted his use of the titles"Jacob" and "Root of Jesse." In the argument for merging all the godly of Israel into the church of God, and the elimination of a national future for Israel, much is made of the very rare application in the N.T. of the names Israel and Zion in a spiritual and heavenly connection (Galations 6: 16 : Hebrews 12: 22: Revelation 14: 1). But "Jacob" and the "Root of Jesse" are not so used in the N.T., they are not applied to things heavenly, they belong to the earthly Israel, and are quoted in Romans in their natural sense as used by Isaiah or Gabriel, as in "He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever" (Luke 1: 33). No other usage is ever hinted in Scripture.
1 CORINTHIANS 15.Here it is the same - the far past and the far future are conjoined, the intervening times being passed over. Death brought into mankind by the first Adam; resurrection by the last Adam, who will abolish death (21-28). A broad outline of the divine program from resurrection and onwards is given. First Christ rose; the intervening age is unnoticed; then His people will be raised at His coming; the next age, the millennial, is unnoticed, save by the solitary remark "He must reign"; then the final triumph is indicated, "God all in all."
Paulís later epistles take all this for granted, and follow the same plan of setting all experiences of saints in connection with the Coming.
Ephesians 5: 22-33is a sample of his teaching. The past - the love of Christ to His church, and His sacrifice to acquire her (25); the present - His work of purifying and perfecting her, the age thus condensed into a sentence (26); the future - the marriage of the Lamb (27).
InHEBREWS it is the same. The Son creates, descends, dies, ascends (1: 1-5), and forthwith the thought passes on to His re-entry into the habitable universe (6) and to His throne and sceptre (8), in the day for which He waits at the right hand of God (13). Events to take place on earth this epistle does not open, but instead it discloses the Great Priest serving in heaven, and bids His people patiently to tread on over the desert, so as at last to enter into that sabbath rest which the millennial kingdom of the Son will verily be to those who did not faint and fall in the wilderness (chapters 3 & 4). They are to be imitators of all the heroes of faith of all the ages, men and women who set their hopes on the future and the heavenly (chapter 11), for they were expecting another country and city (11: 14-16), and a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12: 28). This is the calling, true attitude, and prospect of believers of this present age; but when the writer deals with the new covenant afore promised by God, upon the basis of which the better things promised are to be gained, so far is he from sweeping away Israel nationally, and teaching that as a people they have now no future, that he cites the prophets as they stand in the O.T., and says that that covenant has yet to be "made with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (8: 8), and again in verse 10 he repeats that it is with Israel as a house that the covenant is to be made, and that they shall be unto God a people. Thus the present entry of individuals into the heavenly privileges of the covenant are not made to annul the application of it hereafter to Israel corporately. The creation of a spiritual Israel according to the N.T. does not cancel the promises to Israel as a people, but the fulfilment of these is only deferred until some of them in a future day become believing and spiritual in mind. But by then the opportunity to secure a place in the heavenly Israel, Zion, and kingdom will have passed by, and they must be content with a share in the earthly people, city, and kingdom.
InJAMES it is the same. The present is hard and difficult but those who are rich in faith, though they may be poor in this world, are promised a kingdom (2: 5) : let them therefore endure patiently until the coming of the Lord. Not that this event will be immediately: on the contrary, as the farmer must wait for the appointed season of harvest, and must have long patience through two rainy seasons, so must they be patient. Yet that Coming has drawn nigh (5: 7, 8.), 'in the sense that it is the next event of moment, for nothing of the many affairs to intervene is of any great moment to faith.
PETERis in the same line. Christ by His resurrection gave us a living hope of an inheritance (1 Pt 1: 3). Until the time to inherit shall have come the Father acts as Guardian to His growing heirs who trust Him; but it is in the "last time" that this full end of salvation shall be reached (5) and during the interval the heirs are to fix their hope undividedly upon the revelation of Jesus Christ (1: 13).
