GOD’S REVELATION OF HIMSELF TO MAN HAS BEEN A PROGRESSIVE ONE.- TRUTH IN GENERAL HAS BEEN REVEALED PROGRESSIVELY. PROPHECY, THE DIVINE HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, CONSISTS OF A SERIES OF PROGRESSIVE REVELATIONS.- PRACTICAL RESULTS OF THE COMPREHENSION AND APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE.
GOD has been pleased to make three great revelations of Himself to man: his Works; his Word; and his Son, and these revelations have been progressive in character. Nature, the Law, the Gospel; a silent material universe, an inspired Book, a living God-man; these are the three great steps that have led from the death and darkness of sin to that knowledge of the true God which is eternal life.
A fourth revelation of God, fuller and more perfect than any, is yet to come. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, who "declared Him" when He came the first time in grace and humiliation, will declare Him yet more fully when He comes a second time in righteousness and in glory. Then the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Each of these revelations is in itself progressive. The earth and all that is therein, attained perfection by six distinct stages, during the six days of creation. The angels followed with adoring wonder the fresh unfoldings of Divine wisdom, goodness, and power, presented in the gradual formation of this great globe, and in its myriad mysteries of vegetable and animal life, though to human eyes nature was presented perfect and complete. But human eyes could see at first the surface of things alone; every advance in true science, enabling men to penetrate more deeply into the hidden wisdom of the work of God, has been a progressive revelation. And we have only begun, even now, to understand the glory of God, manifested in the universe. To us, more than to our ancestors, the heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth showeth his handiwork; and to our children they will do so even more.
The Word of God is also a progressive revelation, and so has been the Providence recorded in that Word.
The Bible is composed of sixty-three separate hooks, written by forty various authors, during a period of 1600 years. The sacred writings develop a revelation which was continually unfolding itself through all those years; and close with a book bearing the divinely given title of "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."
The third revelation of God, that afforded by the person and work of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, was also progressive. The mere fact of his birth and existence in the midst of a world of sinners, was in itself an evidence of God s love to a guilty race. Each word He spoke, each act He performed, each day He, lived, unfolded more and more of God. They who saw Him saw the Father, for He was his express image; and not until He, the Maker and Judge of all, was exposed on the cursed tree, not till from his riven side flowed the water and the blood, not till He bowed his head and gave up the ghost, never till then, was the heart of God fully unveiled; hereby perceive we the love of God."
And it will be the same in the future; for since finite man is destined through boundless mercy to an eternal advance in the knowledge of the infinite God, that knowledge must needs be vouchsafed in progressive revelations, adapted to man s ability to receive them. And herein will lie one of the joys of heaven, to be ever learning more of Him, who is the Truth, and from Him, of all things.
No student of Scripture can fail to be struck with the progressive character of its teachings. On no one subject was full information given at the beginning; all was revealed in germ only, and in the lapse of ages unfolded by degrees. Take, for instance, the doctrine of the Trinity: in the beginning God taught the unity of his nature, and the other truth that in the one God there are three persons, was only intimated; suggested by certain forms of expression, as the use of a plural noun with a singular verb, which occurs several hundred times, as in #Ge 1:1, #Ps 58:2. There were besides expressions, the accurate harmony of which with this truth, we who understand it can appreciate, but which were not revelations to those who were ignorant of it. Such for example is the divinely prescribed threefold form of benediction in Numbers; and such the seraphs threefold ascription of praise in Isaiah, followed by the Lord Jehovah s question, "Who will go for us?" The later prophets assume the doctrine as true (#Isa 48:16, #Isa 9:6); but the New Testament alone reveals it fully.
Or take again the law of love; man s first duty towards his brother man. To the antediluvian world no law on the subject was given. To Noah, murder, the worst expression of hatred, was forbidden; through Moses the, doing of any ill to the neighbor was prohibited, either in his person, his property, his reputation or his domestic interests. By the Lord Jesus the feeling of any enmity was forbidden; and not only so but positive love, even to the laying down of life itself for the brother, commanded. What an advance is the conception of love embodied in #1Co 13 on that derived from Sinai, or even from the sermon on the mount.
Our present object is to trace this progress in connection with the prophecies of Scripture, and more especially with those of the New Testament.
I. The prophetic teachings of Scripture consist of a series of progressive revelations.
Its earliest predictions of any future event, have the character of outlines, later ones fill in the sketch, and the final ones present the finished picture. It is first the bud, next the half opened blossom, and lastly the flower in full bloom.
There was progress in the amount of truth revealed; as well as in the fullness of revelation on each point The little stream-let of prophecy which sprang up in Eden and trickled down through the antediluvian ages, swelled by continual accessions, till it rushed a flowing Jordan through Israel s tribes, grew into a mighty Euphrates during the Babylonish captivity, and opened out into a vast delta around Patmos, whence its waters glide calmly into the ocean of eternity.
Adam heard one brief enigmatical prediction from the voice of God Himself. Noah sketched, in three inspired sentences, the great features of human history. In the curse on Canaan was contained in embryo the iniquity of the seven nations and their conquest by Joshua; the priority of blessing granted to Shem, similarly contained the subsequent choice of his descendant Abraham to be the heir of the world and father of the faithful. In the promise of enlargement given to Japheth, was contained the spiritual enlargement which took place when the Gentiles were received into the new covenant, and the physical enlargement accomplished in comparatively recent days by the European colonization of America, and conquest of India, both "tents of Shem." This prophecy spanned the stream of time with a few gigantic arches; carrying us over from the vineyard of Noah to the Anglo-Saxon empires of our own day.
The patriarchs learned from God many additional particulars as to the future: to Abraham was revealed the history of the descendants of his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac; the four hundred years affliction of his posterity; the blessing of all nations through his seed, etc. Abraham, Jacob, and Moses; all saw Christ s day and were glad; Isaiah and Jeremiah revealed not only the proximate judgments and deliverances of Israel, but also incarnation and atonement. The visions of Daniel present not only a comprehensive but an orderly and consecutive prophetic narrative, of leading events, from his own day to the end of all things, a miniature universal history. The fall of Belshazzar; the rise of Cyrus, his conquests, the greatness of his empire; his successors, Cambyses, Smerdis, and Darius; the character, power, and conduct of Xerxes; the marvellous exploits of Alexander the Great, his sudden death, and the division of his empire; the reigns of the Ptolemies and Seleucids the character and conquests of the Roman empire; the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus; the decay and division of the Roman empire; the rise of the Papacy and its career; its cruel persecutions of God s saints : all this and much more is foretold by the man greatly beloved.
The "burdens" of the later prophets concern Syria, Egypt, Edom, Tyre, Sidon, Moab, Philistia, Kedar, Elam, Babylon, Gog and Magog, besides Judah and Ephraim. Enoch s prophecy is comprised in one verse, and touches only one theme. Isaiah s has sixty-six chapters, and touches on an immense variety of topics. From our Lord and his apostles flowed additional revelations, which opened up subjects previously veiled in mystery, and cast a flood of light on every important feature of the present and of the future. Thus the volume of prophecy grew in bulk and in scope, with the ever increasing number of individuals and of nations, and with the consequent complexity and importance of future events to be announced by inspiration.
Further, the prophecies of any one event have also a distinctly progressive character; they increase both in fullness and in clearness as the period of fulfillment approaches. A guide, conducting a traveler to Chamounix, before starting from Geneva points out the glittering white mountain on the horizon as the goal of the day s journey, and adds a few general indications of the route. When the city and its suburbs are left behind the guide ceases perhaps to speak much of Mont Blanc. tells rather of the height of the Seleve round which the road winds; from some eminence he points out the towns and villages which dot the widespread plain beyond, and which must presently be passed; traces the windings of the Arve, speaks of Bonneville and Sallenches as marking stages of the journey, but allows the magnificent terminus of their wanderings to occupy for the time a comparatively secondary place, minor but nearer objects taking up his attention. At a later period of the day, when the glorious vision of the ever nearing mountain breaks afresh upon the traveller at Sallenches, the guide pours forth clear and copious descriptions of its various parts; other things are, forgotten now, they press on; again the nearer hills shut out the mountain summit, but the guide tells how each turn of the last picturesque and winding valley will reveal some new view of it. When it reappears the traveler is startled by the nearer magnificence of the monarch of the Alps, it rivets his eye, it absorbs his attention; the guide enters into minute particulars, describes the different "aiguilles" and summits of the mountain, so that as he approaches them one by one, the traveler recognises them. And now Chamounix and the glaciers come in sight, and the traveler finds as might have been expected, that what appeared, when fifty miles off, a simple outline of uniform white, breaks up into a series of jagged peaks, with awful shadows and frozen seas lying in deep valleys between; that the one mountain is in reality half a dozen, and that what appeared at a distance merely a feature of the wide horizon, has developed into a vast and intricate region, in which he may wander for weeks without exploring it all Yet, as he gazes up at the great summit, he realizes, that it is the very same mountain he first beheld from Geneva.
Thus, from the fall onwards, the triumphs of the Cross have been the great theme of prophecy. Even in Eden the main character and grand result of human history were foretold. Enmity was to subsist between Satan and men, with all its fruits of conflict and suffering; ultimately, the serpent s head was to be bruised, the author of evil destroyed, but the victory was to be dearly bought, for the woman’s seed by whom it should be gained, should have his heel bruised in the battle. Here is the Bible in embryo, the sum of all history and prophecy in a germ. But what a mysterious enigma it was, what a slight shadowy outline, what a vague though blessed prospect! Still it was a light shining in a dark place ; its beams were feeble, but to the eye of faith it was the one glimmer that irradiated the intense gloom of the future. But what desires it must have left unsatisfied, what questions unanswered.! How long was this sore conflict to last? By what means were the vanquished to become the victors? Little could Adam and Eve know on these points; the one bright hope, like a glittering mountain top, defined their horizon; its form was rendered indistinct by the mists of ignorance; but it rivetted their gaze, for the rest of that horizon was blank, and nought but travail and sorrow and labour in an accursed earth, lay between them and this hope.
