1. That there was nothing incredible or absurd in the supposition that John might live till the coming of the Lord.
2. That our Lord's words suggest the probability that he would actually do so.
3. That the disciples understood our Lord's answer as implying besides that John would not die at all.
4. That St. John himself gives no sign that there was anything incredible or impossible in the inference, though he does not commit himself to it.
5. That such an opinion would harmonise with our Lord's express teaching respecting the nearness and coincidence of His own coming, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, and the close of the aeon or age.
6. That all these events, according to Christ's declarations, lay within the period of the existing generation.
Having thus gone through the four gospels, and examined all the passages which relate to the Parousia, or coming of the Lord, it may be useful to recapitulate and bring into one view the general teaching of these inspired records on this important subject.
SUMMARY OF THE TEACHING OF THE GOSPELS RESPECTING THE PAROUSIA.
1. We have the link between Old and New Testament prophecy in the announcement by John the Baptist (the Elijah of Malachi) of the near approach of the coming wrath, or the judgment of the Theocratic nation.
2. The herald is closely followed by the King, who announces that the kingdom of God is at hand, and calls upon the nation to repent.
3. The cities which were favoured with the presence, but rejected the message, of Christ are threatened with a doom more intolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
4. Our Lord expressly assures His disciples that His coming would take place before they should have completed the evangelisation of the cities of Israel.
5. He predicts a judgment at the 'end of the age ' or aeon [sunteleia ton aiwnos], a phrase which does not mean the destruction of the earth, but the consummation of the age, i.e. the Jewish dispensation.
6. Our Lord expressly declares that He would speedily come [mellei epcesqai] in glory, in His kingdom, with His angels, and that some among His disciples should not die until His coming took place.
7. In various parables and discourses our Lord predicts the doom impending over Israel at the period of His coming. (See Luke xviii., parable of the importunate widow. Luke xix., parable of the pounds. Matt. xxi., parable of the wicked husbandmen. Matt. xxii., parable of the marriage feast.)
8. Our Lord frequently denounces the wickedness of the generation to which He preached, and declares that the crimes of former ages and the blood of the prophets would be required at their bands.
9. The resurrection of the dead, the judgment of the world, and the casting out of Satan are represented as coincident with the Parousia, and near at hand.
10. Our Lord assured His disciples that He would come again to them, and that His coming would be in 'a little while.'
11. The prophecy on the Mount of Olives is one connected and continuous discourse, having exclusive reference to the approaching doom of Jerusalem and Israel, according to our Lord's express statement (Matt. xxiv. 34; Mark xiii. 30; Luke xxi. 32.)
12. The parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats all belong to this same event, and are fulfilled in the judgment of Israel.
13. The disciples are exhorted to watch and pray, and to live in the continual expectation of the Parousia, because it would be sudden and speedy.
14. After His resurrection our Lord gave St. John reason to expect that He would live to witness His coming.
1. Some interpreters prefer to understand 'the dead' in verse 25 as having reference to such cases as the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus of Bethany, persons literally raised from the dead and restored to life by our Lord. They understand the argument of our Lord to be something like this : 'You are astonished at the wonderful work which I have wrought upon this impotent man, but you will yet see far greater wonders. The moment is at hand when I will recall even the dead to life; and if this appear incredible to you, a still mightier work will one day be accomplished by my power: for the hour is coming when all that are in the grave shall come forth at my call, and stand before me in judgment.' (Dr. J. Brown. Discourses and Sayings of our Lord vol. i. p. 98.) This explanation has the advantage of consistency, in giving the same sense of the word 'dead' throughout the whole passage; but it seems impossible to admit that our Lord in verse 24 is speaking of literal death. To say that the believer has already 'passed from death unto life' obviously is the same thing as to say that he has passed from condemnation to justification. We feel compelled, therefore, to adopt the generally received interpretation, which regards verses 24 and 25 as referring to the spiritually dead, and verses 28 and 29 to the corporeally dead.
