The Second Advent and the Day of the Lord.
THE CLOSING DISPENSATION.
The Characteristics of this Dispensation and the Signs Indicating its Nearing End.
When Christ made that remark about the destruction of the Temple which so startled His disciples and which was used as evidence against Him at His trial, the disciples put three questions to Him (Matt. 24: 5), the answers to which have a vital interest for us in these days. The disciples asked:—First, "When shall these things be?" That is, when these great buildings should be thrown down, and not one stone be left upon another. The Lord's answer to this question is not recorded in Matt. 24, nor in Mark 13, but in Luke 21:7, 20, in answer to a similar question, "What sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?" To which the Lord replies, "When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh." This was accomplished In A.D. 70, when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Roman armies.
The second question is, "What shall be the sign of thy coming?'' His coming has a two-fold aspect: He will come as Son of God to receive His Church and take His Bride, He also will come as Son of Man to receive and establish the kingdom; of this coming, there will be many visible signs. This will be at the end or completion of the age, and answers the third question.
In the first fourteen verses of Matt. 24, the Lord Jesus gives us the character of this present dispensation. Whilst He speaks of His return as the next event to be expected, with nothing between, "I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again," still, He has given them to understand it is "after a long time" He comes to take account of His servants (chap. 25: 19). They must be prepared to "wait" as well as to "watch." There are seven particulars to be observed.
First. "Many shall come in My name, saying, 'l am Christ,' and shall deceive many." (ver. 5). The Apostle John tells us that in his time, there were many antichrists (1 John 2:18); they have characterized the whole period from beginning to end. Perhaps no age has lacked its antichrists, who have usurped the place and prerogative of the Lord Jesus.
Second. "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled, for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." It is not during the present dispensation that men will beat their spears into pruning hooks; the Church is not going to establish a millennium of universal peace, but wars and rumors of wars are to be expected. It has been common to say, when there has been a great war, that the end of the world has come. These things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
Third. "And there shall be famines." Though God is long-suffering and kind, sending His rain on the evil and on the good, giving fruitful seasons, and filling men's hearts with food and gladness; still, there are times when He makes men feel that they are dependent on Him for their daily bread.
Fourth. "Pestilences and earthquakes in divers places.'' Though there are at the present time (1893) so many sanitary arrangements, yet, as in former ages, notwithstanding all, at times pestilences and epidemics prevail, and earthquakes are of frequent occurrence.
Fifth. Persecutions. The disciples of Christ, for His sake, are hated of all nations. The Gospel has been universally met with persecution, and has carried division into families who have betrayed and hated one another. Not even in our day has persecution wholly ceased. The Christian who would be consistent, does not escape opposition or ridicule.
Sixth. False prophets. "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." This corresponds with other predictions of the last days of the Church, when perilous times should come (2 Tim. 3: 1), when "there shall be false teachers among you" (2 Peter 2: 1). Surely this warning is needed now; many false prophets and teachers are arising, and many are being deceived.
Seventh. Lawlessness and lukewarmness. "And because iniquity (lawlessness) shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." The mystery of lawlessness began to work in the apostle's time; how much more is it abounding now—is it not pervading all nations? Hence the importance of the words of the Lord Jesus addressed to the Church in Philadelphia, "Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."
II. THE APOSTASY.
The Progressive Decadence and Corruption of the Church before the Advent.
There are two events which must intervene between "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him," and the day of Christ, when the Son of Man shall appear and every eye see Him.
The first of these is "a falling away," literally "the apostasy" of the outward professing Church from its original standing. The second is the revelation of the man of sin. The kingdom of the heavens is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field among which the enemy sowed tares (Matt. 12). The explanation is this: He that sowed the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the tares are the children of the wicked one. At the time of the harvest, the tares are bound in bundles; this process, I believe, is going on now. Various forms of error are associating men together, and binding them fast. There is a lukewarm holding of old-established truths which are being supplanted by rationalistic opinions, advanced thought, &c. While in the professing Church, there is a turning again to the weak and beggarly elements of a former dispensation, utterly destitute of its reality and power. The tares having been bound, the wheat will be gathered into the garner. This will be "the coming our Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him," leaving the tares to dry for burning at the end of the age.
