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§ 254. Christ’s Prediction of the Coming of the Kingdom of God, and of his Second Advent. (Mark, xiii.; Matt., xxiv.)

Christ had left the Temple with the disciples. They were admiring the external splendour of the edifice, and he, still full of prophecy, took advantage of it to tell them that all this magnificence should be swept away in the general ruin of the city. These intimations kindled an anxious curiosity in their minds, and when they were alone with him, upon the Mount of Olives, they questioned him closely as to the signs by which the approaching catastrophe could be known, and the time when it should take place.


It was certainly far from Christ’s intention to give them a complete view of the course of developement of the kingdom of God up to its final consummation. He imparted only so, much as was necessary to guard them against deception, to stimulate their watchfulness, and confirm their confidence that the end, would come at last. Much, indeed, was at that time beyond their comprehension, and could only be made clear by the enlightening influence of the Spirit, and by the progress of events. Indeed, if they had fully understood the intimations he had previously given, they might have spared themselves many questions. It was always Christ’s method to cast into their minds the seeds of truth, that were only to spring up into full consciousness at a later period. This was especially the case in his prophecies of the future progress and prospects of the kingdom of God. A clear and connected knowledge on that point was not essential to the preachers of his Gospel. Many predictions had necessarily to remain obscure until the time of their fulfilment. He himself says (Matt., xxiv., 36; Mark, xiii., 32) that the day and. hour of the final decision are known only to the counsels of the Father; and, as it would be trifling to refer this to the precise “day and hour,” rather than to the time in general, it could not have been his purpose to give definite information on the subject. To know the time, presupposed a knowledge of the hidden causes of events, of the actions and reactions of free beings—a prescience which none but the Father could have; unless we suppose, what Christ expressly denies, that He had received it by a special Divine revelation. Not that he could err, but that his knowledge was conscious of its limits;. although he knew the progress of events, and saw the, slow course of their developement,684684   Cf. p 80, on the Plan of Jesus, and 189. seq., on the Parables of the Kingdom of God. as no mortal could.

When, therefore, Christ speaks in this discourse of the great import of his coming for the history of the world, of his triumphant self-manifestation, and of the beginning of his kingdom, he betokens thereby partly his triumph in the destruction of the visible Theocracy, and its results in the freer and wider diffusion of his kingdom, and partly his second advent for its consummation. The judgment over the degenerate Theocracy; and the final judgment of the world; the first free developement of the kingdom of God, and its final and glorious consummation, correspond to each other: the former, in each case, prefiguring the latter. And so, in general, all great epochs of the world’s history, in which God reveals himself as Judge, condemning a creation ripe for destruction, and calling a new one into being; all critical and creative epochs of the world’s history correspond to each other, and collectively prefigure the last judgment and the last creation—the consummation of the kingdom of God.

If Christ had been but a prophet, we might indeed suppose that the 369image of the glorious future which unveiled itself to his seeing glance in moments of inspiration, was involuntarily blended in his mind with the realities of the present; and that events, separated by long intervals of time, presented themselves as closely joined together. But we must here distinguish between the conscious truth and the defective forms in which it was apprehended; between the revelation of the Divine Spirit in itself, and the hues which it took from the narrowness of human apprehension, and the forms of the time in which it was delivered. In Christ, however, we can recognize no blending of truth with error, no alloy of the truth as it appeared to his own mind.685685   Cf. p. 80. What we have already said is enough to show that this could not coexist with the expositions given by him of the kingdom of God. But it is easy to explain how points of time which He kept apart, although he presented them as counterparts of each other, without assigning any express duration to either, were blended together in the apprehension of his hearers, or in their subsequent repetitions of his language.686686   It was peculiar as we have seen, to the editor of our Greek Matthew to arrange together congenial sayings of Christ, though uttered at different times and in different relations; and we have remarked this (p. 318, note 2) in reference to the discourse in Matt., xxiv. We need not, therefore, wonder if we find it impossible to draw the lines of distinction in this discourse with entire accuracy; nor need such a result lead us to forced interpretations, inconsistent with truth and with the love of truth. It is much easier to make such distinctions in Luke’s account (ch. xxi.), though even that is not without its difficulties. In comparing Matthew and Luke together, however, we can trace the origin of most of these difficulties to the blending of different portions together, when the discourses of Christ were arranged in collections. It is true, Strauss and De Wette assert that the form of the discourses in Matthew is much more original than in Luke; that the latter bears marks of a date subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem; and, therefore, that it was remodelled after the event had given its light to the prediction, and shown the falsity of some of the expectations entertained by the disciples. But does the character of the discourse confirm this hypothesis? Would the narrator, in such a case, have left such passages unaltered as xxi., 10, also 18, compared with 16 and 28? It is impossible to carry the hypothesis through consistently with itself; and the natural conclusion is, that Luke has, as usual, given us Christ’s discourses in the most faithful and original way.

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