- 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
APPENDIX TO PART II
There is no phrase of more frequent occurrence in the New Testament than ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ or ‘the kingdom of God.’ We meet with it everywhere—in the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Book. It is the first thing in Matthew, the last in Revelation. The Gospel itself is called ‘the gospel of the kingdom;’ the disciples are the ‘heirs of the kingdom;’ the great object of hope and expectation is ‘the coming of the kingdom.’ It is from this that Christ Himself derives His title of ‘King.’ The kingdom of God, then, is the very kernel of the New Testament.
But while thus pervading in the New Testament, the idea of the kingdom of God is not peculiar to it; it belongs no less to the Old. We find traces of it in all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi; it is the theme of some of the loftiest psalms of David; it underlies the annals of ancient Israel; its roots run back to the earliest period of Jewish national existence; it is, in fact the raison d’etre of that people; for, to embody and develop this conception of the kingdom of God, Israel was constituted and kept in being as a distinct nationality.
Going back to the primordial germ of the Jewish people we find the earliest intimation of the purpose of God to ‘form a people for himself’ in the original promise made to their great progenitor, Abraham: ‘I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed’. (Gen. 12:2, 3) This promise was soon after solemnly renewed in the covenant made by God with Abraham: ‘In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’. (Gen. 15:18) This covenant relation between God and the seed of Abraham is renewed and more fully developed in the declaration subsequently made to Abraham: ‘I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God’. (Gen. 17:7, 8) As a token and seal of this covenant the rite of circumcision was imposed upon Abraham and his posterity, by which every male of that race was marked and signed as a subject of the God of Abraham. (Gen. 17:9-14)
More than four centuries after this adoption of the children of Abraham as the covenant people of God, we find them in a state of vassalage in Egypt, groaning under the cruel bondage to which they were subjected. We are told that God ‘heard their groaning, and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.’ He raised up a champion in the person of Moses, and instructed him to say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians; ... and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God,’ etc. (Exod. 6:6, 7) After the miraculous redemption from Egypt, the covenant relation between Jehovah and the children of Israel was publicly and solemnly ratified at Mount Sinai. We read that ‘in the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, ... Israel camped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation’. (Exod. 19:3-6)
It is at this period that we may regard the Theocratic kingdom as formally inaugurated. A horde of liberated slaves were constituted a nation; they received a divine law for their government, and the complete frame of their civil and ecclesiastical polity was organised and constructed by divine authority. Every step of the process by which a childless old man grew into a nation reveals a divine purpose and a divine plan. Never was any nationality so formed; none ever existed for such a purpose; none ever bore such a relationship to God; none ever possessed such a miraculous history; none was ever exalted to such glorious privilege; none ever fell by such a tremendous doom.
There can be no doubt that the nation of Israel was designated to be the depositary and conservator of the knowledge of the living and true God in the earth. For this purpose the nation was constituted, and brought into a unique relation to the Most High, such as not other people ever sustained. To secure this purpose the Lord Himself became their King, and they became His subjects; while all the institutions and laws which were imposed upon them had reference to God, not only as the Creator of all things, but as the Sovereign of the nation. To express and carry out this idea of the kingship of God over Israel is the manifest object of the ceremonial apparatus of worship set up in the wilderness: ‘Jehovah caused a royal tent to be erected in the centre of the encampment (where the pavilions of all kings and chiefs were usually erected), and to be fitted up with all the splendour of royalty, as a moveable palace. It was divided into three apartments, in the innermost of which was the royal throne, supported by golden cherubs; and the footstool of the throne, a gilded ark containing the tables of the law, the Magna Charta of church and state. In the anteroom a gilded table was spread with bread and wine, as the royal table; and precious incense was burned. The exterior room or court might be considered the royal culinary apartment, and there music was performed, like the music at the festive tables of Eastern monarchs. God made choice of the Levites for His courtiers, state officers, and palace guards; and of Aaron for the chief officer of the court and first minister of state. For the maintenance of these officers He assigned one of the tithes which the Hebrews were to pay as rent for the use of the land. Finally, He required all the Hebrew males of a suitable age to repair to His palace every year, on the three great annual festivals, with presents, to render homage to their King; and as these days of renewing their homage were to be celebrated with festivity and joy, the second tithe was expended in providing the entertainments necessary for those occasions. In short, every religious duty was made a matter of political obligation; and all the civil regulations, even the most minute, were so founded upon the relation of the people to God, and so interwoven with their religious duties, that the Hebrew could not separate his God and his King, and in every law was reminded equally of both. Consequently the nation, so long as it had a national existence, could not entirely lose the knowledge, or discontinue the worship, of the true God.’ 1
Such was the government instituted by Jehovah among the children of Israel—a true Theocracy; the only real Theocracy that ever existed upon earth. Its intense and exclusive national character deserves particular notice. It was the distinctive privilege of the children of Abraham, and of them alone: ‘The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth’. (Deut. 7:6) ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth’. (Amos 3:2) ‘He hath not dealt so with any nation’. (Ps. 147:20) The Most High was the Lord of the whole earth, but He was the King of Israel in an altogether peculiar sense. He was their covenanted Ruler; they were His covenanted people. They came under the most sacred and solemn obligations to be loyal subjects to their invisible Sovereign, to worship Him alone, and to be faithful to His law. (Deut. 26:16-18) As the reward of obedience they had the promise of unbounded prosperity and national greatness; they were to be ‘high above all nations in praise and in name and in honour’; (Deut. 26:19) while, on the other hand, the penalties of disloyalty and unfaithfulness were correspondingly dreadful; the curse of the broken covenant would overtake them in a signal and terrible retribution, to which there should be no parallel in the history of mankind, past or to come. (Deut. 28)
It is only reasonable to presume that this marvellous experiment of a Theocratic government must have had for its object something worthy of its divine author. That object was moral, rather than material; the glory of God and the good of men, rather than the political or temporal advancement of a tribe or nation. It was no doubt, in the first place, an expedient to keep alive the knowledge and worship of the One true God in the earth, which otherwise might have been wholly lost; and, secondly, notwithstanding its intense and exclusive spirit of nationalism, the Theocratic system carried in its bosom the germ of a universal religion, and thus was a great and important stage in the education of the human race.
It is instructive to trace the growth and progressive development of the Theocratic idea in the history of the Jewish people, and to observe how, as it loses its political significance, it becomes more and more moral and spiritual in its character.
