The parousia

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1. Donier's tractate, De Oratione Christi Eschatologica, p. 1.

2. Locke, Notes on Ephesians i. 10.


     THE canon of the Old Testament Scriptures closes in a very different manner from what might have been expected after the splendid future revealed to the covenant nation in the visions of Isaiah. None of the prophets is the bearer of a heavier burden than the last. Malachi is the prophet of doom. It would seem that the nation, by its incorrigible obstinacy and disobedience, had forfeited the divine favour, and proved itself not only unworthy, but incapable, of the promised glories. The departure of the prophetic spirit was full of evil omen, and seemed to intimate that the Lord was about to forsake the land. Accordingly, the light of Old Testament prophecy goes out amidst clouds and thick darkness. The Book of Malachi is one long and terrible impeachment of the nation. The Lord Himself is the accuser, and sustains every charge against the guilty people by the clearest proof. The long indictment includes sacrilege, hypocrisy, contempt of God, conjugal infidelity, perjury, apostasy, blasphemy; while, on the other hand, the people have the effrontery to repudiate the accusation, and to plead ' not guilty ' to every charge. They appear to have reached that stage of moral insensibility when men call evil good, and good evil, and are fast ripening for judgment.

     Accordingly, coming judgment is 'the burden if the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.'

Chap. iii. 5: 'I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.,

Chap. iv. 1: 'For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven [furnace]: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.'

     That this is no vague and unmeaning threat is evident from the distinct and definite terms in which it is announced. Everything points to an approaching crisis in the history of the nation, when God would inflict judgment upon His rebellious people. 'The day, was coming - 'the day that shall burn as a furnace;, 'the great and terrible day of the Lord., That this 'day' refers to a certain period, and a specific event, does not admit of question. It had already been foretold in precisely the same words by the Prophet Joel (ii. 31): 'The great and terrible day of the Lord;, and we shall meet with a distinct reference to it in the address of the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 20). But the period is further more precisely defined by the remarkable statement of Malachi in chap. iv. 5: 'Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.' The explicit declaration of our Lord that the predicted Elijah was no other than His own forerunner, John the Baptist (Matt. xi. 14), enables us to determine the time and the event referred to as 'the great and terrible day of the Lord., It must be sought at no great distance from the period of John the Baptist. That is to say, the allusion is to the judgment of the Jewish nation, when their city and temple were destroyed, and the entire fabric of the Mosaic polity was dissolved.

     It deserves to be noticed, that both Isaiah and Malachi predict the appearance of John the Baptist as the forerunner of our Lord, but in very different terms. Isaiah represents him as the herald of the coming Saviour: 'The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God' (Isa. xl. 3). Malachi represents John as the precursor of the coming Judge: 'Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts' (Mal. iv. 1).

     That this is a coming to judgment, is manifest from the words which immediately follow, describing tile alarm and dismay caused by His appearing: 'But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth ?' (Mal. iii. 2.)

     It cannot be said that this language is appropriate to the first coming of Christ; but it is highly appropriate to His second coming. There is a distinct allusion to this passage in Rev. vi. 17, where 'the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains,' etc., are represented as 'hiding from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from tile wrath of the Lamb, and saying, The great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?'. Nothing can be more clear than that the 'day of his coming', in Mal. iii. 1 is the same as 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord' in chap. iv. 5, and that both answer to 'the great day of his wrath' in Rev. vi. 17. We conclude, therefore, that the prophet Malachi speaks, not of the first advent of our Lord, but of the second.

