The Second Advent
Mr. Andrew Borland, M.A., is the Editor of The Believer’s Magazine, published by John Ritchie Company, Kilmarnock, Scotland. We strongly recommend that you give earnest attention to this article, the second of a series by this capable writer on the Second Advent of Christ.
Five Periods of Divine History
The study of Biblical prophecy is necessary and absorbing. It is necessary because without it we cannot understand the methods which God has been employing to carry out His purpose for the Jewish nation, for the Church and for the entire universe. It is absorbing because it is a faithful means of confirming faith in a number of directions. It confirms faith in the reality of the existence of God. If prophecies have been fulfilled, there is evidence that there is a superintending Providence working according to a definite plan.
It confirms faith in the reliability of the Bible. The writers of Bible prophecies did not follow cunningly devised fables. They wrote under divine guidance, for “the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). One of the evidences of the inspiration of the Scriptures is fulfilled prophecy.
It confirms the believer’s confidence in the Deity of Christ. A great many of the prophetic utterances, like Psalm 2:2 and Isaiah 53, had literal fulfilment in the experience of the Son of God. He was the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote. So impressed was Peter by what he saw and heard on the holy Mount of Transfiguration that he wrote, “We have also a more sure Word of Prophecy,” i.e., the Word of Prophecy made more sure or confirmed. He had heard the voice from the excellent glory say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17-18).
As “an infallible interpretation of prophecy is indeed hard to come by,” it is unwise to be dogmatic about minor details. Facts have to be collected from so many scattered portions of Scripture that it is extremely difficult to be certain that events are being placed in their proper order. That, however, does not mean that we should not give diligent application to acquire some knowledge of the methods by which God will carry out His Program. Patient study will be amply repaid.
One of the most fascinating books of the New Testament is the Epistle to the Ephesians because it contains a complete scheme of events in the divine program without the introduction of minor details which could distract the attention from the grander objective of God. The Epistle has a self-contained revelation of broad outlines which require very little interpretation.
The main idea which comes through the Epistle is that movements in history are not a number of unconnected, haphazard events, but a series of items under divine control working uninterrupted towards an appointed consummation. Note these statements:
Chapter 1, Verse 5; “Having predestined us unto the adoption of sons, — according to the good pleasure of His will.”
Chapter 1, Verse 9; “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He had purposed in Himself.”
Chapter 1, Verse 11, “Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
Chapter 3, Verse 11; According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Words in these quotations suggest design, power, objective. How significant and instructive are the expressions “will,” “good pleasure,” “purpose,” “counsel,” and “worketh all things!” They impress us with the fact that God is not quiescent, but active in His own universe, controlling, directing, superintending. He is LORD of Heaven and earth.
That divine control extends to “all things,” the infinitesimally small and the infinitely great. “Nothing moves with aimless feet.” The God who has revealed Himself in creation, in providence and in the incarnation is the Almighty, a title which occurs several times in the Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 19:15).
The grand objective is stated in simple unambiguous terms. It is that “in the dispensation of the fulness of times,” God will “gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus” (1:10), for He has been made “head over all things (1:22).
The Epistle to Ephesians, moreover, gives a panoramic view of divine activities from eternity to eternity. It treats of history in its broadest sense and views events not from the angle of the secular historian, but from the standpoint of divine revelation. The mind is taken backwards beyond the remotest past of recorded time into eternity in a statement like the following: “chosen — before the foundation of the world” (1:3). The forward look is just as staggering to the “glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end” (3:21). Events in time are viewed as taking place between these two extremes, two mountain peaks with the vale of time marked by “other ages,” “now,” and the “ages to come.”
Thus five divisions in the divine scheme emerge—
1. Before the beginning of time as we reckon it, antecedent to Genesis 1:1. That beginning is undated, and has reference to God’s “eternal purpose.” It is comprehended in the expression “before the foundation of the world.”
2. Time in past history. The Apostle refers to “other ages,” that is to dispensations other than the one in which he himself lived, the gospel dispensation introduced by the advent of the Son of God.
3. Time now present. Paul thinks of the present time as being one of peculiar honor. It is the time during which the activity of God is directed towards the calling out of the Church which in a future time will be presented in Heaven “a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (5:27). Three times there occurs the dispensational “now” which distinctly marks off the period during which the gospel of the grace of God in His Son is being proclaimed.
4. Time future. Attention is focussed on “the dispensation of the fulness of times” (1:10). That is the ultimate objective of God for the vindication of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one far-off divine event towards which the whole creation moves, when “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun, doth his successive journeys run.”
5. Beyond the “fulness of times.” God’s designs stretch into the limitless future, into periods called “the ages to come,” only slight hints of which are given in the Scriptures. Such a scheme as the inspired Apostle has outlined in the Epistle of Ephesians was not the product of human speculation. It was the result of divine revelation. Only those with exercised spiritual understanding can appreciate the meaning and the ultimate objective of the divine movements from “before the foundation” until they reach their consummation in the “world without end,” that is FOR EVER AND EVER!