The people on whom this unequalled privilege was conferred showed themselves unworthy of it. Their fickleness and faithlessness neutralised at every step the favour of their invisible Sovereign. Their demand for a king, ‘that they might be like all the nations,’ was a virtual rejection of their heavenly Ruler. (1 Sam. 8:7, 19, 20) Nevertheless their request was granted, provision for such a contingency having been made in the original framing of the Theocracy. The human king was regarding as the viceroy of the divine King, and thus he became a type of the real, though unseen, Sovereign to whom he, as well as the nation, owed allegiance.
It is at this point that we note the appearance of a new phase in the Theocratic system. If we regard David as the author of the second Psalm, it was as early as his time that a prophetic announcement was made concerning a King, the Lord’s Anointed, the Son of God, against whom the kings of the earth were to set themselves and the rulers to take counsel together, but to whom the Most High was to give the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. From this period the mediatorial character of the Theocracy begins to be more clearly indicated:—there is a distinction made between the Lord and His Anointed, between the Father and the Son. We meet with the titles Messiah, Son of God, Son of David, King of Zion, given to One to whom the kingdom belongs, and who is destined to triumph and to reign. The psalms called Messianic, especially the 72nd (Ps. 72) and 110th, (Ps. 110) are sufficient to prove that in the time of David there were clear prophetic announcements of a coming King, whose rule was to be beneficent and glorious; in whom all nations were to be blessed; who was to unite in Himself the twofold offices of Priest and King; who is declared to be David’s Lord; and is represented as sitting at the right hand of God ‘until his enemies be made his footstool.’
Henceforth through all the prophecies of the Old Testament we find the character and person of the Theocratic King more and more fully delineated, though in the description are blended together diverse and apparently inconsistent elements. Sometimes the coming King and His kingdom are depicted in the most attractive and glowing colours, —‘a Rod is to spring from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch to grow out of his roots,’ and under the conduct of this scion of the house of David all evil is to disappear and all goodness to triumph. The wolf is to dwell with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid: ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’. (Isa. 11:1-9) The loftiest names of honour and dignity are ascribed to the coming Prince; He is the ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there is to be no end.’ He is to sit upon the throne of David, and to govern his kingdom with judgment and with justice for ever. (Isa. 9:6, 7)
But side by side with these brilliant prospects lie dark and gloomy scenes of sorrow and suffering, of judgment and wrath. The coming King is spoken of as a ‘root out of a dry ground;’ as ‘despised and rejected;’ as ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;’ as ‘wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities;’ ‘brought like a lamb to the slaughter;’ ‘dumb like a sheep in the hand of the shearers;’ ‘cut off out of the land of the living’. (Isa. 53) He is described as coming to Jerusalem ‘lowly’ and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’; (Zech. 9:9) Messiah is to be cut off, but not for Himself; (Dan. 9:26) and among the latest prophetic utterances are some of the most ominous and sombre of all. The Lord, the Messenger of the covenant, the expected King, is to come: ‘But who may abide the day of his coming? That day shall burn as a furnace; it is the great and dreadful day of the Lord’. (Mal. 3:1, 2, 4:1, 5)
This seeming paradox is explained in the New Testament. There actually was this twofold aspect of the King and the kingdom: ‘The King of glory’ was also ‘the Man of sorrows;’ ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ was also ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’
Ancient prophecy had given abundant reason for the expectation that the invisible Theocratic King would one day be revealed, and would dwell with men upon the earth; that He would come, in the interests of the Theocracy, to set up His kingdom in the nation, and to rally His people around His throne. The opening chapters of St. Luke’s gospel indicate the views entertained by pious Israelites respecting the coming kingdom of the Messiah. It was understood by them to have a special relation to Israel. ‘He shall be great,’ said the angel of the annunciation, ‘and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the house of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever.’ ‘Rabbi!’ exclaimed the guileless Nathanael, as the God suddenly flashed upon him through the disguise of the young Galilean peasant, ‘thou are the Son of God, thou are the King of Israel!’ (John 1:49) It is no less certain that His coming was then believed to be near, and it was eagerly expected by such holy men as Simeon, who ‘waited for the consolation of Israel,’ and to whom it had been revealed that he should not ‘see death before he had seen the Lord’s anointed’. (Luke 2:25, 26) There was indeed a wide-spread belief, not only in Judea, but throughout the Roman Empire, that a great prince or monarch was about to appear in the earth, who was to inaugurate a new epoch. Of this expectation we have evidence in the Annals of Tacitus and the Pollio of Virgil. Doubtless the cherished hope of Israel had diffused itself, in a more or less vague and distorted form, throughout the neighbouring lands.
But when, in the fulness of time, the Theocratic King appeared in the midst of the covenant nation, it was not in the form which they had expected and desired. He did not fulfil their hopes of political power and national pre-eminence. The kingdom of God which He proclaimed was something very different from that of which they had dreamed. Righteousness and truth, purity and goodness, were only empty names to men who coveted the honours and pleasures of this world. Nevertheless, though rejected by the nation at large, the Theocratic King did not fail to announce His presence and His claims. He was preceded by a herald, the predicted Elias, John the Baptist, whom the people were constrained to acknowledge as a true prophet of God. The second Elijah announced the kingdom of God as at hand, and called upon the nation to repent and receive their King. Next, His own miraculous works, unexampled even in the history of the chosen people for number and splendour, gave conclusive evidence of His divine mission; added to which the transcendent excellence of His doctrine, and the unsullied purity of His life, silenced, if they did not shame, the enmity of the ungodly. For more than three years this appeal to the heart and conscience of the nation was incessantly presented in every variety of method, but without success; until at length the chief men in the Jewish church and state, bitterly hostile to His pretensions, impeached Him before the Roman governor on the charge of making Himself a King. By their persistent and malignant clamour they procured His condemnation. He was delivered up to be crucified, and the title upon His cross bore this inscription, —‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
This tragic event marks the final breach between the covenant nation and the Theocratic King. The covenant had often been broken before, but now it was publicly repudiated and torn in pieces. It might have been thought that the Theocracy would now be at an end; and virtually it was; but its formal dissolution was suspended for a brief space, in order that the twofold consummation of the kingdom, involving the salvation of the faithful and the destruction of the unbelieving, might be brought about at the appointed time. This twofold aspect of the Theocratic kingdom is visible in every part of its history. It was at once a success and a failure—a victory and a defeat; it brought salvation to some and destruction to others. This twofold character had been distinctly set forth in ancient prophecy, as in the remarkable oracle of Isa. 49. The Messiah complains, ‘I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought and in vain,’ etc. The divine answer is, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. And He said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth.’ To take only one other example: we find in the Book of Malachi this twofold aspect of the coming kingdom, for while ‘the day that cometh’ is to ‘burn as a furnace,’ and to ‘consume the wicked as stubble,’ ‘unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings’. (Mal. 4:1, 2) Notwithstanding, therefore, the rejection of the King, and the forfeiture of the kingdom by the mass of the people, there was yet to be a glorious consummation of the Theocracy, bringing honour and happiness to all who owned the authority of the Messiah and proved dutiful and loyal to their King.
