Plain Papers on the Second Coming of Christ: Part 6

Acts 1:17  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Jesus had also said, " But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." These words of our Lord, sufficiently expose the folly and rashness of all who attempt to fix the time and season when God will set up His kingdom on earth. Yet would it not be a great mistake to suppose, on this account, that it would be wrong to fully declare the fact of that coming kingdom? The apostle could say two things: "I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God;" " And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God shall see my face no more." (Acts 20:24. 25)
But it may be asked, Are there not positive and definite prophetic dates in scripture? Are not the days of the great tribulation exactly numbered, starting from the very day that the abomination that maketh desolate is set up? (See Dan. 12:1111And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. (Daniel 12:11).) And does not the Lord Jesus distinctly refer to this, and confirm it, declaring that those days shall be shortened? And does He not also declare that, immediately on the close of those days of the tribulation, He will come in the clouds of heaven? (Matt. 24:2929Immediately 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: (Matthew 24:29).) Nothing can be clearer in the word of God. The very number of the days of tribulation are given, from the setting up the abomination of desolation to the coming of the Lord to set up the kingdom on earth.
Nay, we may go much further than this, and with equal certainty. We have an exact period of Israel's history revealed to the prophet Daniel—a period of seventy weeks; and, in this case, what has been fulfilled proves these weeks to be weeks of years, or 490 years. This period starts with the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem; which took place in the 20th year of Artaxerxes, and extends unto the blessed period of anointing the Most Holy. A clear, definite period is measured unto the Messiah—seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks, that is, 483 years. This was actually fulfilled. The great reconciliation was made by His death, and everlasting righteousness brought in by His resurrection. But then, exactly as foretold, He, as Messiah, was cut off; utterly rejected by Israel; and for the present has nothing on earth. " Whom the heaven must receive, until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." If we now read carefully Dan. 9:26, 2726And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and 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 unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27And he shall confirm the covenant with 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. (Daniel 9:26‑27), we notice an unmeasured period. The people of the prince, &c. (that is jus! what took place), the Romans, came and destroyed the city and the sanctuary. The people were scattered among all nations (Luke 21); and desolations are determined on during this unknown period. Then, in verse 27, comes the last week, or seven years; in the midst of which very week, the abomination of desolation is set up. The half of this week, or seven years, is repeatedly referred to, as three years and a half, or forty-two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days. (Compare Rev. 11:3; 12:6, 14; 13:53And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. (Revelation 11:3)
6And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. (Revelation 12:6)
14And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14)
5And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. (Revelation 13:5)
.) These must be literal days, months, and years, as they are part of the last week of seven years, the last part of the 490 years, a day for a year. (Dan. 9:2727And he shall confirm the covenant with 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. (Daniel 9:27).)
Let us now return a little. If all these dates are clear, and exactly what they are stated to be, how is it that it is not given to us to know the times and the seasons? or that we cannot possibly know the date, or time, when God will set up His kingdom on earth? This is a very important question, and can only be answered by a distinct knowledge of the once hidden purpose of God, to gather out the church—the body—to be the bride of Christ. And further, as the church of God is distinct from the kingdom of God, it is evident this distinction must be recognized, in order rightly to understand the scriptures of truth.
Now, whilst all dates have reference to the time of the kingdom, no dates give the least clue to the length of the time of the church of God on earth. The true attitude of the believer, all through this period, is to be waiting for the Lord from heaven. The first epistle written, or one of the first, proves this. (1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-18; 5:2310And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
19For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
13To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which 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. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15‑18)
23And 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. (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
.) It is not given to us to know the date of this blessed event. The Father knows when the last soul shall be gathered out of the world to form the completed bride of Christ.
All this was kept hid, but now revealed. (See Eph. 3) Wondrous as this may be to some, the church has no place whatever in the Old Testament prophets. Their theme is the sufferings of Christ, and the kingdom to be set up on this earth in glory and power. It is evident, then, that this unmeasured period of grace must run its course, and the church of God taken up to be forever with the Lord, before the prophetic stream of times and seasons can again flow on. All this must be well considered, or we shall be sure to confound the earthly hopes and promises to Israel, with the heavenly hope and glory of the church.