2. Life of Christ, chap. xii. 205.
3. Greek Test., in loc..
4. Alford, Greek Test., in loc..
5. Commentary of St. John.
6. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, on the hypothesis that the 'coming' of Christ was not to take place until the 'end of the world,' in the popular acceptation of the phrase, the answer of our Lord would involve an extravagance, if not an absurdity. It would have been equivalent to saying, ' Suppose I please that he should live a thousand years or more, what is that to you ? ' But it is evident that the disciples took the answer seriously.
APPENDIX TO PART I.
NOTE A. Page 56.
On the Double-sense Theory of Interpretation.
THE following extracts, from theologians of different ages, countries, and churches, exhibit a powerful consensus of authorities in opposition to the loose and arbitrary method of interpretation adopted by many German and English commentators:
' Unam quandam ac certam et simplicem sententiam ubique quaerendam esse.'- Melanethon.
('One definite and simple meaning of [Scripture] is in every case to be sought.')
'Absit a nobis ut Deum faciamus o,.i,glwtton, aut multiplices sensus affingamus ipsius verbo, in quo potius tanquarn in speculo limpidissimo sui autoris simplicitatem contemplari debemus. (Ps. xii. 6; xix. B.) Unicus ergo sensus scripturae, nempe grammaticus, est admittendus, quibuscunque demum terminis, vel propriis vel tropicis et figuratis exprimatur.' -Maresius.
(Far be it from us to make God speak with two tongues, or to attach a variety of senses to His Word, in which we ought rather to behold the simplicity of its divine author reflected as in a clear mirror (Ps. xii. 6 ; xix. 8.) Only one meaning of Scripture, therefore, is admissible: that is, the grammatical, in whatever terms, whether proper or tropical and figurative, it may be expressed.)
'Dr. Owen's remark is full of good sense-" If the Scripture has more than one meaning, it has no meaning at all: " and it is just as applicable to the prophecies as to any other portion of Scripture.'- Dr. John Brown, Sufferings and Glories of the Messiah, p. 5, note.
The consequences of admitting such a principle should be well weighed.
What book on earth has a double sense, unless it is a book of designed enigmas ? And even this has but one real meaning. The heathen oracles indeed could say, "Aio te, Pyrrhe, Romanos vincere posse; " but can such an equivoque be admissible into the oracles of the living God ? And if a literal sense, and an occult sense, can at one and the same time, and by the same words, be conveyed, who that is uninspired shall tell us what the occult sense is? By what laws of interpretation is it. to be judged ? By none that belong to human language; for other books than the Bible have not a double sense -attached to them.
'For these and such-like reasons, the scheme of attaching a double sense to the Scriptures is inadmissible. It sets afloat all the fundamental principles of interpretation by which we arrive at established conviction and certainty and casts us on the boundless ocean of imagination and conjecture without rudder or compass.'- Stuart on the Hebrews, Excurs. xx.
'First, it may be laid down that Scripture has one meaning, -the meaning which it had to the mind of the prophet or evangelist who first uttered or wrote to the hearers or readers who first received it.'
' Scripture, like other books, has one meaning, which is to be gathered from itself, without reference to the adaptations of fathers or divines, and without regard to a priori notions about its nature and origin.'
' The office of the interpreter is not to add another [interpretation], but to recover the original one : the meaning, that is, of the words as they struck on the ears or flashed before the eyes of those who first heard and read them.' - Professor Jowett, Essay on the Interpretation of Scripture, § i. 3, 4.
'I hold that the words of Scripture were intended to have one definite sense, and that our first object should be to discover that sense, and adhere rigidly to it. I believe that, as a general rule, the words of Scripture are intended to have, like all other language, one plain definite meaning, and that to say that words do mean a thing merely because they can be tortured into meaning it, is a most dishonourable and dangerous way of handling Scripture.'- -Canon Ryle, Expository Thoughts on St. Luke, vol. i. P. 383.
NOTE B. Page 113.
On the Prophetic Element in the Gospels.
