That, then, is Christianity? How many answers would be given in the present day to such a question! But the variety of discordant answers assures us of this, which of itself is a lesson needing, however painful, to be laid to heart, that as a dispensation - not it has failed, but - men have failed under it, as they always have. The history of the Church which its historians give us is something widely different from a development of what is Christianity, if we take Scripture for it. The grain of mustard-seed has grown into a tree, - true ; but in this it has lost its primitive character. The malign "birds of the air" dwell in its branches, and the power that shelters them is the type of power which we see in Babylon (Dan. iv.). It is indeed Babylon the Great, alas! (Rev. xvii.) The irony of truth to-day affirms that there is a Christian world, and that the true Church is invisible.
But let us go back to Scripture for the answer to our question, What is Christianity? And this is but asking, What is the New-Testament faith? Let us first define it in its contrast with that Judaism which passed away from before it, and then add to this some other things which will be needed to give an outline of it at all complete.
In the first place, then, Judaism was part of a systematic trial of man: as Moses says, at the time of the giving of the law, "God is come to prove you." Christianity affirms this trial over, the sentence of the law given - none righteous, no, not one" the cross, the judgment of the world more fully still, "the carnal mind" as enmity against God." It thus begins in the soul as a true repentance, an acceptance of God’s righteous judgment against man, the end of all hope of betterment for him, save in a new life and nature from God : - he must be born again.
Man is thus judged as to the old creation, his history is ended: God in His grace remains; and this is expressed in the Second Man, head of a new creation, in whom alone all resources are. He, too, must go down to death to lay hold upon us there, for "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." Dying, He justifies God in His sentence upon man, and becomes the way of righteous blessing for him. Rising from the dead, He is the sheaf of first-fruits in whom the after-harvest finds acceptance. The characteristic of Judaism was an unrent veil: man at a distance from God, who dwelt in the thick darkness unapproachable, unknown. Christianity declares the veil rent in love and righteousness, - rent by the cross of Christ, and a way of access thus to God, revealed in Him.
Judaism, with its many constantly repeated offerings, could not make the conscience perfect. The law was efficacious to condemn, but not to justify; and its forgiveness, needing again and again to be renewed, spoke only of the forbearance of God, gave no place of assured rest and acceptance with Him. In Christ. by one offerng are perfected forever those who are sanctified: the worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sins and the righteousness of God justifies the ungodly, who believe in Jesus.
Judaism left, therefore, the children of God confounded with the world - necessarily. as giving no full assurance to any. I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is Mv first-born," God was saying. No cry of "Abba Father," therefore, was known - no spirit of adoption. Christianity separates its justified ones from the world, to which they no more belong, and separates them to God, to whom they belong.
Judaism, for worldly men, had a "worldly sanctuary" and "carnal ordinances " - things suited to act upon men in nature. The worship of Christianity is heavenly, spiritual, in the intelligence of faith, and needing it; the worship of those brought nigh. It is thus associated, necessarily, - as Abraham’s altar with his tent, - with a stranger’s and a pilgrim’s place on earth, having here no continuing city, but seeking one to come.
Finally, Judaism had its separate order of priests, who alone had to do with sacred things. Priest and people were distinct; and while none could draw really nigh, the former had an outward, official nearness which the latter had not. In Christianity, people and priests are one; there is real, not merely relative nearness; and as a consequence, an overflowing of joyful testimony to those outside, for whom also, without restriction, the way is opened by grace into the presence of God.
In all this, Christianity is in contrast with Judaism, and, as a divine revelation, its necessary complement. The questions raised by the former dispensation are answered in the new one. The shadows of the one find their substance in the other. But there is an overabundance beyond this even, in the grace that has visited us. The Church is, as indwelt by the Spirit, the house of God - His habitation on earth; it is the body of Christ, His bride, the Eve of the last Adam.
In Judaism there was God’s house, but of necessity the house and the people were quite distinct; in Christianity they are identified; and this is the first way in which the Church is announced, viz., as a building: "Upon this rock I will build My Church." Peter develops it as a building of living stones - a spiritual house (i Pet. ii. 5), and Paul as the temple of God in which the Spirit of God dwells (i Cor. iii. r6). That the Church is the body of Christ is Paul’s doctrine only, and of this there was not even a type or figure in the Old Testament. Both these things depend upon the coming and indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the fruit of Christ’s work accomplished and ascension to the Father: as the Spirit of God dwells in the temple of God, so by the baptism of the Holy Ghost the body of Christ is formed (i Cor. xii. 13).
In the thought of God these two things are coextensive; and as the body of the individual believer is the temple of the Spirit (i Cor. vi. 9), so the bodies of believers are the members of Christ (v. 15). Every part of house and body is thus instinct with the glorious presence which claims and seals the whole for God. Holiness is the character of God’s house as such; subjection to the Head, and mutual care among the members, the responsibility of the body; the unity of the Spirit the practical unity of the whole.
