by T. B. Baines.
Section 2 of: The Lord's Coming, Israel, and the Church.
Chapter 1 God's promises concerning the earth.
Chapter 2 The promises not fulfilled by Christ's first coming.
Chapter 3 God's dealings with Israel and the world.
Chapter 4 The Messianic kingdom established on earth — Old Testament teaching.
Chapter 5 Israel's restoration and blessing — Old Testament teaching.
Chapter 6 Israel's restoration and blessing — Old Testament teaching (continued).
Chapter 7 Christ's reign and Israel's restoration — New Testament teaching.
Chapter 8 "The times and the seasons."
Chapter 9 Brief summary of God's ways.
God's promises concerning the earth.
In our first part, we have seen two classes of hope held out in Scripture — the hope of the believer, the redemption of the body; and the hope of creation, deliverance "from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." This latter is the great subject of the Old Testament prophets. It is effected by the return of Jesus with His saints to execute judgment on the wicked and set up His throne in righteousness.
But why these different modes of acting? Why this long concealment of the heavenly hope, and then, after its fulfilment, a return to the earthly hope, so long announced and so long deferred? The question is one of deepest interest, and, like all other subjects which bring out the counsels and purposes of God, cannot fail, if rightly apprehended, to display in brighter lustre the riches of His glory and the depths of His wisdom. All Scripture is the history of two men, who are thus described — "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the Second Man is the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. 15:47). The New Testament unfolds the heavenly character and the heavenly work of the "Second Man." The Old Testament treats of the relations of these two men with the earth. It records the history of the first man, created in innocence, falling under the power of sin, and ever manifesting in darker colours his ruin and his alienation from God. It foretells the triumphs of the Second Man, who retrieves the ruin brought in by the first, and glorifies God in the scene in which sin has dishonoured Him. It was the entrance of sin and the ruin of the first creation, that gave God the opportunity (if we may so speak) of bringing forth this Second Man, in whom all the glories of His person are displayed and all the treasures of His love unfolded. We shall see the character and extent of the ruin, and the failure of the first man in every position in which God placed him; and we shall see how the Second Man takes up the broken thread, and carries to perfection the Divine purposes.
This will appear very plainly if we look at the various promises of blessing made to man on the earth. I shall show that none of these promises have yet received their complete (some of them not even a partial) fulfilment and that all await their perfect accomplishment in the "revelation" of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, according to the New Testament prophecies at which we have already glanced. The promises might be classified in various ways, but for our present purpose it will be sufficient to enumerate the following leading features:
First — That the woman's seed should bruise the serpent's head;
Second — That in Abraham's seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed;
Third — That Abraham's seed should possess the land of Canaan and should be head of the nations;
Fourth — That David's seed should reign over the earth, and that of his kingdom there should be no end.
I. Man was created innocent. His state in innocence was one of dependence upon God, subjection to Him, and communion with Him; of entire freedom from disease and death; and of headship over a creation which God had blessed and pronounced very good. But Satan, working on man's self-will and unbelief, brought in sin, and all was ruined. Man lost the sense of dependence upon God, and gained an evil heart of unbelief. He exchanged subjection to God for subjection to Satan; communion with God for alienation and a desire to hide from His presence. He became the prey of disease and death. The physical world, the very ground, was cursed for his sake, so that from that hour "the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now." But while the first man is thus ruined, God speaks of One named "the woman's seed," to whom the earliest promise is given. Adam had been overcome by Satan; but the woman's seed was to vanquish the victor, and though Himself wounded in the conflict, was to crush the head of the destroyer.
Two things are here noticeable. First, in the curse pronounced on Adam, not a word is said about anything beyond death. God's blessing on man had only set him on the earth as its head and ruler; and, the curse goes no further than to revoke the earthly blessing. This is important as defining the sphere of Old Testament truth. From the New Testament we know that after death comes the judgment, also that the patriarchs desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly," but on these matters the Old Testament is silent. Hence it is clear that the scope of the Old Testament is only God's purposes about the earth. Its silence as to anything after death does not imply that nothing was known; merely that this class of truth is outside its proper sphere, and should not be looked for in this portion of God's Word. The second thing to be observed is, that there is no promise of the removal or mitigation of the curse, no hint of moral or spiritual improvement, given to the first Adam. A promise is given, but it centres in another, the woman's seed. The first man is driven from the garden excluded from the tree of life, left helpless in the grasp of his conqueror. Disease and death, a groaning creation and moral alienation from God, still subsist, the badges of his servitude and the witnesses of his fall. But complete triumph is promised to the Second Man. By Him alone can the enemy of God and the destroyer of man be stripped of his dominion and trampled in the dust.
From these two fountain-heads — the fallen Adam and the woman's seed — flow two streams, the one dark as death, the other rich with the promise of blessing, and ever broadening and deepening into fuller glory. The history of ruined man, the first stream, rolls on in gathering gloom, till it issues in the rejection of the Christ and the reception of the Anti-Christ. The unfolding of God's purposes in his Son, the second stream, also moves on without interruption, each accession of human guilt only adding to its volume, and bringing out the glory of God and His chosen one with more striking beauty. Man left to himself goes on from bad to worse. Science and art flourish, cities are built, wealth accumulates; but the earth was corrupt and filled with violence, and God said, "I will destroy man whom I have created." The flood came, "the world that then was" perished, and Noah issued forth into an earth cleansed from pollution. This earth God blesses, because of the sweet savour, the type of Christ, which he smelled; but man's character remains unchanged. "And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living as I have done. While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease" (Gen. 8:21-22).
But besides the removal of the curse from the soil, God entrusts the sword of government to man, ordaining that "Whoso sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6). Thus man is placed on a renewed earth, and with civil institutions directly sanctioned by God. All however, is of no avail. Noah, so far from showing himself able to govern the earth, cannot even govern himself. Man uses government for the purpose of godless self-exaltation, and it is confounded at Babel. Before Abraham's time the worship of God Himself had been given up for the worship of devils. "Your fathers," says Joshua, "dwelt on the other side of the flood (the river Euphrates) in old time: even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods" (Joshua 24:2). That these other gods were devils we learn elsewhere. "They sacrifice unto devils, not to God," says Moses in his song (Deut. 32:17). And again, "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils" (Ps. 106:37). So, too, the Apostle Paul writes, "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils" (1 Cor. 10:20).
II. But the increasing wickedness of man only serves to show forth more conspicuously the boundless resources of God. He calls Abraham from the midst of this idolatry, leads him forth into a distant land, and there makes to him and to his seed two closely connected but distinct promises. One of these, often repeated, and variously expressed, is thus first announced — "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). This is repeated in almost the same words in Gen. 18:18, but somewhat later, after the obedience shown in giving up Isaac, it takes a different form — "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). In this last shape it is renewed to Isaac (Gen. 26:4). Again Jacob is told — "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 28:14). Now here, though the blessing is said to be in Abraham, it is clear that the seed, and not Abraham, was the object of God's thoughts. Abraham was the root of blessing only as he was the father of this promised seed. This is obvious from the reference made to this promise in the New Testament. "Now to Abraham, and his seed," writes Paul, "were the promises made. He says not And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16). And this is spoken with reference to the whole of the promises, even those in which no mention of the seed was made (v. 8). So that the seed spoken of in these passages is not the nation of Israel, but Christ. Here again, therefore, the promise is not in the first man, but in the Second, that same seed of the woman who, according to the earliest promise, was to crush the head of the serpent.
III. There is, however, another promise given to 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 curses thee" (Gen. 12:2-3). This promise was accompanied by another, "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (v. 7). Still later, Jehovah said to him, "Lift up now thine eyes and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (Gen 13:14-15). The boundaries of the gift are afterward stated "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18); and the perpetuity of the possession is farther guaranteed — "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" (Gen. 17:8). Moreover their supremacy over other nations is promised — "In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen. 22:17). The promise is renewed, without material variation, to Isaac (Gen. 26:3-4). But in the prophetic blessing bestowed on Jacob by his father, we have the addition, "Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee; be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee; cursed be every one that curses thee, and blessed be he that blesses thee" (Gen. 27:29). The same promise is further given to Jacob at Bethel (Gen. 28:13-14), and once more after his return to the land (Gen. 35:11-12). In the vision of Balaam, we have this strain again renewed. "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign-aloes which Jehovah has planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he has as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations, his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion and as a great lion; who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesses thee, and cursed is he that curses thee" (Num. 24:5-9).
Now it is clear from the language spoken to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the seed referred to in these promises is not Christ but a multitude, like the sand of the sea shore; and the words put by the Spirit of God into the mouth of Balaam show that this multitude was the nation of Israel. This may seem at first sight to be at variance with what I have before said — that all the promises refer to Christ, and that all blessings come to the earth through Him. I shall show, however, that the contradiction is only apparent, that these promises have not yet had their fulfilment, but failed through the sin and corruption of the first man, and will only receive their accomplishment when the Second Man is brought forth, and by means of the work He performs.
A short examination of the promises compared with the history of Israel will make it clear that in this history they receive only a very partial and imperfect fulfilment. In the first place, the promises were given to the patriarchs absolutely without condition. But the Israelites have never had an unconditional possession of the land of Canaan. The terms on which they entered were these — "If ye will walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments and do them, then I will give you rain," and other promised blessings. "For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, and establish My covenant with you" (Lev. 26:3-9). "But if ye will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments" … "I will bring the land into desolation, and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it; and I will scatter you among the Gentiles, and will draw out a sword after you; and your land shall be desolate and your cities waste" (Lev. 26:14-33). The same thing is repeated in still stronger language in Deut. 28: The Israelites never had, therefore, anything more than a conditional tenure of the land, and it is needless to say that a conditional gift is no fulfilment of an unconditional promise. This is not left to our own judgment, however, for we are plainly told in the language of Paul, "that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect, For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise, but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (Gal. 3:17-18).
Again, except for a short time in the latter part of David's reign and the beginning of Solomon's, Israel did not possess the gates of her enemies, nor were other nations blessed or cursed according as they blessed or cursed her. On the contrary, her history is one of famine, of servitude, of defeat, ending in complete overthrow and captivity.
Moreover, the boundaries of the land taken possession of by Israel, instead of extending "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates," comprised a mere fraction of this territory. And even within the limited portion which they professedly occupied, no mean part was really in the hands of their enemies.
Lastly, the land was given to the seed of Abraham "for ever," or as it is elsewhere expressed, "for an everlasting possession." That this was not the case with Israel's possession of Canaan is certain. But has the Lord forgotten His promise? Or are we to assume that the promise was not meant for Israel? So far from it, we find that in the same prophecy in which the Lord speaks of the conditional tenure, and foretells the casting out of Israel in case of disobedience, He points forward to the time when the promise made to Abraham will receive its true fulfilment. "When they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them" (Lev. 26:44). He says also — "Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land" (v. 44). And long afterwards the permanence of the covenant is again recalled. "He has remembered his covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations; which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac, and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance" (Ps. 105:8-11). The conditional and temporary possession enjoyed by Israel is not, therefore, the fulfilment of the covenant with the fathers.
We see, then, that Israel never received the promise. A partial fulfilment doubtless took place, and this we still find to be God's general mode of acting. When a promise is given, the first man is tried to see whether he can inherit it. This is the partial fulfilment, and the result invariably is to prove the inability of man after the flesh to receive any blessings from God's hands. This, however, does not cause God to change His purpose, or the promise to remain unfulfilled. He has in reserve, as the focus in which all the promises centre, the Second Man, the man of His own right hand, whom He will bring forth in His own time to receive all that the first man has failed to obtain, and to do all that the first man has failed to accomplish. The Scripture evidence that Israel's national blessing and glory are fulfilled in the reign of Christ as well as the character of that reign, will occupy us hereafter; though when we look, immediately, at the fourth promise, we shall find enough to satisfy us on this point in the present stage of our inquiry.
IV. The third promise awaits, as we have seen, its complete fulfilment. It had, however, a partial and tentative fulfilment in the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan and their subsequent chequered history in the land. At length God called to their head a man after His own heart, and to him He gave the last of the four leading promises above enumerated. The passage containing this promise is remarkable. "I took thee," says the Lord, "from the sheep-cote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel: and I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as before-time, and as since the time that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel. And [I] have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also Jehovah tells thee that He will make thee an house; and when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for My name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be My son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men. But My mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. 7:8-16).
Now this promise evidently has a double application. It refers in part to David's immediate successors, who did commit iniquity and were chastened with the rod of men. But it is manifest that the terms of the prophecy correspond only in very small measure with the history of the Jewish sovereigns, and that nothing has yet taken place at all resembling the permanent dominion here described. There can be no doubt, then, that the prophecy has yet to receive its fulfilment, and that this fulfilment is to be found in "the Second Man." Indeed, the language of Hebrews makes this plain, for there a portion of this prophecy, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to Me a son," is expressly quoted as referring to Christ. And that David himself so understood it, is clear from Peter's language on the day of Pentecost, when he speaks of David as "knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne" (Acts 2:30). But the prophecy brings out another thing, connected with the promise to Abraham we were last considering. Though this prophecy was uttered at the moment of Israel's greatest glory, God speaks of their establishment in peace and security as still future — "I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more;" and He further connects this stable possession with the reign of the Son of David of whom He said — "I will stablish the throne of His kingdom for ever." This dominion of the seed of David is also associated in a prophecy closely resembling the above, with the blessing of the whole earth, promised through the seed of Abraham. Among the glories of the kingdom established by David's Son, we read, "His name shall endure for ever; His name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call Him blessed" (Ps. 72:17).
Thus we find the two promises to Abraham and the promise to David linked together, all awaiting their fulfilment in that Second Man who will take up God's purposes of blessing concerning the earth, and carry them into execution for His glory. Committed to the first man, they have utterly failed. Entrusted to the Second Man, they will be triumphantly accomplished. He it is who will crush the head of the deceiver of the world; He it is in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; He it is that shall deliver Israel out of the hand of her enemies to serve Him without fear; He it is who shall have dominion from sea to sea, and of whose kingdom there shall be no end. He alone, as the myriads of angels declare, is "worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing."
The promises not fulfilled by Christ's first coming.
The question now arises, When and how do these promises receive their fulfilment? It is agreed that so far as they are yet unaccomplished, they will receive it in the person and work of Christ. But here the agreement ends. Most interpreters hold that the promise as to the land has already been fulfilled, and that the other promises either have been, or will be, fulfilled as the immediate or ultimate result of the first coming of Christ. I have already shown that the former of these views is a mistake. I shall now inquire whether there is any better foundation for the latter.
The interpretation which makes all the promises flow out of Christ's first coming, rests on two assumptions —
I. That the Church is the same seed of Abraham to which the promises are given; and
II. That the universal reign of David's seed, the blessing of the nations and the bruising of the serpent's head, will all be fulfilled by the conversion of the world to Christianity.
Before examining these propositions, I will ask one question. Could any thoughtful and spiritual Jew, before the time of Christ, reading his own prophets and trusting God, have believed that God's promises did not refer to national blessing and restoration, but to blessing of a different kind and given to a different people, blessing which must begin with the dispersion, and end with the absorption, of his own nation? If not, the prophecies, as above interpreted, could only deceive him. But let us examine these rules separately.
I. The first rule of interpretation is, that the Church is the seed of Abraham to which the promises are given. Now that believers are the children of Abraham is not disputed. The question is, whether they drain into themselves, and divert from Israel, the promises given under this head. In one of the Abrahamic promises, the seed named is Christ Himself; in the other it is a countless multitude. To this innumerable seed was promised the perpetual possession of a certain geographical area, together with national supremacy in the earth. Now how can this be interpreted as the portion of the Church? But since it has not yet been given to Israel, and since it is not the portion of the Church, the promise still has to receive its fulfilment outside the Church. In other words, the Church does not set aside Israel, or usurp the promise of national blessing and glory. This is enough for our purpose, for if the Church does not embrace all the unfulfilled promises, the common interpretation fails. It may be well, however, for the sake of clearing up what to some is a real difficulty, to look at the passages on which this interpretation rests. Romans 4:11-17 says that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise that he should be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect; because the law works wrath, for where no law is, there is no transgression.) Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations."
But the promise here is not the promise of the land. It is a summary of God's promises announcing his purpose to make Abraham the root of blessing. Thus believers are morally Abraham's children, as the father of the faithful. This is all that the passage states as to relationship. They will inherit the world as joint-heirs with Christ, and the promises to Abraham are varied and extended in God's grace to include them. This is all that the passage says about the promises. The specific promise to the descendants of Abraham is not transferred to the Church, and is altogether inapplicable to it. And so far are the literal seed from being set aside by the spiritual seed, that the promise is expressly stated to belong to the seed "which is of the law," as well as to that "which is of the faith of Abraham."
In Galatians 3:7, we are told "that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." In ver. 27-29, we read, "As many of you as have been baptized unto Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise." Here the promise is the blessing of all nations in the seed, that is, in Christ. Of this promise believers are heirs as made one with Christ. The chapter does not name the promise given to the multitudinous seed, much less show the Church as taking this promise away from Israel.
But again, it is written — "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart" (Rom. 2:28-29). Also, "We are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit" (Phil. 3:3). So too, — "As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16). Do not these passages, it may be asked, show that Christians have now become the true Israel and the true circumcision? The first passage, however, is not written about Christians at all, but about Gentiles who fulfilled the law as compared with Jews who broke it. The second simply warns believers against going back to symbols, on the ground that they have that which these symbols only typified. In the third, the expression, "Israel of God," is figuratively applied to those who for the time had taken Israel's place as the special object of God's favour; if, indeed, it is not confined to that "remnant according to the election of grace" — that small portion of the nation which believed in Jesus, while "the rest were blinded" (Rom. 11:5-7).
The collective testimony of these passages, then, is that believers are spiritually the children of Abraham; that in Christ they are heirs of the promises; that they have the thing which circumcision outwardly signified; and that they possess the place of priority in God's present dealings which Israel once enjoyed. But that the specific promises made to Israel are handed over to the Church is a notion which none of the passages even suggests, and which one of them expressly refutes, by reserving the promise to the seed, "which is of the law." In like manner the Apostle Paul, while fully disclosing the counsels of God in setting aside Israel for a time, declares that still to the Israelites "pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Rom. 9:4). Of the positive side of this question. however, I shall speak more fully hereafter. I merely quote this verse in passing as a direct refutation of the inference that is often drawn from a hasty interpretation of the portions above cited.
II. The second rule of interpretation is, that the universal reign of David's seed, the universal blessing of the nations, and the bruising of the serpent's head, are all brought about by the conversion of the world to Christianity.
Now assuredly nobody denies the untold wealth of blessing flowing out to the nations of the earth from Christianity. So magnificent is the believer's portion that, were we left to our own thoughts, we might well suppose these blessings to fulfil all God's purposes of grace. But Scripture teaches otherwise. Speaking of Israel and their present rejection, it says, — "Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness?" (Rom. 11:12). The world's complete measure of blessing, then, is only brought in by the "fulness" of Israel. But it may be asked, Does not this mean the conversion of the Jews to Christianity? The Word of God does not say so, and all the argument of the chapter leads to the contrary conclusion. For, first, it is said that "as concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election they are beloved for the fathers' sakes" (v. 28). Now, if they come into the same blessing, and in the some way, as the Gentiles, where is the contrast? In this case how are the Gentiles benefited by the Jews being enemies as concerning the gospel? Or where is the election "for the fathers' sakes" if the Jews only receive the same portion as those who are not descended from the fathers? Secondly, the Gentile is warned that he may be cut off, and this warning becomes a sad certainty, when we find that his tenure of privilege depends on a faithfulness in which he has entirely failed, for God's promise of blessing to him is, "If thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (v. 22). But thirdly, Israel's exclusion, "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (v. 25), shows that the period of Gentile blessing will end, and that Jewish blessing cannot go on at the same time as Gentile; in other words, that the blessings are of a character incompatible with each other. Fourthly, the whole reasoning of the chapter points to the cessation of Gentile, and the renewal of Jewish, privilege as a great dispensational change marked by the "Deliverer" coming out of Zion, and turning "away ungodliness from Jacob" (v. 26), a description wholly without meaning when applied to the conversion of Israel to Christianity. Thus the reign of David's seed and the blessing of the Gentiles, instead of being brought about, as this rule of interpretation requires, by the Christianising of the world, only begins in its largest sense after Christianity has ceased, and Israel as a nation has been restored.
