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§ 3. The Personal Advent of Christ.
It is admitted that the words “coming of the Lord” are often used in Scripture for any signal manifestation of his presence either for judgment or for mercy. When Jesus promised to manifest Himself to his disciples, “Judas saith unto Him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John xiv. 22, 23.) There is a coming of Christ, true and real, which is not outward and visible. Thus also in the epistle to the Church in Pergamos it is said: “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly.” (Rev. ii. 16.) This form of expression is used frequently in the Bible. There are, therefore, many commentators who explain everything said in the New Testament of the second coming of Christ, of the spiritual manifestation of his power. Thus Mr. Alger, to cite a single example of this school, says: “The Hebrews called any signal manifestation of power — especially any dreadful calamity — a coming of the Lord. It was a coming of Jehovah when his vengeance strewed 793the ground with the corpses of Sennacherib’s host; when its storm swept Jerusalem as with fire, and bore Israel into bondage; when its sword came down upon Idumea and was bathed in blood upon Edom. ‘The day of the Lord’ is another term of precisely similar import. It occurs in the Old Testament about fifteen times. In every instance it means some mighty manifestation of God’s power in calamity. These occasions are pictured forth with the most astounding figures of speech.”834834Alger’s Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life. Philadelphia, 1864, p. 319. On the following page he says he fully believes that the evangelists and early Christians understood the language of Christ in reference to his second coming, as predictions of a personal and visible advent, connected with a resurrection and a general judgment, but he more than doubts whether such was the meaning of Christ Himself. (1.) Because he says nothing of a resurrection of the dead. (2.) The figures which He uses are precisely those which the Jewish prophets employed in predicting “great and signal events on the earth.” (3.) Because He “fixed the date of the events He referred to within that generation.” Christ he thinks, meant to teach that his “truths shall prevail and shall be owned as the criteria of Divine judgment. According to them,” he understands Christ to say, “all the righteous shall be distinguished as my subjects, and all the iniquitous shall be separated from my kingdom. Some of those standing here shall not taste death till all these things be fulfilled. Then it will be seen that I am the Messiah, and that through the eternal principles of truth which I have proclaimed I shall sit upon a throne of glory, — not literally, in person, as you thought, blessing the Jews and cursing the Gentiles, but spiritually, in the truth, dispensing joy to good men and woe to bad men, according to their deserts.” It is something to have it admitted that the Apostles and early Christians believed in the personal advent of Christ. What the Apostles believed we are bound to believe; for St. John said “He that knoweth God, heareth us.” That the New Testament does teach a second, visible, and glorious appearing of the Son of God, is plain: —
1. From the analogy between the first and second advents. The rationalistic Jews would have had precisely the same reasons for believing in a more spiritual coming of the Messiah as modern rationalists have for saying that his second coming is to be spiritual. The advent in both cases is predicted in very nearly the same terms. If, therefore, his first coming was in person and 794visible, so his second coming must be. The two advents are often spoken of in connection, the one illustrating the other. He came the first time as the Lamb of God bearing the sins of the world; He is to come “the second time, without sin, unto salvation.” (Heb. ix. 28.) God, said the apostle Peter, “shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts iii. 20, 21.) Christ is now invisible to us, having been received up into heaven. He is to remain thus invisible, until God shall send him at the restitution of all things.
2. In many places it is directly asserted that his appearing is to be personal and visible. At the time of his ascension, the angels said to his disciples: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts i. 11.) His second coming is to be as visible as his ascension. They saw Him go; and they shall see him come. In Matt. xxvi. 64, it is said, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven;” Matt. xxiv. 30, “Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Luke xxi. 27, “Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud.”
3. The circumstances attending the second advent prove that it is to be personal and visible. It is to be in the clouds; with power and great glory; with the holy angels and all the saints; and it is to be with a shout and the voice of the archangel.
4. The effects ascribed to his advent prove the same thing. All the tribes of the earth shall mourn; the dead, both small and great are to arise; the wicked shall call on the rocks and hills to cover them; the saints are to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air; and the earth and the heavens are to flee away at his presence.