Have we any data by which to ascertain the period of this consummation? At what time may the kingdom be said to have fully come? Not at the incarnation, for the proclamation of Jesus ever was, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ Not at the crucifixion, for the petition of the dying thief was, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.’ Not at the resurrection, for after the Lord had risen the disciples were looking for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Not at the ascension, nor on the day of Pentecost, for long after these events we are told, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ, ‘after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sate down on the right hand of God: from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool’. (Heb. 10:12, 13) The consummation of the kingdom, therefore, is not coincident with the ascension, nor with the day of Pentecost. It is true that the Theocratic King was seated on the throne, ‘on the right hand of the Majesty on high,’ but He had not yet ‘taken his great power.’ His enemies were not yet put down, and the full development and consummation of His kingdom could not be said to have arrived until by a solemn and public judicial act the Messiah had vindicated the laws of His kingdom and crushed beneath His feet His apostate and rebellious subjects.
There is one point of time constantly indicated in the New Testament as the consummation of the kingdom of God. Our Lord declared that there were some among His disciples who should live to see Him coming in His kingdom. This coming of the King is of course synonymous with the coming of the kingdom, and limits the occurrence of the event to the then existing generation. That is to say, the consummation of the kingdom synchronises with the judgment of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem, all being parts of one great catastrophe. It was at that period that the Son of man was to come in the glory of His Father, and to sit upon the throne of His glory; to render a reward to His servants and retribution to His enemies. (Matt. 25:31) We find these events uniformly associated together in the New Testament, —the coming of the King, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of the righteous and the wicked, the consummation of the kingdom, the end of the age. Thus St. Paul, in 2 Tim. 4:5, says, ‘I charge thee therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to judge the living and the dead at his appearing and His kingdom.’ The coming, the judgment, the kingdom, are all coincident and contemporaneous, and not only so, but also nigh at hand; for the apostle says, ‘Who is about to judge; ... who shall soon judge’ [mellontov krinein].
It is perfectly clear, then, according to the New Testament, that the consummation, or winding up, of the Theocratic kingdom took place at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment of Israel. The Theocracy had served its purpose; the experiment had been tried whether or not the covenant nation would prove loyal to their King. It had failed; Israel had rejected her King; and it only remained that the penalties of the violated covenant should be enforced. We see the result in the ruin of the temple, the destruction of the city, the effacement of the nation, and the abrogation of the law of Moses, accompanied with scenes of horror and suffering without a parallel in the history of the world. That great catastrophe, therefore, marks the conclusion of the Theocratic kingdom. It had been from the beginning of a strictly national character—it was the divine Kingship over Israel. It necessarily terminated, therefore, with the termination of the national existence of Israel, when the outward and visible symbols of the divine Presence and Sovereignty passed away; when the house of God, the city of God, and the people of God were effaced from existence by one desolating and final catastrophe.
This enables us to understand the language of St. Paul when, speaking of the coming of Christ, he represents that event as marking ‘the end’ [to telov = h sunteleia tou aiwnov], ‘when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father’.(1 Cor. 15:24) This has caused much perplexity to many theologians and commentators, who have seemed to regard it as derogatory to the divinity of the Son of God that He should resign His mediatorial functions and His kingly character, and sink, as it were, into the position of a private person, becoming a subject instead of a sovereign. But the embarrassment has arisen from overlooking the nature of the kingdom which the Son had administered, and which He at length surrenders. It was the Messianic kingdom: the kingdom over Israel: that peculiar and unique government exercised over the covenant nation, and administered by the mediatorship of the Son of God for so many ages. That relation was now dissolved, for the nation had been judged, the temple destroyed, and all the symbols of the divine Sovereignty removed. Why should the Theocratic kingdom be continued any longer? There was nothing to administer. There was no longer a covenant nation, the covenant was broken, and Israel had ceased to exist as a distinct nationality. What more natural and proper, therefore, than at such a juncture for the Mediator to resign His mediatorial functions, and to deliver up the insignia of government into the hands from which He received them? Ages before that period the Father had invested the Son with the viceregal functions of the Theocracy. It had been proclaimed, ‘I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion: I will declare the decree; the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee’. (Ps. 2:6, 7) The purposes for which the Son had assumed the administration of the Theocratic government had been effected. The covenant was dissolved, its violation avenged, the enemies of Christ and of God were destroyed; the true and faithful servants were rewarded, and the Theocracy came to an end. This was surely the fitting moment for the Mediator to resign His charge into the hands of the Father, that is to say, ‘to deliver up the kingdom.’
But there is in all this nothing derogatory to the dignity of the Son. On the contrary, ‘He is the Mediator of a better covenant.’ The termination of the Theocratic kingdom was the inauguration of a new order, on a wider scale, and of a more enduring nature. This is the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘the throne of the Son of God is for ever and ever’. (Heb. 1:8) The priesthood of the Son of God ‘abideth continually’ (Heb. 8:3); Christ ‘hath now obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant’ (Heb. 8:6). The Theocracy, as we have seen, was limited, exclusive, and national; yet it bore within it the germ of a universal religion. What Israel lost was gained by the world. Whilst the Theocracy subsisted there was a favoured nation, and the Gentiles, that is to say all the world minus the Jews, were outside the kingdom, holding a position of inferiority, and, like dogs, permitted as a matter of grace to eat the crumbs that fell from the master’s table. The first coming of Christ did not wholly do away with this state of things; even the Gospel of the grace of God flowed at first in the old narrow channel. St. Paul recognises the fact that ‘Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision,’ and our Lord Himself declared, ‘I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ For years after the apostles had received their commission they did not understand it was sending them to the Gentiles; nor did they at first regard heathen converts as admissible into the church, except as Jewish proselytes. It is true that after the conversion of Cornelius the centurion the apostles became convinced of the larger limits of the Gospel, and St. Paul everywhere proclaimed the breaking down of the barriers between the Jew and the Gentile; but it is easy to see that so long as the Theocratic nation existed, and the temple, with its priesthood and sacrifices and ritual, remained, and the Mosaic law continued, or seemed to continue, in force, the distinction between Jew and Gentile could not be obliterated. But the barrier was effectually broken down when law, temple, city, and nation were swept away together, and the Theocracy was visibly brought to a final consummation.