But again, if this system of interpretation is correct, if all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament receive their fulfilment in Christianity, how is it that the New Testament is so silent about them? Why do the writers, inspired by the Holy Ghost to unfold the truth of Christianity, make hardly any allusion to them? The prophecies of Isaiah abound with glorious predictions of the exaltation of the Lord's mountain above the hills, of the beating of swords into ploughshares, of the knowledge of Jehovah covering the earth as the waters do the sea. Preachers constantly quote these prophecies as having their fulfilment in the triumphs of the gospel. Did Jesus in His teaching ever do so? Did Paul ever do so? Why not? Was Paul less keenly alive to the prophetic glories than these preachers? Why, then, is his language so different from theirs? His silence on this inviting theme would be inexplicable, unless he had been taught by the Spirit that the Old Testament prophecies were not to be fulfilled in Christianity, but in quite a different way.
But it is not merely the silence of Scripture, however suggestive, that clashes with this rule of interpretation. The New Testament furnishes the strongest evidence that Christianity, instead of overspreading the earth, and bringing in the final period of blessing foretold in ancient prophecy, will have a sadly different history. We have already looked at a passage in which the Gentile is told that God's goodness is extended to him, "If thou continue in His goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (Rom. 11:22). Thus the Gentiles are placed as a whole in the same position of responsibility and trial as the Jews were of old. Will anybody say that the Gentiles have been more faithful to the trust put in their hands than the Jews were? Will anybody say that they have, as a body, continued in God's goodness? If not they must be cut off. And it God had intended to plant them securely as He has promised to plant Israel, would He ever have spoken of their being cut off? This passage, then, instead of predicting the universal spread of Christianity, declares by implication that it will cease, and that God's purposes of blessing for the earth will be accomplished by other means.
We have, however, other indications of the future of Christianity as a professing system in the world. Paul warns the Ephesian elders — "After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30). Here we have the seeds; let us look at the plant. "Now the Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1). Such are the "latter days" of Christendom as foretold by the apostle. Now hear the "latter days" spoken of by the Hebrew prophet. "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek Jehovah their God, and David their king; and shall fear Jehovah and His goodness in the latter days" (Hosea 3:5). Are the apostle and the prophet writing of the same thing? Impossible! But if not, the Old Testament prophecies have not their fulfilment in the Church and Christianity.
These, however, are only the "latter days." Does the Spirit, then, give us any brighter picture of the "last days?" Listen to the words of Paul. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false-accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:1-5). So, too, Peter speaks of false teachers, "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them," and through covetousness should, "with feigned words make merchandise of you" (2 Peter 2:1-3). Is this followed by improvement? On the contrary — "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?" (2 Peter 3:3-4). Jude warns believers, "Remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit" (Jude 7-19). John also writes-" Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time" (1 John 2:18). This shows that one mark of the "last time" is the appearance of antichrists, which in principle — so early did corruption set in — had already begun.
Contrast all this with the "last days" spoken of by the prophet. "And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow into it; and many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob: and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem; and He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:2-4). Is it possible to conceive a greater contrast? And yet, according to the interpretation we are examining, Isaiah is speaking of the same thing, and describing the same epoch in its history, as Paul and John.
But did not Jesus Himself, in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, predict the conversion of the world? Everybody knows that the parables are constantly so interpreted. But is such an interpretation correct? They form part of a group of three in which Jesus unfolds to His disciples, to whom it was given "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," the mysterious form in which it was about to be established. The first parable discloses that in this form of the kingdom, the wheat and the tares would grow side by side till "the end of the age." It is not, therefore, of true believers, but of Christendom, that Jesus speaks, and in Christendom, instead of the universal triumph of the gospel, the wheat and the tares grow side by side until the end. Now it is impossible that the two parables immediately following this can contradict it. What, then, is their true meaning? The first likens the kingdom of heaven — this mixture of wheat and tares — to a grain of mustard seed, "which, indeed, is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof" (Matt. 13:32). What is there here about the conversion of the world? All that the parable shows is that the kingdom of heaven, or Christendom, grows from a very small thing to a tree, the symbol for a great earthly power, in which the birds of the air — clean and unclean things — have their habitation.
The other parable compares the kingdom to "leaven which a woman took and hid in three measure of meal, till the whole was leavened" (Matt. 13:33). According to the received interpretation, the meal is the world, the leaven the gospel, and the leavening of the mass the universal spread of Christianity. But what is the authority for this interpretation? According to all Scripture symbols, the meal signifies what is good, whereas this interpretation makes it signify what is bad; according to all Scripture symbols, the leaven signifies what is bad, whereas this interpretation makes it signify what is good; according to all Scripture symbols, the leavening of the meal signifies the corruption of what is pure, whereas this interpretation makes it signify the purifying of what is corrupt. The connection declares that the kingdom of heaven will be spoiled by Satan's work, and that the damage will endure to the end; the traditional interpretation would make Satan's work to be eradicated, and the damage not to endure to the end. Finally, the parable, as ordinarily understood, derives no confirmation from fact, whereas the parable, understood according to the usage of Scripture amid the immediate context, is in painful accordance with the history of Christianity in all ages.
There is only one other point on which it is necessary to touch. We have seen that the hope of the believer, held out in Scripture, is the coming of Christ to take the Church to Himself. The inconsistency of such a present hope, with the supposed conversion of the world to Christianity, I need not again insist upon. I only now allude to it as showing how perfectly harmonious the Word of God is with itself, and how invariably opposed to the theological dogmas and traditional interpretations which a corrupt Christendom has placed upon it. Being ignorant of the mystery of God's working, Christendom has become wise in its own conceits; instead of fearing, it has been high-minded; it has boasted itself against the branches, and laughed to scorn the solemn warning, "If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee" (Rom. 11:20-25). And what is the result? Instead of enjoying its own heavenly blessings, it has appropriated the Jewish earthly blessings. It has run the streams of prophecy into Church channels, through which they were never meant to flow, and, on the strength of predictions which do not belong to it, has forgotten that if it does not continue in God's goodness, it also shall be cut off. Judaism, confident in the promises, blind to the signs of the times, and moving on presumptuously to unforeseen destruction, was a spectacle that moved the soul of Jesus to tears. What are His thoughts as He gazes down upon Christendom, equally confident and equally blind, boasting itself in its fancied security, and ignorant of the terrible judgment towards which it is recklessly hastening?
And now let us look back for a moment at what we have found to be the testimony of Scripture concerning the question whether the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christianity. We have seen that though believers, through God's grace, are brought into the circle of Abraham's seed, and so made partakers of the promises, there is another class, the natural seed, to whom the promises are still said to belong; that it is not till this class, Israelites according to the flesh, receive their portion, that the full blessing to the Gentiles will be secured; that there is no foundation for the belief that the world will be converted through the preaching of the gospel, but the strongest evidence to the contrary; and that the hope of the Lord's coming is inconsistent with this traditional expectation. We must still seek, therefore, what information Scripture gives, as to the mode in which these mighty promises of earthly blessing are to receive their fulfilment.
God's dealings with Israel and the world.
The Old Testament promises are, as we have seen, earthly in their character. Their accomplishment is in the Second Man, but not in Christianity, which has a heavenly and not an earthly portion. The earth, however, was man's original sphere, the scene for which he was created, and God has not abandoned it to the dominion of sin and Satan, but will carry out to the full all the purposes He has formed concerning it. Let us endeavour, then, to see, from the Scriptures, what is God's scheme with respect to this earth and the man whom He has set upon it.
In the world before the flood man was left simply to his own guidance. The murderer was punished by God, but no punishment by his fellow-man, as God's instrument of righteous government, was permitted. After the flood the sword of government was entrusted to man, and Noah was commanded to execute the judgment of death on the murderer. In this way civil government, as a direct trust from God, had its origin. At Babel the compact organisation of mankind, leading to presumption and self-will, was broken up, and thus nations were formed to be the instruments, in God's hands, for checking the arrogance and self-assertion which would otherwise have burst through all restraints (Gen. 11:6). But God had in His thoughts a special nation, concerning which His purpose was long afterwards thus revealed. "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel, for Jehovah's portion is his people, Jacob is the lot of His inheritance" (Deut. 32:8-9). Thus, long before Abraham was born, God had this people in His thoughts. In process of time a country was assigned to them, from the river Euphrates to the river of Egypt, which they were to hold "for an everlasting possession;" there planted, they were to "possess the gates of their enemies," those who blessed them were to be blessed and those who cursed them to be cursed. God's scheme of earthly government, then, as far as it was yet unfolded, was to exalt one nation as the administrator of his righteous judgments.
This plan, which will be perfectly carried out under the Second Man, was originally entrusted to the first, not fully indeed, but sufficiently to prove his inability to accomplish God's purposes. Israel entered on the land, charged to execute God's righteous judgment on the Canaanites, to keep His law, and to hold the first place among the nations. The people were in these matters God's instrument for the righteous government of the earth. If they were to destroy the Canaanites, it was as the ministers of God's just judgments. If in their law they were to exact "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Ex. 21:23-25), it was as the executors of God's governmental righteousness. If their enemies were to flee before them, and they were to be the head and not the tail, it was because they were the instruments of God to maintain His authority on the earth. No intelligent Christian can look at this trust committed to Israel, without seeing how completely contrasted it is with the position in which the believer is now placed. Is this, as has been argued, because the world has been educated to a higher point? Let us ask one question — has God been educated? Has He discovered that things once thought to be right, are really wrong, and therefore abandoned them? The very suggestion is shocking. Whence, then, the difference? To an open eye it is plain at once. The Israelite was the minister of God's righteous government on earth; the Christian is the exponent of God's grace on earth. God's people are called to be the living manifestation of the principle on which God is acting. He is now acting in forbearance and long-suffering, and His people must exhibit forbearance and long-suffering also. In His dealings with the nations through Israel, He was acting in righteousness and judgment, and His people were bound to carry out righteousness and judgment as His instruments.
In this, however, they failed, and their failure brought out another portion of God's plan. As Israel was to be God's instrument for maintaining righteousness among the nations, there must be one able to maintain righteousness in Israel. Kingly authority, therefore, was established, and perpetual dominion was promised to the seed of David. But here again, the promise, put into the hands of the first man, only proved his inability to receive the blessing or to execute the purposes of God, and it is not until the Second Man, the true Seed of David, appears, that this promise will have its fulfilment.
God's purposes of earthy government, then, are that the nations of the earth shall be ruled by a righteous earthly people under a righteous earthly sovereign. All this, entrusted to the first man, failed of accomplishment the seed of David after the flesh, the seed of Abraham after the flesh, man after the flesh in every form, having proved his unfitness to enter into or carry out the thoughts of God. The Israelites "did not destroy the nations concerning whom Jehovah commanded them; but were mingled among the heathen and learnt their works; and they served their idols, which were a snare unto them" (Ps. 106:34-36) The descendants of David did not carry on God's righteous government in Israel. The kingdom was divided, and became the prey, instead of the head, of the surrounding nations. Instead of maintaining God's glory in the earth, through them His name was blasphemed among the Gentiles. Everything went to ruin and confusion, and after a history marvellously illustrating the enmity of man towards God, and the long-suffering of God towards man, they were at length cast out. Israel was carried into captivity by the Assyrians, and Judah by the Babylonians. The sceptre of earthly government, abused and abased by the kings of Judah, was transferred to Nebuchadnezzar, and has ever since remained in the hands of the Gentile powers.
And here the history of Israel closes, until the times of the Gentiles are ended, and the sceptre is once more brought back to God's chosen people, in the hands of the Second Man, the true Seed of Abraham and of David, who alone is worthy or able to carry out the earthly purposes of God. Not so, however, the history of Judah. They were brought back, after seventy years' captivity, to their own country, few in numbers and feeble in strength, the servants of the Gentiles from whose dominion they were never afterwards delivered. What, then, was God's purpose in restoring this weak remnant to their own country? He was going to try man, and especially the Jews, by another test. The first man had been entrusted with God's designs and had failed. God was now bringing in the Second Man, and He was to be presented in grace to His chosen people, as well as to the world, for their acceptance or rejection. The result is well known. He in whom all God's promises centred, He by whom all God's purposes are to be carried out, the Maker of the world, the rightful Lord of the Gentiles, and the predicted Messiah of the Jews, appeared on earth attested by God as His beloved Son, and the world crucified him between two thieves. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:10-11). The world's ignorance was culpable and deplorable enough, but the guilt of the Jews was enormously greater. Already deprived for six centuries of their proper position as a nation on account of their rebellion against God, they had now added to their guilt the fearful crime of murdering God's Son, and the fearful folly of rejecting Him in whom all their own promises and blessings were to be fulfilled. Mercy, indeed, still lingered, and the testimony of the Holy Ghost was once more presented, but the nation remained deaf to His voice, as it had done to the voice of the Messiah, and overwhelming judgment was the inevitable result.
God's plan of earthly administration, then, though revealed, has not been carried out. The people which was to be its instrument has been divided, part of it has been lost among the nations on account of its idolatry, and part of it dispersed, though not lost, on account of its rejection of the Messiah. The righteous ruler has been brought forth, but refused and crucified. But has God's purpose failed? It was not carried out by the Jews before their dispersion and captivity. It cannot be carried out by the Gentiles, for this, instead of being a fulfilment, would be a denial, of the promises to Abraham and David. It is not in consistency with the design of the Church, whose sphere of action is altogether different, whose portion is heavenly and not earthly, and in which, as we have seen, the promises cannot have their complete fulfilment. What, then, follows? Either God's purposes concerning the earth and man upon the earth must prove boastful failures, or they must be carried out by the restoration of Judah and Israel as the centre of government, and the establishment of Christ's dominion as the ruler of the kings of the earth. Can any believer doubt which alternative is true? I shall prove in the following chapters that all this failure was foreseen of God, and that in spite of it all, His own purpose has never changed, but that He has foretold the accomplishment of these schemes by His own Son, when man's wickedness and folly had reached their crowning height, and the misery of His chosen people its lowest depth.
To question that God will do what He has said is the grossest unbelief. What are difficulties to Him? Man talks of impossibilities, and rightly enough if he measures circumstances by his own power. But the things which are impossible with men are possible with God, for with God all things are possible. There may be some, however, disposed to ask, why this long delay in the carrying out of God's purposes? Simply because, until the Second Man was brought in, God was putting the first man to the test, and seeking to find some good in him. But when the Second Man was brought in, why was not the scheme perfected at once? To those who put this question I would ask — where would you have been, if this had taken place? If Christ had not been rejected, how would you have stood now before God? Or if the Holy Ghost's testimony had been accepted after the resurrection of Jesus, and He had been sent from heaven to restore Jewish dominion, where would have been the room for the Church? What would have become of that marvellous interval in which we now live, when God is gathering a people to a rejected Christ, and making known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, by the Church, His own manifold wisdom? No, these delays are ordered in divine grace, as well as in divine wisdom, and surely we, the most favoured objects of His love, can only stand aside in adoring wonder as we gaze upon the unfolding of that mystery in which the very heavens behold the wisdom of God.
The Messianic kingdom established on earth — Old Testament teaching.
I have shown that God has certain purposes concerning the earth, for the fulfilment of which the appearance of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, is necessary. But the Second Man has been rejected, His earthly people scattered, and a new thing introduced, which entirely fails to carry out the earthly purposes and promises of God. What remains, then, but that God should recall the nation, and bring back the ruler in whom these promises centre?
We have seen, also, that Christianity, instead of converting the world or lasting to its close, will be both partial and temporary, leaving ample space, after the translation of the Church, for the working out of God's unaccomplished earthly purposes.
I now propose to look at the positive teaching of the Scriptures as to the mode in which these purposes will be carried into effect. In so doing, I shall show,
First, from the Old Testament writings, that the Lord will return, as God's anointed ruler, to set up his kingdom on the earth, and to execute judgment on His enemies, having Israel as His chosen people, and Jerusalem as His centre of government;
Second, from the same authority, that at this time, repentant Israel will be delivered and blessed, and that peace and prosperity will flow out in rich streams to the whole earth; and
Third, that the New Testament fully confirms the literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies.
I confine myself in this chapter to the first point, showing from Scripture that Christ's kingdom is an earthly dominion, and is brought in, not by grace, but by judgment, executed by the Lord returning to the world in manifested glory. Before the nation of Israel existed, Jacob, in blessing his sons, prophesied that "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding His foal unto the vine, and His ass's colt unto the choice vine, He washed His garments in wine and His clothes in the blood of grapes" (Gen. 49:10-11). Here, whatever the difficulties of the passage, it is clear that a ruler is promised of the tribe of Judah, around whom the gathering of the people shall be, and who shall inaugurate a period of peace and plenty. That this ruler is the Christ is generally acknowledged, but how does the prediction agree with His first appearance? He was then not the ruler, but the One who had not where to lay His head. If the people gathered round Him, it was to cry out — "Crucify Him, crucify Him." Instead of bringing peace, He brought a sword; and the destruction, instead of the prosperity, of the people, was the result of His appearance among them. All this, then, is yet to have its fulfilment when the rejected Christ again comes to the earth for the salvation and blessing of the chosen seed.
Another prophecy, long before the kingdom existed, before even the Israelites had entered the land, shows that when Christ thus comes for the deliverance of his people, He will execute judgment on the surrounding nations. Under the direct constraint of the Spirit, the wicked Balaam is compelled to say — "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for His enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remains of the city" (Num. 24:17-19). That this points to the rule of Christ is obvious, but in what sense has it its fulfilment in His first coming or in the Church? If words have any meaning, the dominion here spoken of is not spiritual but earthly — not brought in by persuasion, but by power.
The final, but forcible, triumph of Jehovah over his adversaries, His deliverance of His own people and destruction of the wicked, are predicted once again, before the kingdom was established, in connection with the Christ. Hannah prophesies — "The pillars of the earth are Jehovah's, and He has set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of His saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of Jehovah shall be broken in pieces; out of heaven shall He thunder upon them; Jehovah shall judge the ends of the earth, and He shall give strength unto His King, and exalt the horn of His Anointed" (1 Sam. 2:8-10).
In the promise to David already quoted, God said, "I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime." Again, "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. 7:10, 16). This promise has never been fulfilled to Israel; and the question is whether it is to have a literal fulfilment in their history, or a spiritual fulfilment in the Church. There is nothing in the prophecy that seems to point to the Church, nor anything in the Church that seems to point to the prophecy. Naturally interpreted, the promise is that Christ shall inherit the earthly power which David, as a mere imperfect type, wielded; that His throne shall be permanent; and that under his sway the security and blessing of Israel, only enjoyed in fading shadow before, shall truly commence.
Certainly this hope pervades David's own writings. In Psalm 2 he describes Jehovah as declaring that He has set His King on Zion, the hill of His holiness; he calls Him His Son, and promises him the Gentiles for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, adding, "Thou shall break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." That is, the psalm shows Christ receiving from God a kingdom whose centre is Zion, the seat of earthly authority; whose sphere is the whole of the nations of the world; and whose commencement is a terrible judgment executed upon the kings, rulers, and people, who, as the early verses of the psalm show, have been in rebellion against Him. In what way does this apply to the preaching of the gospel? How does it suit the character of the Church? Whereas it exactly coincides with the revealed purposes of God concerning Christ's earthly rule.
Psalm 18 makes known God's goodness "to His anointed, to David and to his seed for ever more." Though written as a hymn of praise for the deliverances granted to the Psalmist himself, the triumphs and glories recorded are evidently, in their full extent, those of David's Seed, the promised Messiah; and the 49th verse — "Therefore will I give thanks unto Thee, O Jehovah, among the Gentiles, and sing praises unto Thy name" — is quoted by Paul as expressly referring to Christ. (Rom. 15:9.) How, then, does it describe the inauguration of His glorious reign? "Thou hast given Me the necks of Mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate Me." — Is it the necks, or the hearts, of His enemies that Christ is now seeking? Is it to save them, or to destroy them, that is His present object? — "They cried, but there was none to save them even unto Jehovah, but He answered them not." — The word now is, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." — The psalm goes on — "Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind; I did cast them out as the dirt of the streets. Thou hast delivered Me from the strivings of the people; and Thou hast made Me the Head of the Gentiles. A people whom I have not known shall serve Me. As soon as they hear of Me they shall obey Me, the strangers shall submit themselves unto Me. The strangers shall fade away; and be afraid out of their close places" (vv. 40-45). How perfectly this agrees with what is elsewhere told of the sudden establishment of Christ's universal sway by the judgment and desolation of His enemies! But how contrary to the grace in which He is now acting, and to the spirit enjoined on His people, who are to pray for their persecutors and to love their enemies!
