- Table of Contents
- About the Author
- Preface to the Book
- The Last Words in Old Testament Prophecy
- PART I. - The Parousia in the Gospels
- Parousia in the Synoptical Gospels
- Prophetic Intimations of the approaching Consummation of the Kingdom of God:
- The Prophecy on the Mount examined:
- Our Lord's declaration before the High Priest
- Prediction of the Woes coming on Jerusalem
- Prayer of the Penitent Thief
- Apostolic Commission, the
- The Parousia in the Gospel of St.John.
- Appendix to Part I
- PART II. The Parousia in the Acts and the Epistles.
- In the Acts of the Apostles.
- In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians
- In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
- In the First Epistle to the Corinthians
- In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians
- In the Epistle to the Galatians
- In the Epistle to the Romans
- In the Epistle to the Colossians
- In the First Epistle to Timothy
- In the Second Epistle of Timothy
- In the Epistle to Titus
- In the Epistle to the Hebrews
- In the Epistle of St. James
- In the First Epistle of St. Peter
- In the Second Epistle of St. Peter
- In the First Epistle of St. John
- In the Epistle of St. Jude
- Appendix to Part II
- Part III. The Parousia in the Apocalypse.
- Summary and Conclusion
- Appendix to Part III.
- Afterword by Russell
- All the Comparative Scripture Charts Combined
by James Stuart Russell
THE TEACHING OF OUR LORD CONCERNING THE PAROUSIA IN THE SYNOPTICAL GOSPELS
THE PAROUSIA PREDICTED BY JOHN THE BAPTIST
The close of John the Baptist’s ministry, in consequence of his imprisonment by Herod Antipas, marks a new departure in the ministry of our Lord. Previous to that time, indeed, He had taught the people, wrought miracles, gained adherents, and obtained a wide popularity; but after that event, which may be regarded as indicating the failure of John’s mission, our Lord retired into Galilee, and there entered upon a new phase of His public ministry. We are told that ‘from that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. (Matt. 4:17) These are the precise terms in which the preaching of John the Baptist is described. (Matt. 3:2) Both our Lord and His forerunner called ‘the nation to repentance,’ and announced the approach of the ‘kingdom of heaven.’ It follows that John could not mean by the phrase, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ merely that the Messiah was about to appear, for when Christ did appear, He made the same announcement. ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ In like manner, when the twelve disciples were sent forth on their first evangelistic mission, they were commanded to preach, not that the kingdom of heaven was come, but that it was at hand. (Matt. 10:7) Moreover, that the kingdom did not come in our Lord’s time, nor at the day of Pentecost, is evident from the fact that in His prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives our Lord gave His disciples certain tokens by which they might know that the kingdom of God was nigh at hand. (Luke 21:31)
We find, therefore, the following conclusions plainly deducible from our Lord’s teaching:
- That a great crisis, or consummation, called ‘the kingdom of heaven, or of God,’ was proclaimed by Him to be nigh.
- That this consummation, though near, was not to take place in His own lifetime, nor yet for some years after His death.
- That His disciples, or at least some of them, might expect to witness its arrival.
PREDICTION OF COMING WRATH UPON THAT GENERATION.
There is another point of resemblance between the preaching of our Lord and that of John the Baptist. Both gave the clearest intimations of the near approach of a time of judgment which should overtake the existing generation, on account of their rejection of the warnings and invitations of divine mercy. As the Baptist spoke of ‘the coming wrath,’ so our Lord with equal distinctness forewarned the people of ‘coming judgment.’ He upbraided ‘the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not,’ and predicted that a heavier woe would overtake them than had fallen upon Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrha. (Matt. 11:20-24) That all this points to a catastrophe which was not remote, but near, and which would actually overtake the existing generation, appears evident from the express statements of Jesus.
Matt. 12:38-46: (compare Luke 11:16, 24-36) ‘Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and condemn it, for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.’