That event was, so to speak, the formal and public declaration that God was no longer the God of the Jews only, but that He was now the common Father of all men; that there was no longer a favoured nation and a peculiar people, but that the grace of God ‘which bringeth salvation to all men was now made manifest’; (Titus 2:11) that the local and limited had expanded into the ecumenical and universal, and that in Christ Jesus ‘all are one’. (Gal. 3:29) This is what St. Paul declares to be the meaning of the surrender of the kingdom by the Son of God into the hands of the Father: thenceforth the exclusive relations of God to a single nation ceases, and He becomes the common Father of the whole human family,
On the ‘Babylon’ of (1 Pet. 5:13)
‘The church in Babylon [she in Babylon] elected together (with you) saluteth you; and Marcus my son.’
It is not easy to convey in so many words in English the precise force of the original. Its extreme brevity causes obscurity. Literally it reads thus: ‘She in Babylon, co-elect, saluteth you; and Marcus my son.’
The common interpretation of the pronoun she refers it to ‘the church in Babylon;’ though many eminent commentators—Bengel, Mill, Wahl, Alford, and others—understand it as referring to an individual, presumably the wife of the apostle. ‘It is hardly probable,’ remarks Alford, ‘that there should be joined together in the same message of salutation an abstraction, spoken of thus enigmatically, and a man (Marcus my son), by name.’ The weight of authority inclines to the side of church, the weight of grammar to the side of wife.
But the more important question relates to the identity of the place here called Babylon. It is natural at first sight to conclude that it can be no other than the well-known and ancient metropolis of Chaldea, or such remnant of it as existed in the apostle’s days. We are ready to think it highly probable that St. Peter, in his apostolic journeyings rivalled the apostle to the Gentiles, and went everywhere preaching the Gospel to the Jews, as St. Paul did to the Gentiles.
There appear, however, to be formidable objections to this view, natural and simple as it seems. Not to mention the improbability that St. Peter in his old age, and accompanied by his wife (if we accept the opinion that she is referred to in the salutation), should be found in a region so remote from Judea, there is the important consideration that Babylon was not at that time the abode of a Jewish population. Josephus states that so long before as the reign of Caligula (A. D. 37-41) the Jews had been expelled from Babylonia, and that a general massacre had taken place, by which they had been almost exterminated.2 This statement of Josephus, it is true, refers rather to the whole region called Babylonia than to the city of Babylon, and that for the sufficient reason that in the time of Josephus Babylon was as much an uninhabited place as it is now. Rosenmuller, in his Biblical Geography, affirms that in the time of Strabo (that is, in the reign of Augustus) Babylon was so deserted that he applies to that city what an ancient poet had said of Megalopolis in Arcadia, viz. that it was ‘one vast wilderness.’3 Basnage, also, in his History of the Jews, says, ‘Babylon was declining in the days of Strabo, 4 and Pliny represents it in the reign of Vespasian as one vast unbroken solitude.’5
Other cities have been suggested as the Babylon referred to in the epistle: a fort so called in Egypt, mentioned by Strabo; Ctesiphon on the Tigris; Seleucia, the new city which drained ancient Babylon of its inhabitants: but these are mere conjectures, unsupported by a particle of evidence.
The improbability that the ancient capital of Chaldaea should be the place referred to may account in great measure for the general consent which from the earliest times has attached a symbolical or spiritual interpretation to the name Babylon. If the question were to be decided by the authority of great names, Rome would no doubt be declared to be the mystic Babylon so designated by the apostle. But this involves the vexed question whether St. Peter ever visited Rome, into the discussion of which we cannot here enter. The gospel history is totally silent on the subject, and the tradition, unquestionably very ancient, of St. Peter’s episcopate there, and of his martyrdom under Nero, is embarrassed with so much that is certainly fabulous, that we are justified in setting the whole aside as a legend or myth. There is an a priori argument against the probability of St. Peter’s visit to Rome, which, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we hold to be insurmountable. St. Peter was the apostle of the circumcision; his mission was to the Jews, his own nation; we cannot conceive it possible that he should quit his appointed sphere of labour and ‘enter into another man’s line of things,’ and ‘build upon another man’s foundation.’ St. Paul was in Rome in the days of Nero, and nothing can be more improbable that St. Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, in extreme old age, and ‘knowing that shortly he must put off his earthly tabernacle,’ should undertake a voyage to Rome without any special call, and without leaving any trace of so remarkable an event in the history of the Acts of the Apostles.
But if Rome be not the symbolical Babylon referred to, and if the literal Babylon be inadmissible, what other place can be suggested with any show of probability? Is there no other city which might not as fitly be called the mystical Babylon as Rome? No other which has not similar symbolical names attached to it, both in the Old Testament and in the New? It seems unaccountable that the very city with which the life and acts of St. Peter are more associated than any other should have been entirely ignored in this discussion. Why might not the city which is called Sodom and Gomorrha be just as reasonably styled Babylon? Now Jerusalem has these mystic names affixed to it in the Scriptures, and no city had a better claim to the character which they imply. Jerusalem also seems undoubtedly to have been the fixed residence of the apostle; Jerusalem, therefore, is the place from which we might expect to find him writing and dating his epistles to the churches.
Whatever the city may be which the apostle styles Babylon, it must have been the settled abode of the person or the church associated with himself and Marcus in the salutation. This is proved by the form of the expressions h en babulwni, which, as Steiger shows, signifies ‘a fixed abode by which one may be designated.’6 If we decide that the reference is to a person, it will follow that Babylon was the place where she was domiciled, her settled place of abode, and this, in the case of Peter’s wife, could only be Jerusalem. The apostolic history, so far as it can be gleaned from the documentary evidence in the New Testament, distinctly shows that St. Peter was habitually resident in Jerusalem. It is nothing else than a popular fallacy to suppose that all the apostles were evangelists like St. Paul, travelling through foreign countries and preaching the Gospel to all nations. Professor Burton has shown that ‘it was not until fourteen years after our Lord’s ascension that St. Paul travelled for the first time, and preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. Nor is there any evidence that during this period the other apostles passed the confines of Judea.’7 But what we contend for is, that St. Peter’s habitual or settled abode was in Jerusalem. This will appear from a variety of circumstantial proofs.
- When the Jerusalem church was scattered abroad after the persecution which arose at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles remained in Jerusalem. (Acts 8:1)
- St. Peter was in Jerusalem when Herod Agrippa I. apprehended and imprisoned him. (Acts 12:3)
- When St. Paul, three years after his conversion, goes up to Jerusalem, his errand is ‘to see Peter;’ and he adds, ‘I abode with him fifteen days’. (Gal. 1:18) This implies that St. Peter’s place of abode was Jerusalem.