To be the bride of Christ is the destiny of the Church. Now espoused to Him (2 Cor. xi. 2), she is by and by to be presented by Him to Himself (Eph. V. 27); and of this the Old Testament has many types. Eve is the first and the fullest; but Rebekah, Asenath, and others fill in the blessed picture. As body and bride of Christ, the mind and heart are both provided for. For her union with her Lord the true Church waits and longs.
This, then, in the briefest way, is Christianity, the expression of the "manifold wisdom" (Eph. iii. io) as of the "exceeding riches of the grace of God" (ii. 7). How it has fared in a world which rejected Christ is a question which must now be answered, though to answer it should wake up in our hearts all their capacity for sorrow. Rejection and persecution by the world are indeed her natural heritage, and this fellowship with her Lord could hardly be unfriendly to her. Fiery trial has manifested, again and again, the true Church, brightening her features with her own unearthly beauty. But these have been but occasional glimpses of a record of which men’s hands have written but a few pages, and which waits the day of manifestation to be made known. In general, the history of the Church has been but the history of what has usurped her name and travestied her character. Scripture itself gives us but the history of this professing Church; noting for us its departure from the truth, as He whose eyes are as a flame of fire reads it, and comforting us with its foreseen end. This, then, must be our course as well, following Scripture as our only guide and safeguard against ourselves; for the witcheries of Babylon are many, and by her sorceries have all nations been deceived.
The statements of the Word are explicit as to the failure and corruption of the Church, from which it gives no hope of recovery either, but only the promise of the Lord’s return. If we go back to apostolic days, we may find in Corinth the leaven of immorality and the denial of the resurrection; in Galatia, law superseding grace; in Rome, all seeking their own, not the things of Jesus Christ (Phil. ii. 21); Ephesus by and by having lost its first love; and in the days of John’s first epistle, already many antichrists (1 Jno. ii. i8). In these, too, the apostle recognizes the sign of the "last time," as Paul characterizes the "last days" by the denial of the power of godliness (2 Tim. iii. 5), and Peter by "scoffers, walking after their own lusts" (2 Pet. iii. 3). Jude tells us that already there had crept in among Christians the men of whom Enoch prophesied that the Lord was coming to execute judgment on them. While Paul again assures us that the mystery of iniquity was already working which would work on to open apostasy and the man of sin, who was only to be consumed by the breath of the Lord’s mouth, and destroyed by the brightness of His coming (2 Thess. ii., comp. Isa. xi.) This is explicit assurance as to the close of the dispensation. Evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse (2 Tim. iii. 13), the course of christendom startlingly repeats the history of Israel in its religious features. But we have more connected and detailed account of this decline in its successive stages, and this from the lips of the Lord Himself. The parables of Matthew xiii. give us four of these; the addresses to the seven churches a large supplement to them. I do not propose to enter upon or justify the interpretation of these at this time - it has been often enough done, - but rather out of these to construct an outline which will be, if truly given, the divine history of the professing church.
The Word sown in men’s hearts is that which establishes the kingdom upon earth: it is received by faith, not yet set up in power. From the first, therefore, there is varied success: the seed tests the quality of the soil; and here the hard-trodden ground refuses entrance, here the rock below forbids any proper root, here the thorns spring up with it and choke it. We see at once there is no universal reception of Christ, but three parts of the seed out of four become unfruitful. A more ominous thing still is here - that where there is real fruit, few bring forth in any due measure: if "some a hundredfold," more often "some sixtyfold, some thirty."
It is this failure in true disciples which is the secret of all that follows. Men sleep, and "while men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat." Here is the introduction of what is not the Word of God at all, but the word of Satan, and the fruit of this is not hypocrites and backsliders merely, but heretics and false teachers. Here the devil has already a secure place in the professing church; and this evil cannot be remedied until the harvest, as the Lord declares. In the addresses to the churches we see the root of failure in a general departure from first love, with men claiming to be apostles falsely, and Nicolaitanism (or clerisy) in fact, if not in doctrine. But both these are yet resisted. In the next step, we find, amid persecution from the world, the rise of a Jewish party, which the Lord stamps as Satan’s synagogue. We see at once how every distinctive principle of the Church is in peril here. Law supplants grace, salvation is clouded, the children of God lose their known place as such, separation from the world grows shadowy and indistinct. Worship becomes necessarily formal, ritualistic, official. The heavenly people become citizens of the earth: the church the synagogue.