This passage is of great importance in ascertaining the true meaning of the phrase ‘this generation’ [h genea auth]. It can only refer, in this place, to the people of Israel then living—the existing generation. No commentator has ever proposed to call ‘genea’ here the Jewish race in all ages. Our Lord was accustomed to speak of His contemporaries as this generation:
Whereunto shall I liken this generation?—‘that is, the men of that day who would listen neither to His forerunner nor to Himself’. (Matt. 11:16, Luke 7:31) Even commentators like Stier, who contend for the rendering of ‘genea’ by race or lineage in other passages, admit that the reference in these words is ‘to the generation living in that then extant and most important age.’1 So in the passage before us there can be no controversy respecting the application of the words exclusively to the then existing generation, the contemporaries of Christ. Of the aggravated and enormous wickedness of that period our Lord here testifies. The generation has just before been addressed by Him in the very words of the Baptist—‘O brood of vipers’ (Matt. 12:34). Its guilt is declared to surpass that of the heathen; it is likened to a demoniac, from whom the unclean spirit had departed for a while, but returned in greater force than before, accompanied by seven other spirits more wicked than himself, so that ‘the last state of that man is worse than that first.’ We have in the testimony of Josephus a striking confirmation of our Lord’s description of the moral condition of that generation. ‘As it were impossible to relate their enormities in detail, I shall briefly state that no other city ever endured similar calamities, and no generation ever existed more prolific in crime. They confessed themselves to be, what they were—slaves, and the very dregs of society, the spurious and polluted spawn of the nation.’2 ‘And here I cannot refrain from expressing what my feelings suggest. I am of opinion, that had the Romans deferred the punishment of these wretches, either the earth would have opened and swallowed up the city, or it would have been swept away by a deluge, or have shared the shun. defaults of the land of Sodom. For it produced a race far more ungodly than those who were thus visited. For through the desperate madness of these men the whole nation was involved in their ruin.’3 ‘That period had somehow become so prolific in iniquity of every description amongst the Jews, that no work of evil was left unperpetrated; ... so universal was the contagion, both in public and private, and such the emulation to surpass each other in acts of impiety towards God, and of injustice towards their neighbours.’4
Such was the fearful condition to which the nation was hastening when our Lord uttered these prophetic words. The climax had not yet been reached, but it was full in view. The unclean spirit had not yet returned to his house, but he was on the way. As Stier remarks, ‘In the period between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem, especially towards the end of it, this nation shows itself, one might say, as if possessed by seven thousand devils.’5 Is not this an adequate and complete fulfilment of our Saviour’s prediction? Have we the slightest warrant or need for saying that it means something else, or something more, than this? What presence is there for supposing a further and future fulfilment of His words? Is it not a virtual discrediting of the prophecy to seek any other than the plain and obvious sense which points so distinctly to an approaching catastrophe about to befall that generation? Surely we show most reverence to the Word of God when we accept implicitly its obvious teaching, and refuse the unwarranted and merely human speculations which critics and theologians have drawn from their own fancy. We conclude, then, that, in the notorious profligacy of that age, and the signal calamities which before its close overwhelmed the Jewish people, we have the historical attestation of the exhaustive fulfilment of this prophecy.
FURTHER ALLUSIONS TO THE COMING WRATH.
Luke 13:1-9: ‘There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’
How vividly our Lord apprehended the approaching calamities of the nation, and how clear and distinct His warnings were, may be inferred from this passage. The massacre of some Galileans who had gone up to Jerusalem to the feast of the Passover, either by the command, or with the connivance of the Roman governor; and the sudden destruction of eighteen persons by the fall of a tower near the pool of Siloam, were incidents which formed the topics of conversation among the people at the time. Our Lord declares that the victims of these calamities were not exceptionally wicked, but that a like fate would overtake the very persons now talking about them, unless they repented. The point of His observation, which is often overlooked, lies in the similarity of the threatened destruction. It is not ‘ye also shall all perish,’ but, ‘ye shall all perish in the same manner’ wsautwv. That our Lord had in view the final ruin, which was about to overwhelm Jerusalem and the nation, can hardly be doubted. The analogy between the cases is real and striking. It was at the feast of the Passover that the population of Judea had crowded into Jerusalem, and were there cooped in by the legions of Titus. Josephus tells us how, in the final agony of the siege, the blood of the officiating priests was shed at the altar of sacrifice. The Roman soldiers were the executioners of the divine judgment; and as temple and tower fell to the ground, they buried in their ruins many a hapless victim of impenitence and unbelief. It is satisfactory to find both Alford and Stier recognising the historical allusion in this passage. The former remarks: the force of which is lost in the English version "likewise," should be rendered "in like manner," as indeed the Jewish people did perish by the sword of the Romans.’6
IMPENDING FATE OF THE JEWISH NATION.
