- 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
PROPHETIC INTIMATIONS OF THE APPROACHING CONSUMMATION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
I.—The Parable of the Pounds.
Luke 19:11-27: ‘And as they heard these this, He added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, Saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith Unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’
It cannot fail to strike every attentive reader of the Gospel history, how much the teaching of our Lord, as He approached the close of His ministry, dwelt upon the theme of coming judgment. When He spoke this parable, He was on His way to Jerusalem to keep His last Passover before He suffered; and it is remarkable how His discourses from this time seem almost wholly engrossed, not by His own approaching death, but the impending catastrophe of the nation. Not Only this parable of the pounds, but His lamentation over Jerusalem; (Luke 19:41) His cursing of the fig-tree; (Matt. 21:1-46 Mark 11:1-33) the parable of the wicked husbandmen; (Matt. 21:1-46 Mark 12:1-44 Luke 20:1-47) the parable of the marriage of the king’s son; (Matt. 22:1-46) the woes pronounced upon that generation’; (Matt. 23:29-36) the second lamentation over Jerusalem; (Matt. 23:37, 38) and the prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, with the parables and parabolic illustrations appended thereto by St. Matthew, all are occupied with this absorbing theme.
The consideration of these prophetic intimations will show that the catastrophe anticipated by our Lord was not a remote event, hundreds and thousands of years distant, but one whose shadow already fell upon that age and that nation; and that the Scriptures give us no warrant whatever to suppose that anything else, or anything more than this, is included in our Saviour’s words.
The parable of the pounds was spoken by our Lord to correct a mistaken expectation on the part of His disciples, that ‘the kingdom of God’ was about to commence at once. It is not surprising that they should have fallen into this mistake. John the Baptist had announced, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ Jesus Himself had proclaimed the same fact, and commissioned them to publish it throughout the cities and villages of Galilee. As patriotic Israelites they writhed under the yoke of Rome, and yearned for the ancient liberties of the nation. As pious sons of Abraham they desired to see all nations blessed in him. And there were other less noble sentiments that had a place in their minds. Was not their own Master the Son of David—the coming King? What might not they expect who were His followers and friends? This made them contest with each other the place of honour in the kingdom. This made the sons of Zebedee eager to secure His promise of the most honourable seats, on His right hand and on His left, where he assumed the sovereignty. And now they were approaching Jerusalem. The great national festival of the Passover was at hand; all Israel was flocking, to the Holy City, and there was not a man there but would be eager to see Jesus of Nazareth. What more probable than that the popular enthusiasm would place their Master on the throne of His father David? As they wished, so they believed; and ‘they thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear.’
But the Lord checked their enthusiastic hopes, and intimated, in a parable, that a certain interval must elapse before the fulfilment of their expectations. Taking a well-known incident from recent Jewish history as the groundwork of the parable—viz., the journey of Archelaus to Rome, in order to seek from the emperor the succession to the dominions of his father, Herod the Great, he employed it as an apt illustration of His own departure from earth, and His subsequent return in glory. Meanwhile, during the period of His absence, He gave His servants a charge to keep—‘Occupy till I come.’ It was for them to be diligent and faithful, until their Lord’s return, when the loyal servants should be applauded and rewarded, and His enemies utterly destroyed.
Nothing can be better than Neander’s explanation of this parable, though, indeed, it may be said to explain itself. Nevertheless, it may be well to subjoin his observations. ‘In this parable, in view of the circumstances under which it was uttered, and of the approaching catastrophe, special intimations are given of Christ’s departure from the earth, of His ascension, and return to judge the rebellious theocratic nation, and consummate His dominion. It describes a great man, who travels to the distant court of the mighty emperor, to receive from him authority over his countrymen, and to return with royal power. So Christ was not immediately recognised in His kingly office, but first had to depart from the earth. and leave His agents to advance His kingdom, to ascend into heaven and be appointed theocratic King, and return again to exercise His contested power.1
Such is the teaching of the parable of the pounds. But though the kingdom of God was not to appear at the precise time which the disciples anticipated, it does not follow that it was postponed sine die, and that the expected consummation would not take place for hundreds and thousands of years. This would be to falsify the most express declarations of Christ and of His forerunner. How could they have said that the kingdom was at hand, if it was not to appear for ages?
How could an event be said to be near, if it was actually further off than the whole period of the Jewish economy from Moses to Christ? The kingdom might still be at hand, though not so near as the disciples supposed. It was expedient that their Lord should ‘go away,’ but only for ‘a little while,’ when He would come again to them, and come ‘in His kingdom.’ This was the hope in which they lived, the faith which they preached; and we cannot think that their faith and hope were a delusion.
II.—Lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem.
Luke 19:41-44: ‘And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are bid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.’