There is, however, another point of great importance before we proceed to Israel's future literal! glory. It is this: the difference between the covenant of works, and the promise of God; and the fact that the New Testament regards all that are of faith as the seed of Abraham. " If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." And in this sense scripture speaks of Abraham: "As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations." (Rom. 3:13-1713Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known: (Romans 3:13‑17); Gal. 3) The great difference between these two principles is this: In the covenant made at Sinai, there were two parties engaged in that covenant, with Moses as a mediator. Man supposed himself capable of keeping the law, engaged in covenant to do so. Then, the blessing connected with such a covenant depended on the faithfulness of both parties. One party, Israel, after the fullest trial, utterly failed. Now, the principle of promise is in direct contrast with this; that is, whilst the covenant of the law depended on the faithfulness of two parties, the promise depended solely on the faithfulness of One, and that One, God. This is an all-important question: On which principle did God bless Abraham? On which principle does He now deal with every believer? on which principle will He deal with Israel in their future days of glory?
It is written, " The promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." " Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed." (Rom. 4:11-1711And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. 13For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, 17(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Romans 4:11‑17).) These two principles are seen in Galatians to be in direct contrast. The one was given, and confirmed to Abraham and his seed, which is Christ, four hundred and thirty years before the other. And it is plain that where all depended on the faithfulness of God, nothing could possibly disannul it, that it should make the promise of none effect. The law was added, until Christ, for transgressions, that so the infinite mercy of God might be shown to all concluded under sin.
The faith of Abraham laid hold of this great principle of promise; and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. This is purely of faith; that is, all depended on God, not on Abraham. On the other hand, 1500 years' experience of man, under the covenant of works, has proved that no man can stand on the ground of his own faithfulness; for all have sinned. Therefore it is evident that " all that are of the works of the law are under the curse."
The new covenant, then, is really the original promise to Abraham, confirmed in Christ: "So that they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." But does the reader apprehend what an immense principle this is? Read the absolute promise, wholly and unconditionally, of God (Gen. 12:1-31Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: 2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1‑3)); then see how this was confirmed when Abraham had offered up his son, and received him, in figure, from the dead. (Chap, 22) Then God confirmed the promise with an oath. And all this applied to us who now believe. (See Heb. 6:13-2013For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 6:13‑20).) The difference, then, is this: On the principle of law, or the covenant of works, the blessing depends on the faithfulness of both parties, as when a master covenants with a servant. On the other, the principle of promise, God engages absolutely my everlasting salvation, and all depends on His faithfulness. It was actually "to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, that He confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation," &c. Think of those two things: The promise of God; and the oath of God. Oh, reader, let this be settled in your soul before you go on to God's faithfulness to Israel. Does your faith rest solely on the faithfulness of God? Does your eternal salvation depend absolutely on the promise and oath of God, in which it is impossible for Him to lie? Nay, more, has not God given His beloved Son to die for our offenses? Has He not raised Him from among the dead, for our justification? Is it not absolutely true that, believing God, we are justified by faith, and have peace with God? Do not be deceived, if your salvation depends on your own faithfulness, in the least degree, you have let slip the great principle of the promise of God. We might as well try to mingle light and darkness, as to mingle the principle of promise and law. The one was until the other, to Israel. But we are now children of God, heirs according to promise.
There is another point of equal importance, both to the Christian now, and to Israel in days to come. If the administration of the covenant of works be thus set aside, through the utter break-down of man; and if the inheritance—heavenly to us, earthly to Israel—is absolutely of promise, and depends on the immutability of God, what about practical righteousness, and a holy life? Here, again, we find the same distinct contrast. Under the covenant, man engaged to do what he had no power to perform. (Exod. 19:88And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. (Exodus 19:8); Rom. 7:1818For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (Romans 7:18).) Under law, man says, " We will do it." On the principle of promise, God says, " I will." " This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them." (Heb. 10:1616This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; (Hebrews 10:16).) Two things are absolutely necessary before there can be a holy walk. Man must be born again wholly anew, and the Spirit of God must dwell in him. But both these things are of faith, of promise, of God. " Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" How simple, yet how blessed: God gives a nature that delights to do His will, and power—even the Holy Ghost dwelling in us- to do that which is holy, and therefore pleasing, in His sight. The indwelling of the Spirit will be shown by the fruit of the Spirit: " Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law." These preliminary thoughts will help us in considering the principles of the coming kingdom of God.
Whether, then, we look at the promise of God to Abraham, as to his spiritual seed, or as it regards his literal descendants, let us note well, that fulfillment depends entirely on the faithfulness of God. This will not, however, set aside His governmental dealings, either with the nation of Israel, or with the individual saint.
Is not this surpassing grace? that we Gentiles, who, as to nature, were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world, should now be brought nigh by the blood of Christ; yea, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Oh, the riches of His grace! to thus take us up, and make our eternal salvation to depend on His own faithfulness.
It costs us little to preach the doctrines of grace, but to walk as dead and risen with Christ is another thing.