- Fourteen years after this visit to Jerusalem, St. Paul again visits that city in company with Barnabas and Titus; and on this occasion, also, we find St. Peter there. (Gal. 2:1-9) (A. D. 50—Conybeare and Howson.)
- It is worthy of notice that it was the presence in Antioch of certain persons who came from Jerusalem that so intimidated St. Peter as to lead him to practise an equivocal line of conduct, and to incur the censure of St. Paul. (Gal. 2:11) Why should the presence of Jerusalem Jews intimidate St. Peter? Presumably because, on his return to Jerusalem, he would be called to account by them: thus implying that Jerusalem was his usual residence.
- If we suppose, which is most probable, that Marcus, named in this salutation, is John Mark, sister’s son to Barnabas, we know that he also abode in Jerusalem. (Acts 12:12)
- Silvanus, or Silas, the writer or bearer of this epistle, is known to us as a prominent member of the church of Jerusalem:‘a chief man among the brethren’. (Acts 15:22-32)
We thus find all the persons named in the concluding portion of the epistle habitual residents in Jerusalem.
Lastly, we infer from an incidental expression in (1 Pet. 4:17) that St. Peter was in Jerusalem when he wrote this epistle. He speaks of judgment having begun at the ‘house of God;’ that is, as we have seen, the sanctuary, the temple; and he adds, ‘if it first begin at us,’ etc. Now, would he have expressed himself so if at the time of his writing he had been in Rome, or in Babylon on the Euphrates, or in any other city than Jerusalem? It certainly seems most natural to suppose that if the judgment begins at the sanctuary, and also at us, both the place and the persons must be together. The vision of Ezekiel, which gives the prototype of the scene of judgment, fixes the locality where the slaughter is to commence, and it appears highly probable that the coming doom of the city and temple was in the mind of the apostle, as well as the afflictions which were to befall the disciples of Christ. Wiesinger remarks: ‘It is hardly possible that the destruction of Jerusalem was past when these words were written; if that had been so, it would hardly have been said, o kairoz tou arxasyai.’8 No; it was not past, but the beginning of the end was already present; the judgment seems to have commenced, as the Lord said it would, with the disciples; and this was the sure prelude to the wrath which was coming upon the ungodly ‘to the uttermost.’
But it may be objected, If St. Peter meant Jerusalem, why did he not say so without any ambiguity? There may have been, and doubtless were, prudential reasons for this reserve at the time of St. Peter’s writing, even as there were when St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. But, probably, there was no such ambiguity to his readers as there is to us. What if Jerusalem were already known and recognised among Christian believers as the mystical Babylon? Assuming, as we have a right to do, that the Apocalypse was already familiarly known to the apostolic churches, we consider it in the highest degree probable that they identified the ‘great city’ whose fall is depicted in that book, ‘Babylon the great,’ as the same whose fall is depicted in our Lord’s prophecy on the Mount of Olives.
This, however, belongs to another question, the discussion of which will come in its proper place, —the identity of the Babylon of the Apocalypse. Let it suffice for the present to have made out a probable case, on wholly independent grounds, for the Babylon of St. Peter’s first epistle being no other than Jerusalem.
On the Symbolism of Prophecy, with special reference to the Predictions of the Parousia.
The slightest attention to the language of the Old Testament prophecy must convince any sober-minded man that it is not to be understood according to the letter. First of all, the utterances of the prophets are poetry; and, secondly, they are Oriental poetry. They may be called hieroglyphic pictures representing historical events in highly metaphorical imagery. It is inevitable, therefore, that hyperbole, or that which to us appears such, should enter largely into the descriptions of the prophets. To the cold prosaic imagination of the West, the glowing and vivid style of the prophets of the East may seem turgid and extravagant; but there is always a substratum of reality underlying the figures and symbols, which, the more they are studied, commend themselves the more to the judgment of the reader. Social and political revolutions, moral and spiritual changes, are shadowed forth by physical convulsions and catastrophes; and if these natural phenomena affect the imagination more powerfully still, they are not inappropriate figures when the real importance of the events which they represent is apprehended. The earth convulsed with earthquakes, burning mountains cast into the sea, the stars falling like leaves, the heavens on fire, the sun clothed in sackcloth, the moon turned to blood, are images of appalling grandeur, but they are not necessarily unsuitable representations of great civil commotions, —the overturning of thrones and dynasties, the desolations of war, the abolition of ancient systems, and great moral and spiritual revolutions. In prophecy, as in poetry, the material is regarded as the type of the spiritual, the passions and emotions of humanity find expression in corresponding signs and symptoms in the inanimate creation. Does the prophet come with glad tidings? He calls upon the mountains and the hills to break forth into song, and the trees of the forest to clap their hands. Is his message one of lamentation and woe? The heavens are draped in mourning, and the sun is darkened in his going down. No one, however anxious to keep by the bare letter of the word, would think of insisting that such metaphors should be literally interpreted, or must have a literal fulfilment. The utmost that we are entitled to require is, that there should be such historical events specified as may worthily correspond with such phenomena; great moral and social movements capable of producing such emotions as these physical phenomena seem to imply.
It may be useful to select some of the most remarkable of these prophetic symbols as found in the Old Testament, that we may note the occasions on which they were employed, and discover the sense in which they are to be understood.
In (Isa. 13) we have a very remarkable prediction of the destruction of ancient Babylon. It is conceived in the highest style of poetry. The Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle; the tumultuous rush of the nations is heard; the day of the Lord is proclaimed to be at hand; the stars of the heaven and the constellations withhold their light; the sun is darkened in his going forth; the moon ceases to shine; the heavens are shaken, and the earth removed out its place. All this imagery, it will be observed, which if literally fulfilled would involve the wreck of the whole material creation, is employed to set forth the destruction of Babylon by the Medes.
Again, in (Isa. 24) we have a prediction of judgments about to come upon the land of Israel; and among other representations of the woes which are impending we find the following: ‘The windows from on high are open; the foundations of the earth do shake. The earth is utterly broken down; the earth is clean dissolved; the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; it shall fall, and not rise again,’ etc. All this is symbolical of the civil and social convulsion about to take place in the land of Israel.
In (Isa. 34) the prophet denounces judgments on the enemies of Israel, particularly on Edom, or Idumea. The imagery which he employs of the most sublime and awful description: ‘The mountains shall be melted with the blood of the slain. All the host of heaven shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree.’ ‘The streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up fore ever; from generation to generation it shall be waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.’