Similarly the parable of the drag net teaches that when it is full, it is drawn to shore; the good fish are gathered into vessels, and the bad cast out. There is now unusual activity in the harvest field, for the night is coming, the storm is gathering, and the Gospel net is being cast into new waters. A time is coming when true believers will be gathered home, but when those making a profession without reality—that is, without oil in the vessel, or the Spirit of God in the heart—will be left outside the door; a time when the faithful servant will enter into the joy of his Lord, but the unfaithful one will have his portion with the hypocrites. In a moment—the twinkling of an eye —all who belong to Christ and sealed with the Spirit, will be caught up; then the outward professing Church, destitute of the Spirit, the carcass without life, will remain.
Those constituting the true Church of God having been removed, the false Church assumes its true character is described in Rev. 12, as Babylon the Great, becoming as Christ calls it in Rev. 3, the Synagogue of Satan. This will be the Church of the future, with its magnificent ritual and worldly grandeur.
In Rev. 12, the angel shows John in vision, this Church of the future under the symbol of a woman sitting on a scarlet-colored beast, decked or gilded with gold and precious stones and pearls. This will be the dominant religion of the day, usurping authority over the State, and prostituting to her own purpose all that is Divinely precious, spiritually excellent and beautiful. That which will give the wine in her cup, its intoxicating power will be its subtle mixture of the Divine with the human, the spiritual with the carnal, the heavenly with the earthly, the true and the false; so that the religious, and even the godly, are in danger of being carried away. Hence the solemn warning, needful even now, "Come out of her, my people."
After the first three-and-a-half years of Daniel's seventieth week of years, he who was the head of the beast on which the woman sits, becomes Antichrist, opposing himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped. Then the apostate Church allies herself with him as the associate of the beast, and instead of being the Church of God and the Temple of the Holy Ghost, it becomes "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird'' (Rev. 13: 2).
This is the consummation of her falling away, her final apostasy. And instead of being ready for the coming of Christ, she becomes so abominable that outraged humanity can endure it no longer, insomuch that the ten kings combined, obliterate the apostate Church from the face of the earth, so that not even the Church's counterfeit will be on the scene when the Lord comes to take vengeance on the beast and the false prophet.
III. ADVENT PARABLES.
The Warning Given by Christ Under the Symbols of the Fig Tree and the Days of Noah.
There is no outward sign connected with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive His people to Himself. The Master of the household has left his house and commanded the porter to watch, and would have his servants wait for their Lord, that they may open immediately to him, needing no warning. Yet there are tokens of a spiritual nature which we do well to observe. We have an illustration in the fig tree, whose branches are brittle in the winter, having no sap, but as spring advances, and the sap rises, the branches are no longer brittle, but become tender and moist, giving evidence of the approaching summer.
We have tokens in certain principles which operate slowly at first, but continue to gather strength. Lawlessness; departure from the faith in those who are guardians of the faith, and a spirit of delusion and doubt. We see and know that the day of God's long-suffering draws to its close, and the day of vengeance of our God is near, even at the doors. For the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the last days, perilous times shall come (see Epistles of Peter and Jude).
Taking the fig tree as an emblem of the Jewish nation, after the apathy of centuries, the softening of Jewish prejudices and rising inquiry concerning the truths of Christianity may surely be taken as an encouraging indication that Israel's summer time is nigh at hand, when there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer Who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
We read in Psa. 110, Jehovah said unto David's Lord, "Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool." Meanwhile, He is waiting in expectancy until His enemies be put beneath His feet, and the kingdoms of this world become His (Psalm 2). But, whilst He is waiting for His throne and His kingdom, there is another object of expectancy still dearer to His heart. He is waiting for His Bride, composed of all those who have been given Him by the Father for whom He laid down His life, and who are now being prepared by the Comforter.
