The Christian Hope Consistent With Events Revealed in Prophecy

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It is beyond controversy that the Lord Jesus set His disciples in the position of waiting for His return in glory, and that He attached the utmost value to the constancy their love in expecting Him habitually as their sure and proximate hope. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” (Luke 12:35, 3635Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; 36And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. (Luke 12:35‑36).)
Precisely the same principle reappears in what the Holy Ghost gave by the apostle from first to last. Thus in his earliest epistle: “For 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. For 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: then 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.” (1 Thess. 4:15-1715For 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:15‑17).) Take a middle communication: “Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51, 5251Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51‑52).) Take a later. “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (Phil. 3:20, 2120For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:20‑21).) Take one of his latest: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-1311For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:11‑13).)
Nor is it otherwise with the last surviving apostle who closes the canon of scriptures: “Behold I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 3:1111Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. (Revelation 3:11).) “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, come. And let him that heareth say, come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.... He which testifieth those things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:16, 17, 2016I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. 17And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:16‑17)
20He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)
.) Accordingly as Christ's coming they knew not how soon was the hope laid down uniformly in the Now Testament, so even skepticism owns that it was universally believed by the early Christians.
But time passed on, and faith became feeble, and hope deferred made the heart sick, and the taunts of incredulity, which looks not beyond appearances began to tell on souls that ceased to hold fast the grace and truth of Christ and thus gravitated toward the world out of which they had been called, not more surely to serve God than to wait for His Son from heaven; so in modern times many have been driven from this position by an improper use of the Lord's delay. They have been frightened by the adversary. They have shrunk from the world's unbelieving contempt founded on a very short and imperfect acquaintance with the word of God. Infidelity indeed is always superficial; and the children of God do not well to be thus moved. It matters not who the adversary may be, they should never yield the position regarding His word, nor allow themselves to be or seem ashamed of waiting for the Lord Jesus, which the New Testament shows was to have been given to and taken by the church of God, and that too, we must observe, in its brightest days, when the power of the Holy Ghost was ungrieved and the apostles who were the authoritative communicators of the mind of God still remained. It is under these circumstances we find the Christians of old habitually expecting the Son of God from heaven. Time passed on; the delay seemed long; and many a believer, judging from appearances which seemed to contradict their hope, gave up their constancy of expectation, giving way to their own reasonings and the influences around them. This is always unwise; it is worse, it is a sin, because it virtually arraigns God Himself, who maintains His authority now by His word. The day is coming when He will assert and vindicate it in power, when it will be no question of believing only, but those who dispute His authority and disobey His word will be judged. But now we are put to the test in a moral way by subjection to the written word of God.
At present I am undertaking to show that the simplest view is the truest, and that the lowly faithful cleaving to the words of the Lord Jesus will stand the severest test. In point of fact it is so constantly in divine things. For the church of God was never meant to be a school, still less to be confined to such as are of the highest form. The church forgets its commission when it affects to be a philosophical clique of disciples who flatter themselves that they at least are wise and intelligent. According to the mind of God it was intended to embrace every child of God walking as such. It was meant not merely to have them but to have them together—to have them as one; and in fact this miserable departure from the mind of God practically has given an immense impulse to unbelieving thoughts which slight and judge the word of God in respect to the ground, manner, measure and matter of our hope: for what indeed has been spared? Our subject, however, is the compatibility of the Christian hope with the revelation of events according to prophecy; and I must show that no events predicted by the Lord, or the holy apostles and prophets, in the slightest degree set aside that hope, for the two things are perfectly consistent. I shall show further that these predicted events do not even modify the hope, but that the hope governs them; the true outlook for the soul being Christ's coming and receiving us to Himself, not my death but His return. The prophetic intimations of events only fall into their proper place where that hope is kept firm.
The Jewish believers had long been accustomed to prophecy. We can understand this. They were an earthly people; and prophecy speaks of the earth, without opening heaven. He that came down from heaven as God, and went up again, not merely as God but as man, He it is who not only had the heavens opening on Him but by grace opened heaven for us. We belong to the opened heavens, because we belong to Christ who is there, on the footing of His work and not of His person only. For He came down in love and is gone up in righteousness, and this righteousness a justifying righteousness which gives us the very same title as Himself. Where this is understood, the difference between the Christian hope and prophecy is seen. Heaven is characteristically the place belonging to the Christian, as earth was to Israel. God promised the best place here below to them, as well as every conceivable blessing, suited to such a people. He promised to make them the most exalted nation on earth, not only blessed but a blessing. No faults of Israel can annul that promise in the long run. Certainly it is not yet fulfilled. As always, there is first the trial or responsibility of the creature, followed by sovereign grace on God's part. In Israel's past history, we have had the creature tried; the future will behold God's mercy (Rom. 11) accomplishing everything according to His word, and giving freely according to divine goodness.