The Parable of the Barren Fig-tree.
Luke 13:6-9: ‘He spake also this parable: A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard: and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this figtree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.’
The same prophetic significance is manifest in this parable, which is almost the counterpart of that in Isa. 5., both in form and meaning. The true interpretation is so obvious as to render explanation scarcely necessary. Its bearing on the people of Israel is most distinct and direct, more especially when viewed in connection with the preceding warnings. Israel is the fruitless tree, long cultivated, but yielding no return to the owner. It was now on its last trial: the axe, as John the Baptist had declared, was laid to the root of the tree; but the fatal blow was delayed at the intercession of mercy. The Saviour was even then at His gracious work of nurture and culture; a little longer, and the decree would go forth—‘Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?’
No doubt there are general principles in this, as in other parables, applicable to all nations and all ages; but we must not lose sight of its original and primary reference to the Jewish people. Stier and Alford seem to lose themselves in searching for recondite and mystical meanings in the minor details of the imagery; but Neander gives a luminous explanation of its true import: ‘As the fruitless tree, failing to realize the aim of its being, was destroyed, so the theocratic nation, for the same reason, was to be overtaken, after long forbearance, by the judgments of God, and shut out from His kingdom.’7
THE END OF THE AGE, OR CLOSE OF THE JEWISH DISPENSATION.
Parables of the Tares, and of the Drag-net.
Matt. 13:36-47: ‘Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world [age]; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be at the end of this world [age]. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a [the] furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear... Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was east into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to the shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world [age]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’
We find in the passages here quoted an example of one of those erroneous renderings which have done much to confuse and mislead the ordinary readers of our English version. It is probable, that ninety-nine in every hundred understand by the phrase, ‘the end of the world,’ the close of human history, and the destruction of the material earth. They would not imagine that the ‘world’ in Matt. 13:38 and the ‘world’ in Matt. 13:39, 40, are totally different words, with totally different meanings. Yet such is the fact. kosmov in Matt. 13:38 is rightly translated world, and refers to the world of men, but aeon in Matt. 13:39, 40, refers to a period of time, and should be rendered age or epoch. Lange translates it aeon. It is of the greatest importance to understand correctly the two meaning of this word, and of the phrase ‘the end of the aeon, or age.’ Aiwn is, as we have said, a period of time, or an age. It is exactly equivalent to the Latin word aevum, which is merely aion in a Latin dress; and the phrase, sunteleia ton aiwnov, translated in our English version, ‘the end of the world,’ should be, ‘the close of the age.’ Tittman observes: Sunteleia tou aiwnov, as it occurs in the New Testament, does not denote the end, but rather the consummation, of the aiwn, which is to be followed by a new age. So in Matt. 13:39, 40, 49, 24:3; which last passage, it is to be feared, may be misunderstood in applying it to the destruction of the world.’8 It was the belief of the Jews that the Messiah would introduce a new aeon: and this new aeon, or age, they called ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ The existing aeon: therefore, was the Jewish dispensation, which was now drawing to its close; and how it would terminate our Lord impressively shows in these parables. It is indeed surprising that expositors should have failed to recognize in these solemn predictions the reproduction and reiteration of the words of Malachi and of John the Baptist. Here we find the same final separation between the righteous and the wicked; the same purging of the floor; the same gathering of the wheat into the garner; the same burning of the chaff [tares, stubble] in the fire. Can there be a doubt that it is to the same act of judgment, the same period of time, the same historical event, that Malachi, John, and our Lord refer?
But we have seen that John the Baptist predicted a judgment which was then impending—a catastrophe so near that already the axe was lying at the root of the trees, —in accordance with the prophecy of Malachi, that ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ was to follow on the coming of the second Elijah. We are therefore brought to the conclusion, that this discrimination between the righteous and the wicked, this gathering of the wheat into the garner, and burning of the tares in the furnace of fire, refer to the same catastrophe, viz., the wrath which came upon that very generation, when Jerusalem became literally ‘a furnace of fire,’ and the aeon of Judaism came to a close in ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’
This conclusion is supported by the fact, that there is a close connection between this great judicial epoch and the coming of ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ Our Lord represents the separation of the righteous and the wicked as the characteristic of the great consummation which is called ‘the kingdom of God.’ But the kingdom was declared to be at hand. It follows, therefore, that the parables before us relate, not to a remote event still in the future, but to one which in our Saviour’s time was near.