Here we are upon ground which is not debateable. This prophecy is clear and perspicuous as history. No advocate of the double-sense theory of interpretation has proposed to find here anything but Jerusalem and its approaching desolation. It is not the conflagration of the earth, nor the dissolution of creation: it is the siege and demolition of the Holy City, and the slaughter of her citizens, as historically fulfilled in less than forty years—only this, and nothing more. But why so? Why should not a double sense be possible here, as well as in the prediction delivered upon the Mount of Olives? The reply will doubtless be, Because here all is homogeneous and consecutive; the Saviour is looking on Jerusalem, and speaking of Jerusalem, and predicting an event which was speedily to come to pass. But this is equally the case with the prophecy in Matt. 24:1-51, where the expositors find, sometimes Jerusalem, and sometimes the world; sometimes the termination of the Jewish polity, and sometimes the conclusion of human history; sometimes the year A. D. 70, and sometimes a period as yet unknown. We shall yet see that the prophecy of the Mount of Olives is no less consecutive, no less homogeneous, no less one and indivisible, than this clear and plain prediction of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. If the double-sense theory were good for anything, it would be found equally applicable to the prediction before us. Here, however, its own advocates discard it; for common sense refuses to see in this affecting lamentation anything else than Jerusalem, and Jerusalem alone.
III.—Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen.
This parable, recorded in almost identical terms by the Synoptists, scarcely requires an interpreter. Its local, personal, and national reference is too manifest to be questioned. The vineyard is the land of Israel; the lord of the vineyard is the Father; His messengers are His servants the prophets; His only and beloved Son is the Lord Jesus Himself; the husbandmen are the rebellious and wicked Jews; the punishment is the coming catastrophe at the Parousia, when, as Neander well expresses it, "the theocratic relation is broken, and the kingdom is transferred to other nations that shall bring forth fruits corresponding to it."2
The bearing of this parable on the people of our Saviour’s time is so direct and explicit, that it might be supposed that no Critic would have to seek for a hidden meaning, or an ulterior reference. The chief priests and Pharisees felt that it was ‘spoken against them;’ and they winced under the lash. As it stands, all is perfectly clear and intelligible; but the exegesis of a theologian can render it turbid and obscure indeed. For example, Lange thus comments upon Matt. 21:41
The Parousia of Christ is consummated in His last coming, but is not one with it. It begins in principle with the resurrection.; (John 16:16) continues as a power through the New Testament period; (John 14:3-19) and is consummated in the stricter sense in the final advent. (1 Cor. 15:23 Matt. 25:31 2 Thess. 2, etc.)3
Here we have not a coming, nor the coming of Christ, but no less than three separate and distinct comings, or a coming of three different kinds—a continuous coming which has been going on for nearly two thousand years already, and may go on for two thousand more, for aught we know. But of all this not a hint is given in the text, nor anywhere else. It is a merely human gloss, without a particle of authority from Scripture, and invented in virtue of the double- and triple-sense theory of interpretation.
Far more sober is the explanation of Alford. "We may observe that our Lord makes" when the Lord cometh "[otan elth o kurio] coincide with the destruction of Jerusalem, which is incontestably the overthrow of the wicked husbandmen. This passage therefore forms an important key to our Lord’s prophecies, and a decisive justification for those who, like myself, firmly hold that the coming of the Lord is, in many places, to be identified, primarily, with that overthrow."4
It is to be regretted that this otherwise sound and sensible note is marred by the phrases ‘in many places’ and, ‘primarily,’ but it is, nevertheless, all important admission. Undoubtedly we do find here ‘an important key to our Lord’s prophecies;’ but the master key is that which we have already found in Matt. 16:27, 28, and which serves to open, not only this, but many other dark sayings in the prophetic oracles.
IV.—Parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son.
Matt. 22:1-14—.‘And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend. how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called but few are chosen.’
This parable bears a strong resemblance to that of ‘The Great Supper,’ contained in Luke 14. It is possible that the two parables may be only different versions of the same original. The question, however, does not affect the present discussion, and it cannot be proved that they were not spoken on different occasions. The moral of both is the same; but the character of the parable recorded by St. Matthew is more distinctively eschatological than that of St. Luke. It points clearly to the approaching consummation of the ‘kingdom of heaven.’ The vengeance taken by the king on the murderers of his servants, and on their city fixes the application to Jerusalem and the Jews. The Roman armies were but the executioners of divine justice; and Jerusalem perished for her guilt and rebellion against her King.