To the view of Enoch, the seventh from Adam, this single future became dual This first prophet, announced not only blessing, but judgment to come. He saw mankind divided into two classes, the saints and the ungodly (#Jude 14); and he foretold a coming of the Lord with, the former to execute judgment on the latter. Here was an advance: the previously revealed conflict reappears, and the previously revealed victory; but there shine out the additional truths that the conflict would not be between man and Satan alone, but between men and God, and that its termination would be effected only, by a coming of the Lord Himself to earth. In the sanctifying power of this truth Enoch walked in holy separation from the ungodly, and in holy fellowship with God, for three hundred years, and "before his translation he had this testimony that he pleased God.
To the patriarchs it was revealed that in their line should arise the promised Seed of the woman, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. Jacob s dying prophecy designated the very tribe in which He should appear, and threw some light on his character and work. To Moses it was made known that the promised Deliverer should be a prophet, and David foretold that He should be a king and the manner of his kingdom (#Psa 72). The promise of his coming grew continually brighter and clearer; but as yet it appeared only one, a glorious advent of a royal and triumphant Deliverer. What the bruising of the heel should be, was still hidden in obscurity: the double nature of Christ, his true character and work, his rejection, suffering and death, had not yet been predicted; they had been shadowed forth, it is true, in typical actions and ordinances; but these were not understood even by the actors in them.
In a wondrous historic prefiguration Abraham and Isaac, all unconsciously to themselves, had symbolised the great truth that the Father would give the Son to be the sacrifice; not knowing what he said, Isaac uttered the great question of all ages: "Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the Lamb for the burnt offering?" and Abraham gave the prophetic reply: "My son, God will provide Himself a Lamb." But types like this, and like that of Joseph s rejection by his brethren, and exaltation to Egypt s throne, were not revelations to the then existing generations of men, although we in the light of the antitype can see them to have had a hidden meaning. Nor was the paschal Lamb in Egypt, nor the complex system of sacrifices inaugurated by Moses, any revelation of the victim character of Christ. David in the Psalms wrote of his sufferings as well as his glories, but so little were these passages understood, that our Lord and his apostles had to expound them even in their day.
But when David had fallen asleep, and Solomon s typical reign was over, when declension and decay set in, and Israel s kingdom was on the wane, when a dark night of captivity and dispersion was approaching, then revelations multiplied. The star that bad so long shone in the prophetic heaven, and been regarded as one round orb, was seen to be a binary star. The objects and results of the first coming of Christ were announced, in such a way as to distinguish it from his second coming, yet not so clearly but that difficulties still left room for misconception. Many particulars and details were also added; He was to spring out of the stem of Jesse, to be a virgin s son, and to bear the name Emmanuel; his name moreover was to be called The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; and there was to be no end of the increase of his government. The character of his kingdom was more fully described, and the fact revealed, that Gentiles as well as Jews, should share in its blessings. And strange new strains began to mingle in the music of the prophetic harp as Isaiah touched its strings, mournful tones which told of suffering and rejection, of oppression and bruises and wounds, to be inflicted on the coming One. He was to be a holy sin-bearer, a silent sufferer, a slaughtered lamb; He was to pour out his soul unto death; He was to have a grave; He was to be a substitute, a sin offering, an intercessor; and only through experiences such as these to be "satisfied" and exalted, "and divide the spoil with the great." And Daniel, in full harmony, announced that Messiah should be cut off but not for Himself and that his coming instead of bringing rest and glory to Israel, would be followed by trouble, war, and desolation. By degrees it thus became evident, that a long stretch of previously concealed valley, lay between the double summit of the mighty mountain, the hope of the coming and kingdom of Christ. Micah foretold that He should come out of Bethlehem, Zechariah that his feet should stand on the mount of Olives; but who suspected that at least 1800 years were to elapse between the two events? The exact period when He should come and be cut off was foretold, though in symbolic style; and in the same style, a glimpse was given of the interval to elapse, before He came again to be "King over all the earth." Vast progress bad been made when Malachi, closing the volume of Old Testament prophecy, spoke of the Lord coming suddenly to his temple, and the Sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings. How amazingly more full and correct were the anticipations of Simeon and Anna than those of Adam and Eve! The earlier saints could only cast a wondering gaze abroad over the earth, and up and down through unknown ages; the later-knew the country, the city, the very building in which, and the very date at which, the Consolation of Israel should appear; and when at last the aged saint held m his arms the long promised woman s Seed, be spoke of salvation, and of peace in believing, and of a sword that must pierce the heart of the virgin mother, proving that the mystery of the bruised heel was no dark one to his heart. But yet the consummation was not come, the serpent s head was all unbruised, his power seemed mightier than ever. The goal receded as it .was approached; the kingdom of Christ was come, but it was only in a mystery. Once more the light of prophecy streams forth, the interval is filled in with copious details by our Lord and his apostles. The King is to go into a flu country and to return; the mystery not made known in other ages is revealed by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs and partakers in the promises’ ; multitudinous features of the future are delineated by the pen of inspiration; but the one grand old hope, the coming of Jesus Christ to rule, and reign, and judge, and destroy the devil and his works, still rises paramount to all the rest. Finally, in the Apocalypse the last stretch of country is laid open to- view, each milestone of this closing stage of the journey may be as it were distinguished and counted, the mists have cleared away, the intervening hills and valley have taken their proper places, and as each rapid revolution of our globe brings us almost consciously nearer to "that blessed hope," we gaze with ever growing admiration at its vastness, at its glories, at its unutterable height, at its awful shadows; until as we see the old serpent, and death and hades, cast for ever into the lake of fire, and the New Jerusalem descend out of heaven, that the tabernacle of God may be evermore with men, we exclaim: "It is done; the woman s seed hath bruised the serpent s head !"
Thus again, the prophecies respecting the resurrection of the dead, and the future judgment, are few and dark in the Old Testament. Job anticipated resurrection personally, and Daniel speaks of a resurrection of part of the dead. But we have only to contrast these and similar hints, with the clear and copious predictions of #1Co 15, and #1Thess 4, in order to be convinced of the progressive character of revelation p this subject. It is Christ who has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Thus again, the past and future restorations of Israel, so often blended in one prophecy in the Old Testament, are broadly distinguished in the New, and the hidden mystery of the calling of the Gentiles is interposed between them. Compare for instance Jeremiah xxx., xxxi., with Romans xi. : "the mystery of Christ . . in other ages was not made known unto the sons of man, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow- heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. iii. These words are an emphatic assertion of the principle of progressive revelation in prophecy.
II. The prophecies of the New Testament have this progressive character, and divide themselves into five series of predictions, each series in the succession, being in advance of the preceding one.
1. The prophecies annunciatory of Christ, by the angels, by Zacharias, by Mary, by Elizabeth, by Simeon, and by John the Baptist.
2. The earlier prophecies of Christ Himself on earth.
3. The later prophecies of Christ: #Matt 22:1 - Matt 24, #Mark 13, #Luke 21, #Joh 13-16.
4. The prophetic teachings of the Holy Ghost through the apostles, contained in the Acts and in the epistles.
5. The Apocalypse, or final revelation of Christ from heaven: "the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him, to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass."
The first series declared in general the character of Christ s person and the grand objects and results of his mission; but they are silent as to all else.
The second series, or early prophecies of Christ Himself, in #Matt 7:1 - #Matt 8:34 #Mark 4, reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, its foundation and gradual development, its twofold character and its final issues. That this was an advance on all previous revelations may be gathered from the words of our Lord in Matthew xiii. : "Blessed are your ears for they hear; for verily I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men have desired to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them,."
The later Prophecies of our Lord on earth, consist almost entirely of new revelations. These embrace, the rejection of the Jews on account of their unbelief; the destruction of their city and temple, their dispersion among all nations, the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, the persecution of the Christian church, the world wide preaching of the gospel, and his own second coming, with the signs and events attending it, also his own approaching sufferings and departure to the Father, and his return to receive his people to Himself with the coming and mission of the Holy Ghost during the interval of his absence. Much as all this was in advance of the Lord s previous prophecies, He added, after making these revelations: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear .them now; howbeit, when He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth; and He will show you things to come." After all therefore that had been revealed, concerning the future, very much still remained to be made known, and was to be made known by the
teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Here is another distinct announcement of the principle of progressive revelation in prophecy.
With the expectations thus awakened we glance next at the prophetic teachings of the Holy Spirit through the apostles.
Examining the epistles in their chronological order, we find the two earliest, those to the church at Thessalonica, filled with the subject of the Lord s second coming and revealing much fresh truth in connection with it. It is to be accompanied by the transformation of living saints, the resurrection of dead saints, and their joint rapture to meet the Lord in the air; the manner of his return, and (negatively) the time of it, are announced. Copious and detailed descriptions of the apostasy to be developed in the Christian church are given, as also the history of the man of sin, in whose career that apostasy was to culminate; his Satanic origin, his lying wonders and unrighteous deceptions, his consumption by the spirit of the Lord s mouth, and his destruction by the brightness of his coming, are all foretold for the first time.
One or two years later, Paul wrote his first letter to the & Corinthian church, in which revelations are made fuller than any previous ones, on the subject of resurrection; its principles, its manner, the nature of the bodies in which the saints will rise, the instantaneous transformation of the living to be effected at the sounding of the last trumpet, all these were newly revealed features. "Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be "changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump."
But, more important still, the order of this resurrection of the saints with respect to other events is mentioned: "Christ the first fruits, afterward they that are Christ s at his coming. Then cometh the end." The resurrection of saints was to be subsequent to Christ s resurrection, prior to the end; but how long subsequent to the one, or how long prior to the other, is not here revealed.
About a year after, in his epistle to the Romans, the apostle clears up the mystery of Israel s future, and answers the questions whether God had cast off his ancient people, whether they had stumbled that they should fail He reveals that their judicial rejection was but for a time; that it should terminate when the fulness of the Gentiles was brought in; and that then all Israel should be saved, and the Deliverer return to Zion He thus "vindicates the ways of God to man," and shows that his gifts and calling, are without repentance.