On the other hand it is impossible for the earth to be a place of real joy and blessing except through Jesus and His redemption. For Israel were sinners like others, and if they are to be blessed, they must be saved, and there is no salvation but by Him who died and rose for us. But then there is more. The cross of the Lord Jesus is the fullest proof of Israel's iniquity and rebellion against God. Hence meanwhile God acts on it to open, by Him who is now gone into His presence on high, a new and living way into the holiest. This and more than this God had not promised to Israel or any other nation. He had never given away heavenly glory to any. He was free to bestow it on whom He would, and He now does give it to Christ and the church. Not that one doubts that the Old Testament saints looked for a heavenly city; and I am sure that they will have it. If they looked for a better country, they will be there. But heaven is no small place. It cannot be measured by so many miles like the earth. Heaven is immense, and there will be ample verge and various scenes for the display of God's glory. The saints of Old Testament and of New Testament will be there. There is room enough and to spare for all. In the New Testament it is we find God bringing out all the elements of truth contained in the Old, but withal He brings out far more. He had secrets, things never divulged in the course of the earlier dispensation; but now they are. And the reason is manifest. Till the Son of God actually came, it would not have been suitable to the glory of God to have revealed what was to be specially between Him and His Son. The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven loves to bring out what the disciples could not bear before His resurrection. But now that redemption is accomplished, all is fully out, and very particularly that broad and deep and essential distinction which will now be set out, as God enables me, between the prophecy of events and the heavenly hope which the Holy Ghost has given us—a hope which was announced by Jesus, but which was to be explained with needed fullness by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven when the disciples could bear it. The great difference is that, as prophecy treats of the earth, so also it deals with times and seasons, with peoples and nations, with tribes and tongues, whereas the heavenly hope is independent of all that. Are these tribes and peoples and tongues on high? Is it any question there in the presence of God of days and weeks and times and years? The difference between earth and heaven is thus easily seen. The Christian hope, as it is let into our hearts from heaven, so is it as completely different from any prospect connected with the earth as the light of heaven is from a lamp, which, however useful in the darkness of the world, is as nothing compared with the light of day.
Nor is the figure of the lamp compared with daylight a mere idea of mine, but expressly furnished in the word itself. The Apostle Peter points out the selfsame distinction by this very comparison. (2 Peter 1)
In writing to Christians, who were once Jews and who were therefore familiar with prophecy, he tells them that they did well to take heed to the prophetic word. Their being Christians did not set aside what they had from God before. The Old Testament is in no way or degree, either as a whole or in part, blotted out by the New, but on the contrary shines more brightly and is understood incomparably better, when by the Holy Spirit the New is apprehended. Force is thus given to the Old, which enables the Christian to comprehend beyond the Jew. Take again the professing Christian that contends for Jewish forms, as a priest, sacrifice, or sanctuary now. Does he understand them? Not in the least. So if you have ever talked with an intelligent Jew, say a Rabbi, on the Old Testament, you will have seen how utterly dark he is regarding his own scriptures; and the more intelligent he is, the more palpable his ignorance of all beyond letter or tradition; because the fact of his general intelligence proves that his state proceeds from want not of natural capacity but of divine light. No matter what his activity of mind or stores of reading may be, they only disclose the exceeding barrenness of the land. On the other hand the Old Testament is lighted up with a brilliancy unmistakably divine, and its meaning is unfolded in its depth and fullness, when one enters into the true place of the church of God through knowing Christ Himself. And never is the church discerned apart from Christ; and if He be not seen as Head, in vain men essay to preach up the church; for though Christ may be truly known and enjoyed by the soul without seeing the church, you cannot in any case apprehend the church of God without seeing His headship of it. Thus Romanists and Catholics of all sorts are apt to talk much about the church; but they use it as a shroud, as a dense covering from sight of the glory of the Lord Jesus. There you have utter darkness; and yet the church is of all things the most put forward in pretension. When the place of Christ and the church is really known, we begin to understand the Old Testament better, and every part becomes to us full of light instead of the cloud it once seemed. But those that are under its forms (christened I may say) do not understand the Old Testament, but only such as know Christ and our relationship to Him as Lord and Savior, Priest, and Head.
So it is in regard to the Christian hope also. When the heart is filled with it, one understands prophecy a great deal better than those who have only prophecy before them. The Christians that had been Jews were first slow to enter at all into the heavenly hope; and, when they were beginning to get a little better knowledge, the confusion of the two exposed them to the danger of letting prophecy slip without taking in the Christian hope. Such too is the state in which many Christians are at the present day. They understand neither; they have not got hold of the Christian hope, and they do not pretend to understand prophecy: perhaps indeed they think it cannot be understood at all. Probably the same persons would think it presumptuous to know their sins forgiven: seeing that they do not understand the gospel, it is hard to expect them to understand what is outside the soul. One could scarcely look for a soul to enter into the revelations of God in His word about other subjects so remote if they had not submitted to God's righteousness for their own souls. Once Christ is thus received, we begin to find what a key He is to unlock all the rest.
We see then that Peter, in writing to those Christian Jews, contrasts the heavenly hope with prophecy; the difference between them, which really involves and settles the compatibility of the two things, depends on this very distinction. Thus he says, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy” (or the prophetic word confirmed), “whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light,” really a lamp, “that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts.” Here prophecy is compared to the lamp that shines in a squalid place; the heavenly hope to daylight with above all the person of Christ as the day star, for that He is thus referred to cannot, in my judgment, be questioned. You will observe it is not “till the day come,” “till the arrival of the day of the Lord é' or the like. It is “till the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts.” It is the heart getting hold of the heavenly hope; it is no more than a question of the heart. It is not the day arising as the sun of righteousness upon the world. It is the heart now having Christ as its constant hope, and so in the spirit and light of the day before it shines on the earth by and by. The apostle says that the lamp of prophecy is excellent until one has a better light, not the earthly lamp brighter, but a different kind of light, even that of day, and above all connected with the person of Christ, the day-star arising in the heart.
_(To be continued.)_