The Coming and the Day of the Lord: Part 1

 •  31 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The Jewish, Christian, and Gentile portions have already been shown in the Lord's prophecy on Olivet. Let us now see what the word of God reveals as to those, of course not born of God, who may bear the Christian name for the present, but will abandon it, as we learn from the scripture before us. No doubt the world comprehends more than those who outwardly profess the Lord's name. Besides Christendom, it embraces the Gentiles or all the nations that are heathen, besides Israel.
Scripture is silent about none of these; and the light of God is as bright and sure on the future as on the past.
This is an immense principle to hold fast in reading the written word. Men are apt to judge of God by themselves. To speak with certainty of the future being to us impossible, man forthwith imagines that, although God speak about it, even then it must be somewhat uncertain. If we only consider a moment, we cannot but learn that this is the, principle of infidelity. What difference does it make to God whether He is speaking about the past, the present, or the future? He assuredly does not “think” in the sense of having to reflect, nor does He merely give an opinion. On the contrary, He knows all things. The only real question can be (as to some a question it is), whether God communicates what He knows, or how far He has been pleased to do so. Does not the prophetic word profess this? Is it well founded? If God has communicated His mind about the future, as evidently the scriptures not only assume but openly assert, it is simply faith to accept all. The moment our faith rests upon His word, the light shines What seemed confusion, when we did not believe, turns to order before our minds when we do. The light was really there in Christ. It was our unbelief that made the darkness and confusion.
The word of God is the perfect revelation of His mind, no matter of what He spoke, or when; and God has been pleased to speak about the future. It is the special mark of His confidence. He told Abraham what He was going to do, what concerned not merely himself but others, even the cities of the plain. With them Abraham had nothing directly to do, though Lot had; yet not Lot but Abraham was told of the imminent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot only learned it just in time to be saved, as he was, as by fire. But Abraham, though not in the scene, knew it in peace beforehand, and interceded with God for righteous Lot before his heart. Our portion ought to be that of Abraham rather than of Lot. So there are those of the future who will be saved just in time to escape destruction. They will be in the sphere of judgment, and will pass through it in a measure, but will nevertheless be preserved. The mass will be destroyed for their lawless evil; others too who are unbelieving: “remember Lot's wife.” But a remnant will be delivered, as the angels rescued Lot and his daughters. Theirs, however, will not be the happier portion, but for those on high.
God in fact will have provided some better thing for us in every respect. He has given us the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Accordingly says Paul writing (not to the Ephesians or Philippians, but even) to the Corinthians, “We have the mind of Christ,” the intelligence of Christ, the capacity of spiritual understanding. Not, of course, that even the apostles had the same measure as the Lord, who had and was Himself the wisdom of God, and this absolutely. We have nothing save in and by Him, and hence only in dependence on Him. However, we have not the mere mind of man only but of Christ, as Christians having the Holy Ghost.
The intelligence of Christ is given; and this shows why what was true in principle of Abraham is distinctly and characteristically true of the Christian; for it could not be said, in the full force of the terms, that Abraham or any O.T. saint had the mind of Christ. The Holy Ghost was not yet come, for Jesus was not yet glorified. Now that the Lord Jesus has accomplished redemption, and gene up on high, He has sent down the Holy Spirit to dwell in His saints, to make them the temple of God. Even the body of each believer is the temple of the Holy Ghost, just as His own body was: He on earth having His body perfectly holy, and ever fit for the Spirit without redemption; we only in virtue of His blood. Hence never till the blood of Christ was shed could any saint here below become the temple of the Holy Ghost. Jesus was the living temple of God; we, let us repeat, are only so because our sin is judged in His cross, our guilt blotted out by His blood. Therefore the Spirit of God comes down to dwell in us, putting honor on Christ Jesus for the redemption that is in Him; but because of this we, Christians, receive a divine power, by the Spirit opening in our measure into all that God communicates.