It is not necessary to ask, Have these predictions been fulfilled? We know they have been; and the accomplishment of them stands in history as a perpetual monument of the truth of Revelation. Babylon, Edom, Tyre, the oppressors or enemies of the people of God, have been made to drink the cup of the Lord’s indignation. The Lord has let none of the words of His servants the prophets fall to the ground. But no one will pretend to say that the symbols and figures which depicted their overthrow were literally verified. These emblems are the drapery of the picture, and are used simply to heighten the effect and to give vividness and grandeur to the scene.
In like manner the prophet Ezekiel uses imagery of a very similar kind in predicting the calamities which were coming upon Egypt: ‘And when I shall put them out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark. I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over them, and set darkness upon the land, saith the Lord God’. (Ezek. 32:7, 8)
Similarly the prophets Micah, Nahum, Joel, and Habakkuk describe the presence and interposition of the Most High in the affairs of nations as accompanied by stupendous natural phenomena: ‘Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth, and the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place’. (Mic. 1:3, 4)
‘The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers. The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence: yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him’. (Nah. 1:3-6)
These examples may suffice to show, what indeed is self-evident, that in prophetic language the most sublime and terrible natural phenomena are employed to represent national and social convulsions and revolutions. Imagery, which if literally verified would involve the total dissolution of the fabric of the globe and the destruction of the material universe, really may mean no more than the downfall of a dynasty, the capture of a city, or the overthrow of a nation.
The following are the views expressed by Sir Isaac Newton on this subject, which are substantially just, though perhaps carried somewhat too far in supposing an equivalent in fact for every figure employed in the prophecy:—
‘The figurative language of the prophets is taken from the analogy between the world natural and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic. Accordingly, the world natural, consisting of heaven and earth, signifies the whole world politic, consisting of thrones and people, or so much of it as is considered in prophecy; and the things in that world signify analogous things in this. For the heavens and the things therein signify thrones and dignities, and those who enjoy them: and the earth, with the things thereon, the inferior people; and the lowest parts of the earth, called Hades or Hell, the lowest or most miserable part of them. Great earthquakes, and the shaking of heaven and earth, are put for the shaking of kingdoms, so as to distract and overthrow them; the creating of a new heaven and new earth, and the passing of an old one; or the beginning and end of a world, for the rise and ruin of a body politic signified thereby. The sun, for the whole species and race of kings, in the kingdoms of the world politic; the moon, for the body of the common people considered as the king’s wife; the stars, for subordinate princes and great men; or for bishops and rulers of the people of God, when the sun is Christ. Setting of the sun, moon, and stars; darkening the sun, turning the moon into blood, and falling of the stars, —for the ceasing of a kingdom.’9
We will only quote in addition the excellent remarks of a judicious expositor—Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh:—
‘"Heaven and earth passing away," understood literally, is the dissolution of the present system of the universe; and the period when that is to take place is called "the end of the world." But a person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament scriptures knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens. For example,"Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." "For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain". (Isa. 65:17, 66:22) The period of the close of the one dispensation and the commencement of the other is spoken of as "the last days," and "the end of the world," and is described as such a shaking of the earth and heavens as should lead to the removal of the things which were shaken.’ (Hag. 2:6, Heb. 12:26, 27)10
It appears, then, that if Scripture be the best interpreter of Scripture, we have in the Old Testament a key to the interpretation of the prophecies in the New. The same symbolism is found in both, and the imagery of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets helps us to understand the imagery of St. Matthew, St. Peter, and St. John. As the dissolution of the material world is not necessary to fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, neither is it necessary to the accomplishment of the predictions of the New Testament. But though symbols are metaphorical expressions, they are not unmeaning. It is not necessary to allegorize them, and find a corresponding equivalent for every trope; it is sufficient to regard the imagery as employed to heighten the sublimity of the prediction and to clothe it with impressiveness and grandeur. There are, at the same time, a true propriety and an underlying reality in the symbols of prophecy. The moral and spiritual facts which they represent, the social and ecumenical changes which they typify, could not be adequately set forth by language less majestic and sublime. There is reason for believing that an inadequate apprehension of the real grandeur and significance of such events as the destruction of Jerusalem and the abrogation of the Jewish economy lies at the root of that system of interpretation which maintains that nothing answering to the symbols of New Testament prophecy has ever taken place. Hence the uncritical and unscriptural figments of double senses, and double, triple, and multiple fulfilments of prophecy. That physical disturbances in nature and extraordinary phenomena in the heavens and in the earth may have accompanied the expiring throes of the Jewish dispensation we are not prepared to deny. It seems to us highly probable that such things were. But the literal fulfilment of the symbols is not essential to the verification of the prophecy, which is abundantly proved to be true by the recorded facts of history.
Dr. John Owen ‘On the ‘New Heavens and Earth.’ (2 Pet. 3:13)
‘The apostle makes a distribution of the world into heaven and earth, and saith they were destroyed with water, and perished. We know that neither the fabric nor substance of the one or other was destroyed, but only men that liveth on the earth; and the apostle tells us (2 Pet. 3:7) of the heaven and earth that were then, and were destroyed by water, distinct from the heavens and the earth that were now, and were to be consumed by fire; and yet as to the visible fabric of heaven and earth they were the same both before the flood and in the apostle’s time, and continue so to this day; when yet it is certain that the heavens and earth, whereof he spake, were to be destroyed and consumed by fire in that generation. We must, then, for the clearing of our foundation a little, consider what the apostle intends by the heavens and the earth in these two places.’
‘1. It is certain that what the apostle intends by the world, with its heaven, and earth, (2 Pet. 3:5, 6) which was destroyed; the same, or some-what of that kind, he intends by the heavens and the earth that were to be consumed and destroyed by fire; (2 Pet. 3:7) otherwise there would be no coherence in the apostle’s discourse, nor any kind of argument, but a mere fallacy of words.’
‘2. It is certain that by the flood, the world, or the fabric of heaven and earth, was not destroyed, but only the inhabitants of the world; and therefore the destruction intimated to succeed by fire is not of the substance of the heavens and the earth, which shall not be consumed until the last day, but of person or men living in the world.’
‘3. Then we must consider in what sense men living in the world are said to be the world, and the heavens and earth of it. I shall only insist on one instance to this purpose among many that may be produced:. (Isa. 51:15, 16) The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God was when He divided the sea (Isa. 51:15) and gave the law, (Isa. 51:16) and said to Zion, Thou art my people; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state; then He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And since it is that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language which seems to set forth the end of the world. So, (Isa. 34:4) which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. The like also is affirmed of the Roman Empire, (Rev. 6:14) which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24) He sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident, then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by heavens and earth, the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, were often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which then was destroyed by the flood.’