The King is again named in Ps. 21. It is evidently Christ, for He has "length of days for ever and ever," and is "most blessed for ever." How, then, is His reign described? "The King trusts in Jehovah, and through the mercy of the Most High He shall not be moved. Thine hand shall find out all Thine enemies; Thy right hand shall find out those that hate Thee. Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of Thine anger: Jehovah shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them" (vv. 7-9). Surely this can only be Christ, as the true seed of David, and God's righteous governor, taking the rule which the first man could not keep, and beginning His reign by judgments upon His enemies.
Again — "My heart is inditing a good matter. I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips, therefore God has blessed Thee for ever" (Ps. 45:1-2). Here Christ's grace and beauty are set forth. But is it by grace that He obtains His earthly authority? "Gird thy sword upon Thy thigh, O most Mighty, with Thy glory and Thy majesty. And in Thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies; whereby the people fall under Thee. Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right [or righteous] sceptre" (vv. 3-6). Is this the gradual triumph of the kingdom of Gods grace? Or is it what all Scripture foretells of the foundation of the kingdom of God's righteousness? Such is man that He who comes because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness must first establish His sway by terrible things, and by making the people fall under Him.
Psalm 48 celebrates the glory of Mount Zion, which is "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," also "the city of the great King," in whose palaces God is known for a refuge. But how does this affect the kings of the earth? They "were assembled, they passed by together; they saw it and so they marvelled; they were troubled and hasted away. Fear took hold upon them there, and pain as of a woman in travail" (vv. 4-6). Here, not only is the dominion as different as possible from the spiritual power of Christ over the heart, but its establishment, instead of being, like the spread of gospel truth, the gentlest of operations, is brought about by dreadful and violent judgments.
There is a remarkable prophecy of David's Son, which is only very partially fulfilled in Solomon, and is still to be accomplished in the true Seed, the Second Man. "He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, He shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow down before Him, and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him, all nations shall serve Him" (Ps. 72:2-11). In no sense can the greater part of this language be applied to the Church. But as a literal fulfilment of the promises given to Abraham and David concerning earth, as a description of a kingdom introduced by judgment and bringing in universal blessing, the delineation is divinely perfect.
In Psalm 101 we have another description of this reign of righteousness — "Whoso privily slanders his neighbour, him will I cut off; him that has an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with Me; he that walks in a perfect way, he shall serve Me. He that works deceit shall not dwell within My house; he that tells lies shall not tarry in My sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of Jehovah" (vv. 5, 8). This is not God speaking, for it is a song addressed to God. Yet who can say that David or Solomon thus carried out God's righteous principles of earthly rule? There may be things in their government which typified this reign of righteousness, but assuredly, as a whole, they did not carry it out. On the other hand, what could be more opposed to Christ's present patience and long-suffering? It is the picture of His righteous government on earth.
Once more — "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. Jehovah shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion: rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power … The Lord at Thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the Gentiles; He shall fill the places with the dead bodies; He shall wound the heads over many countries" (Ps. 110:1-6). Is this the work of the Church? Or is it in perfect consistency with all the other prophecies contained in the Psalms, the setting up of Christ's earthly kingdom in power and glory, and by means of devastating judgments?
The prophets continue the same strain. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon His kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever" (Isa. 9:6-7). It is only by spiritualising the whole passage that this can be understood of the Church, and when it is so understood, it contradicts all that is elsewhere said about it. Understood of the literal kingdom, it fully harmonises with the whole teaching of God's Word.
In Isaiah 11:1-9, a further description is given of this Blessed One and His earthly reign. "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of His roots and the spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah, and shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of Jehovah; and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, … they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth [or land] shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea." In these passages Christ has an earthly title, is seated on an earthly throne, is in connection with an earthly people, administering earthly sovereignty, executing earthly judgments, and bringing about earthly blessings. No passage can be conceived, in every particular, more foreign to the character and object of the Church, none more admirably descriptive of the sovereignty foretold as that which is to accomplish God's purposes of blessing towards the earth.
Isaiah 31 describes "Jehovah of hosts" coming "down to fight for Mount Zion and for the hill thereof," and the destruction of the Assyrian. That this had an accomplishment in the fate of Sennacherib's army is not disputed, but the salvation wrought is far larger, and followed by far more blessed consequences, than this partial and temporary deliverance. The sequence of Jehovah's intervention is thus stated in the beginning of the following chapter. "Behold a King shall reign in righteousness, and Princes shall rule in judgment. And a Man shall to as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isaiah 32:1-2). Has this time come? Has Israel ever known such a King? His reign here follows upon the Lord of Hosts' interposition on behalf of Israel. Has such an interposition yet taken place? Let us see how the Spirit speaks of this same intervention of God elsewhere.
"Who is this that comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?" He replies — "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." Again He is asked "Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treads in the wine-fat?" To which He answers — "I have trodden the wine-press alone; and of the people there was none with Me; for I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed is come" (Isa. 63:1-4). Is it thus that Christ redeems His people now? Does this describe Him who was led as a Lamb to the slaughter? Or is it the redemption of His earthly people by earthly judgments, and the foundation of His earthly throne?
Jeremiah writes — "The days come, says Jehovah, that I will raise up unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called — Jehovah our righteousness" (Jer. 23:5-6). And again — "It shall come to pass in that day, says Jehovah of Hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him; but they shall serve their God and David their King, whom I will raise up unto them" (Jer. 30:8-9) It is surely unnecessary to say that David their king, here raised up, is none other than David's greater Son, the Lord from heaven.
Thus also Ezekiel writes — "So shall they be My people, and I will be their God, and David My servant shall be King over them; and they all shall have One Shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob My servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they and their children, and their children's children for ever; and My servant David shalt be their prince for ever" (Ezek. 37:23-25).
Daniel traces down the shifting stream of the Gentile monarchies, when, through Judah's sin, the dominion was handed over from her to Nebuchadnezzar. Four empires, the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman, hold sway successively in the earth. The last becomes divided, iron mingling with clay, that is, several kingdoms of diverse origin and character, standing side by side, as in modern Europe. "And in the days of these kings, shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44). This corresponds with the promise of perpetual dominion to David's seed, as also with the threat of judgment on the kings and nations of the earth. If we were to seek for a figure which did not describe the spread of Christianity, but the very reverse, we could hardly find one better suited to our purpose than the crushing power of the stone thus interpreted. And that this does not refer to the first coming of Christ is shown, not merely by the incongruity of the figure, but by the disagreement of the time. For the kingdom is set up "in the days of these kings," that is, after the division of the Roman Empire, whereas Christ both lived and died centuries before the Roman Empire had lost a single province.
The seventh chapter of the same prophet gives still further particulars. The Gentile monarchies are there presented under the image of four beasts. Out of the last of these four beasts grows up a great power, which exalts itself not only against men, but against the Most High, and wears out the saints of the Most High. In the midst of his wicked career, the Ancient of days appears, and executes judgment, especially on the great transgressor just named. After this, there is seen "one like the Son of man," "and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:13-14).
In perfect agreement with this is the prophet Hosea. "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterwards shall the children of Israel return, and seek Jehovah their God, and David their King; and shall fear Jehovah and His goodness in the latter days" (Hosea 3:4-5). Does anybody suppose that in these various passages David, their king, means any other than David's Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ? How utterly unmeaning to apply this title of Christ in speaking of the Church. How perfectly and beautifully suggestive in predicting the establishment of that kingdom which is the central thought in God's scheme of earthly administration.
Amos, too, foretells how the Lord will "raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen" (Amos 9:11), connecting this with the time of Israel's restoration and blessing. Micah describes Israel as "a woman in travail" waiting for the Lord's redemption. He then goes on to show by whom, and at what time, the deliverance comes. "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travails has brought forth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And He shall stand and rule in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of Jehovah, His God; and they shall abide; for now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:2-4). Here Christ is presented as the Eternal One, and God's chosen ruler. He is born in Bethlehem, but instead of at once taking the dominion, He gives up the people "until the time that she which travails has brought forth," that is, until the time of Israel's redemption. Then "the remnant" are gathered, the nation "shall abide," and the glory and majesty of Christ's rule are beheld on the earth.
After the captivity, in connection with the rebuilding of the temple, "came the word of Jehovah by the prophet Haggai, saying — I will shake the heavens, and the earth, … and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:1-7). And two months later the same prophet is commanded to "speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth, and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the Gentiles; and I will overturn the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day, says Jehovah of Hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, My servant, the son of Shealtiel, says Jehovah, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, says Jehovah of Hosts" (vv. 21-23). Zerubbabel has been dead more than twenty-three centuries, and yet this shaking of the nations has not come. What can be clearer than that the great event here foretold is the overthrow of all earthly thrones when the Messiah, Zerubbabel's descendant, shall establish His rule in righteousness over the nations of the world?
Zechariah speaks of the day when "the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of Jehovah before them" (Zech. 12:8), prophesying, at the same time, that the Jews shall look on Him whom they pierced, and shall mourn for Him. In another place, he says — "Behold, I will bring forth My servant the Branch," and then promises that He "will remove the iniquity of that land in one day," adding — "In that day, says Jehovah of Hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig-tree" (Zech. 3:8-10). So, too, addressing Jerusalem, he says, "Behold thy King comes unto thee; He is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). The King, however, is rejected, till at length the people, as we have seen, repent and mourn over Him whom they pierced. Then, in the worst strait, He comes forth, as Jehovah for their deliverance, and His feet stand upon the Mount of Olives. Afterwards the dominion is established, and the nations of the earth come up to Jerusalem "to worship the King, Jehovah of Hosts" (Zech. 14:4-16). Here we find the same King, admitted to be Jesus when He comes riding on an ass, afterwards spoken of as Jehovah of Hosts, appearing for the deliverance of His people at the hour of their direst need, and then becoming, in Jerusalem, the object of homage to the whole earth. How perfectly this harmonises with all the glories elsewhere unfolded of this great King, at once Jehovah of Hosts, and the dependent man, with honour and majesty laid upon Him because of His perfect trust in God!
The last of the prophets, Malachi, writes as follows — "Behold I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold He shall come, says Jehovah of Hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purify the silver" (Mal. 3:1-3). Is this the character of Christ's first coming? Is such language applicable to the attitude He is now assuming in grace? Is it not precisely what we have found all through Scripture to be the teaching of the Spirit with respect to his coming to establish His earthly throne in righteousness and judgment?
Here, then, are a number of Old Testament prophecies, all of which are admitted to refer to Christ. Both the nature of the dominion and the mode of its establishment, described in these passages, are as different as possible from anything seen or predicted under Christianity, while they are perfectly consistent with the promises of earthly blessing made to the seed of Abraham and David, and with the revealed purposes of God concerning the righteous government of the world. Is it wiser and more reverent to bow to Scripture, to accept its statements in the form in which God gives them, or to seek to twist them from their natural shape into a forced harmony with that which is not only different, but in many respects entirely opposed in its character and object? To do this can only result in destroying Israel's hope and obscuring the Church's. To accept them in simple faith leaves God's earthly purposes still to be accomplished, brings out in undimmed lustre the portion of the Church, and displays in fuller brightness the manifold character of the pre-eminence of Christ.
Israel's restoration and blessing — Old Testament teaching.
The passages quoted in the last chapter prove that Christ returns to reign in righteousness, executing judgment on His enemies, and setting up His throne in Zion. But one of the first texts at which we glanced showed that in connection with this enduring and glorious reign of the Seed of David, the people of Israel are to be securely planted "in a place of their own," where the children of wickedness shall afflict them no more. Let us look, then, at the teaching of Scripture on this point. We shall see how fully it confirms the literal interpretation of the passages describing the Messianic reign.
God's covenant with Abraham was — "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18). Again, God said 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" (Gen. 17:7-8). When the Israelites entered into the land, it was not in virtue of this covenant, but by another covenant, according to which their possession, instead of depending on God's unconditional promise, was made to hinge on their own obedience. This was not a fulfilment of God's covenant with Abraham, and we shall see that God, instead of regarding it as such, carefully reserves His covenant with the fathers, even while distinctly foretelling the failure and dispersion of the nation under the subsequent covenant made at Mount Sinai.
Leviticus 26 shows the results of Israel's disobedience, bringing out all their melancholy history until they "perish among the heathen" (v. 38). But it adds that if, in their dispersion, they shall confess their sins, — "If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity, then will I remember" — what? My covenant at Mount Sinai? — No, but "My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the land" (vv. 41, 42). Restoration, then, will be on the ground of the yet unfulfilled covenant with the fathers. But it may be objected that even here the restoration is only conditional on national repentance. This is true, but in the promise to David, long afterwards, God declares that the nation shall be planted. This implies an undertaking on God's part that the condition shall be fulfilled. We shall see presently that God Himself promises to bring them to the state of soul necessary for their national restoration and blessing.
In Deuteronomy 30 the repentance of Israel is stated, not only as a condition of restoration, but as a fact. "It shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations whither Jehovah thy God has driven thee, and shalt return unto Jehovah thy God, and shalt obey His voice according to all that I command thee this day … that then Jehovah thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations. And Jehovah thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. And Jehovah thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee. And thou shalt return and obey the voice of Jehovah, and do all His commandments which I command thee this day. And Jehovah thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good; for Jehovah will again rejoice over thee for good, as He rejoiced over thy fathers" (vv. 1-9).
These words were spoken to Israel as a nation, and can only be fulfilled to Israel as a nation. It is the same people who are cast out that are to be brought back to have their hearts circumcised, and to be again ruled over by the Lord for good (vv. 6-9). Such is God's distinct undertaking, not yet fulfilled, concerning Israel. Does He ever recede from it? Or does He, on the contrary, again and again, at various places and at various times, reiterate and intensify these glorious promises?
In the second Psalm, Zion is named as the place where Christ's throne will be established. In Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 we behold Israel groaning under grievous oppressions, and praise offered to the Lord for deliverance. "Jehovah is King for ever and ever; the Gentiles are perished out of His land. Jehovah, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble; Thou wilt prepare their heart Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear" (Ps. 10:16-17). What other country is ever spoken of as Jehovah's land but Palestine, Israel's portion? This passage, then, shows the Lord's perpetual kingdom, accompanied by the deliverance of the land of Israel from Gentile rule, the humbling of the people before God, and His preparation of their heart.
Psalm 14 anticipates the time of Israel's final liberation — "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When Jehovah brings back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice and Israel shall be glad" (v. 7). Such language is extravagant if applied to the feeble remnant who returned from Babylon, and is wholly irrelevant if used about the Church. It alludes to the time concerning which all the prophets speak, of Messiah's reign and Israel's glory.
Psalm 46 describes the hour of Israel's trouble, the waters roaring, the mountains shaking, the Gentiles raging, and the kingdoms in commotion. Still they can exclaim — "Jehovah of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of Jehovah, what desolations He has made in the earth. He makes wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in sunder; He burns the chariot in the fire." Here the God of Jacob, a national name, is with "us" — Israel — bringing the wars and commotions of the Gentiles to an end by desolating judgments and establishing peace on the earth. "Be still," He adds, "and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the Gentiles, I will be exalted in the earth." And once again exultant Israel replies — "Jehovah of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah."
But the song of triumph swells again, and in the beginning of Psalm 47, the result of God's intervention is celebrated. "Oh clap your hands, all ye people, shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For Jehovah most high is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth. He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet. He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved." And again, in the following Psalm — "Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad because of Thy judgments. Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces, that ye may tell it to the generation following" (Ps. 48:11-13). Here, then, we have Israel's latter history. First, she is seen in terrible affliction and oppression, but looking to God as her refuge. He comes in and stays the turmoil of the peoples by judgment, subduing them under her, establishing His own dominion, and exalting Zion and Jerusalem.
Psalm 68 recounts the Lord's doings with Israel after their dispersion and national destruction. "I will bring again from Bashan: I will bring My people again from the depth of the sea: that thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongue of thy dogs in the same." Is this the Church? Did any such restoration ever take place in Israel's past history? Benjamin and Judah, Zabulon and Naphtali, are all included in this national re-establishment. "Because of Thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto Thee … Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God … Ascribe ye strength unto God: His excellency is over Israel and his strength is in the clouds. O God, Thou art terrible out of Thy holy places: the God of Israel is He that gives strength and power unto His people. Blessed be God" (vv. 22, 35).
At the close of the following Psalm, it is said — "For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah; that they may dwell there and have it in possession. The seed of The servants shall inherit it, and they that love His name shall dwell therein" (Ps. 119:35-36). Is this Israel's past history? Or what has it to do with the Church? That it is Israel's future history God's Word and faithfulness require us to believe.
So, too, — "Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the Gentiles shall fear the name of Jehovah, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory. When Jehovah shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory" (Ps. 102:13-16). What events in the history of Israel or of the Church are described here? The spiritualising alchemy of Romish theology, borrowed by modern evangelicalism, can transmute anything into anything else. But if we are to believe what God says, instead of converting it into what we think He ought to say, this passage means that Zion will be restored, that God's glory will then be manifested, and that so the nations and the kings of the earth will fear Jehovah.
The joy of Israel when this happens, is told in Psalm 126, "When Jehovah turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; then said they among the Gentiles, Jehovah has done great things for them. Jehovah has done great things for us, whereof we are glad" (vv. 1-3). Then the people, favoured by Jehovah, are multiplied (Ps. 127); those that fear Him are blessed "out of Zion," "see the good of Jerusalem all the days of their life," beheld their "children's children and peace upon Israel" (Ps. 128). Has this time come? or has it yet to be brought in by the power and faithfulness of God?
What language, again, can be clearer than this? "Jehovah has chosen Zion: he has desired it for His habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision, I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for Mine Anointed: His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon Himself shall His crown flourish" (Ps. 132:13-18). What could any godly Jew of David's time have understood by this prophecy? If it did not predict national blessing and glory under David's seed, what promise of God is worth possessing, or what word of His is capable of being understood?
Once more — "Let Israel rejoice in him that made him, let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let them praise His name in the dance; let them sing unto Him with the timbrel and harp. For Jehovah takes pleasure in his people; He will beautify the meek with salvation. Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the Gentiles, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written. This honour have all His saints. Praise ye the Lord" (Ps. 149:2-9). These saints are evidently a people on earth. Are they the Church? Are believers now "to execute vengeance upon the Gentiles?" On the contrary, the word now is — "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). Instead of inflicting "punishments upon the people," the servants are forbidden to pull up the tares, and commanded to let them grow till the harvest. The binding of kings and nobles is appropriate for a nation called to execute God's righteous judgments; utterly foreign to the ways of those who are to follow in the footsteps of Christ — the meek and lowly One who, "when He was reviled, reviled not again."
This may suffice for extracts from the Psalms. But no extracts can show the place which the purposes of God concerning Israel occupy in these poems. It is the object of their prayers, the spring of their hopes, the fountain of their praise. The whole book is the voice of the godly remnant of Israel heard in confession, in entreaty, in denunciation, in rejoicing, often in language most discordant with that in which the Spirit would lead the prayers and praises of the Church, but exquisitely chiming in with the sketches elsewhere furnished of God's gracious purposes towards His forsaken, but not forgotten — His blinded, but still chosen — people.
Let us now, however, turn to the words of the prophets. Isaiah's vision was "concerning Judah and Jerusalem." He is told to "make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes" (Isa. 6:10) He inquired, "Lord, how long? And He answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and Jehovah have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof" (vv. 11-13). Here, then, is a prophecy which only receives its full accomplishment after Christ's rejection by the Jews. It foretells the total desolation of the land, the scattering and destruction of the people. But still a remnant is left, who shall return, and be the "holy seed," the real pith and substance of the nation.