This, though a digression, is of immense importance on the subject which we are examining; for few things more evince divine intelligence than profiting by the communication of the future. The, Old Testament makes, in the main, this challenge to the false gods: a challenge which could only strike them dumb, even if they had pretended ever so loudly before to give out oracles. As long as it was merely a question of baffling inquirers, they might deceive by equivocal answers; but Isaiah, in the most trenchant and severe style, shows their utter impotence to disclose the future. Now a very large part of the Old Testament consists of revelations of the future, not only of what was future then, but of what is future still. And the historical part from the first book is cast into typical forms of prophetic character, exhibiting throughout one and the same mind of God. So does the intermediate poetical portion in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
The prophets inspired by Jehovah expand largely, and in the most blessed terms, on the bright future that yet awaits this world. Isaiah depicts the day of Jehovah, when all that now obstructs the light of glory shall be removed; when all that thwarts the honor of the only true God shall fall; when Satan must lose his delusive power; when the nations of the earth, long groaning under oppression, shall be set free; and when the Jews themselves (who ought to have been the leaders of all that is good and true, but alas! abound with teachers of the infidelity that now poisons the world) shall be delivered from unbelief's most withering thralldom, and rise forever to the place that God's promise assigns them as the head of the nations then blessed, the priests of the world. They, converted and restored to Canaan, are destined to fill the foremost place when the earth itself is raised out of its actual and long degradation. Jehovah has spoken it, and His hand will accomplish all in due time. It is these prospects of the world on which the Old Testament prophets descant at great length, and with graphic minuteness.
When the Lord Jesus came, on whom the accomplishment of prophecy depends for the realization of the kingdom of God—for in truth He was the King who brought in the kingdom in His person, and presented it with final responsibility to Israel—He was rejected. Then came a mighty change of all consequence to the world, when every bright hope seemed blasted, when all expectation of glory for Israel set in clouds and a deeper darkness than before. God made use of that moment of fallen hopes for the earth and the earthly people, and the nations of the world, for “some better thing” He used the cross of Christ to bring in a wholly new state, when Israel vanished for a season—a state distinct from that which prophets prepared the minds of men of old to expect. For their great testimony is to Israel restored and repentant under the Messiah reigning over the earth, blessed itself beyond example and all creatures, and the nations in happy subjection. The reason for a change so unexpected is simple, and the ground when once taken was plain. The rejected Christ is raised from the dead, and, having ascended to heaven, took His seat there to bring in another and heavenly order of blessing. He is seated there until a moment unknown and undisclosed, before which God brings in altogether new things. This is Christianity, which is therefore essentially of heaven. The prophets did not speak of heaven, save incidentally. Prophecy refers to the earth. No doubt there are here and there allusions to heaven; but by no prophet and in no prophecy is there any real, still less detailed, opening out of what the Lord Jesus is doing now as Head of the church at the right hand of God.
It was not the object of prophecy to do so. Prophecy, the prophetic word, is a lamp, and very useful, to which those who love the Lord do well to pay attention, for that lamp shines in a dark or squalid place; and the earth for the present is so. Such is the revealed use of prophecy; and Christianity recognizes it fully. But there is a brighter light, not the day but day-light, as the apostle says, “Till day dawn and a day-star arise in your hearts:"1
What does he mean by this? The accomplishment of prophecy? Not so, but more and better. Till the day of Jehovah comes for the world? In no wise. He speaks of day dawning and a day-star arising in the heart, not of the day arising upon Zion and the world. This would be the accomplishment of prophecy; but he is intimating what the Spirit of God delights to bring into the heart of the Christian now. The Jewish believer was encouraged still to use and value the prophetic lamp. Yea, more: the word of prophecy derived confirmation from what was seen on the holy mountain. Yet there ought to be through the gospel a far clearer light—the light of day, the brightness of heaven, not of the lamp. They as Christians were already to enjoy its effect. But it might now be so with those slow to learn more. Not only were Christians born of God, as all saints are; they were all sons of light and sons of day (1 Thess. 5:55Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)), and are exhorted not to sleep but to watch and be sober, and here to have their heavenly portion made good in their souls. For the person of our Lord Jesus is our hope, the day-star, not merely the general light of heavenly dawn, but the day-star arising in the heart. This is, as I understand it, the arising of the proper Christian hope in the heart. Many then, as now, were lukewarm and came short.
The actual arrival of the day of the Lord is another matter, and this will be in its own time. It was, however, a good thing to hold fast the prophetic lamp, until one gets a better light. There are far brighter associations into which the Christian is introduced now through Christ Jesus; but of these prophecy does not treat. The prophetic word does not contemplate the arising of the day-star in the heart. There it is the very reverse of Christ. The day-star of prophecy is rather the title of the Lord's enemy, as you may see in Isa. 14. The day-star that the Christian ought to have arising within is Christ, while He is outside the world in heaven, before He shines as Sun of Righteousness upon the earth. Day by the gospel dawns, and the day-star or heavenly hope of Christ arises in the heart while he is here, as he enters into Christian privilege by the truth.