All this is at first the badge of a party, but it is a party which attracts to itself every element of declension, and grows rapidly and necessarily as the decline goes on. The state of the third church addressed, as of that pictured in the third parable, shows now its complete victory. The persecution, which alone for awhile has hindered this, is over; the church is firmly settled in the world. It dwells where Satan’s throne is; the little seed has become a tree, and the birds of the air - the type of the powers of evil - dwell in the branches of it. Nicolaitanism (the "subjection of the laity") is now complete - an open doctrine, and not merely a practice; and there are followers of him who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and sought to mix the separated people with the nations around in unlawful intercourse and idol-worship. Another step, and we find, in Thyatira and the fourth parable, the "woman." It is the professing church itself, now taking the place of rule and authoritative teaching only to repeat the lessons of the Balaam-teachers, and to mix the leaven of evil with the pure meal of the bread of life. This is now Jezebel, the bloody persecutor of the prophets of the Lord, and for whom the Lord reserves a corresponding retribution. And now the remnant of true saints becomes more distinctly marked out and separated from her, and encouraged by the Lord’s reprobation of her and the promise of His own return.
Another stage: we find the Lord has uttered His own voice in answer to the assumption of the false church, and there is a people who have received and heard. But, alas! they are already called to remember what they have received and heard, and to hold fast and repent. Yet it is not corruption of doctrine which characterizes them, hut simply a lifeless profession. They have a name to live, but are dead, - the world but a Christian world, - with here too a remnant, not merely of living, but of pure living saints whom the Lord owns and commends. But the rest are but the world, and will be treated as the world: He will come as a thief upon them, and they will not know the hour. This answers, without reasonable doubt, to the state churches of the Reformation.
And now follows a solemn time, a time of peculiar blessing, a time of peculiar solemnity. There is evident revival, as we say, the word of Christ being hearkened to, the name of Christ wakening fresh response in the hearts of His own, His people thus being necessarily drawn together - "Philadelphia" is "brotherly love." The word of His patience being kept shows, too, the hope of the Lord’s coming in some freshness, held. All this is full of encouragement. There is, indeed, no blame at all expressed on the Lord’s part, although they have but a little strength. No blame, indeed, but a warning, and the Lord’s warnings are never without meaning - "Hold that fast which thou hast,that no man take thy crown." Here, then, is the danger; here is the peculiar responsibility: here is the room for overcoming in Philadelphia also, for overcomers there are here. And now the application is plain. What have all the movements been, that have been taking place since almost the Reformation itself, in which wave after wave of blessing and revival have swept over Protestant lands, wakening renewed attention to the Word, renewed love to Christ, renewed desire for His coming, and gathering, whether professedly or not, by necessity of these, the people of God together, in separation more or less distinct from the world, which knows nothing of them? And what have been the results, again and again, of all these movements? Alas! in how brief a time has the freshness, the zeal, the simplicity, died out, and only another sect perhaps been added to the number of those before, in its main features little different from others.
All these impulses of revival, in their passing away, emphasize the impossibility of restoration and the near coming of the Lord Himself: "I come quickly" is now His word. Doubtless Philadelphia, in some measure at least, will go on till He comes, as Sardis, as Thyatira, as even Pergamos, go on. Plain proof of it is the assurance:
"Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." But the direct result of the collapse of Philadelphian movements is but Laodicea; in which the heat of Philadelphia has become mere lukewarmness, self-satisfaction, and complacency, with Christ outside: and His word is, "I will spue thee out of My mouth." Upon this I do not linger: it is the rejection by the Faithful Witness of what is now but a false witness for Him on earth. It is the long-threatened removal of the Church’s candlestick. The predicted apostasy is now at hand, and the man of sin ready to be revealed. Let the Lord’s voice be now heard summoning His true saints to Himself, and darkness thicker than ever before, settles down upon the scene. "Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the nations," is now fulfilled.
It has been already stated, at the commencement of these papers, that the expression in Matthew xiii. 39, 40, 49, and xxiv. 3, is not properly "the end of the world," as in our common version, but rather "the end [or consummation] of the age;" and this may be now found in the margin of the new revision. It is a change of immense importance, as it is one of absolute necessity. As it was itself, no doubt, the product of the belief that Christ’s coming is at the end of the world, so this mistranslation has done perhaps more than anything else to sustain this.