Peter wrote his first epistle about ten years later; but though he. speaks of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and the appearing of the Chief Shepherd, he added little to the sum of what was already known on these topics. But in his second epistle, written about the year 68; he unfolds the final doom of the heavens and the earth that are now; that they are to be burned up, the elements to melt with fervent heat and to be succeeded by a new heaven and a new earth wherein righteousness should dwell. He mentions also some particulars of the approaching apostasy; a subject on which Paul in his two letters to Timothy dwells more fully. Both apostles, paint a dark picture of the "last days;" foretell scoffers; apostates, hypocrites, false teachers seduced by evil spirits to teach doctrines of devils, a form of godliness without power; and they speak also, of their own near departure.
Then finally, thirty years later than the writings of the other apostles, and closing the inspired volume commenced by Moses 1600 years before, we find the revelation made by Christ in glory to John. It is the latest gift of a glorified Saviour to his suffering church, and is entirely different in manner, scope, and style from all that precedes it. It is all but wholly devoted to prophetic truth; it contains a full and orderly prophecy of the events that were to transpire to the end of time; it unveils new scenes, and its dark sayings are full of glorious light. It is evident that the prophetic matter of this book, was unrevealed previous to the death and crucifixion of Christ; for it is represented as contained in a seven-sealed book, written within and on the back side, A strong angel cries with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof?" and none is found worthy save the "Lamb as it had been slain," who is in the midst of the throne. He comes and takes the book out of the right hand of Him that sits on the throne, and He opens its seven seals.
The descriptions contained in this book of the sufferings of the faithful church under persecution; of the sins of Babylon the great; of the judgment to be poured upon it; of the advent of Christ and of the first resurrection; of the millennial reign of Christ (barely mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament); of the universal revolt at its close; of the judgments which follow; of the New Jerusalem; of the new heavens and the new earth; and of the eternal state - have no parallel in the whole compass of Scripture.
Being written subsequently to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, the Apocalypse omits reference to these events treated by earlier prophecies; and, being addressed to the Christian church, it omits much found elsewhere, that is exclusively Jewish. But as regards all that was future to it, and of importance to the church of God, it presents a consecutive series of visions, combining and connecting the separate revelations previously made, and adding much never before revealed.
III. From these facts the following inferences may be deduced.
1.God does not reveal all the future at any one time, but gradually, as the knowledge of it may be needed and can be received.
2.We must not expect earlier prophecies to be equally comprehensive with later ones, nor endeavour to construct from the gospels and epistles alone, the perfect map of coming events. By its position as the last and fullest prophecy of the Bible, the Apocalypse is in advance of all other revelations, and a correct knowledge of the future is impossible apart from the study of it. No difficulties therefore, arising from its symbolic style or apparent obscurity, should lead us to dispense with its teachings. The testimony of later prophecies should never be in the slightest degree distorted, nor anything subtracted from their fulness, in order to bring them into harmony with earlier ones; but, on the contrary, their copious details and more comprehensive teachings, must be added to all previous revelations, and then allowed to modify the impressions we have received from earlier and more elementary predictions.
3.We must not therefore reject any particular prophetic truth because it is found "only in Revelation" but receive the teachings of this final prophecy on its inspired authority alone, when they are unconfirmed by other Scripture.
The Apocalypse being written for the church militant, for the dispensation to which we belong, and the days in which we live, is indispensable to the man of God who would now be thoroughly furnished to all good works. No portion of it should be considered as unimportant, or treated as superfluous. "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein, for the time is at hand." "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this hook" (#Rev 22:18)
The. Apocalypse, as a precious and principal light, shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the Day Star arise, should be allowed to cast its rich and final rays back over all the prophecies on the subjects of which it treats, in the volume which it closes; and its consecutive visions should be employed to hind together in their proper order, the separate links of such earlier predictions.
PROGRESSIVE REVELATIONS AS TO THE RELATIVE PERIOD OF THE SECOND ADVENT OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
In the light of this principle of Progressive Revelation, let us now consider the most interesting and momentous question in connection with the future, the relative period of the return of our blessed Lord and Master.
Before examining the revelations of the Apocalypse on this subject, we will briefly glance at the general testimony of Scripture with respect to it; first that of the Old Testament, and then that of the New.
It is impossible that those who "love his appearing" should be indifferent as to the season of their Lord s return. Even the prophets searched diligently what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand, the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow. With much more reason, we, who in his sufferings see our salvation, and in his glory our own eternal portion, we, who are espoused as a chaste virgin to Christ, and have his parting promise, "I will come again and receive you to Myself" may inquire diligently, and long to know, when we may hope to see Him as He is, and be for ever with our Lord. The more we long for an event itself, the more anxious we are to ascertain the probable period of its occurrence. It argues little love to the Lord if we do not ardently desire his return; and it argues little desire for his return, if we never search the Scriptures, prayerfully seeking to learn from them when we may expect it. It is true we are to let patience have her perfect work; but our patience should be "the patience of hope," not the patience of careless indifference; and hope will always suggest the inquiry, how long?
"How long, 0 Lord our Saviour, wilt Thou remain away? Our hearts are growing weary, that Thou dost absent stay. Oh when shall come the moment, when, brighter far than morn, The sunshine of Thy glory, shall on Thy people dawn?"
It is true that ever since apostolic days it has been the bounden duty of the church to be ever watchful, ever waiting, for the return of God s Son from heaven. The teaching of Christ Himself and of his apostles, led the early generations of Christians in a very real sense, to expect the speedy return of their Lord. They took his promise "Lo, I come quickly," to mean quickly according to human calculations; we have learned by experience that it meant "quickly," counting a thousand years as one day; and unless we have something more explicit than this by which to shape our expectations, we, Christians of the nineteenth century, would have little indeed to sustain our hope. A promise which has already extended over 1800 years might well extend over 1800 more, and the epiphany for which we wait be still ages distant.
But Scripture contains more than general promises on this subject; it contains many specific, orderly; and even chronological prophecies. We have full and explicit inspired predictions by which to shape our expectations, and these numerous and detailed prophetic statements, do not leave us like shipwrecked sailors on a dark night, on a wild and stormy sea, deprived of chart and compass and ignorant of their bearings. If we will use them aright, they place us rather in the position of a weary crew, at the end of a long and dangerous voyage, exploring by the morning twilight, the chart on which their track has been marked down, noting the thousands of miles they have sailed, recognising each high land and island they have passed on their course, and all the lights and beacons long since left behind, cheering each other as they observe that the faithful chart, whose accuracy their long experience has demonstrated, shows but two or three way marks ahead,-way marks absolutely coming into sight,-and rejoicing in hope of a speedy entrance into a peaceful port.
But here we are met with an objection. Those who search. and study the prophetic word are often rebuked by the quotation, "of that day and that hour knoweth no man." Now though some students of prophecy have degenerated into prophets, and have required to be reminded of these words, yet it is a mistake to suppose that they forbid investigation, or render hopeless beforehand, any well grounded and intelligent conclusions, as to the period of our Lord s return. The day and the hour of this great event have not assuredly been revealed, but its place on the general chart of human history, has as certainly not been concealed.
The analogy of the Old Testament would lead us to expect that dates would be given by which some approximation to a knowledge of the period of Christ s second coming, might, towards the close of the dispensation, be made. For however dark earlier generations of Israel may have been, as to the time of his first coming, those who lived during the five centuries immediately preceding it, had the light of distinct chronological prophecy, to sustain their hopes, and guide their expectations. Though Daniel s prediction of the "seventy weeks" was expressed in symbolic language, and perhaps not understood by the generation to whom it was first given, yet as a matter of history, we know that it was correctly interpreted by later generations, that it formed a national opinion as to the probable period of the appearance of Messiah the Prince, and that it taught the faithful, like Simeon and Anna, to be waiting for the ,consolation of Israel Is it not likely that the later generations of the Christian church, which is indwelt by the Spirit of truth, of whom Christ expressly said "He shall show you things to come" should have as clear or clearer light, as to the period of the second advent ?-light, not as to its day tr hour, not as to its month or year, but as to its period, and especially as to its chronological relation, to other future events. From the fact that the Lord Jesus, as the New Testament abundantly proves, wished his disciples in all ages to be kept constant in love, and vigilant in holiness, by means of the continual expectation of his return, we may be sure beforehand, that the period of that event, will not be clearly revealed in plain words, either in the Old Testament or the New. Any revelation on the subject, will be sure to be characterized, by a marked and intentional obscurity, and to be of such a character as that only "the wise shall understand" it. On the other hand, as the second advent bear to other great future events, the relation either of antecedent or subsequent, (even if not of cause or of effect,) its position relatively to them, must be more or less clearly indicated.
For if there exist in Scripture, an orderly chronological prophecy of future events, containing a prediction of the second coming of Christ, as one link in the chain, its place, in reference to all the other events, must of course be clear. And if such a prophecy contain no direct mention of the second advent, yet if. it contain a mention of events, which, from other scriptures we know to synchronize with that advent, (such as the resurrection of saints, or the destruction of Antichrist and his armies,) the relative position of the advent will still be clear.
Such prophecies exist; they are given for our study; and with the Holy Ghost as our guide we may confidently expect to learn from them with certainty, the general order of the great incidents, of the fast approaching end of the age. And not only so, but we may also expect, to be able to gather from such prophecies, read in the light of the whole revelation of God, an approximate knowledge of the actual period of the coming of the Lord. Of this we are not, we cannot he, intended to remain in ignorance, for it is with regard to prophetic chronology that it is expressly said, "the wise shall understand."
Let us seek then to ascertain, first from Old Testament prophecy, secondly from the-more advanced teachings of the New Testament, and lastly from the final testimony of the Apocalypse, the relative period of our Lord s return; and, as far as it is revealed, its actual point, in the course of the ages of human history.