About this remnant and its restoration the prophet gives us further particulars, coupling the time of its blessing with the reign of Christ. "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people: to it shall the Gentiles seek, and His rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that Jehovah will set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim; but they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab, and the children of Ammon shall obey them" (Isa. 11:10-14). Nobody will contend that this prophecy has been fulfilled in Israel's history; and to apply it to the Church is to subject it to an amount of violence which would render all prophecy deceptive. But apply it to the future of Israel, and we find the exact counterpart of the promises and prophecies we have already seen. "The root of Jesse," the Jewish title of Christ, comes in; and in connexion with His appearance the remnant, which we saw was to be preserved after the desolation of the land, is gathered back to Jerusalem and Palestine; the divisions of the people, brought in by idolatry, are healed; and the neighbouring nations, who have oppressed and despised them, are overthrown. We have all along seen that while the first man would fail, the full blessings promised to Israel would be accomplished by the coming in of the Second Man, the true Seed of David; and now we observe how His appearance at once accomplishes the ancient promises of God concerning this people.
But we have also seen that Israel's restoration is to be accompanied by a mighty moral change. Here, then, is what the Lord tells us about the condition of the people once more gathered back, "Therefore says the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease Me of Mine adversaries, and avenge Me of Mine enemies: and I will turn My hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin; and I will restore thy judges as at the first and thy counsellors as at the beginning; afterward thou shalt be called The city of righteousness, the faithful city"(Isa. 1:24-26). Here we see that the judgments of God are to visit the people, that the dross of the nation is to be removed, that the rest are to learn righteousness, and that then Jerusalem is to become what God designed that it should be, as the centre of righteous government in the earth. If this portion is to be understood in its natural sense, it is plain that the spiritualising interpretation usually applied to the prophecies of Isaiah cannot stand. Is it, then, so to be understood? In the first place, the prophecy in which it occurs is expressly declared to be "concerning Judah and Jerusalem." In the next place, everybody admits that the woes and judgments denounced in this same chapter refer to the real Judah and Jerusalem. How, then, can we say that the promises, immediately following and closely connected, refer to an allegorical Judah and Jerusalem? Again, the titles of God used here are the titles by which He specially makes Himself known to Israel, not the titles He assumes towards the Church. Lastly, what have righteous judges and counsellors to do with the Church? Whereas the unrighteousness of these officers was one great crime laid to the charge of Jerusalem, while their purity is an essential condition to the carrying out of God's purposes of earthly government, of which Zion is the chosen centre.
There is another thing to notice here. The purification of Jerusalem is brought about, not by grace but by power. Where is there a New Testament prophecy intimating that after the corruption of the professing Church, God would come in and restore purity by the unsparing judgments referred to in these verses? Christianity is the period of God's forbearance and long-suffering, the period when Christ is waiting at God's right hand for His foes to be made His footstool. Judgment is what characterises God's dealings with the earth. Nothing is more suitable than such language as we have quoted when bringing back His earthly people, and re-establishing His scheme of earthly government; nothing more inconsistent with the whole spirit in which He is now acting. This distinction is clearly shown in the Psalms. There we have Christ's present attitude thus described: "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool (Ps. 110:1). Then follows God's principle of action when this season of expectation is closed. "Jehovah shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion; rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power" (vv. 2, 3). How exactly this agrees with what we have seen. During the day of God's grace, "Thy people," the Jews, are enemies. But when the day of Christ's power comes, when the rod of His strength goes out of Zion, His people are willing, and a remnant is gathered in righteousness. Not by the preaching of the gospel, only "when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will, learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9).
But this period of Jerusalem's prosperity and righteousness under the sceptre of the root of Jesse, is accompanied with blessings to the nations. Hear "the word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:1-4). This passage is expressly written concerning Judah and Jerusalem; it presents Christ, not pleading with the nations to be reconciled to Him, but judging and rebuking them; it foretells the blessings that will follow an earthly reign of peace and righteousness — blessings which are never in the New Testament predicted as about to flow from the spread of the gospel or Christianity; and it speaks, as I have before pointed out of "last days" as different from the "last days" predicted for the professing Church as light from darkness. It refers, therefore, to the literal nation of Israel, and the literal city of Jerusalem, and declares that when the sceptre of Christ's strength has gone out of Zion, not merely shall the nation be exalted above all others, but general blessing, and peace, and acknowledgment of God, shall prevail in the earth.
The rest of the chapter goes on to show how this period of blessing will be brought in. Is it by grace proclaimed? No, but by fearful judgments executed. "The day of Jehovah" comes, destroying the pride of man, causing him to throw his idols to the moles and to the bats, and to "go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of Jehovah, and for the glory of His majesty." The consequence of this terrible shaking of the earth, and bringing down the pride of man, is, that "Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isa. 2:12-22).
Isa. 14:1-2, foretells that "Jehovah will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them … and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors."
Again — "Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, says your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she has received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken it" (Isa. 40:1-5.) It is true that the cry here mentioned was raised by John the Baptist, who preceded Christ's first appearance. But John's testimony was to the kingdom, not to the Church, to the One who was to lay the axe to the root of the tree, the One who was to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. He called upon the people to fulfil that condition of national repentance which, as shown in Leviticus, was to precede national restoration. This appeal was refused, the forerunner beheaded, the Messiah crucified. The kingdom of glory and the restoration of Israel were therefore postponed and the land left desolate. But this only delays the accomplishment of the purpose. The time will come when the voice raised in the wilderness will be listened to, when God will again comfort His people, when He will be satisfied with the punishment He has laid upon them for their sins, and at that time His glory "shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."
In like manner — "Fear not thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel: I will help thee, says Jehovah, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff" (Isa. 41:14-15). And so too — "Thus says Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel — Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine. When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee, For I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel thy Saviour; I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not, for I am with thee. I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back; bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth" (Isa 43:1-6). And once more — "Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art My servant: I have formed thee; thou art My servant; O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me. I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins: return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee" (Isa. 44:21-22).
In the last foregoing passages, God, speaking by the national name of Jehovah, has said thrice over concerning Israel as a nation that He has redeemed it. Yet the accredited interpretation is, that He has deceived Israel with false hopes, and that when He spoke of Israel, He really meant something entirely different! Is it credible that Christians should dare to impute such deception to the One "who cannot lie"? If God could so cruelly deceive Israel, what reason have we to believe He is not equally deceiving us? The bare suggestion is shocking, and yet it is the inevitable inference arising out of the Romish and evangelical interpretation. But again, in one of these passages God speaks of making Israel a sharp threshing instrument, in another of gathering her sons and daughters from the ends of the earth, and in the third of her return to Him with her transgressions forgiven. All this exactly befits Israel's state. But is the Church a sharp threshing instrument? Has the Church ever been scattered to the ends of the earth? Or is the Church ever spoken of as having been estranged from God and coming back forgiven? Such are the contradictions involved in the ordinary interpretation. Quotations might be multiplied without end, but I select a few only. "The redeemed of Jehovah shall return and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away" (Isa. 2:1-4) When will the Church come to Zion? Or if Zion be spiritualised into heaven, how can the Church "return" where it has never been? "Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk of the hand of Jehovah the cup of His fury" (v. 17). Israel has drunk the cup of Jehovah's fury, but when has the Church done so? "Thus says thy Lord, Jehovah, and thy God that pleads the cause of His people, Behold I have taken out of thy hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of My fury; thou shalt no more drink it again, but I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee" (vv. 22-23). Applied to Israel, this is beautiful, consistent with other scripture, and adapted to her circumstances. Applied to the Church, the passage is absolutely without meaning.
How exquisite, also, when addressed to Israel, but how false and preposterous, if referred to the Church, is the following promise: "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thine husband, Jehovah of hosts is His name, and thy redeemer the Holy One of Israel … For a small moment have I forsaken thee" [for what "small moment" has Christ forsaken the Church?]; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee" (Isa. 54:4-8).
How sweet, too, the words of comfort directed to Israel in this passage. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the people: but Jehovah shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising… Thy suns shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side… The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee. Thy gates shall be open continually, they shall not be shut day nor night, that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish… The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee, and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, The city of Jehovah, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations" (Isa. 60:1-15).
The last portion of this prophet is so full of the theme that selection is almost impossible, but the above extracts, voluminous in themselves, though scanty in proportion to the matter out of which they are taken, will suffice to show the teaching of God's Word, as delivered by this inspired writer. Let us look, then, very briefly at the words of the other prophets. I begin with those who wrote before the fall of Jerusalem.
Hosea, after foretelling Israel's rejection under the parable of Lo-ammi, not My people, adds — "Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered" — the very promise given to Abraham — "and it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God" (Hos. 1:9-10). And in the closing chapter of his prophecy, he thus writes — "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for Mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return: they shall revive as the corn and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon" (Hos. 14:4-7)
Joel describes the time when the Lord will sit to judge all the heathen round about. Then "Jehovah also shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake; but Jehovah will be the hope of His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am Jehovah your God dwelling in Zion, My holy mountain. Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more" (Joel 3:16-17). When was this prophecy fulfilled?
Amos foretells that Jehovah "will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth." The sinners shall die, but God "will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the nations." Moreover, "I will bring again the captivity of My people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, says Jehovah thy God" (Amos 9:9-15). It is clear that the blessings predicted in this and the two preceding paragraphs did not receive their fulfilment in the return of the captivity from Babylon. Each describes a restoration under Jehovah's blessing, with a permanent condition of happiness and holiness; and this Israel has never yet enjoyed.
Obadiah announces the judgment awaiting Edom: "But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions;" and the captivity of Israel "shall possess the cities of the south, And saviours shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be Jehovah's" (Obadiah 17-21). In the last stage of the Jewish nation, before its complete absorption in the Roman Empire, instead of saviours on Mount Zion judging Esau, a descendant of Esau reigned in Mount Zion.
Micah repeats the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the "last days," adding "In that day, says Jehovah, will I assemble her that halts, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; and I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation; and Jehovah shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem" (Micah 4:6-8). It has not come yet. After foretelling the coming of Messiah to rule, the prophet thus describes the people of Israel in His day, as the centre at once of blessing and of judgment. "The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people, as a dew from Jehovah, as the showers upon the grass, that tarries not for man, nor waits for the sons of men; and the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many people, as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep; who, if he goes through, both treads down, and tears in pieces, and none can deliver. Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off" (v. 7-9). Could any language be more inappropriate, if applied to the Church? while, as we have seen, it exactly corresponds with the other predictions as to the place reserved for Israel in the government of the earth.
"The burden of Nineveh." This is the subject of "the book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite," and with this "burden" it is almost exclusively occupied. Turning aside, however, parenthetically to Israel, the prophet says in the name of the Lord — "Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more: for now will I break his yoke from off thee, and will burst thy bonds in sunder… Behold upon the mountains the feet of Him that brings good tidings that publishes peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows; for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off" (Nahum 1:12-15).
Zephaniah bids Israel wait till the Lord rises up to vengeance on her enemies, "for then will I turn to the people a pure language." Then they shall be gathered from Ethiopia, and "the remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity." "Sing, O daughter of Zion," he adds; "shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah has taken away thy judgments, He has cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not see evil any more" (Zeph. 3:8-15). Israel has seen evil enough since her return from the Babylonish captivity. It is to something much more than this, then, that the prophet refers.
The prophets of the captivity write in the same strain. "Turn, O backsliding children, says Jehovah; for I am married unto you; and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion; and I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding … At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem; neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers" (Jer. 3:14-18). Again, what can be clearer, as showing that Israel is meant, and not the Church, than the following prophecy? "Hear the word of Jehovah, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar of and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock. For Jehovah has redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of Jehovah, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd; and their soul shall be as a watered garden, and they shall not sorrow any more at all" (Jer. 31:10-12). "Moreover the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah, saying, Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which Jehovah has chosen, He has even cast them off? Thus they have despised My people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus says Jehovah, If My covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them" (Jer. 33:23-26). What kind of fulfilment has this prophecy received, either in Israel or in the Church?
In like manner Ezekiel writes — "Thus says the Lord Jehovah, When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the Gentiles, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to My servant Jacob. And they shall dwell safely therein, and shall build houses, and plant vineyards; yea, they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed judgments upon all those that despise them round about them, and they shall know that I am Jehovah, their God" (Ezek. 28:25-26). What simple blindness to apply this to the Church! So, again, — "I will take you from among the Gentiles, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" (Ezek. 36:24-25). The next chapter describes the vision of the dry bones, concerning which the prophet is told that "these bones are the whole house of Israel." But the Lord says — "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah" (vers. 11-13). Then follows the vision signifying the union of Judah and Israel, which is thus explained — "I will take the children of Israel from among the Gentiles, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one King shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all" (vers 21, 22).
Daniel foretells the history of Gentile rule, ending with the complete destruction of their power, and the setting up of the kingdom of the Son of Man; when "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High" (Dan. 7:27). These are persons on earth, for they are described two verses before as persecuted by the power symbolised in the "little horn." From this persecution they are saved by the judgment of the blasphemer, and the establishment of Messiah's kingdom. This fearful trial and deliverance are described further on. "There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book" (Dan. 12:1).
There are three still later prophets, whose writings date from after the partial restoration of the Jews under Zerubbabel. Of these, Haggai's short prophecy is more occupied with the present than the future. But he foretells a mighty event, "Thus says Jehovah of hosts, Yet once a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory" (Haggai 2:6-7). There was no such shaking at Christ's first coming, and on His coming at the end of the world, the temple, and the earth itself will have fled away. At His second coming we have seen that there will be a mighty shaking, fearful judgments, and a display in and from Jerusalem of His kingdom glory.
Zechariah is more occupied with the future. He writes — "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: for I, says Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her … Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, says Jehovah; and many nations shall be joined to Jehovah in that day … and Jehovah shall inherit Judah His portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again" (Zech. 2:4-12). So also — "I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them; and they shall be as though I had not cast them off; for I am Jehovah their God, and will hear them" (Zech. 10:6). Again, how unlike anything that has yet happened in Jewish history, and how utterly inapplicable to the Church, is such a prophecy as the following — "In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf, and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left, and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem" (Zech. 12:6). To apply this either to Israel's past history or to the Church is to turn prophecy into a mockery, and to deprive the Word of God of all value. Yet what can be simpler when read in the light of God's revealed purposes concerning the kingdom of His Son, who will appear to execute judgment having "on his vesture and on His thigh a name written — King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16).
Malachi predicts, as we have seen, the Lord's appearing, "like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap," so terrible that he asks — "Who may abide the day of His coming?" The effect of His return is that He purifies the house of Levi, so that they "offer unto Jehovah an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto Jehovah, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment … For I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Mal. 3:3-6).
Such is the unvarying testimony of the Hebrew prophets. Did God mean those to whom it was given to understand it in its natural sense, or not to understand it at all? Would it have been possible for any Jew to have understood it in any other sense than as a magnificent series of prophecies concerning his own nation? And is it credible that any believer in the Lord Jesus can maintain, that when God used language which could only arouse such hopes, He was mocking them with hollow and delusive expectations?
Let us take a parallel, though of course impossible, case. Let us imagine that the Lord sent a series of prophets who foretold the destruction of the British monarchy, the dispersion of the people, and the foreign occupation of the land; but, while announcing these woes, predicted in the same breath that, after a long period of national degradation and desolation, a great prince of the royal family would arise, the scattered people would be gathered, an era of untold prosperity and glory would dawn upon the country, and signal judgments would be inflicted on the foreign usurper. Supposing that the first part of this prophecy were fulfilled, the monarchy destroyed, the people dispersed, the country given over to foreign occupation, what would the British outcasts have to look forward to? Would it not be to the accomplishment of the other part of the same prophecy foretelling their final deliverance and blessing? And what would be said if a Russian priest, expounding these prophecies during the time of Britain's overthrow, were to explain the predictions of calamity as having had their literal fulfilment in the disgrace and dispersion of the English people, but to contend that the predictions of blessing had no reference to the nation whatever, and simply foretold the prosperity and glory of the Oriental Church — that when the prophets spoke of Britain they meant the Greek ecclesiastical system, when they spoke of London they meant Constantinople, when they spoke of the descendant of Queen Victoria they meant the Eastern patriarch? Would not everybody call this solemn trifling? And yet this is just what Christendom has done with the prophecies given to Israel. It has readily admitted that the curses are the national inheritance of the Jewish race, but it has appropriated to itself the blessings foretold by the same prophets, in the same breath, about the same people, and it has applied their promises of national prosperity and glory, dominion and vengeance, to a spiritual system which bears no more resemblance to the nation of Israel than the Greek Church to the British Empire.
Israel's restoration and blessing — Old Testament teaching (continued).
I Propose now to notice a few special features connected with the Messiah's reign and Israel's glory — again leaving Scripture to speak for itself.
I. This restoration is under a new covenant. "Behold, the days come, says Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, says Jehovah. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says Jehovah, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for all shall know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says Jehovah; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:31-34).
Thus there are three covenants; the first, an unconditional one, with Abraham, not yet fulfilled; the second, a conditional one, with Israel, which prevented the accomplishment of the first, by making it contingent on the people's obedience; the third, an unconditional one, also with Israel, which sets aside the second, and so renders possible the fulfilment of the first. But though the condition of the Sinai covenant is to be removed, national restoration and the fulfilment of the unconditional covenant with Abraham is not to take place until the time of national repentance. Though the promise is absolute, yet the nation must be in a fit state before it is fulfilled. God, then, engages to bring it into a fit state. Instead of leaving Israel to keep the law in their own strength, He undertakes to give them power to keep it. He makes a covenant with Judah and Israel to bring them to a condition of heart in which his promise to Abraham can be righteously carried out. He must have a righteous nation; He, therefore, comes in Himself to make it righteous.
That this covenant, which is said to be an everlasting covenant, is connected with the returned remnant of Israel, is also obvious; for we read — "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries whither I have driven them in Mine anger, and in My fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again into this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely, and they shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good, but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me" (Jer. 32:37-40).
In Isaiah, also, it is said — "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, and their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah has blessed" (Isa. 61:8-9). And again, the same prophet exclaims — "The Redeemer shall come to Zion and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, says Jehovah. As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says Jehovah; My Spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, says Jehovah, from henceforth and for ever" (Isa. 59:20-21).
Ezekiel also says, speaking of the nation as a whole, and of Judah and Israel as her two children, "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger; and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish My covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am Jehovah" (Ezek. 16:60-62). Israel's covenant, made at Sinai, could effect no restoration, but God promises to make a covenant, to endure for ever, in virtue of which national restoration and acknowledgment of Himself should be brought about. In a later part of his prophecy he again says — "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore… And the Gentiles shall know that I, Jehovah, do sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore" (Ezek. 37:26-28).
II. And if God engages to write His law in the heart of the people, He promises them at the same time the outpouring of His Spirit. Isaiah foretells national desolation "until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest" (Isa. 32:15). This is not the baptism of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, for it is to put an end to the desolation of Jerusalem, and to be followed by millennial blessings. So, too, Jehovah says — "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring" (Isa. 44:3).
But the most striking prophecy of this marvellous national event is to be found in the writings of Joel. He speaks of the restoration of the nation, and adds — "It shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of Jehovah come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance" (Joel 2:28-32).
Now this prophecy did not receive its fulfilment at Pentecost. Peter's object in quoting it on that occasion was not to show that it was then fulfilled, but to point out to the scoffing Jews that the miraculous power suddenly bestowed was nothing more than their own prophets had foretold as the effect of the Spirit's outpouring. There were no wonders in heaven, no blood, or fire, or vapour of smoke; so the apostle could not possibly mean that the prophecy was then really fulfilled. Moreover, both the context and the language of the prophecy itself show that its proper accomplishment was to be at the time of Israel's restoration; that it did not refer — though some parts of it might be applicable — to the baptism of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.
That the giving of the Spirit is accompanied with national blessings and return to the land is also shown by the words of Ezekiel — "I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses; and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you" (Ezek. 36:27-29). And once more — "Then shall they know that I am Jehovah their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the Gentiles; but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there; neither will I hide My face any more from them: for I have poured out My Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God "(Ezek. 39:28-29).
III. And this brings us to the great physical effects of this reign of righteousness. The world into which man was created was one in complete subjection to himself, one in which disease and death were unknown, one in which the earth brought forth all its fruits abundantly. Sin reversed this. The headship of man was shaken; disease, death, and sterility introduced. From that moment all creation has groaned and travailed in pain together. But the effect of the cross is to lay a righteous foundation for God "to reconcile all things unto Himself" (Col. 1:20), and at the manifestation of the sons of God, "the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19-21). Now this deliverance, this reversal of the condition of things brought in by sin, is clearly predicted in the old prophets.