What is this end of the age? It is the harvest-time when the wheat-field of Christendom will be reaped, the wheat gathered into the barn, and the tares gathered and burned in the fire. It was entirely natural, therefore, for those who supposed that after Christianity there could be nothing more, to suppose that the end of the age and the end of the world were one. - It is strange, but true, that the expression itself shows exactly the opposite; for the truth is, that the end of the age does not refer to any Christian age at all. For us, the cross was the "consummation of the ages" (Heb. ix. 26, Gk.); and upon us, therefore, the "ends of the ages are come" (i Cor. x. ii, Gk.). Nay, the apostle uses an expression which shows at once the impossibility of a Christian age when he calls Satan the "god of this age"(2 Cor. iv. 4, Gk.). The time of the display of God’s heavenly purpose is not reckoned among the ages of the world. In the Old Testament prophecy, its history has no place; it is an uncounted interval - a mere gap of time. Of this we shall have proof as we proceed. But what, then, is this "end of the age?" If we turn to Matthew xxiv, we find the Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question as to it: "What is the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age?" Of Christianity, it should be evident, they could know nothing; the end of the age would be for them Jewish, - the age of law, which was to give place to the age of Messiah’s reign. Doubtless the end of the age connected itself for them with the destruction of the then-existing temple, of which the Lord had spoken to them. But even so, He says nothing to them of Christianity, but pictures a scene in Judea in which disciples would be found to listen to His word, still connected with a temple in Jerusalem; the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, their warning to escape from the following tribulation.
"Yes," people say, "but this is passed!" Then, has Christ come in the clouds of heaven with all His holy angels with Him, according to this prophecy? Yet this ends the short, sharp, yea unequalled tribulation of which He speaks. It is plain that this "end of the age" is future to us still, as indeed it must be if it is also (as the 13th chapter shows,) the time of the harvest of Christendom. Now put these things side by side, and how complete and unexpected the harmony! Jewish disciples once more owned, and Jerusalem again occupying the Lord’s mind, in a day when the wheat of Christendom has been gathered into the barn, and only tares, which He does not own, remain for the burning! Yes, "darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness " - not the light of Christianity - "the peoples; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee" (Isa. lx. 2). Then "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place," becomes very plain and full in its significance. We shall find the first mention of it in Daniel ix. 27, in connection with the last week of those seventy at the end of which Israels blessing was to come. This last week is cut off from the previous sixty-nine in a way which the knowledge of Christianity as coming in to fill up an uncounted gap of time in prophecy, alone can make intelligible. Sixty-nine weeks (of years - 483 years) pass before Messiah the Prince is there. After it, He is cut off and has nothing (v. 26, margin), and (more than forty years after the sixty- ninth week is ended,) "the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and to the end of the war desolations are determined."
Thus, if taken without a break, the seventieth week is already gone far past; yet the prophecy closes most unexpectedly with just this seventieth week: "And he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease, and on accciunt of the wing of abominations shall be a desolator " - I translate literally, - "even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."
Many questions might be asked here, but the abomination, on account of which there comes a desolator, is plainly "the abomination of desolation" of which the Lord speaks, while its being "in the holy place" shows clearly how the sacrifice and oblation are caused to cease. Then the short time of tribulation reads in the prophecy as half a week (3.5 years), to the end of which the judgment continues, which suddenly comes to an end with the appearing of the Lord.
The "end of the age" is plainly nothing else than this last week of Daniel’s seventy, covering the time from the removal of the heavenly saints to heaven till the time the Lord appears with them in glory. That, "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we appear with Him in glory," Colossians (iii. 4) teaches. How we come to appear with Him then, we are taught in i Thess. iv, which includes the dead in Christ as well as those alive kind remaining till He comes. That Christians go forth to meet the Bridegroom on His way to earth is told us in the parable of the virgins in Matt. xxv. But we need the putting together of such scriptures, as we have had before us, to see that any such interval occurs between our being caught up to meet Him and our appearing with Him as that which now is plain. When seen, it harmonizes all the scriptures, and throws a flood of light upon the whole.
Thus, if we go on in Revelation past those warning words to Laodicea in which we have already seen the judgment of the professing church, we reach at once, in chap. iv. and v, a heavenly scene. The apostle by a trumpet-voice is called up there: and there he sees, upon thrones around the throne of God, a company of elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and crowned with golden crowns. From these, prostrate before the Lamb, we soon hear the song of redemption, the angels worshipping in an outer circle. The throne itself is a throne of judgment: thunders and lightnings proceed from it; but around it is the bow of promise, the token of God’s covenant with the earth, for the earth is coming into remembrance before Him. The Lamb who takes the book and looses its seven seals is also now heralded as the "Lion of the tribe of Judah"- King of the Jews. With the blessing of the earth, Israel's blessing is necessarily connected.