The second advent of Christ could not have been distinctly predicted in the Old Testament as a second; that would have involved a premature revelation of Messiah s rejection, by Israel, of his death and re-ascension into heaven, and of the present dispensation of grace to the Gentiles. Prophecies so clear as either to procure or prevent their own fulfilment, were never delivered by Divine inspiration. The two coming s of Christ, at that time both future, and having one and the same object-to redeem and restore humanity and to destroy the works of the devil-are seen as one, in early prophetic vision.
A coming of Christ is, however, extensively and clearly predicted in the Old Testament, of a character essentially different from his past coming, and which is to be accompanied by events of transcendent importance, none of which took place in connection with his first advent. It is therefore a future coming, and in relation to the first it is a second. He did come in humiliation as a gracious Saviour; He will come in glory as a righteous Judge and King. In other words, without the expression being used, the second coming of Christ is foretold and described in places too numerous to mention, in the law, in the prophets, and in the psalms.
The Old Testament also largely prophesies, another great future event; it plainly teaches that before this world s history is wound up, before time gives place to eternity, an age is to occur, which is to be earth s Sabbath, man’s jubilee, Christ s. reign: the antitype of all Sabbaths from Eden onward, the antitype of Israel s jubilees, the antitype of Solomon s glorious reign of prosperity and peace. Certain Scripture statements and analogies, (apart from the Apocalypse,) lead us to suppose that the duration of this period will be 1000 years, whence it is commonly called THE MILLENNIUM.
By the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began God has announced these "times of refreshing." The Lord Jesus when on earth alluded to this period, and presented it as an object of hope to his people. "Ye who have followed Me," He said on one occasion in reply to a question from Peter, "in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel;" to Nathanael He said, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man." This age is called "the dispensation of the fulness of times," in which God "will gather together in one all things in Christ" (#Eph 1:10), in which every knee shall bow to Jesus, and every tongue confess Hun Lord, to the glory of God the Father (#Phil 2:10). It is the oft foretold, oft promised kingdom of the Son of man;. not God s reign over the world in providence; that has existed from the beginning, and could never therefore be the object either of prophecy or of .promise; not Christ s present reign in the hearts of his people; not the present period at all, for Satan is at present usurping the throne of this world as king and God; two thirds of mankind still worship him in worshipping idols, and are his obedient slaves and miserable victims; the greater part of the other third worship and obey him indirectly, in serving sin; and even Christ s people, the little flock who own Him as Lord, fail to obey Him perfectly.
If Christ be king now, where is his honour? How does the dread majesty of his throne assert itself? He endures with much longsuffering all manner of rebellion-; He allows his authority to be insulted, and his name blasphemed. He avenges not his own elect, who cry day and night unto Him; He permits the oppressor to triumph, and the wicked to prosper in the earth. These things shall not -be in the day of his kingdom. #Ps 72. presents the manner of that kingdom. Its features are righteousness and judgment, flowing from Himself as fountain head, and from all subordinate rulers as his ministers; the poor and needy delivered, and their oppressors crushed; complete and universal submission of all kings and nations to Christ; abundant peace and eternal praise. Clearly this kingdom is not come yet, and clearly therefore it is yet to come. It is true that numerous passages speak of this present dispensation as in a certain sense the kingdom of God; but the expression also designates a still future period, altogether distinct from the present in its character. This is the kingdom of God in a mystery, that will be the kingdom of God in manifest power and glory.
And let it be remarked, this kingdom I s no part of the eternal state which shall ensue when "the former things are passed away." It is the kingdom of the Son, the kingdom in which Christ as Son of man is supreme; but in the eternal state the Son shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, and shall Himself be subject, that God may be all in all (#1Co 15:28). Now the period during which the Son possesses the kingdom, and the period which dates from his delivering it up, cannot be the same.
Again, the dispensation in question, though blessed and glorious beyond all that have preceded it, is yet governmentally and nationally imperfect; mankind will be still divided into nations (#Zech 14:16), speak divers languages (#Dan.7:14), be distinguished as Jews and Gentiles, and as governors and governed (#Ps 72); whereas in the eternal state all will be under the sole and immediate government of God.
And further, it is a period which, though characterized in the main by righteousness, life and bliss, will yet be marred by sin, death and judgment; men will still be mortal, and judgment will follow every transgression (#Isa 55, #Zech 14), while in the eternal state there will be no more sin, no more death, no more curse. (#Rev 21)
During this reign of Christ, He will have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth (#Ps 62:8); but in the eternal state there will be "no more sea." In short the former will be a kingdom characterized by the gradual and progressive subjugation of all things to Christ, in which "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," while the eternal state dates from- death s destruction, and in it in subjection is unknown.
This glorious age, is then a distinct one, which is to follow the present period, and to precede the new heavens and the new earth, in which the tabernacle of God shall be for evermore with men.
We have therefore a great future event, and a glorious future age, clearly predicted in Scripture, and it is a deeply momentous question which Of the two is to come first. Is the millennial Sabbath to be introduced by the coming of Christ, or to be followed by it? Ought the church to be expecting the millennium, or expecting her Lord first? Is the Divine programme of the future, first the millennium and then the advent, or first the advent and then the millennium?
It is strange that many children of God are content to leave this great ’question an open one, and to continue in willing ignorance on the subject. And it is doubly strange that too many who ought, as teachers of the truth, boldly to declare the whole counsel of God, should be content to promulgate through the entire course of their ministry, views which they hold from education and from habit, rather than as the result of research, and of strong conviction that they are the truth, views which they would be at a loss to sustain by solid scriptural argument. They never perhaps preach on prophecy at all, -but they constantly make use of forms of expression, and quote Scripture in connections, which tacitly and very effectually teach error. They thus endorse the vaguely held traditional creed, that death is the certain prospect before each individual, and - that as regards the church at large and the world, the present state of things will continue to improve gradually, until it merges into that blessed period of righteousness and peace, in which "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea." This is a serious evil; scriptures misquoted are an efficient means of conveying unscriptural views. Multitudes of persons who have never studied the Bible on this subject, or received any direct instruction on it, have nevertheless, from this practice on the part of their teachers, imbibed views directly contrary to the truth.
And the views thus thoughtlessly imparted, and thoughtlessly received, are yet firmly held; for mental habits are strong. That which we have always heard and supposed to be true, that which most people appear to hold as true, assumes the authority of ascertained truth in the mind, and the moment it is attacked, prejudice rises in arms to defend it. The consequence is, that notwithstanding the late large and rapid increase in the number of those who look for the coming of Christ as -their own individual hope, and as the next great event in the history of -the church and of the world, the majority of professing Christians, and especially those who have little or no leisure for reading and study, still retain the opposite view, look for death personally, and expect the coming of Christ to take place, only at the end of the world. Yet that coming is the grand motive uniformly presented in the New Testament to love, to obedience, to holiness, to spirituality of mind, to works of mercy, to watchfulness, to patience, to moderation and sobriety, to diligence, and to all other Christian graces. "That blessed hope" is essential to the production of the Christian character in its perfection. What consolation it affords in bereavement and affliction! What holy restraint it is calculated to exercise, in prosperity and joy, and what an incentive it supplies to exertion in the Christian work and warfare!
And who is to blame that its power is so little felt by Christians in general? How shall they hear without a teacher? If their ministers never directly teach them the truth on this point, by expounding to them the numerous passages bearing on it in the New Testament, but leave them in ignorance or lead them indirectly into error, will the Great Shepherd of the sheep hold such under shepherds guiltless? Earnestly would we entreat all our brethren in the ministry, to "preach the word on this great subject, to give it in their ministry, the prominence it has in their Bibles; to bring it in, whenever and wherever Scripture brings it in, and that is in connection with almost every topic of Christian privilege and duty. _______________________________________________________________
It is vain to urge that the uncertainty of life and the possible nearness of death, are motives as powerful as the coming of Christ. Death can never be an object of hope to a Christian, nor a source of consolation; God never intended it to be such; it has lost its, sting indeed to a believer, but it remains and must ever remain, a painful, humbling, afflictive, repulsive prospect; salvation itself imparts no lustre to death. It must be so; "it is sin s great conquest, and Satan s chief work, the fulness of sorrow and affliction, the triumph of corruption, the fulfilment of the curse. Oh it is a strange delusion of Satan to have made the capital curse of God eclipse the capital promise of God! Satan s consummated kingdom over the body to take that place in our thoughts, which Christ s consummated kingdom in the body and spirit, even the resurrection, was meant to take."
Nor is it believers only who suffer from the habitual omission of a cardinal doctrine of scripture in the teaching they hear from the pulpit. Who shall estimate the injustice done thereby to unbelievers? The coming of the Lord draweth nigh! Why is not the fact, the (for them) awful fact, proclaimed aloud in their hearing, and applied with all the earnestness of love, to arouse the sleeper from his dream, to destroy the delusions of the false professor, to unmask the hypocrite to himself; to warn the wicked from his way? The coming of the Lord draweth nigh; to them who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that coming must bring everlasting destruction; on them it must fall as a fiery vengeance. Should they not be faithfully forewarned of their danger? Should they have the right to reproach their teachers that they sounded not the trumpet though they saw the sword approaching?
What saith the Lord? "If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman s hand" (#Ezek 33:6).
Let sinners be startled by the announcement "The Judge STANDETH AT THE DOOR," and not soothed by the sound, of a softly approaching millennium. Let them be warned of the speedy dawn of a day of retribution, and not led to conclude it, at least a thousand years distant. If the preachers of the word will fling carelessly aside, one of the best weapons in the armoury of truth, can they wonder that their work is not as effective as it might be? If they would fain see conversions numerous as in apostolic days, let them preach the apostolic preaching, in which not only the past, but the future advent of Christ, had a grand and prominent place.
The two prophets of the Old Testament who furnish the most- conclusive evidence on this subject are Daniel and Zechariah. The former, a royal captive from Judea, was a pure and faithful witness for God in the corrupt, gentile court of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, during the type of the Babylonish captivity of Israel. There is something singularly magnificent and massive in this prophet s interpretation of Nebuchadnezza’s divinely sent dream. Unencumbered by detail, the grand outline of this fundamental and far-reaching prophecy, is sketched with the few but firm and telling touches of a master hand; like the blue vault of heaven, "majestic in its own simplicity," and embracing in one vast span the whole extent and circumference of earth, it seems to arch in the entire future of the world, with celestial ease and stability.