Thus the curse of sterility, though partially removed at the time of the flood, still continued in large measure; for the abundant harvests promised to Israel were merely conditional on their obedience, and like all other blessings held by such a tenure, were lost through the nation's unfaithfulness. Thorns and briers were to be brought forth — the fruits of sin. But when the reign of righteousness begins, "instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off" (Isa. 55:13). Again — "I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together; that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of Jehovah has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it" (Isa. 41:18-20). So too, "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose" (Isa. 35:1).
Long before, when the Lord had foretold Israel's dispersion, repentance, and final return and blessing, He had said — "And Jehovah, thy God, will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good" (Deut. 30:9). And so, in the Psalms, speaking of Christ's reign, when God shall "judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth," the writer exclaims — "Let the people praise Thee, O God, let all the people praise Thee; then shall the earth yield her increase, and God, even our own God, shall bless us" (Ps. 67:4-6).
Ezekiel also foretells the time when they shall say, "This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden" (Ezek. 36:35); and Amos speaks of the days when "the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt" (Amos 9:13). So too, Joel prophesies of the days when God "will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. And He will restore to you the years that the locusts has eaten… And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of Jehovah your God, that has dealt wondrously with you: and My people shall never be ashamed" (Joel 2:23-26). In another chapter he adds — "In that day the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of Jehovah, and shall water the valley of Shittim" (Joel 3:18).
Again, the ferocity of the wild beasts is restrained; and man's supremacy established. To the Son of man — the Second Man — all nature is made subject, "all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passes through the paths of the sea" (Ps. 8:7-8). Hence "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together: and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den" (Isa. 11:6-8).
But, still further, longevity will be restored; if, indeed, death, save as the judgment of sin, will not be abolished, and the age of man prolonged to the full period of Christ's reign. "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that has not filled his days; for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed" (Isa. 65:17-20). Now this is not heaven, nor the new creation spoken of in the New Testament, for in neither of those has sin or death any place. Indeed, before God makes all things new as foretold in the Revelation, the last enemy, death, has been destroyed. (Rev. 20:14.) The Old Testament never gets beyond the world, for that is its sphere, and the reign of Christ is the type, the partial accomplishment, of that perfect reconciliation, the full fruits of which will be seen only in the new heaven and the new earth spoken of in the Revelation and the Epistle of Peter. In those new heavens and new earth righteousness dwells; in the new heavens and new earth of Isaiah righteousness only reigns, judging sin and repressing it, but not bringing it entirely to an end.
But though the results are only partial as compared with the full accomplishment of God's purposes revealed in the New Testament, they are yet most blessed and most appropriate. It is true that they are ordinarily understood as merely poetical figures of spiritual blessing, and it is even thought by some unworthy of God, or impossible as a physical fact, to bring in such results as those named. Are the evils introduced, however, the punishment which God inflicted on account of sin? Are they the special scourges by which He visited His chosen earthly people for their disobedience and rebellion? If they are, the One who had power to bring them in has power to take them away. If it was worthy of Him to bring them in, it is worthy of Him to take them away. If the one was his righteous answer to sin, the other is His righteous answer to the cross. When God is dealing with the earth, earthly calamities have always marked His displeasure, and earthly blessings His approval. We forget that what philosophers call the order of nature is really its disorder; that this groaning creation came from the hand of God "very good;" and that its present condition is the anarchy of sin, not the design of the Creator. Now that the Lamb of God has borne the sin of the world, God can remove the curse, and reconcile the disordered creation to Himself. This He will do perfectly in the new creation, but partially in the kingdom glory and blessedness of His anointed Son.
IV. But, besides the general descriptions of the prosperity and glory of Israel under the reign of the Messiah, we have somewhat fuller particulars of many features of their national polity. The concluding chapters of Ezekiel's prophecy give the plan of the temple, down to the most minute details, describe the sacrifices offered, the order of priests instituted, the return of the glory of Jehovah to dwell in the sanctuary, the dimensions and divisions of the reconstructed city, the fresh arrangement of the land among the tribes, and a number of similar points, all perfectly intelligible if we let Scripture interpret itself, but all mysterious and difficult to the last degree if treated as an allegory descriptive of the blessings to be enjoyed under Christianity.
It is easy enough to understand a general description of the Church under the figure of a temple, a city, or the people Israel. Indeed, all these figures are applied to it in the New Testament. But in Ezekiel it is not such a general description of a temple. All the details are arranged with an architectural precision wholly unsuited to allegory, but most necessary in describing the plan of a real building. The glory of Jehovah, as beheld in the first chapter of Ezekiel's prophecy, which was seen to quit the temple and Jerusalem in the tenth chapter, is again, after long absence, seen to fill this reconstructed sanctuary. "And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east, and His voice was like a noise of many waters, and the earth shined with His glory. And the glory of Jehovah came into the house, by the way of the gate whose prospect is towards the east. So the Spirit took me up, and brought me into the inner court, and behold the glory of Jehovah filled the house" (Ezek. 43:2-5). His voice then gives directions about the altar, and about the sin-offerings and burnt-offerings in connection with its cleansing (vv. 19-27). In the following chapter He ordains that certain of the Levites, whose fathers had fallen into idolatry, should not come near to minister; while "the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near to Me, to minister unto Me, and they shall stand before Me to offer unto Me the fat and the blood" (Ezek. 44:10-15). The Lord also defines the garments which these priests shall wear, the class of persons they shall marry, the judicial functions they shall perform, and the portion of the offerings they shall receive. Here, to accept God's Word as meaning what it says, makes everything simple, to attempt to allegorise it is to throw it into hopeless confusion.
To some minds it may present a difficulty that animal sacrifices should be again spoken of. But an animal sacrifice was never in itself of any value as an offering. It was but a type of the true sacrifice, and such a type may be just as suitable in remembrance of the sacrifice as in anticipation. We observe the Lord's Supper, showing His body given and His blood shed. In an earthly religion the types are of a more earthly character, and the actual shedding of blood, not in renewal, but in remembrance, of the sacrifice of Himself made by Jesus to God, will be the divinely-appointed way of celebrating this event. Nor is this the only difference. Our sphere of worship is in heaven itself, inside the veil, where Christ has entered "by His own blood" (Heb. 9:12), so that we have "boldness to enter into the holiest," by "a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh" (Heb. 10:19-20). Any "pattern," therefore, of the heavenly things, whether temple, altar, sacrifice, or priest, would be inappropriate — in fact, a denial of the heavenly character of our worship. But when God resumes His dealings with the earth, the worship on earth will again be, what it ought to have been in Israel of old, a "pattern" of the heavenly worship. There will, therefore, be again a holy city, a holy temple, a holy altar, a holy sacrifice, and a holy priesthood — all patterns of the heavenly things. For if patterns of heavenly worship are restored, sacrifices must be restored too, inasmuch as it is "necessary that the patterns of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (Heb. 9:23). Here the distinction is not between the times before Christ's death and the times after; but between worship in the heavenly places, which we now have, and worship in an earthly temple — a figure of the heavenly — which Israel had in old times, and will have again in the days spoken of by the prophet. Thus the teaching of the Hebrews shows the reason, — indeed the necessity — for that which Ezekiel predicts, and if we apprehend the difference between heavenly and earthly worship, the beauty and significance of the return to these types will not be difficult to discern.
Certain of the feasts also are reinstituted. "In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten" (Ezek. 45:21). And "in the seventh month, in the fifteenth day of the month, shall he do the like in the feast of seven days" (v. 25). This is the feast of tabernacles. Of old the command given to the Israelite was, "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before Jehovah thy God in the place which He shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles" (Deut. 16:16). The passages just quoted from Ezekiel show that two out of these three great feasts, the feast of unleavened bread, and the feast of tabernacles, will be renewed. But neither here nor elsewhere is any mention made of the third feast, "the feast of weeks," or of Pentecost. Surely, however, if Ezekiel's prophecy were symbolical of the Church, the omitted feast would be most prominent. It was the feast of first-fruits, and as such the Holy Ghost was given on that day to form the Church, the first-fruits of the work of Christ. This, then, is the very reason of its omission. The full significance of this beautiful type is exhausted in the Church, and it no longer appears, therefore, after the Church's removal, among the institutions of the earthly people. Zechariah tells us a still further detail. The passover will apparently be observed by the Jews alone: but "every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles" (Zech. 14:16). Should this homage be omitted, the penalty is "no rain;" except in the case of Egypt, where, as there is no rain, a plague is sent instead (vv. 17-19). How utterly inapplicable all these minute and interesting details are to the Church of God; how beautifully appropriate to the literal reign of the Messiah over restored Israel.
Ezekiel goes on to describe the dimensions of the city and its various divisions. Now in Revelation 21 we have the Church, called also "the bride, the Lamb's wife," described under the figure of a city. The slightest examination of that account will show that it is not the description of a place, but a mere symbolical setting forth of the heavenly glories and blessedness of the Church. Its dimensions, its cubical form, its position, its materials, its foundations, its gates — its very definition, not as the dwelling-place of the Church, but as the Church itself — plainly show that this dazzling vision was not a sight of heaven, but a magnificent figure of the moral glories of the body of Christ, the fulness of Him that fills all in all. Compare this with the city described in Ezekiel. The latter is large, but suited to the dimensions of the land; splendid, but with nothing exceeding earthly splendour; it has a temple, while the other has none. In every particular it presents a contrast rather than suggests a comparison. How is this? Simply because they describe totally different things. The one is the plan of a splendid earthly city; the other the figure of a portion of the redeemed in heavenly glory.
Again Ezekiel gives the limits of the land occupied, and its division among the various tribes. The land, instead of being the restricted portion taken possession of by the Israelites of old, corresponds far more nearly with the large promise given to Abraham. The distribution of the tribes over this extended area is entirely different from that made by Joshua and his fellow-assessors. What meaning has all this when applied to the Church? Understand it literally, as every spiritual Israelite must have understood it, and it presents no difficulty whatever, but simply furnishes interesting details of that blessed period when Israel, delivered from her enemies, and restored to Jehovah's favour, shall enjoy under the Messiah's rule the yet unfulfilled promises made to Abraham and David.
Christ's reign and Israel's restoration — New Testament teaching.
The question now naturally arises, whether the New Testament confirms the Old Testament prophecies as to Israel's blessing and the Messianic kingdom, or whether it diverts the blessings to the Church, and makes the kingdom a spiritual reign?
The birth of Jesus was thus announced: — "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:31-33). In the same strain Mary prophesies — "He has holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever" (vv. 54, 55). Shortly afterwards Zacharias says — "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life" (vv. 68-75). Again the angels, speaking to the shepherds, say, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people (that is, Israel — not "all people," as in our translation); for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). Here we have Israel, an earthly people; the throne of David, an earthly throne; perpetual dominion, the promise to David's seed; in fact, throughout these prophecies, the titles given, the offices described, and the blessings foretold, are altogether of a national character. It is only by setting abide facts, or by adopting a strained and highly unnatural system of interpretation, that the language can be applied to Christ's first coming or to the Church.
Before the birth of Jesus, the angel, addressing Joseph as the "son of David," says that Mary "shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Now here, Joseph is accosted as of David's lineage, and the name given to the child, Jehoshua, or Jehovah the Saviour, is again the special name by which God had connected Himself with Israel (Ex. 6:2-4). Looked at in this light, the words "His people" could have but one meaning in Joseph's ears. The angel's message was to him of a national saviour, the promised seed of David, the Son and the anointed of God, who should appear for the deliverance of His chosen people. The writer adds (v. 22) "All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel; which being interpreted is, God with us." In the passage here quoted (Isa. 7:14), the birth of Emmanuel is the sign given to the king of Judah of national deliverance, and the destruction of national foes. In the next chapter the enemy comes up against Judah — "He shall reach even to the neck, and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of Thy land, O Emmanuel. Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces" (Isa. 8:8-9). Here again, then, in the only other passage where the name occurs, it is suggestive of kingly dominion, Israel's deliverance, and Gentile judgments. The names of Christ in Scripture are always significant, and the name here set as the frontispiece of Matthew's Gospel, spoke, to every Jewish ear, not of the Lamb led to the slaughter, but of the Victor ruling in the midst of His enemies.
The same Jewish line of thought distinguishes the language of the aged and devout Simeon. What he was waiting for was, not the Saviour of sinners, but "the consolation of Israel." What he was to see before his death was, not the despised and rejected One, but Jehovah's anointed. When he beholds the child Jesus, he recognises in Him these characters, and praises the Lord — "For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation." But this salvation was national; it was to be displayed before all the people, was "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel." And though the Spirit leads him on to foretell the rejection of Jesus, still even here, the aspect in which he regards Him is as One "set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel" (Luke 2:25-35). Here, then, all through, the words and thoughts of Simeon are taken up with the promises of blessing to God's earthly people, and the national deliverance which was to be brought them by the Messiah.
So, too, the mission of the wise men of the East is not to the meek and lowly One, but to Him "that is born King of the Jews" — a foretaste of the homage of the nations, when "the kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents, the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts" (Ps. 72:10). In the same spirit, the chief priests and scribes, when asked about his birthplace, reply by quoting Micah's prophecy, where He is spoken of as "the governor" and the ruler of "My people Israel" (Matt. 2:1-6). Thus prominently are kingly lineage and dignity brought out in the accounts of His birth and childhood.
Everything, then, in the names, the nativity, the first announcement, and the early prophecies of Jesus, speak of Him as the One who was to carry out God's purposes revealed in the Old Testament, concerning Israel and the earth. Let us now look at the testimony of John the Baptist. When yet a child, his father prophesied that he should "be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto His people, by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:76-79). Now this is part of a hymn of praise addressed to "the Lord God of Israel," who "has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David." When, therefore, Zacharias speaks of "us," or of "God's people," he means Israel. So that the salvation which John was to proclaim, the remission of sins he was to announce, and the "dayspring" which had visited the people, are all of a national kind. However God's grace may have enlarged the sphere of the prophecy, its terms and its meaning, in the mouth of Zacharias, were simply Jewish.
Did John himself assume a different character? He came, "saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Was this, then, the kingdom in its present form of grace and forbearance, or in the prophetic form of righteousness and judgment? Two remarkable passages from the Old Testament are quoted with respect to John. "This is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (v. 3). But the passage here cited was spoken for the comfort of Jerusalem, which is told "that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she has received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins." It has its fulfilment, moreover, at the time when "the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isa. 40:1-5). The other prophecy is quoted by the angel, in speaking to Zacharias — "He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). This prophecy is taken from Malachi, and connects John's mission with "the coming of the great and dreadful day of Jehovah," with the time when "the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings, and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall, and ye shall tread down the wicked, and they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet" (Mal. 4:2-5). According to these prophecies, then, John was to proclaim the kingdom in visible power and judgment.
Does John's language bear this out? The kingdom, thus established, was, according to Old Testament prophecies, to be preceded by repentance in a remnant of the people. Now John demands repentance, and that they should "bring forth fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father, for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; 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" (Matt. 3:8-12). How exactly this agrees with what the prophets tell about the kingdom in its manifested power and glory. It is a message to Israel calling on them for the repentance which must precede the establishment of the kingdom, and declaring that when the kingdom is established, the terrible baptism of fire will consume the wicked, while the promised baptism of the Holy Ghost will come upon the faithful and repentant remnant. It is true that Israel refused the call, and that the kingdom in this form was therefore postponed; but are we, on this account, to suppose that the words mean something different from what they say? That the prophecy which, naturally interpreted, foretells the kingdom in outward display and manifested righteousness, really predicts something, not only different, but even antagonistic, in character. Surely it is wiser and more reverent to bow to God's Word, and to believe that though the delay is long, "as some men count slackness," His purpose is sure. We shall presently see how and why the delay was brought in. Meanwhile, it is of importance to observe that the testimony of John the Baptist, instead of toning down the language of the Old Testament prophets, to make it harmonise with God's present actings toward the world in grace, fully concurs with them in speaking of the kingdom as the theatre in which God's judgments and righteousness should be fully displayed, and in presenting Jesus as the Messiah by whom these judgments should be executed and this righteousness established.
The first appearance of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, shows the wide distinction between His grace, and the righteousness in which He will execute judgment in the setting up of the visible kingdom. "He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book, … and He began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:17-22). But why did Jesus close the book at this point? In the prophecy He was reading, the words with which He concluded stand in the middle of a sentence. The language of Isaiah is, — "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isa. 61:2-3). Why, then, did Jesus close the book so abruptly? If, as is ordinarily contended, the whole of this prophecy is fulfilled in Christianity, if these blessings and judgments are brought about by the preaching of the gospel, why is the quotation so strangely broken off? On this theory it is wholly unintelligible. But what, on the other hand, can be simpler to those who follow Scripture instead of coaxing Scripture to follow them? The first part is quoted because it has its fulfilment, or at least a fulfilment, under God's present dealings. The second part is omitted, because the time for the establishment of the kingdom in outward display, with the execution of God's vengeance, and the blessing "to them that mourn in Zion," had not yet arrived. The abrupt closing of the book shows that the remainder of the prophecy had no fulfilment in Christ's first coming. It awaits its accomplishment on His second advent in power and glory.
The Gospel of Matthew records God's dispensational ways, showing how the great national sin of Christ's rejection led to the postponement of Jewish hopes, and a temporary alteration in the form of the kingdom. Chapter 12 describes the nation conspiring against Jesus, who pronounces their doom, declaring the last state of the wicked generation to be worse than the first. Hence, in the next chapter, He will only speak to the multitude in parables, quoting against them the prophecy in which Isaiah foretells that their eyes should be blinded and their hearts made gross. So far, however, is this prophecy from predicting their permanent blindness and rejection, that it expressly declares the term of their punishment and the restoration of a remnant. But while thus turning from the multitude, and foretelling their temporary rejection, He unfolds to His disciples, to whom it was "given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," the new and mysterious form in which this kingdom was about to be set up. Does this mystery then endure, like the prophetic kingdom, to the end of the world? Is it, like that kingdom, brought in by judgment, administered in righteousness, and resplendent in glory? On the contrary, its duration is only to "the end of the age" — the period when the prophetic kingdom will begin: it is introduced, not by judgment, but by the quiet sowing of seed; it is administered, not in righteousness, but in forbearance, the tares growing with the wheat; and instead of manifesting God's glory on earth, the whole mass becomes leavened with corruption. It is different in form from the kingdom promised, and is limited in time till that kingdom is introduced. Instead of superseding the prophetic kingdom, it merely fills up the interval till the Jews are ready to receive it.
In Matthew 16 Jesus formally abandons, as to public testimony, His Jewish character of Messiah, charging "His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ" (v. 20). He takes up, instead, the new title of "Son of the living God" (v. 16), on which He says that He will build his Church. He foretells the kingdom of heaven in a new form, not in glory but in weakness; not connected with the crown of earthly power, but with the cross of earthly rejection. But is the outward kingdom, therefore, abandoned? At the close of His discourse, Jesus adds — "There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom" (v. 28). Another evangelist says — "Till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1); and another, "Till they see the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:27). Now in each case these remarkable words are immediately followed by the story of the transfiguration. Surely this suggests, that the transfiguration was a prophetic display of the kingdom in power made to chosen witnesses, at the moment when it was for a time to be set aside by the mysterious form in which the kingdom now appears. But what the Gospels suggest, Peter expressly states. "We have not," he says, "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. For He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:16-18). The transfiguration, therefore, was God's witness to the "power and coming" of Christ, the proof furnished that, notwithstanding the postponement of the Jewish hope, the prophetic kingdom was still as sure in His purposes as ever, and that Jesus, now rejected in His grace, would return in power and glory to revive the kingdom in all its outward display.
In Matthew 19:28, Jesus tells His disciples — "In the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The Son of man sitting in the throne of His glory, is the very thing shown to Daniel as about to happen after the destruction of the Gentile powers (Dan. 7:14). It is the very thing which, as we have seen, all the promises and prophecies, all the revealed counsels of God as to earthly government or blessing, led the disciples to anticipate. It is the very thing of which Gabriel spoke to Mary, and of which Zechariah prophesied. It was to happen at the "regeneration," the very "times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21). It was to be connected with Israel, the invariable centre of God's purposes when He asserts his governmental authority upon the earth. Could words more clearly indicate the establishment of the Messianic kingdom in visible power and glory?