‘4. On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state; for which I shall offer these two reasons, of many that might be insisted on from the text:—’
‘(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation; and, besides, an ample testimony both to the one and the other of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was the thing in question between them.’
‘(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of, (2 Pet. 3:7-13) "We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth," etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, (Isa. 65:17). Now, when shall this be that God shall create these new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Saith Peter, "It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell." But now it is evident from this place of Isaiah, with, (Isa. 66:21, 22) that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed.’ (Heb. 12:26-28)
‘This being the design of the place, I shall not insist longer on the context, but briefly open the words proposed, and fix upon the truth continued in them.’
‘First, There is the foundation of the apostle’s inference and exhortation, [toutwn oun pantwn luomenwn] seeing that all these things, however precious they seem, or what value soever any put upon them, shall be dissolved, that is, destroyed; and that in that dreadful and fearful manner before mentioned, in a day of judgment, wrath, and vengeance, by fire and sword; let others mock at the threats of Christ’s coming: He will come—He will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, —the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, —the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.’
‘There is no outward constitution nor frame of things in government or nations, but it is subject to a dissolution, and may receive it, and that in a way of judgment. If any might plead exemption, that, on many accounts, of which the apostle was discoursing in prophetical terms (for it was not yet time to speak it openly to all) might interpose for its share.’11
The Rev. F. D. Maurice on ‘the Last Time.’ (1 John 2:18)
‘How could St. John say that his time was the last time? Has not the world lasted nearly one thousand eight hundred years since he left it? May it not last yet many years more?’
‘You will be told by many that not only St. John, but St. Paul, and all the apostles, laboured under the delusion that the end of all things was approaching in their day. People say so who are not in general disposed to undervalue their authority; some adopt the opinion practically, though they may not express it in words, who hold that the writers of the Bible were never permitted to make a mistake in the most trifling point. I do not say that; it would not shake my faith in them to find that they had erred in names or points of chronology. But if I supposed they had been misled themselves, and had misled their disciples, on so capital a subject as this of Christ’s coming to judgment, and of the latter days, I should be greatly perplexed. For it is a subject to which they are constantly referring. It is a part of their deepest faith. It mingles with all their practical exhortations. If they were wrong here, I cannot myself see where they can have been right.’
‘I have found their language on this subject of the greatest possible use to me in explaining the method of the Bible; the course of God’s government over nations and over individuals; the life of the world before the time of the apostles, during their time, and in all the centuries since. If we will do them the justice which we owe to every writer, inspired or uninspired, —if we will allow them to interpret themselves, instead of forcing our interpretations upon them, we shall, I think, understand a little more of their work, and of ours. If we take their words simply and literally respecting the judgment and the end which they were expecting in their day, we shall know what position they were occupying with respect to their forefathers and to us. And in place of a very vague, powerless, and artificial conception of the judgment which we are to look for, we shall learn what our needs are by theirs; how God will fulfil all His words to us by the way in which He fulfilled His words to them.’
‘It is not a new notion, but a very old and common one, that the history of the world is divided into certain great periods. In our days the conviction that there is a broad distinction between ancient and modern history has been forcing itself more and more upon thoughtful men. M. Guizot dwells especially upon the unity and universality of modern history, as contrasted with the division of ancient history into a set of nations which had scarcely any common sympathies. The question is, where to find the boundary between these two periods. About these, students have made many guesses; most of them have been plausible and suggestive of truths; some very confusing; none, I think, satisfactory. One of the most popular, —that which supposes modern history to begin when the barbarous tribes settled themselves in Europe, would be quite fatal to M. Guizot’s doctrine. For that settlement, although it was a most important and indispensable event to modern civilisation, was the temporary breaking up of a unity which had existed before. It was like the re-appearance of that separation of tribes and races, which he supposes to have been the especial characteristic of the former world.’
‘Now, may we expect any light upon this subject in the Bible? I do not think it would fulfil its pretensions if we might not. It professes to set forth the ways of God to nations and to mankind. We might be well content that it should tell us very little about physical laws; we might be content that it should be silent about the courses of the planets and law of gravitation. God may have other ways of making these secrets known to His creatures. But that which concerns the moral order of the world and the spiritual progress of human beings falls directly within the province of the Bible. No one could be satisfied with it if it was dumb respecting these. And accordingly all who suppose it is dumb here, however much importance they may attach to what they call its religious character, —however much they may suppose their highest interests to depend upon a belief in its oracles, are obliged to treat it as a very disjointed fragmentary volume. They afford the best excuse for those who say that it is not a whole book, as we have thought it, but a collection of the sayings and opinions of certain authors, in different ages, not very consistent with each other. On the other hand, there has been the strongest conviction in the minds of ordinary readers, as well as of students, that the book does tell us how the ages past, and the ages to come, are concerned in the unveiling of God’s mysteries, —what part one country and another has played in His great drama, —to what point all the lines in His providence are converging. The immense interest which has been taken in prophecy, —an interest not destroyed, nor even weakened, by the numerous disappointments which men’s theories about it have had to encounter, is a proof how deep and widely-spread this conviction is. Divines endeavour in vain to recall simple and earnest readers from the study of the prophecies by urging that they have not leisure for such a pursuit, and that they ought to busy themselves with what is more practical. If their consciences tell them that there is some ground for the warning, they yet feel as if they could not heed it altogether. They are sure that they have an interest in the destinies of their race, as well as in their own individual destiny. They cannot separate the one from the other; they must believe that there is light somewhere about both. I dare not discourage such an assurance. If we hold it strongly, it may be a great instrument of raising us out of our selfishness. I am only afraid lest we should lose it, as we certainly shall if we contract the habit of regarding the Bible as a book of puzzles and conundrums, and of looking restlessly for certain outward events to happen at certain dates that we have fixed upon as those which the prophets and apostles have set down. The cure for such follies, which are very serious indeed, lies not in the neglect of prophecy, but in more earnest meditation upon it; remembering that prophecy is not a set of loose predictions, like the sayings of the fortune-teller, but an unfolding of Him whose going forth are from everlasting; who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever; whose acts in one generation are determined by the same laws as His acts in another.’
‘If I should ever speak to you of the Apocalypse of St. John I shall have to enter much more at large on this subject. But so much I have said to introduce the remark that the Bible treats the downfall of the Jewish polity as the winding-up of a great period in human history and as the commencement of another great period. John the Baptist announces the presence of One ‘whose fan is in his hand; and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ The evangelists say, that by these words he denoted that Jesus of Nazareth, who afterwards went down into the waters of Jordan, and as He came out of it was declared to be the Son of God, and on whom the Spirit descended in a bodily shape.’