It starts from the time then present, and terminates on the verge of eternity. Its language is intelligible, and indeed can scarcely be misunderstood. Brief and condensed in the extreme, it lights only on the salient points, the mountain tops as it were, of human history; but in so doing it must of course light on its most elevated and important summit, the glorious epiphany of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Whereabouts in the chain does it place that summit? This is the point on which we now seek its testimony. Let the reader ponder it and reply.
THE VISION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON. TO - WHOM GOD HAD GIVEN UNIVERSAL DOMINION.
1. Thou, 0 king, sawest and behold a great ,image.
2. His head was of fine gold;
3. His breast and his arms of silver4. His belly and his thighs of brass;
5. His legs of iron, and his feet part of iron and part of clay.6. A stone was cut out without hands;
7. It smote the image on his feet; and the gold;
8. It brake in pieces the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver,
9. It became a great mountain; and filled the whole earth.
1. Thou art this head of gold;
2. After thee shall arise another kingdom;
3. And a third kingdom of brass;
4. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron;
5. That kingdom shall be divided.;
6. In the days of these kings,
7. The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom;
8. It shall never be destroyed,
9. It shall consume all these kingdoms, 10.It shall stand for ever.
The dream is certain and the interpretation thereof is sure.
A succession of four similar universal earthly empires is foretold, and that they are to be followed by a fifth, the empire of the stone. The first four would be established and ruled by men, the last by " the God of heaven." TIle first four would be destroyed, the last would destroy them. The first four would be smitten and broken in pieces, the last would never be destroyed. The first four would form one great image; the last would become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth. The first four would be consumed and carried away; the last would stand for ever. By the universal consent of the church of all ages, and of all sections, the first four are allowed to be the Babylonian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman empires; and the last the still future kingdom of the Son of man. The internal scriptural and historical evidence in favour of this interpretation, is so overwhelming, and the agreement of all students and commentators, of the early church, of the Greek and Roman Catholic churches, and of all Protestant churches, so complete, that the few who have of late years ventured to call it in question, must be regarded as rash, unsafe, presumptuous guiles, who would destroy the very basis of all. sound and solid interpretation of Scripture prophecy. It were superfluous to argue the point in a work like this; those who -require it can easily find abundant evidence, and that of a most convincing character and edifying nature.*
*Indeed, it may be remarked that in every other place in Scripture where "leaven" is spoken of, it clearly signifies evil.
We take it for granted therefore that this vision presents us with a brief historic outline, of the four great empires which have in succession held universal sway. It presents the last of the four, in two successive stages, first as legs of pure iron, secondly as ten toes composed of a mixture of iron and clay; representing under these emblems, first the Roman empire in its undivided imperial strength, and secondly the same empire in its divided condition.
During this last stage of the last empire, occurs a supernatural and tremendous revolution. All the previous changes had followed each other in the ordinary and natural course, and the kingdoms were in some senses a continuation of each other, for the great image is one. But now a kingdom that is no part of the image, that owns a supernatural origin, smites the image, grinds it to powder, takes its place, blots it out of existence, and fills the whole earth. This fall of the stone cut out without hands, must symbolise something immensely more important and fundamental, than any political change the world has ever seen. Tremendous critical revolutions, such as the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus, and of Persia s power by Alexander the Great, have in this prophecy been portrayed simply by the quiet change from one metal to another, in the parts of an unbroken image. What then is the great event symbolised by the falling of the stone, which puts an end to the image altogether, and precedes the establishment on earth of the kingdom of the God of heaven?
Is it. as some assert, the first advent of Christ, to establish Christianity? Impossible ! for the stone falls on the feet of the image. The first advent took place in the time of the undivided imperial iron strength of the Roman empire, not after its decay and division into many kingdoms. Christianity had already been established for centuries, as the religion of the Roman empire, before the state of things symbolised by the ten toes of iron and clay arose.
Besides, the destruction of the image is attributed to the fall of the stone, not to its gradual expansion into a great mountain which fills the whole earth. Now Christianity did not destroy all earthly monarchy, at the time of its advent, or in its early ages. On the contrary! Its Founder suffered under Pontius Pilate the Roman governor, and his apostles were martyred by Nero and Domitian. Nothing whatever answering to the crushing, destructive fall of the stone took place at that time. The development of the stone into a mountain does not begin till the image has been "broken to pieces together, and become like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor." Now the gradual growth of Christianity has been taking place while the image still stands, and cannot therefore be the thing intended by this striking symbol. Besides this, the spiritual kingdom of God now established in the hearts of men, is in no respect similar to the great universal earthly empires which form the four first of this series. It is not of the world; it employs not the sword of conquest; it does not embrace as its subjects all within a certain territory; it is invisible, spiritual, heavenly. The empire of the stone is a fifth analogous to the other four, though of supernatural origin, wider extent, and longer duration; it is the universal empire of earth ruled directly by the God of heaven.
What then must be the transcendent event symbolised by the falling from above, with destructive force, on the feet of the image, (or final form of earthly monarchy,) of a stone cut out without hands? What can it be but the second coming of Christ with all his saints, to execute judgment on the ungodly, and to reign in righteousness and glory?
The symbol employed, a stone cut out without hands, is a most appropriate emblem of Christ and his church; that church which, as other scriptures show, is to be associated with him in the work of judgment. A stone cut out without hands is a miracle; Christ in his birth,- in his resurrection, was such; and we his people are even now, "born not of the will of man, or of the will of the flesh, but of God" as to our spiritual natures, and our bodies are to be in the resurrection "quickened by his Spirit which dwelleth in us." Many other emblems present Christ and his people as one. They form one vine, one body, one temple; so here, one stone. Our Lord applies this emblem to Himself, in a way that seems almost an allusion to this prophecy: "whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder." Peter applies it to the saints, "ye also as living stones." And Paul speaks of believers under the same figure as "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." For more than 1800 years this mystic stone has been in process of cutting out. When," the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed," the separation will be complete, and the stone will fall on the feet of the image; that is, the Lord will come "with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all." Earthly polities will then crumble for ever into dust; empires, monarchies, and republics alike, will become as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor; "the Lord shall be king over all the earth," and alone exalted in that day.
Here then we have the first distinct answer to our inquiry. as to the relative position of the second advent.
On the authority of this prophecy alone we may boldly assert, that it is destined to occur at the dose of the present -"divided state of the Roman empire, and prior to the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ. And moreover, as the parts of the image bear a certain proportion to each other, we have some data by which to form an approximation to its actual period; -for the tenfold division of the Roman empire having already existed twelve or thirteen centuries, a strong presumption arises that its close must he at hand.
We turn now to the second great prophecy of Daniel in the seventh chapter of his book. The following are the leading points of the vision and of the interpretation respectively.
DANIEL’S VISION OF THE FOUR GREAT BEASTS. Four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first like a lion, another like a bear, another like a leopard. A fourth beast, dreadful, and terrible, and strong exceedingly. It was diverse from all the beasts that were before it, and it had tenhorns. There came up among them another little horn In this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speakinggreat things. The same horn made war with the saints and prevailed againstthem. Until the Ancient of Days came, and Judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the
time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.
1. These great beasts which are four, are four kingdoms.
2. The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth. 3%The ten horns are ten - kings (or kingdoms) that shall arise. 4%Another shall arise after them, diverse from the first (ten).
5. And he shall speak great words against the Most High.
6. He shall wear out the saints of the Most High;
7. They shall be given into his hand, until a time, and times, and the dividing of time.
8. BUT THE JUDGMENT SHALL SIT, and they shall take away his dominion.
The kingdom shall. be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
Nebuchadnezzar beheld the former vision and Daniel interpreted; now the prophet beholds, and an angel interprets. The subject is in both visions in the main the same; but the second has many additional features. The four great empires of earth, appear under strangely contrasted symbols, to the. king and to the prophet.
In the former case a worldly idolater looked up, and beheld a great fourfold image of earthly dominion; it was terrible, yet attractive to him in its brilliancy. In. the latter case a man of God looked down, and beheld four great beasts, terrible only in their fierce brutality.
Power is a dazzling object of ambition; dominion has a fascinating attraction for men; but the humblest saint of God can afford to look down on earthly glory, as from a lofty elevation, in the calm consciousness of undeniable and immeasurable superiority. Four great beasts : that was all the earth produced to the eye of the holy Daniel!
The divinely selected symbols have an evident allusion to the two leading characteristics that have marked the four great Gentile empires, in contrast to the Jewish theocracy, and in still darker contrast to the coming kingdom of Christ. Image worship and inhuman cruelty, idolatry and persecution, have been their characteristics. The image embodies the one thought, the wild beast the other. NEBUCHADNEZZAR made an image, probably of the image he had seen, and demanded for it world wide worship, persecuting even to the fiery furnace, those who refused to bow down to it; and Daniel experienced the wild beast character of the second great empire, when condemned to the lions den for his piety toward God.
That the four empires symbolised in this vision are the same four previously symbolised in the image can hardly be questioned. "The number is the same, four in each. The starting point is the same, for each was given while Babylon was the ruling power. The issue is the same, for both are immediately followed by the visible kingdom of Christ. The order is the same, for the kingdoms in the first vision, as all admit, are successive; and in the other there are no less than seven or eight clauses which denote a succession in time. There is the same gradation, for the noblest metal and the noblest animal take the lead in each series. Further, the kingdoms in each vision are described as occupying the whole space, till the dominion of the saints of God. The first empire is that of BABYLON, for to the king of BABYLON it was said, thou art this head of gold If we require the names of the two next kingdoms, the angel Gabriel continues the message of the prophet: The ram having two horns are the kings of MEDIA and PERSIA . . the rough goat is the king of GRECIA. If we ask the name and character of the fourth empire the evangelist supplies the answer, there went out a decree from CAESAR AUGUSTUS that all the world should be taxed ; if we let Him alone, all men will believe on Him, and the ROMANS will come and take away both our place and nation.’ Four supreme and ruling kingdoms, and four only, are announced by name in the word of God, from the time of Daniel to the close of the sacred canon."