In consequence of this present privilege we stand in a wondrous position. Believing in the Lord Jesus, we have a Savior who is already come, and has accomplished the redemption of our souls, and given us remission of sins. We have life eternal, and the knowledge of our absolute cleansing by the blood of Jesus in the sight of God through the Holy Ghost that is given to us. Yet the condition of the world is no better, but far worse in some respects of the greatest moment. The world has been led on by its prince to reject its only true King, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the Son of God. We are in the secret of it; we know that the Anointed King has been refused; and our hearts enlightened from above are with Him. We can afford to wait for the great day; but meanwhile we have day-light in the gospel before the day comes. The light cannot yet shine on the world, but in our hearts; so that it is evident we have more than the lamp of prophecy, even the day-light and a heavenly hope in Christ. And who can wonder if indeed we are children of the light and of the day ourselves?
Hence therefore it is the part of the Christian to judge what is passing around, through communications God-inspired. According to the word it belongs to our proper heritage. The Lord reproached the Jewish chiefs because they were unable to discern the signs of the times. We ought to be able not only to read what is before us according to God, but also to speak of the future with calm confidence, because we believe the word of God. With all that God has communicated we may humbly concern ourselves, as having at heart the family interests; for, if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. It would be unbecoming that the heirs should not make themselves acquainted with the inheritance; and how strange, if Christians indwelt by the Spirit of God could not understand For this reason then, if we only knew our own privileges and depended on the Lord for it in living faith, we should be led into an immense field of blessedness entirely outside the natural ken of man. This is what one may endeavor a little to expound and apply, in looking also at a few of the principal passages that bear upon the prospects of the world according to the scriptures.
Now the Lord, when He was here below, showed clearly what was to befall the earth. He says, “The field is the world;” and He has told us what will become of the world, where men would be Christianized. From the first, He has shown us clearly what would be the result and why so. Good seed was sown; but there was an enemy who sowed bad seed. He does not give us the smallest idea that the bad seed would be ameliorated. He intimates that the servants were zealous enough to remove the bad effects, but He reproves them. He warns that their effort to correct the evils brought into the field, the attempt to use the name of the Lord, for reforming the Christianized or at most christened world, only issues in rooting up the good as well as the bad, if not more so.
This has been seen habitually in Popery. It is the principle of the reproved servants; but, instead of making the world better, in effect it ends on the contrary in destroying the wheat, rather than the darnel. Babylon, above all evil-doers that ever were, has killed the saints, and made herself drunk with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. This is a matter of divine revelation to every one; and history verifies it as a fact of Rome, not pagan only but papal far more. Scripture had said so long ago; he would be a bold man who would dare to deny it. Yet as of old so now, there are men who live to deny the Bible, and talk of making the world better! This goes along with another fundamental error found in Popery (and far beyond it too), the notion of men getting better themselves. The two delusions go together. The fact is, that Christianity denies both; one's very baptism indeed, rightly understood, denies it, particularly as to man. To be saved one must take the ground of death with Christ to the first man, not of improving him; and he who sees and knows what man is ought never to be drawn into the delusion of the world's improvement. Further, the Lord Jesus implicitly sets aside the latter error when He tells us the nature of the harvest that is at hand. Remember too that the harvest is the end of the “age,” this present evil age, not of the “world.”
When that end or rather consummation comes, there will be a process of discrimination in judgment. The wheat will be removed on high, the darnel consumed below. Consequently then will be the harvest; but this implies evil abounding up to the end of the age. Never will there be a time in this age, when the preaching of the gospel, or discipline however used or abused, can root out the evil sown by Satan from the beginning under the Christian name. It will close by divine judgment on the lawless and all the stumbling-blocks. The new age will be characterized by the Son of man's righteous rule over the earth in power and peace.
In short therefore those who expect the gradual extirpation of evil in this age are in antagonism with the distinct teaching of the Lord Jesus. Far as possible is one from saying this to repress efforts towards winning and edifying souls. It is to be feared that those who yield to such thoughts of their brethren, or at least to such words, are guilty of slander. It is one thing to work in faith, and another to expect the general and true blessing of the world as the result. Granted that this will surely come; but it is reserved for the Son of man. Should the bride of the Lamb be jealous? Such a result is not for the church, which has been verily guilty from early days, dragged down into the snares of the world, into its human activity, its politics, its ease, its honors, its gold and silver, and what not. If Christendom is now suffering the buffets of the world, the world (once eagerly sought by Christians for its own things) is now turning against those who gave anything but true testimony to Christ, and to what a Christian should be. But it will be worse and worse with the world. Ungrateful for whatever of God has been shed around by Christianity, it will turn again and rend her who abuses the name of the Lord for her own selfish and earthly interests. Evil was planted under the pretext of Christ's name, and this evil can never be rooted out until the judgment to be executed at the end of the age. It is presumptuous unbelief to expect or attempt it. The angels dealing judicially are quite distinct from and contrasted with the servants who sow and watch (alas! how poorly) the good seed. It is astonishing how saints continue to confound the two.