‘We are wont to separate Jesus the Saviour from Jesus the King and the Judge. They do not. They tell us from the first that He came preaching a kingdom of heaven. They tell us of His doing acts of judgment as well as acts of deliverance. They report the tremendous words which He spoke to Pharisees and Scribes, as well as the Gospel which He preached to publicans and sinners. And before the end of His ministry, when His disciples were asking Him about the buildings of the temple, He spoke plainly of a judgment which He, the Son of man, should execute before that generation was over. And to make it clear that He meant us to understand Him strictly and literally, He added, —‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ This discourse, which is carefully reported to us by St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke, does not stand aloof from the rest of His discourses and parables, nor from the rest of His deeds. They all contain the same warning. They are gracious and merciful, —far more gracious and merciful than we have even supposed them to be; they are witnesses of a gracious and merciful Being; but they are witnesses that those who did not like that Being just because this was His character, —who sought for another being like themselves, that is, for an ungracious and unmerciful being—would have their houses left to them desolate.’
‘When, therefore, the apostles went forth after our Lord’s ascension, to preach His Gospel and baptize in His name, their first duty was to announce that Jesus whom the rulers of Jerusalem had crucified was both Lord and Christ; their second was to preach remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit in His name; their third was to foretell the coming of a great and terrible day of the Lord, and to say to all who hear, ‘Save yourself from this untoward generation.’ It was the language which St. Peter used on the day of Pentecost, ; it was adopted with such variations as befitted the circumstances of the hearers by all who were entrusted with the Gospel message. It was no doubt peculiarly applicable to the Jews. They had been made the stewards of God’s gifts to the world. They had wasted their Master’s goods, and were to be no longer stewards. But we do not find the apostles confining their language to the Jews. St. Paul, speaking at Athens, —speaking in words specially appropriate to a cultivated, philosophical, heathen city, —declares that God ‘has appointed a day in the which he will judge the world by that Man whom he hath ordained,’ and points to the resurrection from the dead as determining who that Man is. Why was this? Because apostles believed that the rejection of the Jewish people was the manifestation of the Son of Man; a witness to all nations who their King was; a call to all nations to cast away their idols and confess Him. The Gospel was to explain the meaning of the great crisis which was about to occur; to tell the Gentiles as well as the Jews what it would imply; to announce it as nothing less than the commencement of a new era in the world’s history, when the crucified Man would claim an universal empire, and would contend with the Roman Caesar as well as with all other tyrants of the earth who should set up their claims against His.’
‘This Scriptural view of the ordering of times and seasons entirely harmonizes with that conclusion at which M. Guizot has arrived by an observation of facts. Our Lord’s birth nearly coincided with the establishment of the Roman Empire in the person of Augustus Caesar. That empire aspired to crush the nations and to establish a great world supremacy. The Jewish nation had been the witness against all such experiments in the old world. It had fallen under the Babylonian tyranny, but it had risen again. And the time which followed its captivity was the great time of the awakening of national life of Europe, —the time in which the Greek republics flourished, —the time in which the Roman Republic commenced its grand career.’
‘The Jewish nation had been overcome by the armies of the Roman Republic; still it retained the ancient signs of its nationality, its law, its priesthood, its temple. These looked ridiculous and insignificant to the Roman emperors, even to the Roman governors who ruled the little province of Judea, or the larger province of Syria, in which it was often reckoned. But they found the Jews very troublesome. Their nationality was of a peculiar kind, and of unusual strength. When they were most degraded they could not part with it. They would stir up endless rebellions, in the hope of recovering what they had lost, and of establishing the universal kingdom which they believed was intended for them, and not for Rome. The preaching of our Lord declared to them that there was such an universal kingdom, —that He, the Son of David, had come to set it up on the earth. The Jews dreamed of another kind of kingdom, with another kind of king. They wanted a Jewish kingdom, which should trample upon the nations, just as the Roman Empire was trampling upon them; they wanted a Jewish king who should be in all essentials like the Roman Caesar. It was a dark, horrible, hateful conception; it combined all that is narrowest in the most degraded exclusive form of nationality, with all that is cruellest, most destructive of moral and personal life in the worst form of imperialism. It gathered up into itself all that was worst in the history of the past. It was a shadowing forth of what should be worst in the coming time. The apostles announced that the accursed ambition of the Jews would be utterly disappointed. They said that a new age was at hand—the universal age, the age of the Son of man, which would be preceded by a great crisis that would shake not earth only, but also heaven: not that only which belonged to time, but also all that belonged to the spiritual world, and to man’s relations with it. They said that this shaking would be that it might be seen what there was which could not be shaken—which must abide.’
‘I have tried thus to show you what St. John mean by the last time, if he spoke the same language as our Lord spoke, and as the other apostles spoke. I cannot tell what physical changes he or they may have looked for. Physical phenomena are noticed at that time, —famines, plagues, earthquakes. Whether they, or any of them, supposed that these indicated more alteration in the surface or the substance of the earth than they did indicate, I cannot tell; these are not the points upon which I look for information if they gave it. That they did not anticipate the passing away of the earth, —what we call the destruction of the earth, —is clear from this, that the new kingdom they spoke of was to be a kingdom on earth as well as a kingdom of heaven. But their belief that such a kingdom had been set up, and would make its power felt as soon as the old nation was scattered, has, I think, been abundantly verified by fact. I do not see how we can understand modern history properly till we accept that belief.’12
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1. Jahn's Hebrew Commonwealth, chap ii. section 9
2. Antiquities, bk. xviii, c. ix. Sec. 8, 9.
3. Biblical Cabinet, No. xvii. p. 16.
4. History of the Jews, c. ix. Sec. 10.
5. Pliny’s words are:—‘Babylon Chaldaicarum gentium caput diu summam claritatem obtinuit in toto orbe, propter quam reliqua pars Mesopotamiae Assyriaeque Babylonia appellata est.... Durat adhuc ibi Jovis Bell templum. Inventa hic fuit sideralis scientia. Caetero ad solitudinem rediit, exhausta vicinitate Seleucia.’—Natural History, bk. vi. c. xxx.
6. Steiger on 1 Peter. Biblical Cabinet, vol. ii. p. 315.
7. Professor Burton’s Bampton Lecture, p. 20.
8. Alford, Greek Testament, in loc.
9. Sir Isaac Newton, Observations on the Prophecies, Part i. chap. ii.
10. Discourses and Sayings of our Lord, vol. i. pp. 199, 200.
11. Dr. Owen’s Sermon on 2 Pet. 3:11. Works, folio, 1721.
12. The Epistles of St. John, by F.D. Maurice, M.A., Lect. ix.