An additional argument in favour of this view is derived from the consideration that our Lord, in His explanation of the parable of the tares, speaks of Himself as the sower of the good seed: ‘He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.’ It is to His own personal ministry and its results that He refers, and we must therefore regard the parable as having a special bearing upon His contemporaries. It is in perfect harmony with His solemn warning in Luke 13:26, where He describes the condemnation of those who were privileged to enjoy His personal presence and ministrations, the pretenders to discipleship, who were tares and not wheat. ‘Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God; and you yourselves thrust out.’ However applicable to men in general under the gospel such language may be, it is plain that it had a direct and specific bearing upon the contemporaries of our Lord—the generation that witnessed His miracles and heard His parables; and that it has a relation to them such as it can have to none else.
We find at the conclusion of the parable of the tares an impressive nota bene, drawing special attention to the instruction therein contained: ‘Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.’ We may take occasion from this to make a remark on the vast importance of a true conception of the period at which our Lord and His apostles taught. This is indispensable to the correct understanding of the New Testament doctrine respecting the ‘kingdom of God,’ the ‘end of the age,’ and the ‘coming aeon,’ or ‘world to come’ [aiwn o mellwn]. That period was near the close of the Jewish dispensation. The Mosaic economy, as it is called—the system of laws and institutions given to the nation by God Himself, and which had existed for more than forty generations, -was about to be superseded and to pass away. Already the last generation that was to possess the land was upon the scene, —the last and also the worst, —the child and heir of its predecessors. The long period, during which Jehovah had exhausted all the methods which divine wisdom and love could devise for the culture and reformation of Israel, was about to come to an end. It was to close disastrously. The wrath, long pent up and restrained, was to burst forth and overwhelm that generation. Its ‘last day’ was to be a dies irae ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord.’ This is the sunteleia tou aiwnov, ‘the end of the age,’ so often referred to by our Lord, and constantly predicted by His apostles. Already they stood within the penumbra of that tremendous crisis, which was every day advancing nearer and nearer, and which was at last to come suddenly, ‘as a thief in the night.’ This is the true explanation of those constant exhortations to vigilance, patience, and hope, which abound in the apostolic epistles. They lived expecting a consummation which was to arrive in their own time, and which they might witness with their own eyes. This fact lies on the very face of the New Testament writings; it is the key to the interpretation of much that would otherwise be obscure and unintelligible, and we shall see in the progress of this investigation how consistently this view is supported by the whole tenor of the New Testament Scriptures.
THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN (THE PAROUSIA)
IN THE LIFETIME OF THE APOSTLES.
Matt. 10:23: ‘But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.’
In this passage we find the earliest distinct mention of that great event which we shall find so frequently alluded to henceforth by our Lord and His apostles, viz., His coming again, or the Parousia. It may indeed be a question, as we shall presently see, whether this passage properly belongs to this portion of the gospel history.9 But waiving for the moment this question, let us inquire what the coming here spoken of is. Can it mean, as Lange suggests, that Jesus was to follow so quickly on the heels of His messengers in their evangelistic circuit as to overtake them before it was completed? Or does it refer, as Stier and Alford think, to two different comings, separated from each other by thousands of years: the one comparatively near, the other indefinitely remote? Or shall we, with Michaelis and Meyer, accept the plain and obvious meaning which the words themselves suggest? The interpretation of Lange is surely inadmissible. Who can doubt that ‘the coming of the Son of man’ is here, what it is everywhere else, the formula by which the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, is expressed? This phrase has a definite and constant signification, as much as His crucifixion, or His resurrection, and admits of no other interpretation in this place. But may it not have a double reference: first, to the impending judgment of Jerusalem; and, secondly, to the final destruction of the world, —the former being regarded as symbolical of the latter? Alford contends for the double meaning, and is severe upon those who hesitate to accept it. He tells us what He thinks Christ meant; but on the other hand we have to consider what He said. Are the advocates of a double sense sure that He meant more than He said? Look at His words. Can anything be more specific and definite as to persons, place, time, and circumstance, than this prediction of our Lord? It is to the twelve that he speaks; it is the cities of Israel which they are to evangelize; the subject is His own speedy coming; and the time so near, that before their work is complete His coming will take place. But if we are to be told that this is not the meaning, nor the half of it, and that it includes another coming, to other evangelists, in other ages, and in other lands—a coming which, after eighteen centuries, is still future, and perhaps remote, —then the question arises: What may not Scripture mean? The grammatical sense of words no longer suffices for interpretation; Scripture is a conundrum to be guessed—an oracle that utters ambiguous responses; and no man can be sure, without a special revelation, that he understands what he reads. We are disposed, therefore, to agree with Meyer, that this twofold reference is ‘nothing but a forced and unnatural evasion,’ and the words simply mean what they say—that before the apostles completed their life-work of evangelizing the land of Israel, the coming of the Lord should take place.