We repeat also that the end of the age is not the end of the world. The phrase “end of the world” in Matt. 13:39, 4039The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. (Matthew 13:39‑40), is an unequivocal error. There is no scholar who ought not to be ashamed of such a blunder. Far from being the end of the world, the very next verse proves the contrary. The Lord sends His angels and purges from the field or world what is offensive to Him.
The lawless are judged, the scandals removed, the bad crop and the bad fish destroyed. In short the living wicked are punished, and the righteous shine in the kingdom of their Father. The kingdom of the Son of man is the earthly part of the kingdom of God; the kingdom of the Father is its heavenly part, as the Lord explains to any attentive reader. The heavenly things and the earthly things of the kingdom of God (compare John 3:1212If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (John 3:12)) will be found then in unsullied brightness and harmony. In the Father's kingdom, according to His own counsels, the glorified saints shine to His own praise. The field or world which had been spoiled by Satan's wiles will be cleared of all its corruptions and their lawless agents. Thus, far from being the end of the world, the harvest which closes this age will be the beginning of the world's going onward in blessedness under the displayed kingdom of the Son of Man and Son of God, the Head of the church which will then be exalted and reigning with Him.
It is the end of the age, the present age while Christ is on high, and does not appear in glory and reign over the earth. There will follow another age, when Christ, instead of being hidden, will be manifested to expel Satan, and remove all that contaminates men and dishonors God. This connects itself with the Old Testament prophets. They all refer to the times of restitution of all things, the kingdom of Messiah over the earth, as the apostle preached to the men of Israel in Solomon's porch (Acts 3:1919Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; (Acts 3:19)). The mistake is in applying them to the church now. The principle often does apply in the New Testament, as we all see: no one means to contest this; but there are limits. The fulfillment is another thing.
In the future kingdom there will be not only Jews blessed but Gentiles too as such. Of this truth the apostle avails himself, pointing to the fact of both enjoying the blessings of grace; and this amply suffices to stop the mouth of the Jew. Thus we find the Old Testament applied in Rom. 15:1010And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. (Romans 15:10), “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people."2 How then could the Jew consistently object? Was it just to fly in the face of their own prophets? Did the Jew not affirm God's blessing on both to be contrary to the Bible? For the Gentiles are certainly blessed no less than the Jew by the gospel; and this the narrow and proud Jew could not endure. Yet the apostle never says that the prophecy is now therefore accomplished to the full or the letter. The principle is true under the gospel; the fulfillment of the prophecy awaits another age, and a different state of things, when Christ appears and reigns in visible power and glory.
In the prophecies we find intimations, not merely of the coming blessedness for all the earth, but of the Jews treated as a rebellious, gainsaying people, while God is calling in those who were not a people. Take the beginning of Isa. 65. The Gentiles are there designated as those who had not known Jehovah, while His people Israel are judged as disobedient. Compare again Hos. 1 with Rom. 9. Thus the Spirit of God gives here and there hints, dim enough once but now clearly interpreted by Him, which should have a partial bearing on the present time. But none of these Old Testament scriptures discloses to us the heavenly glory of Christ at the right hand of God as the center of union to saints on earth, He the Head of one body to the Christians (Jew and Gentile alike). These things compose “the mystery “; none of them is ever developed by the prophets. It was then a secret hid in God.
We have the fact of the Lord sitting at the right hand of God in Psa. 110; but the great use the psalm makes of it is to show that He sits there till His enemies are made His footstool. There is not a word about what meanwhile is being done with His friends. The revelation of the counsels and ways of God with the latter now is Christianity. The psalm speaks of His sitting there till judgment is executed on His enemies. It tells us also that Messiah is Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek; but it is silent about His present intercession there for the Christian, dwelling plainly on the future execution of judgment when Jehovah sends the rod of Messiah's strength out of Zion.
What the apostle calls the revelation of the mystery is now verified. It is a secret which the Old Testament never brought out, though giving certain intimations that are accomplished, as for instance in calling the Gentiles. For as Moses told Israel, “The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the works of this law.” But the great central truth of Paul is, that the mystery or secret that was of old hid in God concerning Christ and concerning the church is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets3 through the Spirit; as in fact it was made known to us by Paul himself.
It would be easy to furnish proofs, were this the fitting time. The character of the church supposes that God abolishes at present the difference between the Jew and the Gentile, which the promises and the prophecies kept up. The grand fact of the future is that the Jew is exalted to the first place, and the Gentile blessed but subordinately; so that the old superiority of Israel will be maintained then, however blessed the Gentile may and will be. To deny this is to ostracize the truth, though not quite like the wicked Jehoiakim. In the kingdom they will each be recognized and blessed, but in a different position, not as now when both are made one. It is quite evident that the future millennial kingdom supposes the reinstatement of Israel in more than former favor, and the nations will rejoice, but in a place secondary to that of Israel.