Let us proceed to the predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem. These predictions, as is well known, in all the gospel narratives (which, by the way, are singularly consentaneous, implying that all the Evangelists drew from one consolidated tradition) are inextricably mixed up with prophecies of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world -a confusion which Mr. Hutton fully admits. The portion relating to the destruction of the city is singularly definite, and corresponds very closely with the actual event. The other portion, on the contrary, is vague and grandiloquent, and refers, chiefly to natural phenomena and catastrophes. From the precision of the one portion, most critics infer that the gospels were compiled after or during the siege and conquest of Jerusalem. From the confusion of the two portions Mr. Hutton draws the opposite inference -- namely, that the prediction existed in the present recorded form before that event. It is in the greatest degree improbable, he argues, that if Jerusalem had fallen, and the other signs of Christ's coming showed no indication of following, the writers should not have recognised and disentangled the confusion, and corrected their records to bring them into harmony with what it was then beginning to be seen might be the real meaning of Christ or the actual truth of history.
'But the real perplexity lies here. The prediction, as we have it, makes Christ distinctly affirm that His second coming shall follow "immediately," --"in those days," after the destruction of Jerusalem, and that "this generation" (the generation he addressed) should not pass away till all "these things are fulfilled." Mr. Hutton believes that these last words were intended by Christ to apply only to the destruction of the Holy City. He is entitled to his opinion; and in itself it is not an improbable solution. But it is, under the circumstances, a somewhat forced construction, For it must be remembered, first, that it is rendered necessary only by the assumption which Mr. Hutton is maintaining --namely, that the prophetic powers of Jesus could not be at fault; secondly, it assumes or implies that the gospel narratives of the utterances of Jesus are to be relied upon, even though in these especial predictions he admits them to be essentially confused and, thirdly (what at we think he ought not to have overlooked), the sentence he quotes is by no means the only one indicating that Jesus Himself held the conviction, which He undoubtedly communicated to His followers, that His Second coming to judge the world would take place at a very early date. Not only was it to take place "immediately" after the destruction of the city (Matt. xxiv. 29), but it would be witnessed by many of those who heard Him. And these predictions are in no way mixed up with those of the destruction of Jerusalem : " There be some standing here that shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom " (Matt. xvi. 28); " Verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come (Matt. x. 23) ; " If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee 2 (John xxi. 23): and the corresponding passages in the other Synoptics.
'If, therefore, Jesus did not say these things, the gospels must be strangely inaccurate. If He did, His prophetic faculty cannot have been what Mr. Hutton conceives it to have been. That His disciples all confidently entertained this erroneous expectation, and entertained it on the supposed authority of their Master, there can he no doubt whatever. (See 1 Cor. x. 11, xv. 51 ; Phil. iv. 5 ; I Thess. iv. 15 ; James v. 8 ; I Peter iv. 7; 1 John ii. 18 ; Rev. i. 13, xxii. 7, 10, 12.) Indeed, Mr. Hutton recognises this at least as frankly and fully as we have stated it.'- W. R. Greg, in Contemporary Review, Nov. 1876.
To those who maintain that our Lord predicted the end of the world before the passing away of that generation, the objections of the sceptic present a formidable difficulty --insurmountable, indeed, without resorting to forced and unnatural evasions, or admissions fatal to the authority and inspiration of the evangelical narratives. We, on the contrary, fully recognise the common-sense construction put by Mr. Greg upon the Language of Jesus, and the no less obvious acceptance of that meaning by the apostles. But we draw a conclusion directly contrary to that of the critic, and appeal to the prophecy on the Mount of Olives as a signal example and demonstration of our Lord's supernatural foresight.
THE PAROUSIA IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
THE 'GOING AWAY' AND THE 'COMING AGAIN.'
ACTS i. 11. -' This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go unto heaven.'
THE last conversation of Jesus with His disciples before His crucifixion was concerning His coming to them again, and the last word left with them at His ascension was the promise of His coming again.
The expression 'in like manner' must not be pressed too far. There are obvious points of difference between the manner of the Ascension and the Parousia. He departed alone, and without visible splendour; He was to return in glory with His angels. The words, however, imply that His coming was to be visible and personal, which would exclude the interpretation which regards it as providential, or spiritual. The visibility of the Parousia is supported by the uniform teaching of the apostles and the belief of the early Christians: 'Every eye shall see him' (Rev. i. 7).