After this, we look down upon earth, to find, before the seventh seal is broken, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed of all the tribes of Israel, and then a multitude of Gentiles who have come out of the great tribulation. The years of this great tribulation we find numbered variously afterward: "time, times, and a half," "forty and two months," "a thousand, two hundred and three-score days " - all give its measure as that of the last half week of Daniel. - These harmonies in the book of God are a sure witness for the truth of this interpretation; and by it we see that the end of the age is the harvest of the world in every phase. Israel, the Gentiles, the professing church, alike come up for judgment in it. And it is this which gives it much of the importance which attaches to it in Scripture. People are slow to believe that two chapters of Revelation can suffice for eighteen centuries or more of Christianity, and fourteen more be required for seven years of a short closing period. But it is in this short period that we find the ripe result of all that preceded. And here are for us lessons, which it is true we have little fathomed or even cared to fathom, but which none the less bear witness to the goodness and wisdom of God in furnishing us with the true end of all which is about us. Would that fellowship with Him were more prized by us! Not only would our feet be kept out of a thousand snares, but what would it be to realize as to everything, the mind of the Holy One! May we seek and find it more from day to day! But beside the end of man’s ways, we find also the ways of God, at a time when He is not merely showing long-suffering patience, but actively moving to accomplish His blessed purpose. Here the converging lines of prophecy unite after a manner which tells of God’s interest, at least, in what for man may have little. We must in this way study prophecy to find its proper end. Prediction has a moral purpose for us. It is not given merely that we may be able to say, with a wisdom beyond the wise man’s, what shall be after us upon the earth, but that in this we may find, as in all other scriptures, sanctification by the. truth.
We can here but look in the briefest way at some of the features of this time of the end, as prophecy develops them. We have seen the crisis of trouble for the Jews, and their deliverance. The agents in the former we may now look at. And, first, who is it who confirms a covenant with many [of the Jews] at the beginning of the seventieth week? Most commentators, viewing the seventy weeks as an unbroken period, have considered it to be Messiah Himself; and this is favoured by the common translation, which gives "the covenant," as if it were the divine one so often spoken of in the after chapters. Of course, no one but a divine Person could do this, and so it passes, among most, without question. But the real translation is "a covenant;" and if he who makes it, makes it void, as we have seen in what directly follows this, it is clear that Messiah cannot be the maker of it.
The natural person to think of is the one mentioned in the verse previous, - " the prince that shall come;" but he, again, has been confounded with Titus. " The people of the prince that shall come" does not, however, necessitate the thought that he comes with the people, nor is there any reason apparent in the prophecy, for marking Titus with this special emphasis. The people who destroyed Jerusalem were, we know, the Romans; but if we did not know, it would be surely the question, interpreting scripture by scripture, Is there any prince to come sufficiently marked by Daniel elsewhere to be spoken of in this way, and who could fulfill the further statements of the following verse?
We may put it more distinctly thus: Does Daniel speak anywhere of a great Roman prince who shall arise at the time of the end, and he in connection with and hostile to the Jews at that time? This question is very readily answered: Daniel has already spoken of this very person.
The fourth beast of the seventh chapter is allowed by almost all commentators to be the Roman empire, and the angel who interprets the vision to Daniel speaks thus of its last king: "And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and the law, and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of a time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end." - Here, surely, is the "prince that shall come," in opposition to God and to His people, his changing of Israel’s law, the very time of his power, (the last half week of the seventy,) and destroyed by the coming of the Lord. Who can doubt the identity?
But another objection arises: This fourth beast, or Roman empire, how can it be destroyed at the coming of the Lord, when in fact it has already ceased to be long since? Here Revelation comes in to supplement, as in so many other cases, the older prophecy. Revelation, as we know, speaks also of this fourth empire and of its last head, and similarly of his destruction when the Lord appears. But it completely clears up the difficulty that exists by showing us this empire as coming up again out of non-existence " The beast that was, and is not, and shall be present.’" this is given by all now as the proper reading of Revelation xvii. 8.
Thus, again we see the gap of time which has to be allowed for in Old Testament prophecy; and thus the last end of the Gentile empires is revealed. But this by no means fills the whole field of prophetic vision for the last days. The abomination of desolation is still only in part disclosed, and it requires only once more to compare prophecy with prophecy, to find another power side by side with this last blasphemous head of Gentile empire, his main ally and instrument in the east, and indeed the Antichrist of whom the apostle says, "Ye know that he shall come."
His marks are these : -
(1) "Who is the liar, but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist who denieth the Father - and the Son" . Antichrist thus denies absolutely the Christian revelation; he does not deny the Jewish hope, but claims to fulfill it; does not say there is no Christ, but that Jesus is not the Christ. He thus heads up Jewish unbelief in both respects. -
(2) 2 Thess. ii. so naturally connects with this, that most will readily allow the connection. Here we find an apostate from Christianity, "the man of sin," "the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." Here we might think of the Church as the temple of God, but for two things: (1) that he is an apostate - does not profess Christianity at all, as we have seen the antichrist does not; (2) the connection with an abomination of desolation standing in the holy place is so simple, so evidently satisfying the conditions, that it is hard to suppose any other than the Jewish temple meant.
Then notice his end: "Whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and destroy with the brightness of His coming." Here, "that wicked one" is literally "that lawless one," and is a point of connection with another prophecy.