The main difference is that the latter prophecy, like a telescope of higher power, presents an enlarged and more detailed view, especially of the fourth empire. -The image showed that it had two distinct stages: one pure iron, unmixed and undivided; the other iron and clay mixed, the metallic parts divided. In this fourth beast we discern a new element, the dominion of the little horn; and we thereby learn the moral reason for the judgment; which, in both visions alike, falls on the fourth empire in its last state. In connection with this last vision, the coming. of Christ to judge is expressed in a clearer form, and the share which his people shall have in his reign. But the evidence it affords as to the relative period of the second advent is in unison with that of the earlier vision. It places it at the end of the last phase of the fourth empire, and determines its immediate object to be the execution of judgment, and its ultimate object, the establishment on earth of the everlasting kingdom of the Most High, in which dominion shall be given to the saints. It thus announces that the coming of Christ, will be prior to his reign over the earth, in company with his saints, and it furnishes more accurate data also as to the actual period of the second advent. This latter however cannot be adduced in the present stage of our inquiry, since it is connected with two points of disputed interpretation, the consideration of which must be adjourned to the second part of this work. For the same reason the evidence of Daniel s last visions must here be presented but very imperfectly, and without any attempt to enter into detail.
We observe merely that the very comprehensive, (and consequently complicated,) prophecy of the "things noted in the Scripture of truth" (#Dan 11), announces one unbroken series of wars, revolutions, persecutions, apostasies, disasters, and desolations, as occupying the whole scene of vision, until Daniel s people should be delivered, and many of the dead arise (#Dan 12:1-3). Now these two events, the deliverance of Israel from their great tribulation, and the resurrection of the just, are invariably associated in the prophecies with the personal coming of Christ (#Zech 14:5, #1Thess 4, #1Cor 15). Therefore, though Daniel does not mention a second advent of Christ, for reasons before alluded to, yet he marks its place in this series, by the position assigned to the events which synchronize with it. Thus a third time he places it, at the close of the four great empires, or of the times of the Gentiles, at the close of Israel s dispersion and tribulation, and prior to the commencement of that kingdom, in which "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever," -at the close of the fourth empire and before the millennial reign.
The reign of Christ on earth is distinctly predicted in #Zech 14:9, and many of its peculiar features are mentioned in verses which follow. This is an orderly and detailed prophecy, of the events that shall usher in that reign; and we have a definite statement, that foremost among those events, "the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee:. . . and the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one." In other words,- we have in this prophecy a clear declaration that the advent will precede the millennial reign.
Again it is written "when the Lord shall build up Zion He shall appear in his glory." The building up of Zion, that is the restoration and conversion of Israel, must of course precede the millennial reign of Christ, over Israel and the earth, since it is inconceivable that Israel s dispersed and desolate condition, could continue during its course. A glorious epiphany of the Son of God, is to accompany according to this prophecy, the building up of Zion,-a premillennial event. The second advent of Christ, therefore takes place before the millennium.
The history of Israel is a typical history, prefiguring alike in its broad outline and in its minor features the history of the church. What is the general outline of that history? us it a gradual and steady progress from bad to good, and from good to better, culminating at last in something very good and glorious?. Nay, but the very reverse l It is a downward progress, a succession of backslidings and apostasies, from the days of Solomon to the Babylonish captivity, and from the restoration to the fall of Jerusalem under Titus, and the final judgment and dispersion of the ancient people of God. Now there would be no analogy, but a most marked and marvellous contrast between the type and the antitype, if the history of the church were to be a gradual rise from the state of things we now have, into a millennial condition of blessedness, purity, and peace. It would do violence not only to the analogy which exists between these two dispensations, but to the general moral analogy of all God s dispensations. Without exception hitherto every dispensation has ended in apostasy and judgment. Eden ended thus; the antediluvian world ended thus; the theocracy of Israel ended thus; the kingdom of Israel ended thus; the ministry of the prophets ended thus; the ministry of Christ in person ended thus; the ministry of the Spirit by the apostles ended thus, in the full and final rejection of Israel and in the giving of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles. So far the Gentile church has pursued a precisely similar course, and trodden the downward road of apostasy; and can it be believed, that the last stage of her course is to afford a total contrast to all previous analogies, and culminate in a millennium of moral perfection and physical glory? No! "when the Son of man cometh shall He find faith on the earth"? that is the question.
When we turn to the pages of the New Testament the conclusions to which these ancient prophecies have led us are in the fullest way confirmed.
There are in the New Testament, apart from the Apocalypse, about a hundred passages, in which the second coming of Christ is more or less fully presented. About half of these afford no clear information on the subject we are considering, though indirect premillennial arguments might be drawn from most of them. About twenty passages teach with various degrees of explicitness, that the coming of Christ will precede "the times of the restitution of all things"; and there are four or five, which at first sight appear to favour an opposite view, but which on closer examination are found to harmonize with the rest. We will briefly review the leading passages of these two latter classes.
The most cursory survey of them as a whole, however, suggests two strong primafac� arguments in favour of the premillennial views It is a remarkable fact, that while in these scriptures, the return of the Lord Jesus is everywhere prominent, the truth of a millennium to come is scarcely asserted. It is assumed as an acknowledged hope in one or two places, and alluded to in a few others; it is implied in some of our Lord s parables, but nowhere distinctly predicted, nowhere described, or presented as an object of hope. What is the natural inference? That no millennium is to occur? No but that something else is to occur before it; and that the intervening event is the one, which the Holy Ghost would keep before the eye of the church, that intervening event, being the glorious epiphany of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
For, supposing for a moment that a thousand years of righteousness and rest, purity and peace, were designed in the counsels of God, to succeed this age of sin and strife and suffering, before the oft promised return of the Lord Jesus, how unaccountable, how incredible that so little should be said about it! Supposing it were to occur on the other hand after that return, and consequent upon it, how perfectly natural, that in prophecies designed to comfort and guide the church during the interval of Christ s absence, it should be scarcely mentioned. Its character had been described in the Old Testament, and was well understood by Jewish Christians and by the early church. They expected its commencement indeed, in connection with Christ s first coming: "wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel ?" and-would never have entertained the thought, that it could occur during his absence. The events that should transpire during that absence, and the return that should introduce the kingdom, were therefore naturally the great subject matter of the prophecies of Christ and his apostles; the subsequent millennial reign, taken as it were for granted, occupied a very subordinate place. The silence of the Lord Himself, and of the whole New Testament about the millennium, can be explained on no other supposition.
The period of the millennial reign is long; its character is glorious, its events gigantic, its sphere universal; it will be no less than the subjugation of the entire world to Christ, the putting down of "all rule, and all authority and power," by the Son of God. If all this be to take place prior to his second coming, how impossible that He should overlook or omit it, in all his great prophetic descriptions of the entire course of the present dispensation.
In Matthew xxiv. Christ describes his second personal advent and the great events which shall precede it. He reveals the course of this evil age, and its close. He foretells wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecutions, false prophets, iniquities, apostasies, the preaching of the gospel "as a witness" to all nations, false signs and wonders, desolations, woes, including the great tribulation, and then He adds, "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 earth 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."
That these words describe his personal advent in glory is certain, and equally certain is it, that this comprehensive prophecy, contains no allusion to a millennium of blessedness and peace. Can this be reconciled with the view that our Lord expected that golden age previous to his coming? The same thing may be said of the series of prophetic parables in Matthew xiii. They certainly describe his second personal advent, and as certainly portray the leading features of the age which shall end with that event; but they speak of no millennium. They describe exactly what we see around us, exactly what we know has characterized the past eighteen hundred years, a partial spread of truth, a vast upgrowth of apostasy and corruption in the professing church, a gathering out of the -great sea of humanity a mingled mass of good and bad; but no subjugation of the entire world to Christ, no signs of righteousness from shore to shore. If any one asserts that the parable of the leaven foretells a universality of godliness in this dispensation, let him reflect, that in order to give his assertion any value he must first prove that the "leaven" means good and not evil (a disputed point), and secondly, that the "three measures of meal" means the entire human race, and not a definite part of it: neither of which can be proved. This is a parable without an inspired interpretation; men can do no more than surmise its meaning; such surmises should accord; not clash, with clearer revelations, and with the Lord s own interpretation of the parable of the tares and the wheat.
The same thing may be said of all the prophetic passages in the epistles of Paul : take for example that in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians. He first describes the second coming of Christ with his mighty angels in flaming fire, to be glorified in his saints, and to take vengeance on the wicked. He then foretells The great antecedent to that coming. What is it? A millennium of righteousness? No ! a mystery of iniquity, the rise of the son of perdition, the manifestation of the man of sin, the fearful reign of Antichrist. Had he expected a long day of millennial light before Christ s return, how could he have foretold nothing, but a long night of spiritual darkness?
To Peter, Paul, Jude, and John, the future of this dispensation was over-shadowed with portentous gloom. They gaze with sorrowing hearts into its dark depths; they warn the church 01 approaching apostasy, and nerve it to meet coming persecution, encouraging it to hope for relief from both, only at the coming of the Lord (#2Thess 1:7). Had they foreseen the Christian dispensation gradually developing into universal brightness, how would the blessed prospect have chased their sorrow and lit their countenances with smiles of gladness I But no! their looks brighten only, as they turn from the present dispensation to its close,- and catch a glimpse of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, "looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." If then the apostles expected no millennium before the second advent of Christ, why should we?