In the church of God (whereof the Fathers were as ignorant as the moderns) all this disappears, the church being heavenly, as Christ is, and according to the nature of things in heaven. People are not known by their nationality on high: on earth they are, and they will be in God's kingdom here. But the Christian being essentially called on high or upward, all these earthly distinctions for him disappear. Hence there came a quite new state of things, and a fresh testimony; for God has now revealed in the New Testament that which comes in between the first and second advent of Christ, as different from the future on the earth as from the past before redemption.
When the Lord comes again, the Old Testament prophecies resume their course, with the additional confirmation of a small portion of the New Testament which refers to that time, in order to give so far a combined testimony, and all the more because so great a change had come to pass.
One may now see clearly, what has been pointed out already, that the Lord Jesus prepared His disciples from the very first not to expect that the economy would, as far as the world was concerned, progress or end in joy and light and blessing. On the contrary, old evils were to go on, and new evils begin and take root from early days by the crafty power of Satan, never to be extirpated till the end of the age. This then is a great lesson taught in the Gospel of Matthew.
Again, in Luke 21, is a statement to which we may refer as giving according to scripture a further view of the world's course. It is said, “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. This distinctly points to the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, when it was invested with armies perhaps more completely than at any point of its most eventful history. But not a word is here about “the abomination of desolation.” Nor does this chapter say “then shall be great tribulation” such as never had been, nor shall be; “these,” it only tells us, “be the days of vengeance” two very different things. Here again we read, “But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days, for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.” This was fulfilled to the veriest tittle in what befell the Jews when Titus took the city, and the Jews passed into captivity for the second time. “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” So it came to pass. Jerusalem has been for many centuries trodden down by Gentiles. One national power after another was to have possession of the holy city. And so it is still; that treading down still goes on, for seasons allotted to Gentiles are not yet fulfilled
But much more follows: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, sea roaring and rolling waves, men ready to expire through fear and expectation of the things coming on the habitable earth; for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,” &c. Some have made the mistake that these scenes also took place when Titus took Jerusalem, but there is no authority for such a supposition. We have had the capture of Jerusalem in verse 20, &c.; after which Jerusalem is trodden down since the siege; and must be till seasons of Gentile come to an end. Here in these and the following verses we are transported into the final scenes. “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” It is clear that the earth's destruction is not intended, but the blessedness that comes in at the end of the age, when God terminates the time of man's misery, and wickedness, and trouble, and suffering. The coming of the Son of man is never coupled with the dissolution of the world, or its end in any such sense, but with the close of Satan's misrule, and the shining forth of the kingdom of God. For the world there can be no real permanent general blessing till the Son of man comes in displayed power and glory to reign over it to God's glory.
Now we turn to the scripture immediately before us. The statement of the Spirit of God is most explicit. He beseeches the saints by the hope of Christ's presence, who will gather them together unto Himself, against the unfounded rumor that the day of the Lord, the day of judgment for the living, had actually arrived. There is in the A. V. an error of reading, “Christ” instead of “Lord,” and an error of rendering, “is at hand” instead of “is present.” The day of Christ, as in the Epistle to the Philippians 1:10, 1610That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; (Philippians 1:10)
16The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: (Philippians 1:16)
, has different associations from the judgment of the quick. But the mistranslation of the verb is far more important, because it falsifies the bearing of the passage, from which even those who correct it find it difficult to recover. The word ἐνέστηκεν means “is present” and nothing else. The true sense seemed so unintelligible, if not incredible, to translators and commentators, that they gave the quite different meaning of “is at hand,” or “imminent.” Many of these could not be ignorant that the same tense in the N. T. imports definitely and invariably elsewhere “present “: see Rom. 8:3838For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (Romans 8:38); 1 Cor. 3:22; 7:2622Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; (1 Corinthians 3:22)
26I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. (1 Corinthians 7:26)
; Gal. 1:44Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Galatians 1:4); and Heb. 9:99Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; (Hebrews 9:9). In all these it unequivocally expresses the then present, and repeatedly in distinct contrast with “at hand” as future, no matter how near. Yet I am not aware of any one before Grotius who pointed out the mistranslation. But that learned and able man was too worldly-minded, too disposed to human ideas, in short too unspiritual, to make any effective use of that observation for intelligence of the passage by clearing away the obstruction to the truth created by an error which perverts the true sense.