Alford, in his notes on this parable, while recognising a partial and primary reference to Israel and Jerusalem, finds also that it extends far beyond its apparent scope, and is divided into two acts, the first of which is past, and closes with Matt. 22:10; while a new act opens with Matt. 22:11, which is still in the future. This implies that the judgment of Israel and of Jerusalem does not supply a full and exhaustive fulfilment of our Lord’s words. On the one hand we have the teaching of Christ Himself—simple, clear, and unambiguous; on the other hand, the conjectural speculation of the critic, without a scintilla of evidence or authority from the Word of God. To expound the parable according to its plain historic significance will be derided by some as shallow, superficial, unspiritual to find in it ulterior and hidden meanings, dark and profound riddles, mystical depths, which none but theologians can explore, —this is critical acumen, keen insight, high spirituality! In our opinion, all this foisting of human hypotheses and double senses into the predictions of our Lord is utterly incompatible with sober criticism, or with true reverence for the Word of God; it is not criticism, but mysticism; and obscures the truth instead of elucidating it. At the risk, then, of being considered superficial and shallow, we shall hold fast to the plain teaching of the words of Scripture, turning a deaf ear to all fanciful and conjectural speculations of merely human origin, no matter how learned or dignified the quarter from which they come.
V. The Woes denounced on the Scribes and Pharisees.
It will be seen that St. Luke gives this passage as spoken in a different connection, and on a different occasion, from those stated by St. Matthew Whether our Lord spoke the same words on two different occasions, or whether they have been transposed by St. Luke from their original connection, is a question not easy to determine. The former hypothesis does not seem probable, and does not commend itself to the critical mind. Apophthegms, and brief parabolic sayings, such as ‘Many are called but few are chosen,’ ‘The last shall be first, and the first last,’—may have been repeated on several occasions; but connected and elaborate discourses, such as the Sermon on the Mount, the prophetic discourse upon Olivet, and this denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees, can hardly be imagined to have been repeated verbatim on different occasions. It is a mistake, as we have already seen, to look for strict chronological order in the narratives of the Evangelists: it is admitted on all hands that they are accustomed sometimes to group together facts which have a natural relation, quite independently of the order of time in which they occurred.
Stier says of the chronology of St. Luke in general: ‘Two things are sufficiently plain: First, that he mentions individual occurrences without strict regard to chronology, even repeating and intercalating some things elsewhere recorded,’ etc.
Neander makes the following observation on the passage now before us: ‘As this last discourse given by Matthew contains various passages given by Luke in the table conversation, (Luke 11) so Luke inserts there this prophetic announcement, whose proper position is found in Matthew.’5 We cannot, however, agree with Neander’s opinion, that ‘this discourse, as given in Matt. 23, contains many passages uttered on other occasions.’6 It seems to us impossible to read the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew without perceiving that it is a continuous and connected discourse, spoken at one time, its different parts naturally growing out of and following one another. Its very structure consisting of seven woes7 denounced against the hypocritical pretenders to sanctity, who were the blind guides of the people, —and the solemn occasion on which it was uttered being the filial public utterance of our Lord, —irresistibly compel the conclusion that it is a complete whole, and that St. Matthew gives us the original form of the discourse.
But the settlement of this question is not essential to this investigation. Far more important it is to observe how our Lord closes His public ministry in almost the identical terms in which His forerunner addressed the same class: ‘Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ This is no fortuitous coincidence: it is evidently the deliberate adoption of the words of the Baptist, when he spoke of the ‘coming wrath.’ Israel had rejected alike the stern call to repentance of the second Elijah, and the tender expostulations of the Lamb of God. The measure of their guilt was almost full, and the ‘day of wrath’ was swiftly coming.
But the point which deserves special attention is the particular application of this discourse to the Saviour’s own times: ‘Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.’ ‘It shall be required of this generation.’ Surely there can be no pretence of a primary and a secondary reference here. No expositor will deny that these words have a sole and exclusive application to the generation of the Jewish people then living upon the earth. Even Dorner, who contends most strenuously for a great variety of meanings of the word genea [generation], frankly admits that it can only refer here to the contemporaries of our Lord: "Hoc ipsum hominum aevum."8 This is an admission of the greatest importance. It enables us to fix the true meaning of the phrase, ‘This generation’ [h genea anth], Which plays so important a part in several of the predictions of our Lord, and notably in the great prophecy spoken on the Mount of Olives. In the passage before us, the words are incapable of any other application than to the existing generation of the Jewish nation, which is represented by our Lord as the heir of all the preceding generations, inheriting the depravity and rebelliousness of the national character, and fated to perish in the deluge of wrath which had been accumulating through the ages, and was at length about to overwhelm the guilty land.
vi. -The (second) Lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem.
Here, again, we have another example of those discrepancies in the Gospel history which perplex harmonists. St. Luke records this affecting apostrophe of our Lord in quite a different connection from St. Matthew. Yet we can scarcely suppose that these ipsissima verba were spoken on more than one occasion, namely, that specified by St. Matthew. Dorner says: ‘That these words ("Behold, your house is left unto you desolate," etc.) were spoken by Christ, not where Luke, but where Matthew, places them, the words themselves show; for they were spoken when our Lord was departing from the temple to return to it no more till he came to judgment.9 Lange says the passage is placed earlier by St. Luke ‘for pragmatic reasons.’ At all events, we may properly regard the words as spoken on the occasion indicated by St. Matthew.