(3) In Daniel xi. 36 a king is found in the land of Israel whose character is portrayed in words precisely similar: "And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished, for that that is determined shall be done." Yet "a god whom his fathers knew not shall be honour." Compare this with Rev. xiii. 11 - 17, where we find a second beast rising up after the first or Roman beast, with two horns like a lamb, but speaking as a dragon; full of such power as the passage in Thessalonians speaks of doing great wonders, and causing men to worship the first beast, as Christ to worship the Father. These two we find meeting a common doom, when the Lord is revealed from heaven in the nineteenth chapter.
These scriptures clearly show us how the abomination of desolation is planted in the holy place.
The desolation is caused, as we have seen, by a desolator from without, and his course we find in Dan. xi. 40 where the king of the north sweeps down upon the king in the land of Israel, and overflows and passes over, reaching down to Egypt and Ethiopia. This king of the north is all the way through the chapter a Grecian king; and the account of him who has this place in these latter days is given in chap. viii. He too comes to his end in the land of Israel, the rod being broken when it has served its purpose, and at the same time, plainly, with the beast and false prophet. (See chap. xii. i.)
Lastly, Ezekiel xxxviii, xxxix, give us still another power, whose rise and growth and attitude in the present day are (along with the revival of Greece and Italy,) among the most striking signs of the times. It is Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, - as the words should read. Russia is here really named; and she too, doubtless all through at the back of Greece, comes up as an enemy of Israel and of God, in days which cannot be far distant.
Thus the whole prophetic earth is in convulsion in the time of the end, and amid this, Israel find their discipline, in which a preserved remnant are taught to look for and to find Messiah in the Christ they had rejected. The two tribes only - or those we now call Jews - returning partly (as they are beginning to do) and in unbelief into their land, return to find themselves under the tyranny of Antichrist, whom the mass receive, and between the opposing ranks of Gentile powers. But amid them God raises up and maintains a prophetic testimony, and from them the gospel of the kingdom goes out also to the nations around. Babylon the great, the harlot church, falls under the wrath of the western powers; but the new testimony has its effect in the salvation of many, who are the sheep placed on the right hand of the Judge when the Son of Man takes His throne on earth. - Even of those gathered against Jerusalem, - and in the very crisis of her trouble the Lord appears (Zech. xiv) many are spared, and sent as messengers of mercy to the nations round. Then, from all parts of the earth Israel are brought back, and, judgment having wrought for purification, the earth’s blessing is at last brought in.
But who can give an idea of the lessons of holy wisdom to be gathered in this solemn field of prophetic history? The conviction of how little distant in the future these things are should give to them an intensity of interest, painful indeed, but salutary. For in all of us lie hidden the seeds of what we here find springing up and in maturity. And true, emphatically, is the rule of divine government: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
The "world to come," the apostle tells the Hebrew Christians, is to be subjected, not to angels, but to man. "For unto angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, ‘What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honour; Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.’"
We have only to read attentively the tenth chapter of Daniel to know what is meant by being subjected to angels, and to find that this is what is true of the present world. We there read of angelic "princes" of Persia and Grecia, and the former, at least, in conflict with the angel who speaks to the prophet, while he is helped by another angel, "Michael, your prince," that is, prince of the Jews. Angelic "principalities and powers" are thus made known to us as in relation to the earth, and Satan is seen in all his power, as "prince of this world;" while in the same sphere the holy angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation."
But the world to come is not subjected to angels, but to man; and here, not to the first man, who has lost it, but to the Second Man, and He is the subject of the eighth psalm- " made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death," as the apostle explains, and "crowned with glory and honour." But as yet we "see not all things put under Him," he adds: this is not fulfilled in His exaltation to the right hand of God now, but will be when that glorious time shall come of which prophecy has been ever full - the "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." These He must come again to introduce.
Accordingly we find, at the time when the Gentile empires come to an end, in Daniel’s vision of the seventh chapter, "Behold, One like the Son of Man, came in the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people and nations and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
Between this kingdom of the Son of Man and the kingdom which He now has, the Lord Himself distinguishes in His address to the church in Laodicea: "To him that overcometh will I give to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am Set down with My Father in His throne." It is "One like unto the Son of Man " who thus speaks, and as this alone can His people be, through His marvellous grace, associated with Him. No saint could sit with Him upon the Father’s throne, and now it is the "kingdom of God’s dear Son" (Col. i. 13). In this, we are only subjects; but "if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him;" and then it will no longer be long-suffering patience, but the exercise of power which will beat down all opposition. So in the address to Thyatira the Lord says, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of My Father."