5. That the Apostles understood Christ to predict his second coming in person does not admit of doubt. Indeed almost all the rationalistic commentators teach that the Apostles fully believed and even taught that the second advent with all its glorious consequences would occur in their day. Certain it is that they believed that He would come visibly and with great glory, and that 795they held his coming as the great object of expectation and desire. Indeed Christians are described as those who “are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. i. 7); as those who are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. ii. 13) (it is to them who look for Him, He is to “appear the second time, without sin unto salvation,” Heb. ix. 28); as those who are expecting and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God. (2 Pet. iii. 12.) It is a marked characteristic of the apostolic writings that they give such prominence to the doctrine of the second advent. “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come. (1 Cor. iv. 5.) “Christ the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (1 Cor. xv. 23.) Ye are our rejoicing “in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (2 Cor. i. 14.) “He . . . . will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. i. 6.) “That I may rejoice in the day of Christ.” (ii. 16.) “Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (iii. 20.) “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” (Col. iii. 4.) “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. i. 10.) “What is our hope, . . . . are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (ii. 19.) “Unblamable in holiness . . . . at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” (iii. 13.) “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord . . . . shall be caught up . . . . in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (iv. 15-17.) In his second epistle he assures the Thessalonians that they shall have rest, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven.” (2 Thess. i. 7.) The coming of Christ, however, he tells them was not at hand; there must come a great falling away first. Paul said to Timothy, “Keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Tim. vi. 14.) “There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. iv. 8.) The epistles of Peter afford the same evidence of the deep hold which the promise of Christ’s second coming had taken on the minds of the Apostles and of all the early Christians. He tells his readers that they “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time . . . . that the trial of your faith. . . . 796might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. i. 5-7.) Men are to “give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” (iv. 5.) “Rejoice that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (verse 13.) “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory.” (v. 4.) ” We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty.” (2 Pet. i. 16). The transfiguration on the mount was a type and pledge of the glory of the second advent. The Apostle warns the disciples that scoffers would come “saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” In answer to this objection, he reminds them that the threatened deluge was long delayed, but came at last; that time is not with God as it is with us; that with Him a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years. He repeats the assurance that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein, shall be burned up.” (2 Peter iii. 3-10.)
From all these passages, and from the whole drift of the New Testament, it is plain, (1.) That the Apostles fully believed that there is to be a second coming of Christ. (2.) That his coming is to be in person, visible and glorious. (3.) That they kept this great event constantly before their own minds, and urged it on the attention of the people, as a motive to patience, constancy, joy, and holy living. (4.) That the Apostles believed that the second advent of Christ would be attended by the general resurrection, the final judgment, and the end of the world.
As already intimated, it is objected to this view of the prophe cies of the New Testament referring to the Second Advent, —
1. That the first advent of Christ is predicted in the Old Testament in nearly as glowing terms as his second coming is set forth in the New Testament. He was to come in the clouds of heaven; with great pomp and power; all nations were to be subject to Him; all people were to be gathered before Him; the stars were to fall from heaven; the sun was to be darkened, and the moon to be turned into blood. These descriptions were not realized by the event; and are understood to refer to the great changes in the state of the world to be effected by his coming. 797It is unreasonable, therefore, as it is agreed, to expect anything like a literal fulfilment of these New Testament prophecies. To this it may be answered, (1.) That in the Old Testament the Messianic period is described as a whole. The fact that the Messiah was to come and establish an everlasting kingdom which was to triumph over all opposition, and experience a glorious consummation, is clearly foretold. All these events were, so to speak, included in the same picture; but the perspective was not preserved. The prophecies were not intended to give the chronological order of the events foretold. Hence the consummation of the Messiah’s kingdom is depicted as in immediate proximity with his appearance in the flesh. This led almost all the Jews, and even the disciples of Christ themselves, before the day of Pentecost, to look for the immediate establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom in its glory. Such being the character of the Old Testament prophecies, it cannot be fairly inferred that they have as yet received their full accomplishment; or that they are now being fulfilled in the silent progress of the Gospel. They include the past and the present, but much remains to be accomplished in the future more in accordance with their literal meaning. (2.) The character of the predictions in the New Testament does not admit of their being made to refer to any spiritual coming of Christ or to the constant progress of his Church. They evidently refer to a single event; to an event in the future, not now in progress; an event which shall attract the attention of all nations, and be attended by the resurrection of the dead, the complete salvation of the righteous, and the condemnation of the wicked. (3.) A third answer to the objection under consideration is, that the Apostles, as is conceded, understood the predictions of Christ concerning his second coming, in the way in which they have been understood by the Church, as a whole, from that day to this.