Indeed the name "Son of man" is, when applied to Christ in the Old Testament, always used in connection with dominion and dignity. It is the Son of man who has all things put under his feet (Ps. 8:6); who, as the Man of God's right hand, delivers downcast Israel (Ps. 80:17); and who receives the kingdom from the Ancient of days (Dan. 7:13-14). In the New Testament it is, except in one instance, only used by Jesus in speaking of Himself. Taken in connection with the passages named, it could convey to His hearers no other thought than of Him whom God had appointed to exercise authority on earth; who, though with no place to lay His head, though rejected, betrayed, and crucified, was yet clothed with power to forgive sins, was Lord of the Sabbath, would appear in the clouds of heaven with great glory, for the destruction of His enemies and the deliverance of His people. In other words, it was a title suggestive of the Jewish hopes; and "the coming of the Son of man" is always spoken of in connection with His appearance to set up the Messianic kingdom.
In Matthew 21:1-16, Jesus enters Jerusalem meek and lowly, riding on an ass. A portion of the people respond, hailing him as King, as Son of David, and applying to Him the language of Psalm 118 — "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord." This, as the psalm shows, is the language in which the Jews acknowledge their crucified Messiah, when the stone which the builders rejected becomes the head stone of the corner (vv. 22-26). At this time, however, it is used only by babes and sucklings, the weak things of the world, while the nation as a whole once more refuses Him. But this refusal is not final, as our Lord's words plainly show; for while declaring that, in consequence of their guilt, their house would be left unto them desolate, He adds, — "I say unto you, ye shall not see Me henceforth." For how long? Till the end of the world? No, but, "till ye shall say, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:38-39). This language they had refused when uttered by babes and sucklings, but when they adopt it, they will see Jesus again, and their house will no longer be left desolate.
In the same chapter (21) the Lord asks the Jews — "Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner; this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore, say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (vv. 42-44). Here are three prophecies concerning the stone, those who fall on it, and those on whom it falls. The first, from Psalm 118:22-23, shows that the stone, though at first refused by Israel, afterwards becomes the head of the corner. The second, from Isaiah 8:14, declares Christ to be "for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel." But mark what follows. The testimony is bound up, the law sealed among His disciples, and the prophet waits on the Lord who hides His face from Israel. Then come deep anguish and darkness, from which the people emerge and joy before the Lord, "as men rejoice when they divide the spoil;" "for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isa. 9:3, 6). Thus Isaiah's words coincide with our Lord's — the nation which stumbles on the stone is broken, not destroyed. The third prophecy is from Daniel 2, and foretells a very different fate for those on whom the stone falls; for while Israel, stumbling on the stone, is broken, but afterwards healed, the Gentile powers, which for a time have taken the dominion out of Israel's hands, are struck by the stone, "are broken to pieces together, and become like the chaff of the summer threshing floors" (Dan. 2:35).
In Matthew 23 Jesus says that the Jews shall not see Him again till they shall say — "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord;" in other words, that they will see Him, when their predicted repentance shall take place. The disciples then (Matt. 24:3) ask — "What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?" This can only refer to the coming just before named, when the Jews should be prepared to receive Him. Of His coming for His saints they as yet knew nothing. And they manifestly are asking, not about the end of the world (though our translation thus renders it), but about "the end of the age," when Jewish rejection would terminate and Messiah's reign begin.
Nor does the Lord's reply point to the end of the world. It is a prediction of woes, partially accomplished in the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, but awaiting a far more fearful fulfilment when the "abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stands in the holy place" (v. 15); and during a period of "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (v. 21). But in their darkest hour; there shall suddenly "appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth [or land] mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30).
Now, that this is not the coming at the end of the world, is obvious from the two Old Testament prophecies quoted. The great tribulation spoken of by Daniel precedes Israel's deliverance. "There shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book" (Dan. 12:1) The time of national mourning for Him whom they had pierced, described by Zechariah, is also, not at the end of the world, but when the Lord "shall defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem," and shall "seek to destroy all the nations that come against" her (Zech. 12:8-12). So that this prophecy of our Lord's does not describe the end of the world, but Israel's deliverance, or the end of the age. And the following parables, of the steward, the virgins, the talents, and the judgment of the nations, all describe events happening at the coming of Christ either for His saints or to receive His earthly kingdom. The last parable makes the character of this kingdom particularly clear. It portrays the time "when the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with him. Then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all the nations." Over the nations thus assembled, He exercises authority as "King" (Matt. 25:31-34). We saw in a former part that this is not the judgment day, and that the nations gathered are the nations of the living, not of the dead. Christ, therefore, comes in His glory, executes judgment, and reigns as king, before the end of the world. But besides the proofs formerly given, the time when "the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory" is, in a passage recently quoted, said to be "the regeneration" (Matt. 19:28). It will hardly be urged that the regeneration is the judgment day! Nor can it mean the new heavens and the new earth, for in them Christ is not "king," having "delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father" (1 Cor. 15:24). Moreover, in the new heavens and the new earth, neither death nor sin have any place, whereas both are present in this solemn scene. But while the reign and glory here named can be neither at nor after the end of the world, how fully they correspond with the descriptions given in the Old Testament of the inauguration of the visible kingdom of Christ, when "He comes to judge the earth," when "He shall judge the world with righteousness and the people with His truth" (Ps. 96:13).
The other Gospels are not so distinctly dispensational in their teaching as Matthew's. In the Gospel of Luke, however, we get two remarkable expressions which help to throw light upon the subject. There Jesus is asked when the predicted destruction of Jerusalem and the temple will take place. In reply He details events which are generally admitted to be those preceding and accompanying the sack of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Titus. The result is thus related — "They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:7-24). He then foretells signs in heaven, distresses on earth, and the appearance of the Son of man "with power and great glory;" adding — "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh" (vv. 25-28). Now throughout this discourse, which is related by all the three synoptic evangelists, though with very important variations, the disciples are treated as Jews interested in and asking about the future history of their people. Bearing this in mind, let us inquire what the portions we have quoted mean. They say that Jerusalem is to be under Gentile rule "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;" that then fearful troubles arise, Christ appears "with power and great glory," and "your redemption" — that is, Jewish deliverance — takes place. Compare this with the two prophecies of Daniel. In both he traces "the times of the Gentiles," in both he describes Christ's appearance in power and glory, in both this appearance ends in the destruction of Gentile rule, and the establishment of Messiah's kingdom; while in one of the visions, the saints who have been persecuted share the dominion. In other words the redemption of the faithful remnant of Israel takes place at the same time as the setting up of the Messiah's rule. Can there be a doubt that our Lord's discourse here describes the same period and the same event foretold by the Hebrew prophet?
In Luke, too, we have the same difference between the kingdom in its mysterious and in its manifested form, that we have before noted in Matthew. In the former shape it was already come, in the latter it was indefinitely postponed. Thus, when Jesus "was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with outward show, neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is among you" [see margin] (Luke 17:20-21); and He goes on to distinguish this from the glory that will be manifested, and the judgment that will be executed, "in the day when the Son of man is revealed" (vv. 24-30). Shortly afterwards, He "spake a parable because He was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." Thus the kingdom had already come, but the appearing, or manifestation, was still future. In this parable He sought to remove their misapprehension by tracing the course of events from His rejection till His return in power and glory, that is, during the period when the kingdom exists, but in its mysterious, or unmanifested, form. "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading." He then reckons with the servants, rejecting the unfaithful, and rewarding the faithful by giving them a share in his dominion proportioned to their fidelity; after which he solemnly commands — "Those mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me" (Luke 19:11-27). Here, in parabolic form, we have an accurate outline of God's ways. Jesus departs from the world, pursued by the hatred of His citizens, who will not have His rule, to take the kingdom from the Father's hand, and having received it, to return. Meanwhile those who own His lordship, Christendom, are left in charge of His interests down here. When He receives the kingdom, He will come back, rejecting the unfaithful servants, but giving authority to the faithful, and executing judgment on all His enemies. Thus perfectly do Luke and Matthew agree with the Old Testament teaching.
Such, then, is the testimony of the Gospels. Instead of diverting the Old Testament prophecies to the Church, it distinctly reserves them for Israel, thus demonstrating the oneness of God's purposes, vindicating the truth of His promises, and overthrowing the false system of interpretation by which these promises are obscured or nullified.
In the Acts we read that just before our Lord's ascension His disciples ask Him a question — "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Now surely if the disciples were still cherishing a vain delusion — if the kingdom never was to be restored to Israel, but Israel's portion was to be spiritualised away into the Church's blessing — Jesus would at least have abstained from giving an answer to this question which would tend to foster their fallacious hopes. Instead of hinting, however, that these expectations were unfounded, He replies in a manner distinctly calculated to confirm them. He says — "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power" (Acts 1:6-7). Both the New and the Old Testaments foreshadow a period of indefinite duration, during which the Jews are deprived of their national blessings, and this text tells us that it is not yet in God's purposes to reveal the time of their restoration; but so far from saying that this restoration should not take place, the language used clearly implies that it will.
The re-establishment and deliverance of Israel have, however, been shown to be connected with the return of the Messiah, and the chapter we are now looking at bears a distinct testimony on this point likewise. No sooner is Jesus caught up than two men stand by the disciples "in white apparel, which also said, 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" (vv. 10, 11). And while, in the next chapter, it is stated that God has raised Jesus to sit at His own right hand, "until I make Thy foes Thy footstool;" it is as distinctly stated that He shall occupy the earthly throne of David. For David, it says, "being a prophet," knew "that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh" God "would raise up Christ to sit on his throne" (Acts 2:30). These words were spoken before a Jewish audience, and yet not a word or hint was uttered to show that anything different was meant from what every Jew must necessarily have understood.
The personal return of Jesus for the restoration of Jewish privileges, and at the time of national repentance, is still more strikingly shown a little further on in the same apostolic history. We there find Peter taught by the Holy Ghost, urging the nation to repentance by this very promise. "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, in order that" [I give the version admitted to be correct by all scholars] "the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21). What are "the times of restitution of all things?" They cannot be the end of the world, for that is the time of destruction of all things. Besides, which of the prophets had spoken of this event? The prophets are full of "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." When Peter addressed the Jews, the sufferings were past but the glory was to come. This glory, then, of which all the prophets have spoken, is the "restitution of all things" mentioned by Peter — of the temple, of the kingdom, of the throne of David — all which the Jews hoped for, all which, at the time of their repentance, they will have fulfilled. And at that time God will send Jesus Christ once more from heaven. He is not gone there till the end of the world, but till these times come, and when they are come, He will return to the earth, be seen by His people, and "restore again the kingdom to Israel."
In the Epistles comparatively little is said on this subject. We find, however, that "the promises" are still spoken of as the portion of Paul's "kinsmen according to the flesh," and this in the very chapters which explain God's reason for their temporary excision. These words were penned after Israel had been cut off, and could have no meaning at all except in prospect of her national restoration. No refining can make the Israelites here to mean the Church, for already the Church was in existence, and the Israelites, Paul's kinsmen according to the flesh, are spoken of in contrast with the Church. Yet while thus speaking of them, and while mourning over their unbelief, he says that to them "the promises" still pertain (Rom. 9:4).
But in a subsequent chapter he goes further than this. He declares that the riches of the Gentiles, which are partially realised by the diminishing of Israel, will be completely obtained by their fulness (Rom. 11:12); that "all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (v. 26); and that though, "as concerning the gospel, they are enemies," yet "as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (vv. 28, 29). It has been already shown that these passages cannot refer to the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. I may now point out that the restoration spoken of is national and local, is in fulfilment of God's gift to the fathers and in connection with national repentance, is accompanied by the return of the Messiah, and results in blessings to all the nations of the earth. In a word, it corresponds with all that the prophets foretell, and the Gospels and the Acts confirm.
The Epistle to the Hebrews says — "Unto the angels has He not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the Son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest Him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst Him with glory and honour, and didst set Him over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet" (Heb. 2:5-8). The Psalm quoted adds, "all sheep and oxen," and "whatsoever passes through the paths of the sea" (Ps. 8:7-8), thus showing that this "world to come" does not mean heaven, nor yet the "new earth" in which there is "no more sea" (Rev. 21:1). The word used for "world" is one, moreover, which always means the inhabited earth. This world, then, is to be brought into complete and absolute subjection to Christ, "for in that He put all in subjection under Him, He left nothing that is not put under Him."
May not this, however, be by the conversion of the world? The language forbids it for where is the Church spoken of as put under Christ's feet? This implies the ascendency, not of love, but of power — enemies conquered, not enemies reconciled. Besides, what meaning would attach, on such an interpretation, to the dominion given over "sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field"? But the character of the dominion is also shown by other passages. "To which of the angels," asks the apostle, "said He at any time, Sit on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool"? (Heb. 1:13). And again — "This Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool" (Heb. 10:12-13). These are quotations from Psalm 110. Taking the passages together, they show Jesus undergoing death, seated at God's right hand, and waiting for the time when all things shall be put under His feet and His enemies be made His footstool. Even if the former of these expressions could mean gradual reconciliation, it is surely impossible so to understand the latter. No stronger language could be used to express forcible subjugation; and the whole Psalm, which speaks of striking through kings, filling places with dead bodies, and wounding the heads over many countries, shows that such is the proper interpretation. The thing described in the Hebrews is, therefore, real earthly dominion, brought in by power and judgment; that is, the very same thing constantly foretold by the Old Testament prophets.
Numerous other passages in the New Testament allude to Christ's appearing to take His dominion, adding, however, two features, about which the old prophets are silent. These passages, already quoted, declare that "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye" — believers — "also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4); that it is this "manifestation of the sons of God" — Christ and His fellow-heirs — for which "the earnest expectation of the creature waits," and by which it is to be "delivered from the bondage of corruption" (Rom. 8:19-22); that when this manifestation takes place, "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God" (2 Thess. 1:7-8); that in this appearance He will be followed by the armies of heaven, believers previously caught up to be with Him; and that with them, He will execute judgment on the beast and false prophet, after which Satan will be bound, and the reign of Christ and His saints established for a thousand years (Rev. 19-20.) That this reign will be earthly, moreover, though extending to heaven too, is part of the "good pleasure which God has purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in Him, in whom also we have obtained an inheritance" (Eph. 1:9-11). And that this sway is wielded by power is also clear, "for He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet," giving up the dominion when the last enemy, death, has been destroyed (1 Cor. 15:25-26). The saints, who are His fellow heirs, reign with Him, and thus it is that "the saints shall judge the world," and even more, "shall judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:2-3) All these and other passages before referred to, show that Christ returns to liberate creation from its bondage, to deliver Israel from her ruin, and to reign over the earth in righteousness; adding, however, to the Old Testament teaching, the two weighty facts, that in this reign the heavenly saints will be His fellow-heirs, and that at its commencement, the earliest promise will receive at least a partial fulfilment in the binding and imprisonment of Satan.
And here I may notice a phrase, frequently found in the Old, and occasionally in the New, Testament — "the day of the Lord." In the Old Testament the coming of the day of Jehovah or the Lord, though once or twice used of some special national judgment, is generally employed to describe that fearful time when "the loftiness of man shall be bowed down" (Isa. 2:12-22); when "the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood" (Joel 2:31); when Jehovah "will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle;" and will "go forth and fight against those nations" (Zech. 14:1-3). Now these and other passages in the Old Testament sufficiently identify the coming of the day of the Lord with the period described in the gospel, when "there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity;" when they shall "see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory," and when Israel is bidden to lift up her head, for her "redemption draws nigh" (Luke 21:25-28).
The coming of the day of the Lord is, therefore, identical in point of time with the coming of the Son of man. The latter is always described as taking the world by surprise. "As in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matt. 24:38-39). In like manner the day of the Lord is declared both by Paul and Peter to come "as a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). This coming of the day of the Lord, therefore, ushers in the fearful judgments and the national deliverance wrought by Christ when He returns in power and great glory to reign on the earth.
There is another link between the coming of the day of the Lord, and the coming of the Son of man. We have seen that the day of the Lord is said by two apostles to come as a thief in the night. The use of the same expression by each is remarkable, and suggests that both writers were citing some saying well known to their readers. Indeed the language of Paul implies this — "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." And the words of Peter — "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," — seem rather like the emphasising of a proverbial truth than the unfolding of anything new. To what familiar words, then, were the writers here referring? Our Lord had told His disciples "that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched and would not have suffered his house to be broken up," adding — "therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man comes" (Matt. 24:43-44). It is surely evident that the apostles were referring to these memorable words. But how is it possible that they should both have caught up the figure used by our Lord in this passage, if they had not been speaking of the same thing that He was? The coming of "the day of the Lord" is therefore the same event as the coming of "the Son of man." But this is not all. The expression occurs once again. After describing how the powers of the world gather their forces together, as predicted in the second Psalm, to make war against Christ, He Himself solemnly interjects, "Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watches" (Rev. 16:15). Now this is spoken in the immediate prospect of His coming in judgment to destroy His enemies and set up his kingdom. The same remarkable expression, therefore, is used, first with respect to the return of Christ in power to reign over the earth; secondly, with respect to the coming of the day of the Lord; and thirdly, with respect to the coming of the Son of man. We have before seen that the three events here named exactly resemble each other in character and time. What other inference, then, is possible but that they are really only different names, or rather different aspects, of the same tremendous transaction?
But though this is the character of the coming of the day of the Lord, the day itself goes much beyond this. In Isaiah 2, we see the fearful judgments with which the day commences, but we read also that "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." Now this indefinite phrase "that day," here manifestly meaning the day of the Lord, or Jehovah, is constantly repeated, without anything in the context to explain it, throughout the prophetic writings. "In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks" (Isa. 26:1). "In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in Jehovah, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the holy One of Israel" (Isa. 29:18-19). "In that day I will cause the horn of the house of Israel to bud forth, and I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of thee; and they shall know that I am Jehovah" (Ezek. 29:21). "In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely" (Hos. 2:18) "That day," then, is obviously a well understood phrase, which, when used without special connection, implies the period of Messiah's reign and Israel's blessing. It is the day that commences with the coming of the day of the Lord, in other words, it is the day of the Lord, looked at, not in the light of the judgments by which it is inaugurated, but of the blessings which it introduces.
This expression, then, "the day of the Lord," instead of signifying a single event, like the Lord's coming, is the period extending from the appearance of Christ to execute judgment on the earth all through His glorious reign. It is contrasted with the day of man. Hitherto man has acted in defiance of God without any direct check. In the day of the Lord, this will not be. Sin will be repressed, and the consequences of sin in a great measure restrained; man's lawlessness will be curbed, his haughtiness "bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." With this understanding of the phrase, the New Testament perfectly agrees, for while Peter says that "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," he adds, "in [or during] 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 3:10). This day commences, then, with the Lord's standing up for the deliverance of Jerusalem, and lasts at least till the end of the world. It doubtless includes also the final judgment of the unsaved dead and the casting of death, "the last enemy," and hades into the lake of fire.
Thus this phrase, read in the light of Scripture, perfectly bears out what we have found to be the unvarying testimony of the Old and the New Testament. It describes the time when Jehovah's rights are fully vindicated, when Jehovah's Anointed reigns in blessing on the earth — the time when the power of God in dealing with evil is manifested, and His grace and faithfulness in the fulfilment of all His promises concerning the world are displayed — the time when the Woman's seed crushes the serpent's head, when Israel is exalted above the nations, when the true Seed of Abraham dispenses blessing to all the families of the earth, and the true Seed of David is seated in righteousness on His throne in Zion.
"The times and the seasons."
The Scriptures examined in former chapters show that God's purposes concerning the blessing of the world are accomplished, not mystically in Christianity, but literally, after the Church has been taken to heaven, in the restoration of the chosen earthly people, and the reign and glory of the Second Man. It may help still further to elucidate the distinction between God's present ways and His purposes with respect to the world, as well as to clear up what to many is a fruitful source of perplexity, or even of error, if we examine the teaching of the Word as to the time when this period of earthly blessedness will commence, and the various signs that are to precede its advent.
"It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power" (Acts 1:7). Such was the Lord's reply when asked whether He would then restore the kingdom to Israel. No measure is given, therefore, for calculating the time from Christ's death to Israel's restoration. This we should expect, for Israel's restoration follows the Lord's coming for His saints, and this, as we have seen, is left wholly undetermined as to time, so that believers may be kept in the attitude of constant expectation. But if the Lord's coming is uncertain as to time, the restoration which follows it must be uncertain too. In a word, the measures of time given do not apply to the present, or Church, period.