As such their collocation is most suggestive. This pathetic expostulation mitigates the severity of the foregoing denunciations, and closes the public ministry of our Lord with a burst of human tenderness and divine compassion. As Dr. Lange well says: ‘The Lord mourns and laments over His own ruined Jerusalem... His whole pilgrimage on earth was troubled by distress for Jerusalem, like the hen which sees the eagle threatening in the sky, and anxiously seeks to gather her chickens under her wings. With such distress Jesus saw the Roman eagles approach for judgment upon the children of Jerusalem, and sought with the strongest solicitations of love to save them, but in vain. They were like dead children to the voice of maternal love!10
Need it be said that here is Jerusalem, and Jerusalem alone? There is no ambiguity, no twofold reference, no proximate and ultimate fulfilments conceivable here. One thought, one feeling, one object, filled the heart of Jesus—Jerusalem, the city of God, the loved, the guilty, the doomed! Her fate was now all but sealed, and the heart of our Saviour was wrung with anguish as he bade her a last farewell.
But how are we to understand the closing words, ‘Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’? This phrase, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,’ is the recognised formula which was employed by the Jews in speaking of the coming of Messiah—the Messianic greeting: equivalent to ‘Hail to the anointed one of God.’ It is generally supposed to have been adopted from Ps. 118:26. There was a time coming, therefore, when such a salutation would be appropriate. The Lord who was leaving the temple would once more return to His temple. More than this, that same generation would witness that return. This is plainly implied in the form of our Saviour’s language, ‘Ye shall not see me again till ye shall say,’ etc.—words which would be deprived of half their significance if the persons referred to in the first part of the sentence were not the same as those referred to in the second. Nothing can be more distinct and explicit than the reference throughout to the people of Jerusalem, the contemporaries of Christ. They and He were to meet again; and the Messiah, the Lord whom they professed to seek so eagerly, would suddenly come to his temple,’ according to the saying of Malachi the prophet. They expected that coming as an event to be welcomed with gladness; but it was to be far otherwise. ‘Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?’ That day was to bring the desolation of the house of God, the destruction of their national existence, the outburst of the pent-up wrath of God upon Israel. This was the return, the meeting together again, to which our Saviour here alludes. And is not this the very thing that He had again and again declared? Had He not a little before said, that ‘upon this generation’ should come the sevenfold woes which He had just pronounced? (Matt. 23:36) Had He not solemnly affirmed, that some then living should see the Son of man coming in glory, with His angels, ‘to reward every man according to his works’—that is, coming to judgment? Is it possible to adopt the strange hypothesis of some commentators of note, that in these words our Lord means that He would never be seen again by those to whom He spoke, until a converted and Christian Israel, in some far distant era of time, was prepared to welcome Him as King of Israel? This would indeed be to take unwarrantable liberties with the words of Scripture. Our Lord does not say, Ye shall not see me until they shall say, or, until another generation shall say; but, ‘until ye shall say,’ etc. It by no means follows, that because the Messianic salutation is here quoted, the people who are supposed to use it were qualified to enter into its true significance. Those very words had been shouted by multitudes in the streets of Jerusalem only a day or two before, and yet they were changed into ‘Crucify him! crucify him!’ in a very brief space. They simply denote the fact of His coming. The unhappy men to whom our Saviour spoke could not adopt the Messianic greeting in its true and highest sense; they would never say, ‘Blessed is he,’ etc., but they would witness His coming—the coming with which that formula was indissolubly associated, viz., the Parousia.
We contend, then, that we are not only warranted, but compelled, to conclude, that our Lord here refers to His coming to destroy Jerusalem and to close the Jewish age, according to His express declarations, within the period of the then existing generation. History verifies the prophecy. In less than forty years from the time when these words were uttered, Jerusalem and her temple, Judea and her people, were overwhelmed by the deluge of wrath predicted by the Lord. Their land was laid waste; their house was left desolate; Jerusalem, and her children within her, were engulfed in one common ruin.
VII.—The Prophecy on the Mount of Olives.
THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN [THE PAROUSIA]
BEFORE THE PASSING AWAY OF THAT GENERATION.
Matthew 24 — Mark 13 — Luke 21
We now enter upon the consideration of by far the most full and explicit of our Lord’s prophetic utterances respecting His coming, and the solemn events connected therewith. The discourse or conversation on the Mount of Olives is the great prophecy of the New Testament, and may be not unfitly styled the Apocalypse of the Gospels. Upon the interpretation of this prophetic discourse will depend the right understanding of the predictions contained in the apostolic writings; for it may almost be said that there is nothing in the Epistles which is not in the Gospels. This prophecy of our Saviour is the great storehouse from which the prophetic statements of the apostles are chiefly derived.