This is the view of the passage which is taken by Dr. E. Robinson.10 ‘The coming alluded to is the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish nation; and the meaning is, that the apostles would barely have time, before the catastrophe came, to go over the land warning the people to save themselves from the doom of an untoward generation; so that they could not well afford to tarry in any locality after its inhabitants had heard and rejected the message.’
THE PAROUSIA TO TAKE PLACE WITHIN
THE LIFETIME OF SOME OF THE DISCIPLES.
This remarkable declaration is of the greatest importance in this discussion, and may be regarded as the key to the right interpretation of the New Testament doctrine of the Parousia. Though it cannot be said that there are any special difficulties in the language, it has greatly perplexed the commentators, who are much divided in their explanations. It is surely unnecessary to ask what is the coming of the Son of man here predicted. To suppose that it refers merely to the glorious manifestation of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, though an hypothesis which has great names to support it,11 is so palpably inadequate as an interpretation that it scarcely requires refutation. The same remark will apply to the comments of Dr. Lange, who supposes it to have been partially fulfilled by the resurrection of Christ. His exegesis is so curious an illustration of the shifts to which the advocates of a double-sense theory of interpretation are compelled to resort to, as to deserve quotation. ‘In our opinion,’ he says, ‘it is necessary to distinguish between the advent of Christ in the glory of His kingdom within the circle of His disciples, and that same advent as applying to the world generally and for judgment. The latter is what is generally understood by the second advent: the former took place when the Saviour rose from the dead and revealed Himself in the midst of His disciples. Hence the meaning of the words of Jesus is: the moment is close at hand when your hearts shall be set at rest by the manifestation of My glory; nor will it be the lot of all who stand here to die during the interval. The Lord might have said that only two of that circle would die till then, viz., Himself and Judas. But in His wisdom He chose the expression, "Some standing here shall not taste of death," to give them exactly that measure of hope and earnest expectation which they needed.’12
It is enough to say that such an interpretation of our Saviour’s words could never have entered into the minds of those who heard them. It is so far-fetched, intricate, and artificial, that it is discredited by its very ingenuity. But neither does the interpretation satisfy the requirements of the language. How could the resurrection of Christ be called His coming in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels, in His kingdom, and to judgment? Or how can we suppose that Christ, speaking of an event which was to take place in about twelve months, would say, ‘Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see’ it? The very form of the expression shows that the event spoken of could not be within the space of a few months, or even a few years: it is a mode of speech which suggests that not all present will live to see the event spoken of; that not many will do so; but that some will. It is exactly such a way of speaking as would suit an interval of thirty or forty years, when the majority of the persons then present would have passed away, but some would survive and witness the event referred to.