2. A second objection to the common Church view of the eschatology of the New Testament is, that our Lord expressly says that the events which He foretold were to come to pass during that generation. His words are, “Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” This objection is founded upon the pregnant discourse of Christ recorded in the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of Matthew. It is to be remarked that those chapters contain the answer which Christ gave to three questions addressed to Him by his disciples; first, when the destruction of the temple and of 798Jerusalem was to occur second, what was to be the sign of his coming; and third, when the end of the world was to take place. The difficulty in interpreting this discourse is, to determine its relation to these several questions. There are three methods of interpretation which have been applied to this passage. The first assumes that the whole of our Lord’s discourse refers but to one question, namely, When was Jerusalem to be destroyed and Christ’s kingdom to be inaugurated; the second adopts the theory of what used to be called the double sense of prophecy; that is, that the same words or prediction refer to one event in one sense, and to a different event in a higher sense; the third assumes that one part of our Lord’s predictions refers exclusively to one of the questions asked, and that other portions refer exclusively to the other questions.
The rationalistic interpreters adopt the first method and refer everything to the overthrow of the Jewish polity, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the inauguration of the Church which is to do its work of judgment in the earth. Some evangelical interpreters also assume that our Lord answers the three questions put to Him as one, as they constituted in fact but one in the minds of his disciples, since they believed that the three events, the destruction of Jerusalem, the second coming of Christ, and the end of the world, were all to occur together. Thus Luthardt says: “There are three questions according to the words; but only one in the minds of the disciples, as they did not consider the three events, the destruction of Jerusalem, the second coming of Christ, and the end of the world, as separated chronologically; but as three great acts in the final drama of the world’s history.”835835Die Lehre von den letzen Dingen in Abhandlungen und Schriftauslegungen dargestellt, von Chr. Ernst Luthardt, der Theologie Doktor und Professor zu Leipzig. Leipzig, 1861, p. 87. In this sense our Lord, he adds, answered their inquiries. He does not separate the different subjects, so as to speak first of one and then of another; but he keeps all ever in view. “It is the method,” he says, “of Biblical prophecy, which our Lord observes, always to predict the one great end and all else and what is preparatory, only so far as it stands in connection with that end and appears as one of its elements.”836836Ibid. pp. 87, 88. Although, therefore, the prophecy of Christ extends to events in the distant future, He could say that that generation should not pass away until all was fulfilled; for the destruction of Jerusalem was the commencement of that work of judgment which Christ foretold.799
According to this view, the first method of interpretation differs very little from the second of those above mentioned. Both suppose that the same words or descriptions are intended to refer to two or more events very different in their nature and in the time of their occurrence. Isaiah’s prediction of the great deliverance which God was to effect for his people, was so framed as to answer both to the redemption of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, and to the greater redemption by the Messiah. It was in fact and equally a prediction of both events. The former was the type, and the first step toward the accomplishment of the other. So also in the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, the spiritual redemption, and the final judgment, are blended together. As, therefore, in the Old Testament the Messianic prophecies took in the whole scope of God’s dealings with his people, including their deliverance from Babylon and their redemption by Christ, so as to make it doubtful what refers to the former and what to the latter event; so this discourse of Christ may be considered as taking in the whole history of his kingdom, including his great work of judgment in casting out the Jews and calling the Gentiles, as well as the final consummation of his work. Thus everything predicted of the final judgment had its counterpart in what was fulfilled in that generation.
The third method of interpretation is greatly to be preferred, if it can be successfully carried out. Christ does in fact answer the three questions presented by his disciples. He told when the temple and the city were to be destroyed; it was when they should see Jerusalem compassed about with armies. He told them that the sign of the coming of the Son of Man was to be great defection in the Church, dreadful persecutions, and all but irresistible temptations, and that with his coming were to be connected the final judgment and the end of the world; but that the time when those events were to occur, was not given unto them to know, nor even to the angels of heaven. (Matt. xxiv. 36.)
If this be the method of interpreting these important predictions,
then the declaration contained in Matt. xxiv. 34, “This generation shall not pass,
till all these things be fulfilled,” must be restricted to the “all things spoken
of, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the inauguration of the Church
as Christ’s kingdom on earth. There is, however, high authority for making
ἡ γενεὰ αὗτη, here and in the parallel passages, Mark
xiii. 30 and Luke xxi. 32, refer to Israel as a people or race; in 800this case the
meaning would be that the Jews would not cease to be a distinct people until his
predictions were fulfilled.837837 Dorner. De Oratione Christi Eschatologica, Tractatus Theologicus.
Stuttgart, 1844, pp. 76-86.
C. A. Auberlen, The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelations of St. John. Translated by Rev. Adolph Saphir, Edinburgh, 1856, p. 354. “The Lord Jesus himself,” says Auberlen, “prophesied (Matthew xxiv. 34), that Israel was to be preserved during the entire Church-historical period.” There is nothing, therefore, in this discourse of Christ’s inconsistent with the common Church doctrine as to the nature and concomitants of his Second Advent.
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