The commonly received view of the structure of this discourse, which is almost taken for granted, alike by expositors and by the generality of readers, is, that our Lord, in answering the question of His disciples respecting the destruction of the temple, mixes up with that event the destruction of the world, the universal judgment, and the final consummation of all things. Imperceptibly, it is supposed, the prophecy slides from the city and temple of Jerusalem, and their impending fate in the immediate future, to another and infinitely more tremendous catastrophe in the far distant and indefinite future. So intermingled, however, are the allusions—now to Jerusalem and now to the world at large; now to Israel and now to the human race; now to events close at hand and now to events indefinitely remote; that to distinguish and allocate the several references and topics, is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.
Perhaps it will be the fairest way of exhibiting the views of those who contend for a double meaning in this predictive discourse, to set forth the scheme or plan of the prophecy proposed by Dr. Lange, and adopted by many expositors of the greatest note.
‘In harmony with apocalyptic style, Jesus exhibited the judgments of His coming in a series of cycles, each of which depicts the whole futurity, but in such a manner, that with every new cycle the scene seems to approximate to and more closely resemble the final catastrophe. Thus, the first cycle delineates the whole course of the world down to the end, in its general characteristics. (Matt. 24:4-14) The second gives the signs of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and paints this destruction itself as a sign and a commencement of the judgment of the world, which from that day onward proceeds in silent and suppressed days of judgment down to the last. (Matt. 24:15-28) The third describes the sudden end of the world, and the judgment which ensues. (Matt. 24:29-44) Then follows a series of parables and similitudes, in which the Lord paints the judgment itself, which unfolds itself in an organic succession of several acts. In the last act Christ reveals His universal judicial majesty. (Matt. 24:45-51) exhibits the judgment upon the servants of Christ, or the clergy. (Matt. 25:1-13) (the wise and foolish virgins) exhibits the judgment upon the Church, or the people. Then follows the judgment on the individual members of the Church. (Matt. 25:14-30) Finally, (Matt. 25:31-46) introduce the universal judgment of the world.’11
Not very dissimilar is the scheme proposed by Stier, who finds three different comings of Christ which perspectively cover each other:
1. The coming of the Lord to judgment upon Judaism.
2. His coming to judgment upon degenerate anti-Christian Christendom.
3. His coming to judgment upon all heathen nations—the final judgment of the world, all which together are the coming again of Christ, and in respect of their similarity and diversity are most exactly recorded from the mouth of Christ by Matthew.’2
Such is the elaborate and complicated scheme adopted by some expositors; but there are obvious and grave objections to it, which, the more they are considered, will appear the more formidable, if not fatal.
1. An objection may be taken, in limine, to the principles involved in this method of interpreting Scripture. Are we to look for double, triple, and multiple meanings, for prophecies within prophecies, and mysteries wrapped in mysteries, where we might reasonably have expected a plain answer to a plain question? Can any one be sure of understanding the Scriptures if they are thus enigmatical and obscure? Is this the manner in which the Saviour taught His disciples, leaving them to grope their way through intricate labyrinths, irresistibly suggestive of the Ptolemaic astronomy—‘Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb’? Surely so ambiguous and obscure a revelation can hardly be called a revelation at all, and seems far more befitting a Delphic Oracle, or a Cumaean Sibyl than the teaching of Him whom the common people heard gladly.12
2. It will scarcely be pretended that, if the exposition of Lange, and Stier be correct, the disciples who listened to the sayings of Jesus on the Mount of Olives could have comprehended or followed the drift of His discourse. They were at all times slow to understand their Master’s words; but it would be to give them credit for astonishing penetration to suppose that they were able to thread their way through such a maze of comings, extending through ‘a series of cycles, each of which depicts the whole futurity, but in such a manner that with every new cycle the scene seems to approximate to, and more closely resemble, the final catastrophe.’
It is not easy for the ordinary reader to follow the ingenious critic through his convoluted scheme; but it is plain that the disciples must have been hopelessly bewildered amidst a rush of crises and catastrophes from the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the world. Perhaps we shall be told, however, that it does not signify whether the disciples understood our Lord’s answer or not: it was not to them that He was speaking; it was to future ages, to generations yet unborn, who were destined, however, to find the interpretation of the prophecy as embarrassing to them as it was to the original hearers. There are no words too strong to repudiate such a suggestion. The disciples came to their Master with a plain, straightforward inquiry, and it is incredible that He would mock them with an unintelligible riddle for a reply. It is to be presumed that the Saviour meant His disciples to understand His words, and it is to be presumed that they did understand them.
3. The interpretation which we are considering appears to be founded upon a misapprehension of the question put to our Lord by the disciples, as well as of His answer to their question.