Yet Daniel is prophetically told — "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city (the Jews and Jerusalem), to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy" (Dan. 9:24). That is, after seventy weeks, or periods of seven years, Jerusalem, having "received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins," was to be restored, and to become henceforth "The city of righteousness." Here, therefore, Scripture does fix the period of Israel's restoration.
The prophecy just quoted will explain this apparent contradiction. After seventy cycles of seven years Israel's restoration was to take place. It is clear, therefore, that the seventieth week has not yet closed. The prophecy, however, continues — "From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks; … and after the threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off and shall have nothing" (Dan. 9:25-26, see margin). Sixty-nine weeks had elapsed, therefore, before Christ's death. But if sixty-nine weeks had closed then, and the seventieth week has not closed yet, what conclusion can we draw? Simply this, that as these weeks relate only to the Jews, the time during which God's dealings with the Jews are suspended is not counted. Now, owing to their rejection of Christ, the Jews are at present set entirely aside, and God is engaged in bringing in "the fulness of the Gentiles." The clock of prophetic time has, therefore, stopped with the cutting off of Messiah, and will not beat out its last week until, the fulness of the Gentiles having come in, God resumes his dealings with Israel. The Church period, our time, lies outside prophetic history. Dates may be fixed before and after; but now "the times and the seasons" are in God's hands, the Church being bidden to look, not for the epoch of earthly blessing, but for the return of the Lord to take up His saints.
It would be beside my purpose to enter into details respecting this week. The great principle is that no part of it runs during the existence of the Church on earth. This Period is a prophetic blank, the "many days" during which the children of Israel abide "without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim" (Hos. 3:4). But while entering into no details, it may be well to glance at God's dealings with the Jews from their rejection to their restoration. After foretelling the cutting off of Messiah, Daniel adds — "And the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm a covenant with the many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolator" (Dan. 9:26-27). Thus Messiah is cut off, and does not receive the kingdom. Then the Roman people destroy the city, and desolation reigns until the end of this great national controversy. This is the only reference made to the interval between the destruction of Jerusalem and the last week.
Our Lord makes a like omission. "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars" (Luke 21:24-25). The whole space between the siege of Jerusalem by Titus and the troubles preceding the coming of the Son of man is passed over in silence.
But to return to Daniel. For the last seven years before Israel's restoration, there is a person who confirms a covenant with "the many," or mass of the Jewish people, for a week. This person must be "the prince that shall come," named in the previous verse. But that prince is the prince of the people that destroyed Jerusalem; he is, therefore, the head of the Roman Empire, which thus appears once more upon the scene in these closing days of the times of the Gentiles. A covenant for seven years is concluded between him and the mass of the Jews, who have then returned to Jerusalem and revived their old sacrifices. In the middle of that time he makes the sacrifice to cease, and an abomination or idol is set up, causing desolation to the end of the epoch, when some predetermined fate overtakes the desolator. This last half week, when wickedness and misery culminate, is three and a half years, or "a time, times, and half a time," or forty and two months, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days, expressions which we shall find frequently recurring in the description of those fearful events preceding the restoration of Israel, and the establishment of the Messianic reign.
But besides this monarch in league with the bulk of the Jews, other scriptures tell us of a deadly foe ranged against them during the same period of wretchedness. "Behold the day of Jehovah comes, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall Jehovah go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east" (Zech. 14:1-4). There are, then two powers or great confederacies, the one besieging the city, with partial success, the other headed by "the prince," in league with the mass of its inhabitants, but both helping to intensify its misery and to aggravate its judgment. This is the "time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time," at which the Jews "shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the hook" (Dan. 12:1). It is the period, too, spoken of by Jeremiah, when all "faces are turned into paleness. Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, says Jehovah of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him; but they shall serve Jehovah their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them" (Jer. 30:6-9). It is the time of "distress of nations, with perplexity, men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth," when the faithful are told to "lift up your heads, for your redemption draws nigh" (Luke 21:25-28).
Daniel (Dan. 7) symbolises the four great Gentile powers which were successively to exercise dominion in the earth under the figure of four beasts. The first, or Babylonian, "was like a lion, and had eagles' wings." The second, the Persian, was "like to a bear." The third, the Macedonian, was "like a leopard," and had four wings and four heads. The last was "dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly," "and it had ten horns." But it undergoes a great change, a little horn rising up, with "eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking great things" (vv. 3-8) This little horn exercises the power of the beast and provokes its judgment. The beast is the Roman empire, whose latter history is thus sketched; "The ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise; and another shall rise after them, and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hand until a time, and times, and the dividing of a time" (vv. 24, 25). But he is cut off and his kingdom "given to the people of the saints of the Most High" (v. 27)
Let us now look at two other prophecies. "From the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waits, and comes to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days" (Dan. 12:11-12). These days are often taken for years, but without ground. As sixty-nine weeks passed before Messiah was cut off only one week has yet to run, and in the midst of that week, the daily sacrifice ceases, so that from that time only three and a half years, or according to the Jewish measure of three hundred and sixty days to the year, one thousand two hundred and sixty days, remain until "that determined shall be poured upon the desolator." But after this there are other judgments to be executed and foes to be overthrown. The periods named in this prophecy exceed the three and a half years by thirty and seventy-five days respectively, seeming to show that between the judgment of the "prince" and the full establishment of Israel's blessing, an interval of seventy five days will elapse, some signal event, perhaps the destruction of the besieging host, happening after thirty days.
The other prophecy is in Matthew 24:15-31. "When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso reads, let him understand), then let them which be in Judea, flee into the mountains … Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And, except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved, but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. Then, if any man shall say unto you, lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect … Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the land mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
Now all these prophecies refer to the same set of events. In three, either the abomination of desolation, or the cessation of the daily sacrifice, with the ensuing tribulation, is expressly mentioned. In the other, the vision of the little horn, the identification is not difficult. He is the sovereign reigning over the last phase of the Roman empire, and "the prince that shall come" is the ruler of the Roman people. Each endures till Messiah's kingdom, and is then cut off. The little horn "thinks to change times and laws;" the prince makes the daily sacrifice to cease, and sets up the abomination of desolation. The prince by this act causes all the faithful to flee from Jerusalem; the little horn "wears out the saints of the Most High." The prince's great power for evil lasts half a week; the little horn carries out his blasphemous purposes for a "time, and times, and the dividing of a time." In nation, character, object, fate, duration of power, and epoch in history, the prince that shall come and the little horn are identical.
We can now form some faint picture of this dark era. At the beginning of the last "week," the prince who governs the final phase of the revived Roman empire makes a treaty with the mass of the Jews, who have then returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their temple, and reinstituted their sacrifices. A minority, however, the saints or the elect, refuse to join in this treaty, and are subjected, therefore, to fierce persecution. After three and a half years the prince stops the sacrifice, speaks blasphemies against God, and changes times and laws. False Christs also arise, working great wonders, and deceiving all but the elect. The crowning act of the prince's wickedness is the setting up of some abomination, or idol, which brings down desolating judgment. Then the saints flee, without a moment's delay, from the city. The hour of untold tribulation follows, a time which, if prolonged, must end in the total destruction of the race. But for the elect's sake it is shortened. After a fearful shaking of the nations, the Son of man appears, and the pre-appointed judgment overtakes the prince, "the desolator." Then follow the other judgments on the Gentiles and the apostate Jews, the gathering of the elect Israelites yet scattered over the earth, and the final establishment of the Messianic kingdom, together with those elect, or saints of the Most High, whom the prince had recently persecuted.
A passage in Paul's epistles helps to throw still further light on this subject. We saw that the day of the Lord was occasionally used in the Old Testament of periods of great distress and judgment, which were sorts of shadows of the tribulation and vengeance attending the real day. The Thessalonians, passing through a period of severe trial, had been persuaded by a forged letter "that the day of the Lord was come" (2 Thess. 2:2). I give what is admitted to be the true rendering of the passage, though widely differing from the authorised version. The apostle assures them that "that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity does already work; only He who now lets will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming; even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish: because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (vv. 3-12).
The person here described bears a great resemblance to the little horn. He is like him in wickedness and blasphemy, he lives at the same epoch, before the advent of the day of the Lord, and is cut off at the same time, destroyed "with the brightness of His coming." He sits in the temple of God, which, as already seen, is at this period rebuilt in Jerusalem, and if not "the prince;" must, therefore, be in confederacy with him. But he has powers never attributed to "the prince," especially the power of working miracles. He seems, therefore, rather to be one, the chief, of those false Christs named by Matthew, whose miracles should deceive all but the very elect. This deceiver is accepted by the mass of the Jews, and is joined in that league with the prince, of which we have already traced the history. During Paul's time, though the seeds of this wickedness and blasphemy were already sown, their growth was checked by some person, who would continue to exercise the same restraining power until "taken out of the way". This person can only be the Holy Ghost, acting here on earth for Christ. When the Church is taken to heaven, this restraining action of the Spirit will cease. He will "be taken out of the way, and then shall that wicked [one] be revealed" in the full energy of his Satanic power and craft to draw away not only the mass of the Jews, but apostate Christendom likewise, who, having refused the true Christ, are now given over to "strong delusion that they should believe a lie."
It is in the Revelation, however, that the events of these gloomy days are most fully detailed, especially with reference to the outbreak of blasphemous rebellion against God on the part of the prince and the Man of Sin. This book, to the study of which a special blessing is attached, presents Jesus Christ to us in a very different character from that in which He stands before us in the epistles. He is "the faithful witness, the first begotten from among the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth." He is not seen as the Head of the Body, but as the judge "who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks," and if this is His attitude even to the Church, His attitude towards the world is still more markedly that of judgment. He is no longer sitting at Jehovah's right hand, waiting till His enemies be made His footstool, but as the Son of man, to whom all judgment is committed, He is risen up to break the nations with a rod of iron, and to dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. The scope of the book is seen in the first words after the opening salutation. It is the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy about the manifestation of Jesus to the world — "Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the land shall wail because of Him" (Rev. 1:7). This prophecy is fulfilled, as we have seen, not at the end of the world, but at the time of Judah's restoration and blessing.
The book is divided into three parts, "Write the things which thou bast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be after these" (Rev. 1:19). The things which John had seen, were those recorded in the vision of the first chapter; "the things which are" refer to the Church, and are found in the seven epistles composing the second and third chapters; "the things which shall be after these" (that is, after the end of "the things which are"), are the visions and prophecies of the rest of the book. It may be that these have had a partial fulfilment, but the question is, whether their true and perfect accomplishment is past or future.
The epistles in the second and third chapters, though describing seven Asiatic Churches, are meant for warning and instruction in all ages, and the last four point to phases of the Church just preceding the Lord's coming. Thus to dead Sardis, the Lord says "I will come on thee as a thief" (Rev. 3:3); to faithful Philadelphia — "Behold, I come quickly" (v. 11); to lukewarm Laodicea — "I will spue thee out of My mouth" (v. 16); to the false professors in Thyatira, He threatens "great tribulation;" to the true, who remain steadfast "till I come," He promises that they shall rule with Him (Rev. 2:22, 25-27). These frequent allusions to the effect of the Lord's coming on the professing Church, show that the Spirit here contemplates, not only the assemblies in Asia, but the state of Christendom to the very end, in fact that "the things which are" embrace the whole range of ecclesiastical history. If so, "the things which shall be after these" must be the events which happen after the Church is removed.
But there is further evidence. We shall find that from this time the Church is in heaven, that during the troubles afterwards recorded it is never seen on earth, and that these troubles closely correspond with the woes of the last week before Israel's restoration and the Messiah's reign. Chapters 4 and 5 open heaven, and show there four and twenty elders seated on thrones, "clothed in white raiment," and "on their heads crowns of gold" (Rev. 4:4). Now these are not characteristic of angels, but of saints. To the apostles it was said that they should sit on thrones (Matt. 19:28); and to the faithful in Laodicea the promise is — "To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne" (Rev. 3:21). Nothing like this is ever spoken of angels, who, on the contrary, are always "ministering spirits." The faithful in Sardis, again, are told that "they shall walk with Me in white," and that they "shall be clothed in white raiment" (Rev. 3:4-5). It is white raiment also which the lukewarm Laodiceans are counselled to buy, "that the shame of their nakedness do not appear" (Rev. 3:18); and afterwards the Church is seen, "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Rev. 19:8). Crowns, too, are promised to saints; the exhortation to the Church at Smyrna was — "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10); while a golden crown specially befits those who are to rule with Christ. These elders, moreover, are distinguished from angels by the song which they alone sing, in which redemption is the loudest note. Their language is — "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made them unto our God kings and priests, and they shall reign over the earth;" while in the song of the angels Christ's worthiness and glory are celebrated, but of redemption nothing is said (Rev. 5:9-12). These crowned elders, then, represent the redeemed in heavenly glory. Nor are they merely souls in paradise with Jesus. The souls of saints afterwards slain for the Word of God are presently seen, but their state is wholly different. The Church, therefore, is taken to heaven before the earthly judgments, detailed in the following chapters, commence.
These judgments are successively executed as a certain scroll is unsealed. The scroll is taken from God by Christ. But it is noticeable that while Christ appears in the presence of the elders as the Lamb that has been slain, when He takes the scroll it is as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" (Rev. 5:5). To the redeemed He appears as the Redeemer; when administering earthly judgments, He is seen solely in His Jewish character. The present is the time of Christ's patience; the time here referred to is the day of His vengeance, when He has risen from the Father's throne, and when "the great day of His wrath is come."
The first four seals reveal one who goes forth "conquering, and to conquer," followed by general war, peace taken from the earth, and great slaughter, resulting in terrible famine, and still later in widespread destruction and desolation, figured by the power given to Death and Hades "over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." The fifth seal shows the souls of those who have been persecuted to death "for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." The sixth is followed by an earthquake, in which "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind; and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together," and kings and people hide themselves "in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains," that they may escape "from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"(Rev. 6.)
Now to what period in the world's history can this description of misery be referred? It is not, as might at first appear, the end of the world, for the book goes on immediately to unfold a long catalogue of subsequent judgments. Does Scripture, then, enable us to answer the question as to when the troubles here related take place? It will be seen that the six woes brought out at the opening of the first six seals strikingly resemble the picture drawn by our Lord in Matthew's Gospel of "the beginning of sorrows," which shall precede His coming and the end of the age. "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all the nations (Gentiles) for My name's sake" (Matt. 24:7-9). But besides this striking general parallelism between the events prefigured in the Apocalypse and those foretold by our Lord as preceding His appearing, there are other marks which serve to show that this is the period referred to. We have already seen that the Church is in heaven, so that the souls of those under the altar are not the souls of Christian martyrs, but the souls of those put to death for their faithfulness after the Church is taken — of believing Jews who have been killed, and who were "hated of all the Gentiles" for the Messiah's name's sake. The prayer of the Christian martyr is, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). The prayer of these martyrs is, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10). The former is consistent with Christ's attitude during the Church period. The latter is in harmony with His mind, as shown in the Psalms and Prophets, "when He arises to shake terribly the earth," and to execute His righteous judgments on the nations.
But again, compare the judgments under the sixth seal with the following passages in the prophets: — "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come" (Joel 2:30-31). Again, "All the hosts of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their hosts shall fall down, as the leaf falls off from the vine, and as the falling fig from the fig-tree… For it is the day of Jehovah's vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion" (Isa. 34:4-8). And once more, "The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low, and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day; … and they shall go into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth, for fear of Jehovah and for the glory of His majesty" (Isa. 2. 17, 19). In these prophecies we have almost identically the language used in the Revelation. And what is the period which each of these passages describes? The judgments preceding and accompanying the coming of the day of the Lord, and the deliverance of Israel. It is to this epoch, then, that the Apocalypse refers. Jesus Himself, in alluding to the same period, uses similar language, — language obviously intended to remind his disciples of the words of the prophet. "Immediately," He says, "after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the land mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:29-30). I give this passage, though before quoted, in order to show how strikingly the words used by our Lord and the Apocalypse correspond with the prophetic writings of the Old Testament — an agreement which would be deceptive, and indeed incredible, did the language in all cases not refer to the same event. The prophecies from the ancient writers and words of our Lord relate obviously to the time immediately preceding the glorious advent of the Messiah to execute judgment and establish righteousness, to break the nations with a rod of iron and to deliver the godly remnant of his people from their misery and oppression. Surely, then, it is impossible to doubt that such also is the time described in the Revelation.
And now comes a pause, till the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads. Who are these servants of God? Surely, if the Church is on earth, it will be named now. But not a word about it; on the contrary, these servants are exclusively of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then, together with them, appear a multitude of all nations; but still Israel is the central figure, as in the millennial glory. Those who reach this glory are described as having come "out of the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14). Now "the great tribulation" is that terrible time of trouble described by Daniel, at the close of which "thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book" (Dan. 12:1), — that time named by our Lord as preceding the appearance of "the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:29-30), — that time which is shortened "for the elect's sake," lest all flesh should be destroyed. They are brought out into a state of wondrous blessing, when God "shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." But when the "Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth" (Isa. 25:8). The event described, therefore, is manifestly the bringing of Israel through her hour of unparalleled affliction into the glory and blessing of the Messianic kingdom.
The Spirit, having thus given us a bright glimpse of the blessing awaiting those who pass through this time of trial, returns to the yet unfulfilled judgments hanging over the earth. Into these we need not enter, but in chapter 10 we have an important indication of time given. A mighty angel, who stands "upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by Him that lives for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things that are therein, that there should be time no longer" — that is, no longer delay — "but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as He has declared to his servants the prophets" (vv. 5-7) Now this is the character in which God presents Himself to Abraham and the Jews, not the relationship in which He stands to the Church. Speaking in this character, then, God announces, through the angels, that the time is close at hand for the accomplishment of the purposes which "He has declared to His servants the prophets." But the purposes which God had declared to the prophets were not about the Church; they were about the re-establishment of his chosen people, about the glorious reign of His Anointed on the earth, and about the judgments which would previously be wrought in the world. It is of this period, therefore, as indeed we have already seen, that the Revelation treats.
Of this period, however, — the close of "the times of the Gentiles," and the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy, — certain very distinct marks are given us. We have before seen that then the Jews will have already returned to Jerusalem; that there will be a "temple of God" in which an impostor sits "showing himself that he is God;" that there will be a daily sacrifice which the head of the Gentile powers will treacherously cause to cease; and that this same ruler of the re-established Roman Empire will exercise dominion in Jerusalem, acting in league with the mass of the Jewish people, but persecuting with relentless cruelty the elect remnant who await the advent of the Messiah. Are there, then, any signs of this period to be detected in the Revelation? Immediately after the voice of the angel who announces the speedy fulfilment of God's purposes declared to the prophets, the apostle says, "There was given me a reed like unto a rod, and the angel stood, saying, Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not, for it is given unto the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth… These have power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy, and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all curses, as often as they will. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them and kill them" (Rev. 11:1-7). This will take place in the city where "our Lord was crucified" (v. 8). Here, then, are all the marks which distinguish the last week in Daniel, — the Jews returned to Jerusalem, the temple rebuilt, an altar and worshippers, showing that sacrifices are reinstituted; at the same time Gentile dominion exercised over the city, persecution against the faithful witnesses of God, and one described as a beast who, like the little horn of the prophet, makes war with the saints and has power given to prevail against them. Surely, too, the "forty and two months" and the "thousand two hundred and threescore days," are not mere accidental coincidences with the half week when "the prince that shall come" is in league with the apostate Jews, and changes times and laws. The character of the two witnesses, moreover, is Jewish, resembling that of Moses and Elijah, but totally opposed to that of Christian preachers.
The identification of the period here described with that named by Daniel will appear still more strikingly when we learn more of the "beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit." Meanwhile God furnishes us with another indication of what His design is in the midst of all these woes and judgments. As the seventh angel sounds there are "great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). These are the judgments, then, preceding the dominion of Christ over the earth. "The nations were angry and Thy wrath is come" (v. 18); just what the second Psalm predicts of the state of things before the Messiah's reign.