The parable of the days of Noah is two-fold in its application. Two periods are mentioned. The days which were before the the flood, which are connected with the world; and the day when Noah entered into the ark, when the eight souls were shut in by God. And we find from Gen. 7, that a period of seven days elapsed after Noah entered in before the flood. Very suggestive is it of the last week of Daniel's seventy weeks which will intervene between the removal of the Church and the execution of judgment on the world. As in the days which were before the flood, when the Spirit of God was striving with men, they took no heed of the prophecies of Enoch and Noah, reckoning upon the uniformity of nature, which showed no sign of change; so in these last days, there are mockers saying, "Where is the promise of his coming?" (2 Pet. 3: 3-7) "So shall also the coming of the Son of Man be."
Concerning the time which corresponds with the day when ''Noah entered into the ark," the Lord said, "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left." The coming of the Lord to receive His Own will be simultaneous throughout the whole world; it may be midnight in one part; two men sleeping in one bed, the one taken, caught up to meet the Lord in the air, the other left (Luke 17: 34); it may be midday in another, two men laboring in the field, the one taken, the other left; in another quarter, it may be the early morn; two women preparing the daily meal, the one taken to be forever with the Lord, the other left with the prospect of the times of Antichrist and the great tribulation. The Lord foretells that the world will continue its heedless course, as in the days of Noah, up to the time of His coming to take His Church; and after that, without heeding the warning given, will continue the same worldly career, until for the execution of judgment, the Son of Man shall come. But to His waiting, believing people, His Word of exhortation is, "Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."
IV. THE SEVENTIETH WEEK.
The Last Week of Daniel's Heptads or Seventy Weeks of Years.
The prophecy of Daniel to which our Lord refers (Matt. 24: 15-31) is thus recorded in Daniel 9: 27: "And he shall confirm the covenant with many (a covenant with the many) for one week: and in the midst of the week, he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations, he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate (desolator).
The prince that shall come, whose people (the Roman people) had destroyed the city and the sanctuary (v. 20), is the last head of the Roman Empire, the lawless one, the little horn of Daniel 7: 8. He, in the providence of God, will allow the people of Israel to return to their own land; will acknowledge their nationality as a distinct people; will reinstate them in Jerusalem as their metropolis, and will permit them to have their temple and their sacrifices. He, the prince, will confirm a covenant with Israel for one week, guaranteeing them their national privileges for seven years, but in the midst of the week, he breaks the covenant, takes away the daily sacrifice, and sets up the abomination of desolation in the holy place. There is no building on earth now which can be called the Temple of God, but then, 2 Thess. 2: 4 will be fulfilled, when he, the son of perdition, opposing and exalting himself above all that is called God, will sit in the Temple of God.
The first three and a half years of this last seventieth week of years, will be occupied by the lawless one in the establishment of his kingdom, as shown by the vision of the four horses in Rev. 6: 1-8, the opening of the four seals. The rider on the white horse, the lawless one, does not wear the diadem or royal crown, but the "stephanos," the victor's crown awarded him by the people. He goes forth conquering and to conquer; the result of which is warfare, symbolized by the red horse, followed by the black horse of famine, and the pale horse of pestilence and death. Thus, the judgments mentioned by the Lord (Matt. 24: 1-14), as characterizing the present dispensation, will in their exact order follow one another in that first half of the week. Matt. 24: 15, brings us to this period in the half of the week, when the prince, having broken the covenant, sets up the abomination in the holy place; and then begins that fearful persecution of which Daniel and our Lord speak, lasting three and a half years.