The second argument suggested by a glance at the general tenor of these prophecies is stronger, for it is positive rather than negative. The Lord and his apostles not only do not foretell a millennium of blessedness before the second coming, but they do foretell a series of events which could not coexist with such a millennium. They predict a succession of wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, persecutions, apostasies, and corruptions, the working of a mystery of iniquity, which culminates in the manifestation of the man of sin. Can these coexist with a millennium, whose characteristics are the absence of war, peace to the ends of the earth, universal prosperity of the righteous, times of refreshing, the subjugation of all kings to the "King of kings," the putting down of all rule and authority and power, the subjugation of his enemies beneath his feet, the triumphant reign of his saints, the filling of the world with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea? If the former series of events are to characterize the entire course of this dispensation, which is clearly the teaching of Scripture, the later cannot; they mutually exclude each other. There can therefore be no millennium before Christ comes.
There are a number of passages in which the duty of constant watchfulness, is urged on the church. Take that in Luke xii. as a specimen. The Master bids us be like men that wait for their lord, pronounces a blessing on such as shall be found "watching," speaks of the uncertainty as to the time of his coming, whether it should be in the second, or in the third watch, uses the illustration of the thief, and adds, "be ye therefore ready also, for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
Now, though it may be difficult, to watch and wait for an event, the time of whose occurrence is altogether uncertain, and may be very distant, yet it is not impossible. But it is impossible to watch and wait for an event which we know cannot occur during our lifetime, nor during that of our children, nor for many, many, subsequent generations. The millennium has not commenced yet; we know it is to run a long course of a thousand years. If we know it is to precede our Master s return, how can we be, like men that wait for their Lord? The thing is impossible, and Christ never commanded an impossibility; therefore we must expect the millennium after his coming and not before. The early church with one consent placed the millennium revealed by St. John, after the advent, and found it consequently no hindrance to their obedience to the Lord s command, "be ye ready also." An interval nearly twice as long, has it is true actually elapsed, and was of course foreknown to our Lord. But it was not revealed; and though a portion of it is prophetically announced, it is announced in such symbolic language as to secure its not being understood, until the understanding of it would be no hindrance to watchfulness. The Lord Jesus knew that fifty or sixty generations of men would live and die ere He would come again; and He wished each one, to pass the time of its sojourning here, under the hallowing and cheering influence of " that blessed hope." - He cannot consequently have revealed anything, that would justify the conclusion, "my Lord delayeth his coming." The thousand years of blessedness that He did reveal in the Apocalypse, through John, must consequently be subsequent to his return.
The apostle Paul twice uses the expression " we who are alive and remain, unto the coming of the Lord"; whether we regard these words, simply as the natural utterance of his own feelings, & as dictated by the Holy Ghost, they bear equally strong testimony to the fact, that the coming of Christ, and not the millennium, is the event for which Christians should look and wait. Taken as the language of Paul merely, they show how thoroughly imbued he was with the expectation that the then living generation of saints, his own cotemporaries, might witness the second advent. Clearly he expected no millennium first, unless he also expected to live beyond the age of Methuselah! And why after the lapse of eighteen hundred years, should we regard the coming of the Lord as more distant from us, than he did from him? Taking these words as an inspired expression, placed by the Holy Ghost in the lips of each successive generation of Christians, they are still more conclusive. It is a Divine warrant to all to expect what Paul expected. The sorrowing mourners around each successive sleeper in Jesus, are to take up the glad strain, "we who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The hope was never to lie in abeyance, never to be out of date; but to be ever glowing, bright and warm, in living hearts. Therefore the Holy Ghost cannot have revealed a millennium, before the second coming of Christ; for such a revelation must render the hope of that coming dim and distant, and comparatively powerless, for the purposes of consolation to which it is here applied All the Christians that have yet lived, would have been unable to use the words of Paul; and since the millennium has not begun yet, thirty or forty generations mare, must be equally incapable of adopting the language; only those in fact who shall live in the tenth and last century of the millennium, could do so.
Again the apostle Paul (Rom. viii. 18) uses two remarkable expressions, "the sufferings of this present time" and "the glory which shall be revealed in us." They respectively apply to this dispensation, and to the millennia? age. He speaks of this present time as a period of suffering, not only to the sons of God, but to the whole creation, which is under the bondage of corruption and subject to death. He speaks of that future age as a time of the manifestation of the sons of- God, a time of "glorious liberty." He says that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together, and that we ourselves, in like manner groan within ourselves, while awaiting that period. He defines the point at which the transition from the one state to the other will take place, the point at which the millennium will commence, the point for which we wait. It is "the redemption of our Body" that is the resurrection But the resurrection will not come till Christ comes, we know these two events synchronize even to the twinkling of an eye. Therefore the millennium will not come till Christ comes, and Christ will come before the millennium. This conclusion can only be avoided by asserting, that during the millennium, the saints and the whole creation will be groaning and travailing in pain together, and with earnest expectation" awaiting a better state of things. In 2 Thessalonians ii. 8, in speaking of the destruction of the man of sin, the apostle declares that it will be effected by the brightness of Christ s coming, the epiphania parousia. Either therefore the man of sin, the great enemy of Christ, will live and reign throughout the millennium, which is incredible, or Christ will come before the millennium and destroy him. The loving words of our Lord, "Ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart shall rejoice," though they may have found a fulfilment, in the joy that filled the disciples hearts, when they saw the Lord after his resurrection, have yet a prophetic bearing on the effect of his future coming. They harmonize with all the scriptures which represent the church as an espoused bride awaiting an absent bridegroom, and teach us that for the church that loves her absent Lord, joy can come only with his return. Either then prolonged sorrow, deep unsatisfied yearnings of soul, a painful sense of loneliness and bereavement, are consistent with millennial bliss; or else there can be no millennium for the church, till after the coming of Christ.
The millennium will be a peculiar period, unlike any period that has as yet been known on earth. If it were immediately to precede the coming of Christ, it would surely have been mentioned among the signs of that great event which we are exhorted to note. But it is never so mentioned; it is never mentioned at all in connexion with an advent following it. In no one single passage of Scripture can the two events be found in this order; nor can a single text be produced in which the second advent of Christ is spoken of, in connection with a preceding millennium. We must therefore conclude that the millennium is to follow the coming of Christ (The order of the visions in Rev. xx. is no exception to this rule, as shown in the following pages.).
Having thus reviewed some of the general teachings of Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, concerning the relative period of the second advent, we now turn to the final prophecy of the Bible, in the expectation of finding there, fuller and clearer light on the subject. The conclusion we have reached is abundantly confirmed by the general tenor of the Apocalypse, and by the direct evidence of its closing visions.
This book presents the church as exposed to tribulation, and having need of patience, as bearing a painful and dangerous testimony to Christ, and as enduring temptation and persecution, right up to the time of the advent. Its author was in his own person, a representative of the church in these respects., "I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." Never in the whole course of the book do we see the saints exalted and reigning, until after the second advent.. The sweet picture of heavenly glory in chap. vii., occurs in unbroken sequence after a succession ot war, famines, plagues, martyr deaths, and political convulsions. No period of holiness and peace on earth is mentioned as intervening. The seven trumpets announce an uninterrupted series of judgments, up to the moment when it is said "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever" (#Rev 21:5). The trumpets clearly represent, not millennial blessings, but providential judgment; they leave no room for a millennium before the coming of Christ. But any remains of doubt ought to be dispelled by the closing visions of this book. There, bright, clear, full, and harmonious with every previous prediction, stands out on almost the last page of inspiration, a grand and detailed description of the epiphany of Christ. It is a symbolic description it is true, for the revelation in which it occurs is a symbolic prophecy, but its symbols, interpreted by other scriptures, can hardly be mistaken; they serve rather as the steps of a ladder, to enable the mind to mount to the majesty of the theme. And there too, immediately succeeding it, stands out a second prophecy of THE REIGN of Christ and his saints, symbolic too, yet simple in its symbolism, and with even its simple symbols explained to make them simpler. As we look into these last unveilings of the counsel of God about the future, once more we ask the question, what is the prospect before us? A, thousand years of bliss on earth, and then our Lord from heaven? or our Lord from heaven first, and then a thousand years of bliss? We remember- as we await the reply, that it is the last testimony we gan have, till the event itself give an answer, the last prophetic utterance of the Holy Ghost on the subject.
THE VISION OF THE ADVENT OF THE KING OF KINGS.
And I saw heaven opened, And behold a white horse; He that sat on him was called Faithful and True: In righteousness He doth judge and make war: His eyes were as a flame of fire; On his head were many crowns: He had a name written that no man knew but He Himself. He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; His name was called the WORD OF GOD. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him, Upon white horses; Clothed in fine linen white and clean; Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword; - That with it He should smite the nations; And He shall rule them with a rod of iron.
He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, He hath on his vesture and on his thigh, a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. #Rev. 14.
Every clause of this magnificent vision, determines the rider on the white horse to be Jesus Christ and none other. Heaven was opened to give Him exit; a door in heaven had been previously opened for John to gaze on its hidden mysteries; now heaven itself opens, and its armies follow their great Captain. He bears a fourfold name He is called Faithful and True; who can He be but "Jesus Christ the faithful and true witness"? He has also a name that no man knows but He Himself; who can He be but the Son, whom "no man knoweth but the Father," the one, who of old said to Manoah, "Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret " His name is called "the Word of God"; who can He be but He who in the beginning was with God and was God? And on his vesture and on his thigh, are emblazoned the unmistakable words, "King of kings and Lord of lords." -
He comes to do a threefold work, each part of which belongs to Christ and to Christ alone, as other scriptures abundantly prove. "In righteousness He doth judge and make war" against the Beast and his armies (#Rev. 14:20). Who can He be but the Lord who shall consume that wicked son of perdition and man of sin; with the spirit of his mouth and the brightness of his coming? (#2Thess 2:8)
"He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron." Who can He be but the only begotten Son of God, to whom are addressed the words of the second Psalm, "ask of Me and I shall give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron"?
"He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." Who can He be, but the glorious One, mighty to save, who says "I will tread down the people in mine anger," and "trample them in my fury" (#Isa 63.)? His vesture dipped in blood identifies Him with this red- apparelled Conqueror and solitary Saviour.