In this character we see Him come forth, in the nineteenth chapter of the same book, upon a white horse, the symbol of conquest and victory, the armies of heaven following Him also upon white horses, to the judgment of the earth: "and 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, and He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."
Now, therefore, no adverse power can be tolerated. Not only do the beast and false prophet meet their end at His appearing, but Satan is bound and cast into the bottomless pit, to be shut up there until the thousand years of the last dispensation shall be fulfilled. Then he is cast finally into the lake of fire. The close of the twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah had long before announced this, though in more general terms: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and be shut up in the prison, and after many days they shall be visited." This clearly shows the judgment to be premillennial. "Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients [or "elders"] gloriously." With this breaking of Satan’s chain comes the removal of the curse upon the earth. "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God." Creation, fallen with her head, waits till the open declaration of God’s grace toward man shall be seen in the redemption of the body. Then it also "shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and translated into the liberty of the glory of the children of God." (Rom. viii. 19 - 21.) Well may the earth rejoice, the floods clap their hands, and the hills be joyful together before the Lord. The Redeemer is the Creator, and the "rule" of the rod of iron is a shepherd-rule, as the word means. The judgment itself is the effect of love as well as righteousness, to "destroy those who destroy the earth." (Rev. xi. i8.)
This is not the eternal state, however; it is not that in which divine love can rest. The Lord’s own words to His disciples speak of it (Matt. xix. 28) as "the regeneration," not the state of glory or of full blessing, though a great and important step toward it. The word evidently implies the rule of righteousness, not by any means yet the complete absence of sin; and this all the pictures given us of that time confirm. Indeed, the very meaning of that apparently so strange letting loose of Satan at the end of the thousand years is to detect the hidden evil. The display of power when Christ comes, easily compels a certain obedience. "As soon as they hear of Me, they shall obey Me," says the prophet, personating Messiah; "the strangers shall lie unto Me." (Ps. xviii. 44, marg.) And then - " The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places." Again, in the sixty-sixth psalm it is said, "Through the greatness of Thy power shall Thine enemies submit themselves unto Thee." Here the same word, "lie," is used; they are "enemies" still. Now when a thousand years of blessing have not sufficed to change this stubborn enmity, Satan is allowed to claim his own, and the multitudes who follow him show speedily the true condition of things: "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea."
Indeed the character of the millennium has been wrongly estimated by many, through confounding Christianity with that which replaces it upon the earth. But in fact, we must go for our pictures of it, not to the New Testament, but to the Old. The New Testament simply supplements the prophecies of the Old with the few verses in Rev. xx.- xxii, and these add little but the reign of the heavenly saints and the account of the apostacy at the close. The Old Testament prophets give us pictures which, because they accord little with our thoughts of what should be, have been "spiritualized," as the phrase is, until they have lost all distinct meaning; while others have used them to lower the final portion of Christians to Jewish - or rather Israelitish - promises, as the apostle of the Gentiles declares them to be (Rom. 1X. 4). No doubt the Gentiles too are blessed, but by no means, as now, on the same footing with converted Israel. Everywhere in the Old Testament prophets the old distinction is maintained. Nay, it is plainly said, that while on account of their rejection of Christ "therefore He will give them up, until she which travaileth hath brought forth " - until the nation be born as in a day, "then the remnant of His (Messiah’s) brethren shall return unto the children of Israel; " - they shall be Israelites once more (Mic. V. 3). And in the millennial earth Israel will have chief place.
Purified in the fiery trial to which they have been exposed, and gathered out of their long dispersion, Judah and Ephraim in their twelve tribes united again together, they will be the first example of a nation all saved and holy; "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. Xi. 26). According to the terms of the new covenant, to be made with Israel and Judah in the time of which we are speaking (Heb. viii. 8; Jer. xxxi. 3!, etc.), "they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them; for I will be merciful tmnto their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
Thus sanctified, the glory of God, driven away from them by their sins, will return to Israel: "the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Isa. ii. 2, 3.) This is already very different from Christianity. When there are added to it the coming up of all nations yearly to Jerusalem to keep the feast of tabernacles, as spoken of by Zechariah (xiv.), and the restoration of the temple and its services, even to the reinstitution of the animal sacrifices as given by Ezekiel (xl. - xlvi.), the incredulity of many is aroused by such a reversion to the types and shadows of the old economy. Yet the declaration of Zechariah is as plain as can be, while the long detail of Ezekiel, and the blessing of the land, with the final settlement of the people in it which follow in Ezekiel, will neither admit of. spiritualization nor of setting aside. Christianity it is not, surely; but Christianity, as we have seen already, is a break in the earth’s ages of probation. Of these the millennial age is really the last - a dispensation of sight rather than of faith, and for that very reason less spiritual than that addressed to faith. Men reason as to the heathen now, and even amid the blaze of full light require more evidence, and would throw on God the blame of not giving it. In the millennium, the earth is filled with the knowledge of His glory. The new Jerusalem descends from heaven; the Lord and His saints reign openly; the power of evil is repressed; the doom of disobedience is before the eyes of men (Isa. lxvi. 24) in that which the New Testament takes up as the type of hell itself : - yet with all this, men’s hearts can resist all. Satan goes out once more to deceive the nations, and gathers them together to battle, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. "And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city, and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."