The disciples to whom the Lord spoke were the godly remnant of Israel at that time, and as such, received instruction for the remnant of the latter day; hence the Lord addresses them, giving counsel for that time, "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day" (v. 20.) The reason is given in verses 21, 22: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." This tribulation cannot be referred to any persecution of Christians during the Christian era, for none of them were unparalleled. Neither can it refer to the trials and afflictions of Christians extended over the whole period, since it is distinctly limited to a definite time. This time of the great tribulation is variously described, that we make no mistake as "time" (one year), "times'' (two years) and "half a time" (six months), or three years and a half, consisting of forty and two months, or one thousand two hundred and three-score days. During this period, the lawless one takes the place of God; Satan is cast out of the heavenlies, and with his angels, comes down to the earth, having great wrath; Babylon is drunken with the blood of the Saints; and those who will not worship the beast or receive his mark, but who confess the Christ of God, are either killed, boycotted, or driven to the ends of the earth. The signs wrought by the false prophet will be so stupendous, and the forces brought to bear so great, that nothing but the sovereign and almighty grace of God will be sufficient to preserve the souls of men from the strong delusion and its eternal consequences. In the grace of God, this state of things is limited to the definite period already mentioned.
The signs in the heavens mentioned in Matt. 24: 29, 50, usher in the august day of Jehovah, spoken of by the ancient prophets, the day of Christ, the manifestation of the Son of Man in power and great glory, when He comes to put down all His enemies.
V. THE TEN VIRGINS.
The Meaning of the Parable, and the Significance of the Oil.
The word "then" connects this parable of the Virgins (Matt. 25: 1-15), with the preceding one, in which the Lord speaks of His return, but in this, He takes a comprehensive view of the whole period of his absence in one particular aspect. The term "kingdom of heaven," or more properly "the kingdom of heavens," is peculiar to the Gospel of Matthew. In the other Gospels, it is spoken of as "the kingdom of God." "The mystery of the kingdom of the heavens" relates to the whole period in which Christ, born King of the Jews, rejected by His people Israel, who refused to have Him to reign over them, is seated with the Father on His throne in the heavens.
One similitude of this kingdom is given by the Lord in this parable; it is compared to ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five foolish, as representing those who own Him as Lord and are expecting His return. These compose what is known as Christendom, who acknowledge Israel's rejected King from the time when Messiah was cut off at the end of the sixty-ninth week till the commencement of the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy.
The whole professing Church is represented by the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. In most of the Lord's parables, we find the same two-fold division, as the wheat and tares, the good and bad fish, the faithful and unfaithful servants. What characterized the foolish virgins is, that they took the lamp of profession, acknowledging the Lordship of Christ, and the hope of His return, but were destitute of spiritual reality and power. "They took no oil with themselves." Oil is the emblem of the Holy Spirit, the unction from the Holy One. The foolish take the lamp of profession first, but neglect the oil; the wise, on the other hand, make the possession of the oil in the vessel their first concern (the vessel is the heart), realizing the indwelling of the Holy Ghost and His testimony within; to this they added the outward profession of the hope of His return.
The Lord foresaw and foretold this delay, as He says in verse l9, "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them." He would have His disciples wait as well as watch, but the Church was not prepared for this prolonged delay, which has extended already over eighteen hundred years. The Ephesian Church, early lost her first love, the love of her espousals; and the doctrine of a spiritual coming and reign, instead of a personal and real, early changed the character of the believer's hope. The dark ages was the time of profoundest slumber to the whole professing Church, but even since the time of the Reformation, the Church has been dreaming of converting the world previous to, and independent of her Lord's return.
Previously, there had been many cries, such as, the end of the world had come, or the great Day of Judgment was coming, or the kingdom was going to be set up. Now it is, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh." Behold! Take notice. Mark well. It is not Antichrist, nor the great tribulation, but it is the coming of Christ in His especial character as Bridegroom to receive His Church before He comes to take the kingdom. This is His coming as the Morning Star, before He rises as Sun of Righteousness on the world. It is within the present century that this testimony has gone forth.
It is not to be received simply as a doctrine, but as a practical truth, for "he that hath this hope, purifieth himself even as He is pure." It is designed to separate from everything that would be inconsistent with the expectation of meeting Him, that we might be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless.