     This is further proved by the significant fact, that, in chap. iii. 1, the Lord is represented as 'suddenly coming to his temple.' To understand this as referring to the presentation of the infant Saviour in the temple by His parents, or to His in the courts of the temple, or to His of the buyers and sellers from the sacred edifice, is surely a most inadequate explanation. Those were not occasions of terror and dismay, such as is implied in the second verse, 'But who may abide the day of his coming ?' The expression is, however, vividly suggestive of His final and judicial visitation of His Father's house, when it was to be 'left desolate,' according to His prediction. The temple was the centre of the nation's life, the visible symbol of the covenant between God and His people; it was the spot where 'judgment must begin,' and which was to be overtaken by 'sudden destruction.' Taking, then, all these particulars into account, the 'sudden coming of the Lord to his temple,' the dismay attending 'the day of his coming,' His coming as 'a refiner's fire,' His coming ' near to them to judgment,' 'the day coming that shall burn as a furnace,' 'burning up the wicked root and branch,' and the appearing of John the Baptist, the second Elijah, previous to the arrival of 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord,' it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the prophet here foretells that great national catastrophe in which the temple, the city, and the nation, perished together; and that this is designated, 'the day of his coming.'

     However strange, therefore, it may seem, it is undoubtedly the fact that the first coming of our Lord is not alluded to by Malachi. This is distinctly acknowledged by Hengstenberg, who observes: 'Malachi passes by the first coming of Christ in humiliation altogether and leaves the interval between his forerunner end the judgment of Jerusalem a perfect blank.' (1) This is to be accounted for by the fact, that the main object of the prophecy is to predict national destruction and not national deliverance.

     At the same time, while judgment and wrath are the predominant elements of the prophecy, features of a different character are not wholly absent. The day of wrath is also a day of redemption. There is a faithful remnant, even among the apostate nation: there are gold and silver to be refined and jewels to be gathered, as well as dross to be rejected, and stubble to be burned. There are sons to be spared, as well as enemies to be destroyed; and the day which brought dismay and darkness to the wicked, would see 'the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings' on the faithful. Even Malachi intimates that the door of mercy is not yet shut. If the nation would return unto God, He would return unto them. If they would make restitution of that which they had sacrilegiously withheld from the service of the temple, He would repay them with blessings more than they could receive. They might even yet be a 'delightsome land,' the envy of all nations. At the eleventh hour, if the mission of the second Elijah should succeed in winning the hearts of the people, tile impending catastrophe might after all be averted (chap. iii. 3, 16-18; iv. 2, 3, 5, 6).

     Nevertheless, there is a foregone conclusion that expostulation and threatening will be unavailing. The last words sound like the knell of doom (Mal. iv. 6): 'Lest I come and smite the land with a curse!'

     The full import of this ominous declaration is not at once apparent. To the Hebrew mind. it suggested the most terrible fate that could befall a city or a people. The 'curse' was the anathema, or cheremwhich denoted that the person or thing on which the malediction was laid was given over to utter destruction. We have an example of the cherem, or ban, in the curse pronounced upon Jericho (Josh. vi. 17); and a more particular statement of the ruin which it involved, in the Book of Deuteronomy (chap. xiii. 12-18). The city was to be smitten with the edge of the sword, every living thing in it to be put to death, the spoil was not to be touched, all was accursed and unclean, it was to be wholly consumed with fire, and the place given up to perpetual desolation. Hengstenberg remarks: 'All the things that can possibly be thought of are included in this one word;' (2) and he quotes the comment of Vitringa on this passage: ' There can be no doubt that God intended to say, that He would give up to certain destruction, both the obstinate transgressors of the law and also their city, and that they should suffer the extreme penalty of His justice, as heads devoted to God, without any hope of favour or forgiveness.'

     Such is the fearful malediction suspended over the land of Israel by the prophetic Spirit, in the moment of taking its departure, and becoming silent for ages. It is important to observe, that all this has a distinct and specific reference to the land of Israel. The message of the prophet is to Israel; the sins which are reprobated are the sins of Israel; the coming of the Lord is to His temple in Israel; the land threatened with the curse is the land of Israel. (3) All this manifestly points to a specific local and national catastrophe, of which the land of Israel was to be the scene and its guilty inhabitants the victims. History records the fulfilment of the prophecy, in exact correspondence of time, place, and circumstance, in the ruin which overwhelmed the Jewish nation at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem.