Alford13 and Stier more reasonably understand the passage as referring ‘to the destruction of Jerusalem and the full manifestation of the kingdom of Christ by the annihilation of the Jewish polity,’ though both embarrass and confuse their interpretation by the hypothesis of an occult and ulterior allusion to another ‘final coming,’ of which the destruction of Jerusalem was the ‘type and earnest.’ Of this, however, no hint nor intimation is given either by Christ Himself, or by the evangelists. It cannot, indeed, be denied that occasionally our Lord uttered ambiguous language. He said to the Jews: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’; (John 2:19) but the evangelist is careful to add: ‘But he spake of the temple of his body.’ So when Jesus spoke of ‘rivers of living water flowing from the heart of the believer,’ St. John adds an explanatory note: ‘This spake he of the spirit,’ etc. (John 7:36) Again, when the Lord alluded to the manner of His own death, ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth,’ etc., the evangelist adds: ‘This he said, signifying what death he should die’. (John 12:33) It is reasonable to suppose, therefore that had the evangelists known of a deeper and hidden meaning in the predictions of Christ, they would have given some intimation to that effect; but they say nothing to lead us to infer that their apparent meaning is not their full and true meaning. There is, in fact; no ambiguity whatever as to the coming referred to in the passage now under consideration. It is not one of several possible comings; but the one, sole, supreme event, so frequently predicted by our Lord, so constantly expected by His disciples. It is His coming in glory; His coming to judgment; His coming in His kingdom; the coming of the kingdom of God. It is not a process, but an act. It is not the same thing as ‘the destruction of Jerusalem,’—that is another event related and contemporaneous; but the two are not to be confounded. The New Testament knows of only one Parousia, one coming in glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is altogether an abuse of language to speak of several senses in which Christ may be said to come, —as at His own resurrection; at the day of Pentecost; at the destruction of Jerusalem; at the death of a believer; and at various providential epochs. This is not the usage of the New Testament, nor is it accurate language in any point of view. This passage alone contains so much important truth respecting the Parousia, that it may be said to cover the whole ground; and, rightly used, will be found to be a key to the true interpretation of the New Testament doctrine on this subject.
We conclude then:
- That the coming here spoken of is the Parousia, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- That the manner of His coming was to be glorious—‘in his own glory; "in the glory of his Father;" with the holy angels.’
- That the object of His coming was to judge that ‘wicked and adulterous generation’, (Mark 8:38) and ‘to reward every man according to his works.’
- That His coming would be the consummation of ‘the kingdom of God;’ the close of the aeon; ‘the coming of the kingdom of God with power.’
- That this coming was expressly declared by our Saviour to be near. Lange justly remarks that the words, mellei gar, are ‘emphatically placed at the beginning of the sentence; not a simple future, but meaning, The event is impending that He shall come; He is about to come.’14
- That some of those who heard our Lord utter this prediction were to live to witness the event of which He spoke, viz., His coming in glory.
The inference therefore is, that the Parousia, or glorious coming of Christ, was declared by Himself to fall within the limits of the then existing generation, —a conclusion which we shall find in the sequel to be abundantly justified.
THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN CERTAIN AND SPEEDY.
Parable of the Importunate Widow.
Luke 18:1-8: ‘And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; get because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth’ [in the land]?
The intensely practical and present-day character, if we may so call it, of our Lord’s discourses, is a feature of His teaching which, though often overlooked, requires to be steadily kept in view. He spoke to His own people, and to His own times. He was God’s messenger to Israel; and, while it is most true that His words are for all men and for all time, yet their primary and direct bearing was upon His own generation. For want of attention to this fact, many expositors have wholly missed the point of the parable before us. It becomes in their hands a vague and indefinite prediction of a vindication of the righteous, in some period more or less remote, but having no special relation to the people and time of our Lord Himself. Assuredly, whatever the parable may be to us or to future ages, it had a close and special bearing upon the disciples to whom it was originally spoken. The Lord was about to leave His disciples ‘as sheep in the midst of wolves;’ they were to be persecuted and afflicted, hated of all men for their Master’s sake; and it might well be that their courage would fail them, and their hearts would faint. In this parable the Saviour encourages them ‘to pray always, and not to faint,’ by the example of what persevering prayer can do even with man. If the importunity of a poor widow could constrain an unprincipled judge to do her right, how much more would God, the righteous Judge, be moved by the prayers of His own children to redress their wrongs. Without allegorizing all the details of the parable, after the manner of some expositors, it is enough to mark its great moral. It is this. The persecuted children of God would he surely and speedily avenged. God will vindicate them, and that speedily. But when? The point of time is not left indefinite. It is ‘when the Son of man cometh.’ The Parousia was to be the hour of redress and deliverance to the suffering people of God.