And now the end is at last reached. Satan is cast into the lake of fire; there is a great white throne, and One who sits on it, from before whose face the earth and the heavens flee away; the judgment of the wicked dead takes place, raised up in the resurrection of judgment. They are judged every one according to his works, and death and hades are cast into the lake of fire. The truth comes out that for man in every age there is no salvation save in the sovereign grace of God. "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
As soon as ever we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, eternity is for us entered upon. God’s rest has not come, nor therefore the eternal condition of things around us; but we are forever with the Lord, enjoying the fruit of His blessed work for us. The fruit of our work follows, and is connected in Scripture, not with our being caught up, but with the Lord’s appearing - the day of manifestation. - As taken up, whether raised or changed, we are already in the likeness of Christ’s glorious body. Redemption is complete in body, soul, and spirit; no spot of sin, no wrinkle of infirmity, remains for any. We have taken an everlasting farewell of both. Who can imagine the blessedness! escaped forever from all subjection to vanity, from the whole body of sin and all connected with it; nothing left but the memory of it to awaken the endless praise, fuller than angels’.
Then the Lord’s presence, seeing Him as He is! All inability removed, with all the unlikeness to Him. Knowledge and enjoyment perfected in open vision. Divine love in all-revealing light.
With this, the Father’s house, for so the Lord Himself connects these: "In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." To know Christ here is to know the Father; to come to Him, to come to the Father: to be with Him face to face cannot be separated from the Father’s presence, nor this from the joy of the Father’s house. With Him, in the children’s place, owned as His in heaven now, - children brought home.
The book of Revelatioh, which gives the throne of God rather than the Father’s house, adds to these things two others as found in the twenty-four elders round about the throne: they are "kings and priests " - a royal priesthood, - sharers with Him who is to come forth as King and Priest. These things belong to all the heavenly company of redeemed ones. But Scripture distinguishes two classes of these - "the assembly of the first-born ones, whose names are written in heaven" and "the spirits of just men .made perfect" (Heb. XII. 23). That the latter class are Old-Testament saints is plain, from their being spoken of as all departed ones, while the Church waits on earth till called up by her Lord’s voice. On the other hand, "the firstborn ones" are not such in time, but in privilege. And such is the Church, Christ’s body. It may be, as others have thought, that the number of the crowned elders (24) indicates the union of these two companies (2 x 12) in the royal priesthood of Revelation iv. Just when Babylon the false church is judged, and when the Lord is nearly ready to come forth, we hear that the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready; and then, too, it is granted her to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints. It is not now the "best robe" as in the parable, which is the value of Christ Himself before God; this is expressed by another word; but, according to the character of Revelation, it is the practical obedience of the saints which is now granted to them to be arrayed in. And this tells, surely, of the judgment seat of Christ -passed, and the reward of works measured out. Only grace, after all, can do this; and such garments need to be washed in the blood of Christ to be made white. This shows the immense difference between these and Christ as our righteousness, which it would be blasphemy to speak of as needing washing. The marriage of the Lamb is now come, therefore; and soon after, the Lord appears with His saints, who, changing their attitude with His, come out as His "armies" to the judgment of the earth. The same "fine linen, clean and white," covers them still. Judgment is executed, as we have seen. The saints reign with Christ,- the martyrs under the beast being added to them, and so the first resurrection is complete.
In the final judgment, the Lord alone is on the throne; while after it, the new Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, descends from heaven, to be the "tabernacle of God with men." The picture of the bride which closes the prophecy of the book is doubtless millennial, though the city itself be eternal.
The earth comes out of her baptism of fire (2 Pet. iii. 7 - 13) a "new earth;" for surely it is not regenerated as in the millennium, to be afterward set aside. The notice that "there was no more sea" agrees with this. The very type of instability and barrenness is removed. God is with men; although among these Israel retains a distinct place (Isa. lxvi. 22). The kingdom of the Son of Man is over; its object is achieved. Having brought all things back to God, and all enemies subdued forever, Christ delivers up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all. This is God’s rest, the seal of eternity put upon all - a rest never to be disturbed again.
Note that xx. 4, 5, first sentence, gives the vision; the rest is interpretation; and this latter is not symbolic, or it would not be interpretation. It shows indeed how clear the vision itself is, that it does represent a real resurrection, and that the "thousand years" is literally this.