It is generally assumed that the disciples came to our Lord with three different questions, relating to different events separated from each other by a long interval of time; that the first inquiry, ‘When shall these things be?'—had reference to the approaching destruction of the temple; that the second and third question—, ‘What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’—referred to events long posterior to the destruction of Jerusalem, and, in fact, not yet accomplished. It is supposed that our Lord’s reply conforms itself to this threefold inquiry, and that this gives the shape to His whole discourse. Now, let it be considered how utterly improbable it is that the disciples should have had any such scheme of the future mapped out in their minds. We know that they had just been shocked and stunned by their Master’s prediction of the total destruction of the glorious house of God on which they had so recently been gazing with admiration. They had not yet had time to recover from their surprise, when they came to Jesus with the inquiry, ‘When shall these things be?’ etc. Is it not reasonable to suppose that one thought possessed them at that moment—the portentous calamity awaiting the magnificent structure, the glory and beauty of Israel? Was that a time when their minds would be occupied with a distant future? Must not their whole soul have been concentrated on the fate of the temple? and must they not have been eager to know what tokens would be given of the approach of the catastrophe? Whether they connected in their imagination the destruction of the temple with the dissolution of the creation, and the close of human history, it is impossible to say; but we may safely conclude, that the uppermost thought in their mind was the announcement which the Lord had just made, ‘Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be thrown down.’ They must have gathered from the Saviour’s language that this catastrophe was imminent; and their anxiety was to know the time and the tokens of its arrival. St. Mark and St. Luke make the question of the disciples refer to one event and one time—‘When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?’ It is not only presumable, therefore, but indubitable, that the questions of the disciples only refer to different aspects of the same great event. This harmonises the statements of St. Matthew with those of the other Evangelists, and is plainly required by the circumstances of the case.
4. The interpretation which we are discussing rests also upon an erroneous and misleading conception of the phrase, end of the world, (age) [sunteleia ton aiwnov]. It is not surprising that mere English readers of the New Testament should suppose that this phrase really means the destruction of the material earth; but such an error ought not to receive countenance from men of learning. We have already had occasion to remark that the true signification of aiwn is not world, but age; that, like its Latin equivalent aevum, it refers to a period of time: thus, ‘the end of the age’ [sunteleia ton aiwnov] means the close of the epoch or Jewish age or dispensation which was drawing nigh, as our Lord frequently intimated. All those passages which speak of ‘the end’ [to telov] ‘the end of the age,’ or, ‘the ends of the ages’[ h sunteleia tou aiwnov ta telh twn aiwnwn], refer to the same consummation, and always as nigh at hand. In 1 Cor. 10:11, St. Paul says ‘The ends of the ages have stretched out to us;’ implying, that he regarded himself and his readers as living near the conclusion of an aeon, or age.
So, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find the remarkable expression: ‘Now, once, close upon the end of the ages’ (erroneously rendered, The end of the world), ‘hath be appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’; (Heb. 9:26) clearly showing that the writer regarded the incarnation of Christ as taking place near the end of the aeon, or dispensational period. To suppose that he meant that it was close upon the end of the world, or the destruction of the material globe, would be to make him write false history as well as bad grammar. It would not be true in fact; for the world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. It is futile, therefore, to say that the ‘end of the age’ may mean a lengthened period, extending from the incarnation to our own times, and even far beyond them. That would be an aeon, and not the close of an aeon. The aeon, of which our Lord was speaking was about to close in a great catastrophe; and a catastrophe is not a protracted process, but a definitive and culminating act. We are compelled, therefore, to conclude that the ‘end of the age,’ or [sunteleia ton aiwnov] refers solely to the approaching termination of the Jewish age or dispensation.
5. It may indeed be objected, that even admitting the apostles to have been occupied exclusively with the fate of the temple and the events of their own time, there is no reason why the Lord should not overpass the limits of their vision, and extend a prophetic glance into the ages of a distant futurity. No doubt it was competent for Him to do so; but in that case we should expect to find some hint or intimation of the fact; some well-defined line between the immediate future and the indefinitely remote. If the Saviour passes from Jerusalem and its day of doom to the world and its judgment day, it would be only reasonable to look for some phrase such as, ‘After many days,’ or, ‘It shall come to pass after these things,’ to mark the transition. But we search in vain for any such indication. The attempts of expositors to draw transition lines in this prophecy, showing where it ceases to speak of Jerusalem and Israel and passes to remote events and unborn generations, are wholly unsatisfactory. Nothing can be more arbitrary than the divisions attempted to be set up; they will not bear a moment’s examination, and are incompatible with the express statements of the prophecy itself. Will it be believed that some expositors find a mark of transition at Matt. 24:29, where the Lord’s own words make the very idea totally inadmissible by His own note of time ‘Immediately’! If, in the face of such authority, so rash a suggestion can be proposed, what may not be expected in less strongly marked cases? But, in fact, all attempts to set up imaginary divisions and transitions in the prophecy signally fail. Let any fair and candid reader judge of the scheme of Dr. Lange, who may be taken as a representative of the school of double-sense expositors, in his distribution of this discourse of our Lord, and say whether it is possible to discern any trace of a natural division where he draws lines of transition. His first section, from Matt. 24:4-14, he entitles,
Signs, and the manifestation of the end of the world in general.