The doctrine of the Bridegroom's coming may be discussed and reasoned about, but apart from the supply of the Spirit of Christ, the consideration will lead to no practical or permanent result. There may be a transitory excitement, but it will soon pass off. The foolish virgins are conscious of this, "our lamps go out," we cannot keep them burning. The torch-bearers in the East are furnished with a vessel from which they pour a fresh supply from time to time, and thus keep up the light. Those who possess the Spirit, know that they have only a sufficiency for themselves.
Who are those that sell? Jehovah is the fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13; Rev. 21: 5-7). The fulness of the Spirit is treasured up in Christ. He who communicates is the Holy Ghost Who invites to buy without money and without price. Whatever profession there may be, if there is not the oil in the vessel when the Lord comes, the door will be shut, for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
VI. THE DAY OF THE LORD.
The Distinction between the Coming of the Lord into the Air and His Coming to the Earth.
One of the last utterances of our beloved Lord, ere He ascended from this world unto the Father, in answer to the question of His disciples, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" was, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His Own power'' (Acts 1: 6. 7). With regard to the coming of the Son of Man, the Lord Himself, in the days of His flesh, told His disciples, "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matt. 24: 36). "That day" refers to the manifestation of the Son of Man, which ushers in the day of Jehovah to the world. In Psalm 110, we read: "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.'' The Lord Jesus was henceforth expecting the time when the Father should give Him the kingdom, according to Psalm 2:8. In the last chapter of 2 Thess. we read. "The Lord"—that is the Lord the Spirit—"direct your heart into the love of God and into the patience of Christ." As Christ is waiting and expecting till the Father's time has come, so we are to share that waiting and expectancy with Him.
The Lord Jesus is not only waiting for the Kingdom of His father David, and dominion over the whole earth in millennial glory, but the Father has also provided for Him a Bride, the Church, as the sharer of that kingdom and glory. As Isaac went out into the field to meditate, he lifted his eyes, saw the camels coming, and welcomed the bride Eliezer had gone to bring; so the Lord Jesus is expecting the Comforter to conduct to Him, His purchased Bride.
"The day of the Lord.'' Here in the original, there is no article before the title Lord, which is the New Testament way of expressing the Hebrew name Jehovah. This day of Jehovah is that of which the prophets so frequently spoke, that great day of God Almighty when He will execute His judgments upon an ungodly world. When the ten kings have assembled around Jerusalem and taken the city; when men are in the heyday of apparent success, expecting to have things all their own way, when they shall say, "Peace and safety;" when men have avowedly got rid of God and accepted Satan—got rid of Christ and accepted Antichrist—got rid of the Holy Ghost and accepted the false prophet; effaced from the earth the last trace of the professing church in the form of Babylon the Great, and are attempting to blot out the name of Israel from the earth; at that very moment, the sun shall be darkened, the powers of heaven shall be shaken, and then shall be seen the sign of the coming of the Son of Man in heaven; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape.
All these events are connected with the coming of the Son of Man to the earth, not with His coming to receive the Church; hence says the apostle, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness.'' But if the Church refuses to walk in the light, is slumbering instead of occupying till the Lord comes, then He says in Rev. 3: 3, "If therefore thou shall not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shall not know what hour I will come upon thee." Those Christians who will not watch, but are occupied with their own dreams of converting the world before He comes, to such His coming will be a surprise. On those who belong to Jesus, the true light now shines; they were sometimes darkness, but now light in the Lord; by the indwelling Spirit, they are associated with the risen Christ in heavenly glory.
As risen with Christ, we are children of the day, but as strangers and pilgrims here, we are watching for the Morning Star, and, blessed be God, "the night is far spent and the day is at hand," "therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.'' The Church was given to Christ by the Father in eternity, redeemed by the Son of God in time, and sealed by the Holy Ghost until the day of full redemption. All in whom the Spirit of God dwells when Christ comes, those wise virgins who have oil in their vessels, will go in with Him to the marriage, and then the door is shut.
Therefore let us have grace to obey the exhortation: "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do." "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God, your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it"