The reflection of our Lord in the close of the eighth verse deserves particular attention. ‘Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ We must here revert to the facts already stated with respect to the ministry of John the Baptist. We have seen how dark and ominous was the outlook of the prophet who preached repentance to Israel. He was the precursor of ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord;’ he was the second Elijah sent to proclaim the coming of Him who would ‘smite the land with a curse.’ The reflection of our Lord suggests that He foresaw that the repentance which could alone avert the doom of the nation was not to be looked for. There would be no faith in God, in His promises, or in His threatenings. The day of His therefore, would be the ‘day of vengeance. (Luke 21:22)
Doddridge has well apprehended the scope of this parable, and paraphrases the opening verse as follows: ‘Thus our Lord discoursed with His disciples of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans; and for their encouragement under those hardships which they might in the meantime expect, from their unbelieving countrymen or others, He spake a parable, to them, which was intended to inculcate upon them this great truth, that how distressed soever their circumstances might be, they ought always to pray with faith and perseverance, and not to faint under their trials.’15
The following is his paraphrase of Luke 18:8: ‘Yes I say unto you, He will certainly vindicate them; and when He once undertakes it, He will do it speedily too; and this generation of men shall see and feel it to their terror. Nevertheless, when the Son of man, having been put ill possession of His glorious kingdom, comes to appear for this important purpose, will He find faith in the land?’16
THE REWARD OF THE DISCIPLES IN THE COMING ÆON, i.e. AT THE PAROUSIA
To what period are we to assign the event or state here called by our Lord the ‘regeneration’? It is evidently contemporaneous with ‘the Son of man sitting on the throne of his glory;’ nor can there be any question that the two phrases, ‘The Son of man coming in his kingdom,’ and, ‘The Son of man sitting on the throne of his glory,’ both refer to the same thing, and to the same time. That is to say, it is to the Parousia that both these expressions point.
We have another note of time, and another point of coincidence between the ‘regeneration’ and the Parousia, in the reference made by our Lord to the ‘coming age or aeon’ as the period when His faithful disciples were to receive their recompense. (Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30) But the ‘coming age’ [aiwn o mellwn or ercomenov] was, as we have already seen, to succeed the existing age or aeon, that is to say, the period of the Jewish dispensation, the end of which our Lord declared to be at hand. We conclude, therefore, that the ‘regeneration,’ the ‘coming age,’ and the ‘Parousia,’ are virtually synonymous, or, at all events, contemporaneous. The coming of the Son of man in His kingdom, or in His glory, is distinctly affirmed to be a coming to judgment—‘to reward every man according to his works; (Matt. 16:27) and His sitting on the throne of His glory, in the regeneration, is as evidently a sitting in judgment. In this judgment the apostles were to have the honour of being assessors with the Lord, according to His declaration— (Luke 22:29, 30) ‘I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ But this glorious coming to judgment is expressly affirmed by our Lord to fall within the limits of the generation then living: ‘There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom’. (Matt. 16:28) It was therefore no long-deferred and distant hope which Jesus held out to His disciples. It was not a prospect that is still seen afar off in the dim perspective of an indefinite futurity. St. Peter and his fellow-disciples were fully aware that ‘the kingdom of heaven’ was at hand. They had learned it from their first teacher in the wilderness; they had been reassured of it by their Lord and Master; they had gone through Galilee proclaiming the truth to their countrymen.
When the Lord, therefore, promised, that in the coming aeon His apostles should sit upon thrones, is it conceivable that He could mean that ages upon ages, centuries upon centuries, and even millennium upon millennium must slowly roll away before they should reap their promised honours? Are the inheritance of ‘everlasting life’ and the ‘sitting upon twelve thrones’ still among ‘the things hoped for but not seen’ by the disciples? Surely such a hypothesis refutes itself. The promise would have sounded like mockery to the disciples had they been told that the performance would be so long delayed. On the other hand, if we conceive of the ‘regeneration’ as contemporaneous with the Parousia, and the Parousia, with the close of the Jewish age and the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, we have a definite point of time, not far distant, but almost within the sight of living men, when the predicted judgment of the enemies of Christ, and the glorious recompense of His friends, would come to pass.
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1. Reden Jesu, in loc.
2. Jewish War, bk 5:100. 10 sec. 5. Traill's translation.
3. Ibid. G. 13:sec. 6.
4. Ibid. bk. 7:100. 8:sec. 1:
5. sec. Reden Jesu; 'Matt. 12:43-45'.