There is no indication of time in this parting promise, but it is only reasonable to suppose that the disciples would regard it as addressed to them, and that they would cherish the hope of soon seeing Him again, according to His own saying, 'A little while, and ye shall see me.' This belief sent them back to Jerusalem with great joy. Is it credible that they could have felt this elation if they had conceived that His coming would not take place for eighteen centuries ? Or can we suppose that their joy rested upon a delusion ? There is no conclusion possible but that which holds the belief of the disciples to have been well founded, and the Parousia nigh at hand.
THE LAST DAYS COME.
ACTS ii. 16-20-- ' This is that which is spoken by the prophet Joel: It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; moreover on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath ; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.'
In these words of St. Peter, the first apostolic utterance spoken in the power of the divine afflatus of Pentecost, we have an authoritative interpretation of the prophecy which he quotes from Joel. He expressly identifies the time and the event predicted by the prophet with the time and the event then actually present on the day of Pentecost. The ' last days ' of Joel are these days of St. Peter. The ancient prediction was in part fulfilled ; it was receiving its accomplishment before their eyes in the copious effusion of the Holy Spirit.
This outpouring of the Spirit was introductory to other events, which would in like manner come to pass. The day of judgment for the Theocratic nation was at hand, and ere long the presages of 'that great and notable day of the Lord' would be manifested.
It is impossible not to recognise the correspondence between the phenomena preceding the day of the Lord as foretold by Joel, and the phenomena described by our Lord as preceding His coming, and the judgment of Israel (Matt. xxiv. 29). The words of Joel can refer only to the last days of the Jewish age or aeon, the ounteleia ton aiwnoj, which was also the theme of our Lord's prophecy on the Mount of Olives. In like manner the words of Malachi as evidently refer to the same event and the same point of time,-- 'the day of his coming,' ' the day that shall burn as a furnace,' ' the great and dreadful day of the Lord' (Mal. iii. 2; iv. 1-5).
We have here a consensus of testimonies than which nothing can be conceived more authoritative and decisive,-- Joel, Malachi, St. Peter, and the great Prophet of the new covenant Himself. They all speak of the same event and of the same period, the great day of the Lord, the Parousia, and they speak of them as near. Why encumber and embarrass a prediction so plain with supposititious double references and ulterior fulfilments? Nothing else will fit this prophecy save that event to which alone it refers, and with which it corresponds as the impression with the seal and the lock with the key. The catastrophe of Israel and Jerusalem was at hand, long foreseen, often predicted, and now imminent. The self-same generation that had seen, rejected, and crucified the King would witness the fulfilment of His warnings when Jerusalem perished in 'blood and fire, and vapour of smoke.'
THE COMING DOOM OF THAT GENERATION.
ACTS ii. 40.-'And with many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.'
This verse fixes the reference of the apostle's address. It was the existing generation whose coming doom he foresaw, and it was from participation in its fate that he urged his hearers to escape. It was but the echo of the Baptist's cry,
'Flee from the coming wrath.' Here, again, there can be no question about the meaning of 'genea',-it is that 'wicked generation' which was filling up the measure of its predecessor; the perverse and incorrigible nation over which judgment was impending.
Before leaving this address of St. Peter we may point out another example of a universal proposition which must be taken in a restricted sense. ' I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.' The effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not literally universal, but it was indiscriminate and general in comparison of former times. The necessarily qualified use of so large a phrase shows how a similar limitation may be justifiable in such expressions as 'all the nations,' ' every creature,' and ' the whole world.'
THE PAROUSIA AND THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS.
ACTS iii. 19-21- 'Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may Send Jesus Christ, who was before appointed unto you ; whom the heavens must receive until the times of. the restoration of all things, of which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.'