What! is it conceivable that our Lord, when about to reply to the eager and palpitating hearts, filled with anxiety about the calamities which He told them were impending, should commence by speaking of the ‘end of the world in general’? They were thinking of the temple and the immediate future: would He speak of the world and the indefinitely remote? But is there anything in this first section inapplicable to the disciples themselves and their time? Is there anything which did not actually happen in their own day?’ ‘Yes’. it will be said; ‘the gospel of the kingdom has not yet been preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.’ But we have this very fact vouched for by St. Paul—Col. 1:5, 6; ‘The word of the truth of the gospel, which is come. unto you, as it is in all the world,’ etc.; and, again— Col. 1:23; ‘The gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.’ There was, then, in the age of the apostles, such a world-wide diffusion of the gospel as to satisfy the Saviour’s predictions—‘The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world’ (oikoumenh).
But the decisive objection to this scheme is, that the whole passage is evidently addressed to the disciples, and speaks of what they shall see, they shall do, they shall suffer; the whole falls within their own observation and experience, and cannot be spoken of or to an invisible audience in a far distant era of futurity, which even yet has not appeared upon the earth.
‘Signs of the end of the world in particular: (a) The Destruction of Jerusalem.’
Without stopping to inquire into the relation of these ideas, it is satisfactory to find Jerusalem at last introduced. But how unnatural the transition from the ‘end of the world’ back to the invasion of Judea and the siege of Jerusalem! Could such a sudden and immense leap have possibly been made by the disciples? Could it have been intelligible to them, or is it intelligible now? But mark the point of transition, as fixed by Lange, at Matt. 24:15: ‘When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation,’ etc. This, surely, is not transition, but continuity: all that precedes leads up to this point; the wars, and famines, and pestilences, and persecutions, and martyrdoms, were all preparatory and introductory to the ‘end;’ that is, to the final catastrophe which was to overtake the city, and temple, and nation of Israel.
Next follows a paragraph from Matt. 24:23-28, which Lange calls,
‘(b) Interval of partial and suppressed judgment.’
This title is itself an example of fanciful and arbitrary exposition. There is something incongruous and self-contradictory in the very words themselves. A day of judgment implies publicity and manifestation, not silence and suppression. But what can be the meaning of ‘silent and suppressed days of judgment,’ which go on from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world? If it be meant that there is a sense in which God is always judging the world, that is a truism which might be affirmed of any period, before as well as after the destruction of Jerusalem. But the most objectionable part of this exposition is the violent treatment of the word ‘then’ [tote]. (Matt. 24:23) Lange says: ‘Then (i.e., in the time intervening between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world).’ Surely, a prodigious then! It is no longer a point of time, but an aeon—a vast and indefinite period; and during all that time the statements in the paragraph, Matt. 24:23-28, are supposed to be in course of fulfilment. But when we turn to the prophecy itself we find no change of subject, no break in the continuity of the discourse, no hint of any transition from one epoch to another. The note of time, ‘then’ [tote], is decisive against any hiatus or transition. Our Saviour is putting the disciples on their guard against the deceivers and impostors who infested the last days of the Jewish commonwealth; and says to them, ‘Then’ (i.e., at that time, in the agony of the Jewish war) ‘if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not,’ etc. It is Jerusalem, always Jerusalem, and only Jerusalem, of which our Lord here speaks. At length we come to —
‘The Actual End of the World’. (Matt. 24:24-31)
Having made the transition from the ‘end of the world backwards to the destruction of Jerusalem, the process is now reversed, and there is another transition, from the destruction of Jerusalem to the ‘actual end of the world.’ This actual end is placed after the appearance of those false Christs and false prophets against whom the disciples were warned. This allusion to ‘false Christs’ ought to have saved the critic from the mistake into which he has fallen, and to have distinctly indicated the period to which the prediction refers. But where is there any sign of a division or transition here? There is no trace or token of any: on the contrary, the express language of our Lord excludes the idea of any interval at all; for He says: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days,’ etc. This note of time is decisive, and peremptorily forbids the supposition of any break or hiatus in the continuity of His discourse.
But we have gone far enough in the demonstration of the arbitrary and uncritical treatment which this prophecy has received, and have been betrayed into premature exegesis of some portion of its contents. What we contend for, is the unity and continuity of the whole discourse. From the beginning of the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew to the close of the twenty-fifth, it is one and indivisible. The theme is the approaching consummation of the age, with its attendant and concomitant events; the woes which were to overtake that ‘wicked generation,’ comprehending the invasion of the Roman armies, the siege and capture of Jerusalem, the total destruction of the temple, the frightful calamities of the people. Along with this we find the true Parousia, or the coming of the Son of man, the judicial infliction of divine wrath upon the impenitent, and the deliverance and recompense of the faithful. From beginning to end, these two chapters form one continuous, consecutive, and homogeneous discourse. So it must have been regarded by the disciples, to whom it was addressed; and so, in the absence of any hint or indication to the contrary in the record, we feel bound to it.