But if the time here described is what we have supposed, there should be indications of a godly and persecuted remnant, separated from the mass of the Jewish people, and awaiting the Lord's return for their deliverance. Are any indications of such a remnant to be found? In chapter 12 is seen a "woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven, and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth; and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (vv. 1-6). After this, the dragon, Satan, who had access to heaven as the accuser, is cast out, and comes to the earth full of rage because his time is short. His special object of hatred is the woman, who flees from him, and is hidden under God's care, "a time and times, and half a time." Now it is clear that the man child who shalt rule all nations with a rod of iron is Christ. The woman is obviously not His natural mother, but the nation out of which after the flesh He came. But "they are not all Israel which are of Israel," and this woman typifies, not the apostate nation as a whole, but the inner circle, the real elect Israel of God. At first, Satan sought to destroy her Seed, the special object of his malignity. But though at the cross the serpent bruised his heel, though He went into death, it was not possible that He should be holden of it, and He was taken up to heaven and declared both Lord and Christ. And now the whole Church interval is passed over. Israel is, as it were, out of God's thoughts during that period. Her next appearance is in the thousand two hundred and threescore days, when Satan, knowing his time to be short, uses all his power to destroy her, while God specially intervenes to protect her. It will be remembered that when the abomination of desolation is set up in the middle of the week, the faithful are warned to flee at once from the city. How exactly this corresponds in time and circumstances with the flight of the woman in this chapter.
But the agreement does not end here. Chapter 13 shows the earthly instruments used by Satan in this persecution. The first of these is "a beast" which "rises up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads, as it were, wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed; and all the world wondered after the beast… And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And He opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them" (vv. 1-7).
This "beast," therefore, combines the characteristics of all the beasts of Daniel — the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the beast with ten horns — but especially resembles the last, transformed, however, into a striking likeness of the great red dragon: that is, it embodies the principal features of Gentile power, but on the whole is of the Roman type, only so changed as to exhibit the most prominent lineaments of Satanic authority. It differs from the fourth beast of Daniel in detail, certain features appearing in Daniel which are wanting in the Revelation, and certain features appearing in the Revelation which are wanting in Daniel. But that it is the same power, though changed to display its Satanic character, is beyond question. It is presented again in chapter 17, as a "scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns," and carrying a woman who is "drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." This woman is explained to be "that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (v. 18). The seven heads have a double signification — meaning, first, "seven mountains on which the woman sits," and, secondly, seven kings, or forms of government, five of which were past, while the beast, as a whole, combines the character of the seven and forms the eighth (vv. 9-11). The city, then, is Rome, the seven-hilled city reigning over the kings of the earth. The beast is the Roman power revived, a power which "was, and is not, and shall be present," for this is the true reading of verse 8.
Turning to the description in chapter 13, we see how exactly it resembles in moral character the last form of Roman power described in Daniel. In both cases there are ten horns, which are explained to be ten kings, though in Revelation their combination under the headship of the beast is more fully noted. Both blaspheme God; both persecute the saints of the Most High. The one endures for a "time, and times, and the dividing of a time;" the other for "forty and two months;" that is, each of them lasts for three and a half years, or the oft-named half week of Jewish tribulation and Gentile lawlessness. We now see by what instrument it is that Satan, who gives his power to the beast, persecutes the woman, driving her into the wilderness for a "time, and times, and half a time."
But Satan has another instrument, "another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exercises all the power of the first beast before him, and causes the earth and them that dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed; and he does great wonders, so that he makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceives them that dwell on the earth, by the means of those miracles which he had power to do" (Rev. 13:1-14). Can any one fail to recognise here the chief of the "false Christs," who should appear in the last fearful tribulation, and by their miracles and wonders deceive all but the very elect? Or can any one fail to see the close resemblance between this false prophet, as he is afterwards called, and "the Man of Sin," whose coming "is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders?" We are not told in the Revelation that this false Christ is at Jerusalem, but it is where the false Christ might be expected, and the Man of Sin does seat himself in the temple of God. Moreover that the Roman beast at this time exercises authority in Jerusalem appears from the history of the two witnesses whom he puts to death in the city where "our Lord was crucified" (Rev. 11. 7-8).
The false prophet persuades "them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound by a sword and did live. And he had power to give breath unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed" (Rev. 13:14-15). Where this image is set up does not appear, but as the Man of Sin sits in the temple of God, as he is a false Messiah, and therefore in connection with the Jews, as the presence of Christ in his temple at Jerusalem was what the Jews expected, and as the beginning of the beast's blasphemies and diabolical power is contemporaneous with the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the holy place, it seems more than probable that this miraculously speaking image is the abomination, or idol, foretold by the prophet, at the erection of which all the saints were to make their escape from the city.
The judgment of Babylon, the corrupt ecclesiastical system still left after all true believers have been taken to heaven, is outside our present subject. In chapter 16 we see "three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet … which go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (vv. 13, 14). This is precisely what we read in Psalm 2: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against Jehovah, and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us." Then it is that the Lord arises and gives the nations to Christ for His inheritance, to break them with a rod of iron. Christ with the armies of heaven, the Church, issues forth on a white horse, the symbol of victorious power. "The beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19:19-20). Such is the fearful doom of this "son of perdition," this wicked one "whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming" (2 Thess. 2:8). Such, too, is the fate "determined" which is "poured upon the desolator."
The Revelation does not enter into the judgment inflicted upon other enemies. These are shown variously in Zechariah, Daniel, Isaiah, Joel, and the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. The object of this book is to add to what the Prophets had already told concerning this last, and truly diabolical, phase of human lawlessness, and to bring to its issue the long rebellion of Satan against God. The destruction of the beast and the false prophet completes one part, the binding of Satan another. The Revelation also differs from the other prophecies in giving the heavenly side of Christ's rule. The Old Testament represents the Messiah as ruling with his saints; but these are the earthly saints. The Revelation adds the rule of the heavenly saints. Besides the saints raised or caught up at Christ's coming for believers, those who "were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God," and those "which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image," are raised in this last act of the first resurrection, and live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-5).
Brief summary of God's ways.
We have now seen that the Old Testament prophecies, though sometimes receiving a striking application, have not their proper or perfect fulfilment, in the Church, but after the Church is taken; that the Church interval is, as it has been aptly styled, "a parenthesis" in God's dealings with the earth; and that when it is ended, and believers, whether living or dead, have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, the Divine purposes respecting the earth will be resumed, the Jews, who are now "enemies" as concerning the gospel, will be taken up again, according to election, as "beloved for the fathers' sakes," and the gifts and calling of God will be proved to be without repentance. Then God's promises of blessing to the world will have their accomplishment, not in the first, but in the Second, man; the woman's Seed will crush the serpent's head; the "one" Seed of Abraham will come to bless all the families of the earth; the multitudinous seed, like the sand of the seashore innumerable, will inherit their promised land "for an everlasting possession," and will occupy their appointed place as the foremost of the nations; and the Seed of David will be established on the throne of his kingdom for ever.
The investigation of this subject has led us over a wide space, and though I have, as far as possible, avoided detail, it has been necessary, for the understanding of God's ways, to enter into some questions with considerable fulness. It may be helpful, therefore, to pause for a moment, and cast our eye back, gathering up the various truths which the Scriptures have unfolded to our gaze, and endeavouring to condense them into a brief but comprehensive summary.
Man after the flesh failed in every position in which God placed him. He fell under the power of Satan, and no seed of the woman arose to crush the one who had brought in the ruin. He filled the earth with corruption and violence, so that God repented He had made him, and destroyed "the world that then was" with a flood. He failed in government, till at last God confounded his plans of self-aggrandisement at Babel. Called out as a separate nation and entrusted with God's law, he failed again as signally as before, breaking the commandments ere ever, in their written form, they had entered the camp. Tried as a nation which should execute God's judgments, and tried again under sovereigns who should be the dispensers of God's righteousness, the same dreary story of failure, rebellion, and ruin was once more repeated. The nation proved as bad as the heathen by whom they were surrounded, and the descendants of David were the corrupters, instead of the righteous governors, of the people.
The first man, therefore, had now been proved to the utmost as to his power to carry out God's governmental purposes. Then in the promised line, the seed of Abraham and David had failed as disastrously as all others. It had been demonstrated that man in the flesh whether in the line of promise or out of it, could not fulfil God's designs or bring in God's promises of blessing to the earth. He was, therefore, set aside, and the scheme of God's earthly government postponed until the Second Man, the One who gathers in His own person all the promises, and who alone is worthy and able to administer God's righteous government on the earth, is brought forth. First, the chosen nation was divided; then the larger portion, ten out of the twelve tribes, were carried into captivity, from which they have never returned; and lastly, the two remaining tribes, with the royal line of David, were taken prisoners to Babylon.
As far as earthly government is concerned, the Jews were now given up until the Second Man is brought in. With this long abandonment of the Jews commenced "the times of the Gentiles," that is, the period during which the sceptre of earthly dominion is entrusted to the Gentiles, instead of Israel. These "times of the Gentiles" began with the kingdom of Babylon, the head of gold, in Nebuchadnezzar's prophetic dream. Then came the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, symbolised by the breast and arms of silver; the Greek monarchy set forth in the belly and thighs of brass; and afterwards the stronger and more enduring dominion of Rome, represented by the legs of iron. After this, "the times of the Gentiles" changed their nature; iron and clay mingled together, or, the rule was divided among kingdoms of various origin and character, though all connected with the dismembered Roman empire. Another vision shows us that in this last stage, the Roman dominion will revive in a federal form under the presidency of one specially energised by Satan. It is when it has reached this phase that judgment will descend, a stone cut out without hands falling on the Gentile powers and crushing them to pieces, after which it grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth; or, as interpreted by Daniel, "in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44). Such is the history, prophetically traced, of the yet uncompleted "times of the Gentiles."
While these are running their course, the Jews — that is the two tribes forming the kingdom of Judah fulfilled the seventy years of captivity foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. At the close of that period, the Babylonian kingdom having been destroyed, and the Persian established on its ruins, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the Jews of the captivity to return to Jerusalem, in virtue of which a small band, without political power or position, found their way back to the ruined city, and there rebuilt the temple. Nearly a century afterwards, the same Gentile power gave a "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem." From this "commandment" dates Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks. It is divided into three parts of seven weeks, of sixty-two weeks, and of one week. During the first part of seven weeks, the city was rebuilt. The second part, of sixty-two weeks, comprehends the time from the completion of the city to the cutting off of the Messiah. The third part, of one week, which yet awaits its accomplishment, carries "the times of the Gentiles" to a close, "finishes the transgression" of the Jews, and brings in "everlasting righteousness," the desolator being destroyed, and the Messiah's kingdom established.
The Jews, as we have seen, had been politically discarded till the Messiah should come. In process of time He did come, heralded by John the Baptist, and the kingdom was offered to the nation on condition of repentance. But man in the flesh proved no less incompetent to repent, to receive the Messiah, or to obtain blessing through Him presented as a sovereign, than he had before shown himself to carry out God's purposes in his own strength. God manifest in the flesh only drew out the enmity of his heart in more fearful display. The Jews, instead of receiving Him as their anointed King, crucified Him between two thieves. The effect of this rejection was twofold. The blood they shed was designed, according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, to be the means by which He could righteously reconcile all things to Himself by which He could blot out sin, and thus lay the foundation of all true blessing to both Jew and Gentile. But the immediate effect of the crime, so far as the Jews were concerned, was that their house was left to them desolate until they should say — "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord;" and that the kingdom, instead of taking the manifested, prophetic shape in which the Jews should be the head of the nations, assumed, until the time of Israel's repentance, a mysterious hidden form connected with Christ in heaven, and in which the Gentiles were the special objects of God's favour.
The first summons, then, after Christ's resurrection, was addressed to the Jews, calling on them to repent, and thus to receive the kingdom in manifested glory. On their refusal, the kingdom definitely assumed the mysterious form, the natural branches being broken out of the olive tree, and the "wild olive tree," or Gentiles, being graffed in. "Blindness in part happened to Israel," which will continue "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." There was, indeed, "a remnant according to the election of grace" even out of partially blinded Israel, but the nation as a whole was cut off while the Gentiles took for a time the place of pre-eminence in God's thoughts.
The political displacement of the Jews brought in "the times of the Gentiles." The moral or religious displacement of the Jews makes way for "the coming in of the Gentiles." It was only when this took place that Israel really became "Lo-ammi," not My people, though they had long ceased to be the centre of God's government on earth. During the coming in of the Gentiles, God's purposes of earthly blessings are suspended. The stream of prophetic time ceases to run. It stagnated, so to speak, after the sixty-ninth week, when Messiah was cut off, and will not again begin to flow till after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, and God once more takes up the thread of His purposes concerning the earth.
Meanwhile, the Gentiles brought into the vacant place of privilege and responsibility to God, under Christianity, have failed as signally as the Jews did under the law. The greater part have never accepted Christ even in name; Christendom, the portion of the world which has nominally owned Jesus as Lord, has become a leavened mass, corrupt to its very core. The small handful of true believers in its midst have themselves ceased to present any corporate testimony, are rent into a hundred conflicting sects, have given up the "blessed hope" of the Lord's return for his saints, and as a consequence are often hardly distinguishable from the world around them in their objects, their pursuits, and the character of their walk. But though the Lord "is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish," He "is not slack concerning His promise," and in a little while "the trumpet shall sound, and the dead (believers) shall be raised incorruptible, and we (the living believers) shall all be changed." This is the undated, ever-present hope for the Church. When this "coming of the Lord" for His saints has happened, Christendom, the remaining branches graffed into the olive trees, having failed to continue in the goodness of God, will be cut off. The fulness of the Gentiles having come in, the corrupt mass of false professors left behind will be dealt with by God in righteous judgment. Judicial blindness will overtake them, "because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
When the Church has been taken, and the Gentiles, the olive branches graffed in contrary to nature, have been cut off, the natural branches will be "graffed in, for God is able to graff them in again." The Church interval being over, time once more begins to run, and the unfulfilled week of Daniel's prophecy is told out to its completion. In this week commence the judgments which precede the "day of the Lord," or the establishment of Messiah's kingdom. These judgments may be broadly divided into four different classes.
First, The Jews and the rest of the Israelites will be restored, but only after fearful troubles, from which but a portion will escape. The Jews, who rejected the Christ, will receive the Antichrist, will enter into league with "the prince that shall come," the last phase of Gentile power, and will worship his image, "the abomination of desolation" set up in the holy place. The remnant of faithful ones who refuse to have part in these last scenes of wickedness and lawlessness, will be persecuted with fearful persistency and malignity, many of them killed, the rest driven into exile. The time will be one of untold tribulation, so that, but for its shortness, no flesh could be saved. Then the Lord Himself will appear in power and great glory, destroying with the sword out of His mouth the followers of Antichrist, easing Him of His adversaries and avenging Him of His enemies. The effect on the nation will be "like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap." Those who "abide the day of His coming," the purged remnant who "come out of the great tribulation," having "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," shall be a holy people, their dross purged away, their judges restored as at the first, and their counsellors as at the beginning, and Jerusalem shall be "called The city of righteousness, the faithful city." Thus shall Zion "be redeemed with judgment and her converts with righteousness," while "the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake Jehovah shall be consumed." The elect remnant of Israel also will be brought back, and made to inhabit the land.
Second, But besides the purging judgments referred to, there will be other acts of righteous government and retribution reserved for that dreadful period. Babylon, especially, the corrupt carcass of Christendom, will come into remembrance. The blood shed and the crimes committed in the name of Christ will then be righteously avenged. The beast and his confederates, themselves following a still more fearful delusion, will hate the whore and make her desolate; the very power which has supported her will turn against her; and the cup which she has filled shall be filled to her double.
Third, The fall of Babylon shows the doom of that soulless profession of Christ, and that lifeless ecclesiastical organisation which will survive when all true believers have been removed to the Father's house. But by whom is this apostate, corrupt system destroyed? By the beast and his coadjutors, that is, by that wicked head of the Gentile powers whose pride and blasphemy will at length draw down the lightnings of God's avenging wrath — the impious chief of those kings of the earth who shall "take counsel together against Jehovah, and against His Anointed." This associated Gentile dominion is the third class dealt with in the judgments of the last week. The confederacy, headed by the prince and energised by Satan, will form a league with the mass of the Jews and their false Christ, and will gather together their forces to battle; when Christ will appear in his glory, followed by the armies of heaven, take the beast and the false prophet and cast them alive into the lake of fire, and afterwards destroy their followers with the sword that proceeds out of His mouth. So end "the times of the Gentiles," that period during which the sceptre of government was entrusted to their hands because of the failure of Israel.
Fourth, But there is another class of judgments. The Gentiles who successively held the reins of government as a trust from God do not include the whole body of the peoples of the earth. This sceptre passed from the Babylonian to the Persian, from the Persian to the Greek, from the Greek to the Roman, and at length to the wicked king whose doom we have just seen. But the confederacy between the Jews and the Roman dominion will be directed against a power which at that time threatens Jerusalem with destruction. This power, which God uses, like the Assyrian of old, as a scourge to the unfaithful Jews, will, when the hour for judgment comes, itself also be visited. When half the city has been carried off, Christ will appear for its deliverance, the besieging host will be cut off, and the remnant of the people saved.
This will close the preliminary judgments. The nation having been purged, Babylon consumed, the last Satanic form of Gentile dominion overthrown, and the enemies who sought to destroy Jerusalem scattered, Christ's kingdom will be established on earth. The saints, who have come purged out of the great tribulation, will receive dominion under him. Taking advantage of the quiet settlement of the people in the land, and regarding them as an easy prey, a great enemy will then arise against them. This enemy is named Gog, and is said to be from "the land of Magog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal," or as others read, "prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal." But his invasion only leads to his disastrous overthrow (Ezek. 38 and Ezek. 39). The rest of the Gentiles will be divided into classes, and rewarded or punished according to their treatment of "these My brethren," the feeble remnant of saints harassed and wasted by the persecution of the beast and false prophet. But the great feature will be the fulfilment of all God's earthly counsels in the person of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, who alone is worthy to receive the dominion, and who alone can exercise it for God's glory, or for man's blessing. Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit, while the Bride, the Lamb's wife, seen in figure as the New Jerusalem, will reign with Christ a thousand years.
It is a solemn thing to trace the incurable hatred of the human heart to God. A thousand years' experience of Christ's righteous and blessed rule will not suffice to change the nature of man. No sooner is Satan loosed from his imprisonment than the nations rebel, but only to be at once destroyed with devouring fire from heaven. This last outbreak of human wickedness brings the world's history to a close. The earth is burnt up, the elements melt with fervent heat and no place is found for them. Then the dead, who had no part in the first resurrection, are raised, are judged according to their works, and are cast into the lake of fire. Satan, death, and hades are all similarly destroyed. And now, the last enemy having been vanquished, the work of reconciliation, founded on the blood of the cross, is completed; a new heaven and a new earth are created, in which righteousness not only reigns, as during the thousand years, but permanently dwells; Christ, having ruled "till He has put all enemies under His feet," delivers up the kingdom to God, even the Father; and God, being now all in all and no longer estranged by human guilt, makes His tabernacle with man.
Such, as traced out in the Word of the living God, is the prospect before the world. Are these the things which Christians are looking for? Amidst all the talk of modern progress, all the straining after improvement and education, all the boast of the bright future in store for the world, have they grasped the truth that God's judgment is looming over the whole scene? In the intoxication of this world-banquet do they heed the fingers of the hand tracing on the wall the fateful words, "mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" — or are they blind to the warning which God has given? Nay, are they not even fostering the false hopes of the world against which they should be protesting, and eagerly floating along the stream of modern progress, ignorant that it is sweeping them down its fatal rapids to the crash and roar of impending judgment? Soon — we know not how soon — the trumpet will sound, the shout will be heard, and all true believers will be "for ever with the Lord." What will then become of modern progress? What will then be the fruit of all the organisations and associations for making something out of that nature which Scripture declares to be enmity against God, something out of that world which has rejected and crucified its rightful Lord? The boasted ecclesiastical organisation, bereft of believers, will be nothing save a putrid corpse, hateful to the nations, which will burn it to ashes. The noisy party of progress, turning from this ghastly mimicry of Christianity to the latest novelty of the day, will be given up to "strong delusion that they should believe a lie." Have we God's thoughts about what is passing? Are we "minding earthly things," as those "whose end is destruction," despising the warnings of Scripture, and seeking to improve what God pronounces beyond remedy? Or have we given up the first man, and sided with Him whom the world has rejected, waiting with Him for the hour when the world's real improvement shall be brought about by Himself as the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, the only One who can carry out God's purposes of blessing or establish God's rule of righteousness, on the earth?