JOHN.The general attitude of John is striking. He knows that he has been introduced into the world that is eternal by participating in the life that is eternal; that life which the Word is Who had been eternally with the Father and had been lately manifested in human life on this earth. And he was living in the light and joy of that eternal sphere (1 John 1: 1-4).
Looking out thus from eternity upon the ages of time, past and to come, he describes this one age, in which he was living as a man on earth, as"a last hour" ; "Little children, it is a last hour" (2: 15). The essential features of the last period before the world as a system of things will vanish (2: 17) are present: many antichrists have arisen, forerunners of the Antichrist; and therefore "little children, abide in Him"; by obedience maintain your fellowship with Him in His eternal sphere, in order that "if He be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to shame from before Him at His coming" (Darby, 2: 28: comp. Matt. 25: 30), whenever that may take place.
If the standpoint of eternity, whence John looks out, had been recognized, some learned and lengthy discussions of these words"a last hour" need not have been written. His attitude is that of his brother apostles: the general features of the age are all that we need to mark; its detail and recurring developments do not need mention: the climax of wickedness in the Wicked One, and the triumph of righteousness in the Righteous One, are the vital matters; and that we should so walk as to meet the Righteous One with joy.
JUDE.It has been pointed out above that the prophecy of Enoch, which Jude quotes, connected his own early time with the very far distant coming of the Lord to judgment, and put this as a past event: "the Lord came . . . to execute judgment." Naturally Judeís own statements are in harmony with this. The general features of the past mark the present age. The essential qualities of Cain, Sodom, Balaam, and Korah are still reproduced in ungodly men: therefore "beloved . . . keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (20, 21). They who do this diligently shall never stumble on the journey (comp. 2 Peter 1: 10), and will find that God, in response, is able to guard them from stumbling, and thus to effect the great consummation of His purpose and their hope, even "to set them before the presence of His glory, without blemish in exceeding joy" (24).
REVELATION.The Apocalypse is the top stone of the pyramid of divine truth revealed in the Word of God, and, as such a top stone must, it follows the lines of the pyramid it crowns. A good deal not before made known is indeed revealed, but it is woven in among things already known. It were a mistake to suppose that all that John saw at that time was then first revealed.
Rather it is that by means of several series of visions the book sets forth in order things which had before been revealed "piece -meal " (Heb. 1: 1: see Greek),i.e., by scattered and mostly unconnected announcements. Now, as the whole Bible, as has here been shown, is marked by the feature that the End Times, and the re-establishment on this earth of the kingdom of God, so that again heaven and earth shall be one empire of God under Christ, are the dominant subject, so is it to be expected that this closing section of the Oracles of God will be occupied with the same theme.
From this it appears that the pious and learned men who have expended prodigious labours to show that theRevelation was a minute and marvellous prophecy of this whole age, were engaged in establishing that the book is a complete anomaly in Holy Scripture, that in place of completing all prophecy it is inharmonious with all, in both plan and theme, except indeed as regards the few closing chapters. Happily their scheme of interpretation has no great practical importance for us to-day, since they seem agreed that almost all has already happened, and that but little remains before the Advent.
But from our point of view the whole book remains of the utmost importance, as an unveiling to spiritual men of what must be faced and endured in that dread era when the saints will so sorely need all possible instruction and every indication available, that their redemption has at last drawn nigh, and may so find strength to lift up the head.
For the Lord in grace has told us these things before they come to pass, that when they come to pass faith may abide vigorous, instead of being taken by surprise and so succumb. This maintenance of faith is vital, for true are the words of Belcher: "I find that, while faith is steady, nothing can disquiet me; and when faith totters, nothing can establish me." And the appalling peril to faith in that most appalling of all periods explains in part why the wisdom of God has given in His Word so great a place to those days and their all-glorious consummation. The book has been a comfort and strength to suffering saints the centuries through: it will be simply indispensable in the End Days. It is of the deepest interest that, as withDaniel (12: 4) so with , Revelalion, many are reading and reviewing it, and knowledge of it is being increased. This was to be a feature at "the time of the End," and if this present study shall at all help to increase this knowledge it will serve its design.
G. H. LANG.