It is scarcely possible to doubt that in this address the apostle speaks of that which be conceived his bearers might and would experience, if they obeyed his exhortation to repent and believe. Indeed, any other supposition would be preposterous. Neither the apostle nor his auditory could possibly be thinking of ' times of refreshing' and 'times of restoration' in remote ages of the world; blessings which were at a distance of centuries and millenniums would hardly be powerful motives to immediate repentance. We must therefore conceive of the times of refreshing and of restoration as, in the view of the apostle, near, and within the reach of that generation.
But if so, what are we to understand by 'the times of refreshing and of restoration'? Are they the same, or are they different, things ? Doubtless, virtually the Same ; and the one phrase will help us to understand the other. The restitution, or rather restoration [apokatustasij] of all things, is said to be the theme of all prophecy ; then it can only refer to what Scripture designates 'the kingdom of God,' the end and purpose of all the dealings of God with Israel. It was a phrase well understood by the Jews of that period, who looked forward to the days of the Messiah, the kingdom of God, as the fulfilment of all their hopes and aspirations. It was the coming age or aeon, aiwn o mellwn, when all wrongs were to be redressed, and truth and righteousness were to reign. The whole nation was pervaded with the belief that this happy era was about to dawn. What was our Lord's doctrine on this subject? He Said to His disciples, 'Elias indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things' (Mark ix. 12). That is to say, the second Elijah, John the Baptist, had already commenced the restoration which He Himself was to complete ; had laid the foundations of the kingdom which He was to consummate and crown. For the mission of John was, in one aspect, restorative, that is in intention, though not in effect. He came to recall the nation to its allegiance, to renew its covenant relation with God: he went before the Lord, 'in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord' (Luke i. 17). What is all this but the description of 'the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,' and 'the times of restoration of all things,' which were held forth as the gifts of God to Israel ?
But have we any clear indication of the period at which these proffered blessings might be expected ? Were they in the far distant future, or were they nigh at baud ? The note of time is distinctly marked in verse 20. The coming of Christ is specified as the period when these glorious prospects are to be realized. Nothing can be more clear than the connection and coincidence of these events, the coming of Christ, the times of refreshing, and the times of restoration of all things. This is in harmony with the uniform representation given in the eschatology of the New Testament: the Parousia, the end of the age, the consummation of the kingdom of God, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, all synchronise. To find the date of one is to fix the date of all. We have already seen how definitely the time was fixed for the fulfilment of some of these events. The Son of man was to come in His kingdom before the death of some of the disciples. The catastrophe of Jerusalem was to take place before the living generation bad passed away. The great and notable day of the Lord is represented by St. Peter in the preceding chapter as overtaking that 'untoward generation.' And now, in the passage before us, he as clearly intimates that the arrival of the times of refreshing, and of the restoration of all things, was contemporaneous with the 'sending of Jesus Christ' from heaven.
But it may be said, How can so terrible a catastrophe as the destruction of Jerusalem be associated with times of refreshing or of restoration ? There were two Bides to the medal: there was the reverse as well as the obverse. Unbelief and impenitence would change 'the times of refreshing' into 'the days of vengeance.' If they ' despised the riches of the goodness and forbearance and long- suffering of God, 'then, instead of restoration, there would be destruction; and instead of the day of salvation there would be 'the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God' (Rom. ii. 4, 5).
We know the fatal choice that Israel made; how 'the wrath came upon them to the uttermost;' and we know how it all came to pass at the appointed and predicted period, at the 'close of the age,' within the limits of that generation.
We are thus enabled to define the period to which the apostle makes allusion in this passage, and conclude that it coincides with the Parousia.
We are conducted to the same conclusion by another path. In Matt. xix. 20 our Lord declares to His disciples, 'Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory,' etc. We have already commented upon this passage, but it may be proper again to notice that the 'regeneration' [paliggenesia] of St. Matthew is the precise equivalent of the 'restoration' [apokatastasij] of the Acts. What is meant by the regeneration is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt, for it is the time 'when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory.' But this is the period when He comes to judge the guilty nation (Matt. xxv. 31). There is no possibility of mistaking the time ; no difficulty in identifying the event: it is the end of the age, and the judgment of Israel.
We thus arrive at the same conclusion by another and independent route, thus immeasurably strengthening the force of the demonstration.