6. Greek Test. in loc.
7. Life of Christ, sec. 245.
8. Synonyms of the New Test. vol. 1:a. 70; Bib. Cab. No. 3:
9. There is a real difficulty in this passage which ought not to be overlooked. It seems unaccountable that our Lord, on an occasion like this, when He was sending forth the twelve on a short mission, apparently within a limited district, and from which they were to return to Him in a short time, should speak of of His coming as overtaking them before the completion of their task. It seems scarcely appropriate to the particular period, and to belong more properly to a subsequent charge, viz., that recorded in the discourse spoken on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24. ; Mark 13 .; Luke 21 ). Indeed, a comparison of these passages will go far to satisfy any candid mind that the whole paragraph Matt. 10:16-23) is transposed from its original connection, and inserted in our Lord's first charge to His disciples We find the very words relating to the persecution of the apostles, their being delivered up to the councils, their being scourged in the synagogues, brought before governors and kings, etc., which are recorded in the tenth chapter of St. Matthew, assigned by St. Mark and St. Luke to a subsequent period, viz., the discourse on the Mount of Olives. There is no evidence that the disciples met with such treatment on their first evangelistic tour There is therefore as strong evidence as the nature of the case will admit, that ver. 23 and its context belong to the discourse on the Mount of Olives. This would remove the difficulty which the passage presents in the connection in which we here find it, and give a coherence and consistency to the language, which, as it stands, it is not easy to discover. It is an admitted fact that even the Synoptical Gospels do not relate all events in precisely the same order; there most therefore be greater chronological accuracy in one than in another. Stier says: 'Matthew is careless of chronology in details' (Reden Jesu, vol. 3:p. US). Neander, speaking on this very charge, says: 'Matthew evidently connects many things with the instructions given to the apostles in view of their first journey, which chronologically belong later; ' (Life of Christ, _ 174, note b); and again, speaking of the charge given to the seventy, as recorded by St. Luke: 'he says, 'The entire and characteristic coherency of everything spoken by Christ, according to Luke, with the circumstances (so superior to the collocation of Matthew),' etc. (Life of Christ, _ 204, note 1). Dr. Blaikie observes: 'It is generally understood that Matthew arranged his narrative more by subjects and places than by chronology' (Bible History, p. 372).There seems, therefore, abundant warrant for assigning the important prediction contained in Matt. 10:23 to the discourse delivered on the Mount of Olives.
10. See note In Harmony of the Four Gospels.
11. The training of the Twelve, p. 117
12. Large, Comm. on St. Matt. in loc.
13. Alford, Greek Test. in loc.
14. See Lange in loc.
15. Family Expos. on Luke 18:1-8
16. Doddridge teas the following note on 'Will he find faith in the land ?' 'It is evident the word often signifies not the earth in general, but some particular land or country; as in Acts 7:3, 4,11, and in numberless other places. And the context here limits it to the less extensive signification. The believing Hebrews were evidently in great danger of being wearied out with their persecutions and distresses. Comp. Heb. 3:12-14; 10:23-39; 12:1-4; James 1:1-4; 2:6.'The interpretation given by the judicious Campbell adds confirmation, if it were needed, needed, to this view of the passage. 'There is a close connection in all that our Lord says on any topic of conversation, which rarely escapes an attentive reader. If in this, as is very probable, He refers to the destruction impending over the Jewish nation, as the judgment of Heaven for their rebellious against God, in rejecting and murdering the Messiah. and in persecuting His adherents, (the Greek) must be understood to mean "this belief," or the belief of the particular truth He had been inculcating, namely, that God will in due time avenge His elect, and signally punish their oppressors; and (the Greek) must mean "the land,"_to wit, of Judea. The words may be translated either way -- earth or land; but the latter evidently gives them a more definite meaning, and unites them more closely with those which preceded, (Campbell on the Gospels, vol. 2:p. 384). The teaching of this instructive parable is by no means exhausted; and we shall find it throw an unexpected light on a very obscure passage, at a future stage of this investigation. Meantime we may refer to 2 Thess. 1:4-10, as furnishing a striking commentary on the whole parable, and showing the connection between the Paroursia and the avenging of the elect.