6. In conclusion, we cannot help adverting to one other consideration, which we are persuaded has had much to do with the erroneous interpretation of this prophecy, viz., the inadequate appreciation of the importance and grandeur of the event which forms its burden—the consummation of the aeon age, and the abrogation of the Jewish dispensation.
That was an event which formed an epoch in the divine government of the world. The Mosaic economy, which had been ushered in with such pomp and grandeur amidst the thunders and lightnings of Sinai, which had existed for well nigh sixteen centuries, which had been the divinely instituted medium of communication between God and man, and which was intended to realise a kingdom of God upon earth, —had proved a comparative failure through the moral unfitness of the people of Israel, and was doomed to come to an end amid the most terrific demonstration of the justice and wrath of God. The temple of Jerusalem, for ages the glory and crown of Mount Zion, —the sacred shrine, in whose holy place Jehovah was pleased to dwell, —the holy and beautiful house, which was the palladium of the nation’s safety, and dearer than life to every son of Abraham, —was about to be desecrated and destroyed, so that not one stone should be left upon another. The chosen people, the children of the Friend of God, the favoured nation, with whom the God of the whole earth deigned to enter into covenant and to be called their King, —were to be overwhelmed by the most terrible calamities that ever befell a nation; were to be expatriated, deprived of their nationality, excluded from their ancient and peculiar relation to God, and driven forth as wanderers on the face of the earth, a byword and hissing among all nations. But along with all this there were to be changes for the better. First, and chiefly, the close of the aeon would be the inauguration of the reign of God. There were to be honour and glory for the true and faithful servants of God, who would then enter into the full possession of the heavenly inheritance. (This will be more fully unfolded in the sequel of our investigation.) But there was also to be a glorious change in this world. The old made way for the new; the Law was replaced by the Gospel; Moses was superseded by Christ. The narrow and exclusive system, which embraced only a single people, was succeeded by a new and better covenant, which embraced the whole family of man, and knew no difference between Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. The dispensation of symbols and ceremonies, suited to the childhood of humanity, was merged in an order of things in which religion became a spiritual service, every place a temple, every worshipper a priest, and God the universal Father. This was a revolution greater far than any that had ever occurred in the history of mankind. It made a new world; ‘world to come,’ the [oikonmenh mellonsa] of Heb. 2:5 ; and the magnitude and importance of the change it is impossible to over-estimate. It is this that gives such significance to the overthrow of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem: these are the outward and visible signs of the abrogation of the old order and the introduction of the new. The story of the siege and capture of the Holy City is not simply a thrilling historical episode, such as the siege of Troy or the fall of Carthage; it is not merely the closing scene in the annals of an ancient nation; it has a supernatural and divine significance; it has a relation to God and the human race, and marks one of the most memorable epochs of time. This is the reason why the event is spoken of in the Scripture in terms which to some appear overstrained, or to require some greater catastrophe to account for them. But if it was fitting that the introduction of that economy should be signalised by portents and wonders, earthquakes, lightnings, thunders, and trumpet-blasts, —it was no less fitting that it should go out amid similar phenomena, fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’ Had the true significance and grandeur of the event been better apprehended by expositors, they would not have found the language in which it is depicted by our Lord extravagant or overstrained.14
We are now prepared to enter upon the more particular examination of the contents of this prophetic discourse; which we shall endeavour to do as concisely as possible.
CommentsNo comments yet.
1. Life of Christ, sec. 239.
2. Life of Christ, sec. 256.
3. Lange on St. Matt. p. 388.
4. Alford, Greek Test. in loc.
5. Life of Christ, sec. 253, note n.
6. Life of Christ, sec. 253, note m.
7. Tischendorf rejects ver. 14, which is omitted by Cod. Sin. and Vat.
8. See Dorner's tractae, De Oratione Christi Eschatologica, p. 41.
9. Dorner, Orat. Chris. Esch. p. 43.
10. Comm. on Matt. p. 416
11. Lange, Comm. on Matt. p. 418
12.Stier. Red. Jes. vol. 3:251.
13. See Note A, Part I., on the Double-sense Theory of Interpretation
14. The termination of the Jewish aion in the first century, and of the Roman in the fifth and sixth, were each marked by the same concurrence of calamities, wars, tumults, pestilences, earthquakes, all marking the time of one of God's peculiar seasons of visitation.' 'For the same belief in the connexion of physical with moral convulsion-, see Niebuhr, Leben's Nachrichten, 2:p. 672 Dr. Arnold : See ' Life by Stanley,' vol. 1:p. 311.