"His eyes are as a flame of fire," as were the eyes of the one like unto the Son of man, seen by John in the first vision of this book. Who can He be but that God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot, look on iniquity? that God who searches the heart and tries the reins, and from whom no secrets are hid? "On his head were many crowns," for "dominion and glory and a kingdom are given Him, that all nations and languages should serve Him." Who can He be but that Son of man who is also the Ancient of days, Israel s, long looked for Messiah, earth s oft desired King, the King of righteousness, the King of Salem, which is the King of peace? On his head were many diadems: the royal crown, the victor s crown, the priestly crown, the nuptial crown, all befit his blessed brow; and on it rest the many diadems. which recently adorned the bestial horns, united now on the head of Him who has vanquished them all. Who can He be but the One to whom every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, the One who has received a name above every name? He is followed, not by angelic hosts, but by the saintly armies of heaven; who can He be but the one, of whom Enoch prophesied, "the Lord cometh, with ten thousands of his saints"; the one of whom Zechariah wrote, "The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee"; the One who shall be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe, in that day?
And this vision can be a vision of nothing else but a Personal advent of Christ. It cannot be a vision of a spiritual coming, every clause forbids the thought. For such a coming, it needs not that heaven should be opened; for such a coming it needs not attendant armies of saintly warriors.
The coming of the Lord with ten thousands of his saints has been regarded even from antediluvian ages, as his personal appearance to execute judgment on the ungodly.
It cannot be a vision of a providential coming; the previous chapters of this book, afford illustrations of the kind of Divine interference in the affairs of earth; which is intended by this expression. In the opening of the seven-sealed book, in the scattering of the coals of fire on the earth, in the sounding of the seven trumpets, Christ is seen acting providentially, But He is seen in heaven; thence He directs his various angelic and other agencies, for his providence needs not his personal presence on earth. "The heavens do rule in providence on behalf of the saints, not in conjunction with them, whether man perceive it or not. If this vision represent merely a providential coming, to what end the opened heaven, and the forth issuing armies, following the King of kings? Nowhere is it promised or prophesied, that the saints shall share with Christ his present providential government; but it is promised that they shall share his future work of judging and ruling the world.
But further; if it were a figurative, spiritual, or providential coming that is here represented, its character and its objects must needs be. in harmony with those of all the spiritual and providential comings with which we are acquainted. In other words, if the coming here prefigured be an event belonging in any sense to this dispensation, it should harmonize with the known actions and operations of Christ during this dispensation. It does not do this; it is on the contrary in abrupt and violent contrast to them. The line of action here ascribed to the Lord Jesus, and the line of action which we know Him to have been pursuing ever since incarnation, are so antagonistic, as to preclude their characterizing one and the same dispensation. In the vision, "in righteousness He doth judge;"in this age, in grace He refuses to judge, saying "I came not to judge"; "man, who made Me a judge over you?" "I judge no man"; " neither do I condemn thee." In the vision, in righteousness He makes war; in this age, in grace He makes peace: He came to bring peace on earth, "He is our peace," "He is the Prince of peace." In the vision, "out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations"; in this dispensation we are not smitten, but renewed by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever; the gospel does not smite the nations but quickens and blesses them. In the vision, "He ruleth the nations with a rod of iron"; in this age Christ does not ostensibly "rule the nations" at all, for Satan is the God of this world; but if He did, He would rule them in grace and by love, even as He rules his church,: and not by the iron rod, of inflexible righteousness; He spares the nations, He is kind to the unthankful and unworthy, his longsuffering is salvation. In the vision, "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God," that is, He executes the holy indignation of God against sinners. In this dispensation, He manifests the love of God to a guilty world, He receives gifts even for the rebellious, He beseeches sinners to be reconciled to God. Who would ever think of describing Christ s present actions in the words of this vision? The coming here prefigured, cannot then be an event of this age at all, it is the inauguration of a future age.
But it is argued this vision cannot prefigure a literal personal advent, its symbolic language proves that a figurative one only is intended. This is virtually to assert that a prophecy of the second advent of Christ is impossible in the Apocalypse; for it is throughout a, book of symbols, it is written in the language of symbols, if it contain a prophetic vision of the second advent, it must therefore be expected to be a symbolic vision. Now seeing the second advent is the one climax to which everything in the book tends, can we suppose, that there exists in it no description of the great event itself? Impossible! This then must be it, for there is no other.
There is nothing in the nature of symbolic language to preclude its being used in describing literal events. The language of symbols is in this respect, on a par with any other language. The Egyptian hieroglyphics formed a symbolic language, but are the events of Egyptian history narrated and preserved in that language therefore figurative? on the contrary, plain, substantial, literal, history is recorded in those hieroglyphics, and plain, substantial, literal, events may in like manner be predicted in hieroglyphic or symbolic prophecy. Now a literal personal advent could not be predicted more clearly in the language of symbols than it is here.
Besides which, the judgment scene immediately succeeding, requires this vision to be a real personal advent. Scripture is ever harmonious with itself elsewhere we find the work of judgment is committed by the Father to the Son, and that the Son executes it personally, not by proxy; He does not delegate the task to others, though He employs the assistance of saints and angels. The husbandman who sowed the seed, comes himself to put in the sickle, when the harvest is ripe; the lord of the vineyard comes himself to tread the wine-press; so here. In former parts of the Apocalypse angels had been extensively employed. But now the Lord of hosts prepares Himself for the final battle, and comes personally to inaugurate by the judgment of the living,-the destruction of the antichristian hosts,-that great day of judgment, and day of the Lord, which lasts a thousand years, and ends with the final assize of the great white throne.
In short, a personal advent of Christ, is the theme, the main theme, of the whole Bible. The past advent did not accomplish the full results predicted; since it became history, a second advent has been the dominant note in every prophetic strain, and in the Apocalypse it becomes more prominent than ever. From the "behold He cometh with clouds" of the first chapter, to the "behold I come quickly" of the last, this theme pervades the book. The Apocalypse is a grand drama, the epiphany is its climax. "Hold fast till I come," is Christ s own word to Smyrna; "behold I come quickly," his encouragement to Philadelphia; the redeemed in heaven, rejoice in the prospect, "we shall reign on the earth." On the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the elders fall down in worship before God, because the moment is at last come, when He is to take his great power and reign on earth. Under the sixth vial the Lord repeats the warning note, "behold I come as a thief"; and the Apocalypse, yea the Bible itself, ends with the same promise, "surely I come quickly."
"Now the present vision is the passage, and the only passage, where such a glorious advent of our Lord is distinctly described. Till then He is seen in spirit, as the Lamb in the heavenly places, as the priest at the heavenly altar, as the mighty angel, the mysterious messenger of the covenant, while the hour of, mystery still continues, and still repeats the warning behold I come. Here in the vision heaven is opened, and He is seen to come, in manifest glory as the Word of God. After this He is spoken of as already come. In the very scene where, the powers of evil have just been overthrown, and from Which Satan has just been banished, his people reign with Christ a thousand years. When the white throne is seen, He is seen already present to occupy it; and not a word is given to indicate a fresh arrival, of Him who sits to execute the judgment. All converges on the advent before this vision, all centres on a personal advent of the Word in the vision itself, all implies a previous advent in the visions which follow. And hence the internal evidence that the real advent is here described, is complete." Now this vision which presents Christ and his saints coming forth to judge and to reign is followed by others which present the judgment and the reign; i.e., the destruction of the hosts of Antichrist, and the millennial reign of the risen saints with their Lord. We have therefore in the last prophecy on the subject, the clearest proof that the second coming of the Lord is to be premillennial. Will any one assert that a millennium, unnoticed and undescribed in the Apocalypse, has preceded this advent vision? What! the glorious times of restitution of all things, passed over in silence, as unworthy of a place in the great chart of the future? Impossible ! and even granting it possible, whereabouts could we insert a millennium, in the long list of evil event and sore judgments of which the book consists? and even if any one find room for it, and satisfy himself by conceiving it may come in here or there, what then will he do with the millennium that is noticed and described after this advent vision? Are there to be two millennia? Does the word of God sanction such a thought? Are we to have a spiritual millennium preceded by a spiritual coming, and then a literal millennium preceded by a literal coming? To ask the question is to answer it! The whole Bible forbids the notion of a third advent and second millennium!
The only other alternative, is to deny that this is a vision of a personal advent of Christ at all. But then what is it? lt cannot, as we have seen, be a figurative coming. What can it be Does it describe nothing at all? Is the most magnificent vision in the book destitute of signification? Is it conceivable, that the greatest event in the future history of our world is not made the subject of a vision in the Apocalypse at all? Where else can we find it? Nowhere! Christ acts on earth afterwards, He does not come to earth. This then is the ADVENT VISION, or- there is none! And why should we doubt that this is its character? Does it clash with any previously revealed truth? Nay, but it harmonizes most sweetly with all I He is to come after the resurrection, for He brings the risen saints with him. - Here the marriage of the Lamb, that perfect union of Christ and his people, which cannot take place prior to resurrection, immediately precedes this advent vision. He is to come to destroy Antichrist and to take vengeance on those that know not God and obey not the gospel. Here this destruction of Antichrist and the kings of the earth and their armies, immediately follows this advent vision.
Suppose for a moment, that the place occupied by it were left a blank, that the prophecy passed at once, from the marriage of the Lamb, to the destruction of the antichristian host. Other scriptures would force us to place the second coming of Christ between those two scenes. The destruction of the beast and the false prophet, demand a previous epiphany, according to #2Thess 2; and the rapturous marriage of the Lamb in heaven, the meeting in the air of Christ and his saints, requires a subsequent manifestation, according to #2Thess 1:10.
When therefore we find a vision, symbolising in the most consistent and magnificent way, a personal advent of Christ, just where we might have expected to find it, just where all prophecy would conspire to fix its place, just where its absence would render it impossible to harmonize multitudes of other predictions; when we find it written large in letters of light, and stamped with a sublimity of symbol and circumstance worthy of such an event, and too grand for any other, we bow to this final testimony of the prophetic word, and admit that Scripture leaves no room to doubt, that the Lord Jesus will come again in person, to this earth, before the millennium, in other words, that the second advent will be premillennial.