     The four centuries which intervene between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the commencement of the New are a blank in Scripture history. We know, however, from the Books of the Maccabees and the writings of Josephus, that it was an eventful period in the Jewish annals. Judea was by turns the vassal of the great monarchies by which it was surrounded - Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Rome, - with an interval of independence under the Maccabean princes. But though the nation during this period passed through great suffering, and produced some illustrious examples of patriotism and of piety, we look in vain for any divine oracle, or any inspired messenger, to declare the word of the Lord. Israel might truly say: 'We see not our signs, there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long' (Psa. lxxiv. 9). Yet those four centuries were not without a powerful influence on the character of the nation. During this period, synagogues were established throughout the land, and the knowledge of the Scriptures was widely extended. The great religious schools of the Pharisees and Sadducees arose, both professing to be expounders and defenders of the law of Moses. Vast numbers of Jews settled in the great cities of Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy, carrying with them everywhere the worship of the synagogue and the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. Above all, the nation cherished in its inmost heart the hope of a coming deliverer, a scion of the royal house of David, who should be the theocratic king, the liberator of Israel from Gentile domination, whose reign was to be so happy and glorious that it might deserve to be called 'the kingdom of heaven.' But, for the most part, the popular conception of the coming king was earthly and carnal. There had not in four hundred years been any improvement in the moral condition of the people, and, between the formalism of the Pharisees and the scepticism of the Sadducees, true religion had sunk to its lowest ebb. There was still, however, a faithful remnant who had truer conceptions of the kingdom of heaven, and 'who looked for redemption in Israel.' As the time drew near, there were indications of the return of the prophetic spirit, and premonitions that the promised deliverer was at hand. Simeon received assurance that before his death ho should see 'the Lord's anointed;' a like intimation appears to have been made to the aged prophetess Anna. Such revelations, it is reasonable to suppose, must have awakened eager expectation in the hearts of many, and prepared them for the cry which soon after was heard in the wilderness of Judea: 'Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand !' A prophet had again risen up in Israel, and 'the Lord had visited His people.'


1. See Hengst. Nature of Prophecy. Christ. vol. iv. p. 418

2. Hengst. Christology, vol. iv. p 227

3. The meaning of this passage (Mal. iv. 6) is obscured by the unfortunate translation earth instead of land. The Hebrew ch,a, like the Greek gh/, is very frequently employed in a restricted sense. The allusion in the text plainly is to the land of Israel. -See Hengst. Christology, vol. iv. p 224



     THERE is nothing more distinctly affirmed in the New Testament than the identity of John the Baptist with the wilderness-herald of Isaiah and the Elijah of Malachi. How well the description of John agrees with that of Elijah is evident at a glance. Each was austere and ascetic in his manner of life; each was a zealous reformer of religion; each was a stern reprover of sin. The times in which they lived were singularly alike. The nation at both periods was degenerate and corrupt. Elijah had his Ahab, John his Herod. It is no objection to this identification of John as the predicted Elijah, that the Baptist himself disclaimed the name when the priests and Levites from Jerusalem demanded: 'Art thou Elias ?' (John i. 21.) The Jews expected the reappearance of the literal Elijah, and John's reply was addressed to that mistaken opinion. But his true claim to the designation is expressly affirmed in the announcement made by the angel to his father Zacharias: 'He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias' (Luke i. 17); as well as by the declarations of our Lord: 'If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come' (Matt.. xi. 14); 'I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not.... Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist' (Matt.. xvii. 10-13). John was the second Elias, and exhaustively fulfilled the predictions of Isaiah and Malachi concerning him. To dream of an 'Elijah of the future,' therefore, is virtually to discredit the express statement of the word of God, and rests upon no Scripture warrant whatever.

     We have already adverted to the twofold aspect of the mission of John presented by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. The same diversity is seen in the New Testament descriptions of the second Elias. The benignant aspect of his mission which is presented by Isaiah, is also recognized in the words of the angel by whom his birth was foretold, as already quoted; and in the inspired utterance of his father Zacharias: 'Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins , (Luke i. 76, 77). We find the same gracious aspect in the opening verses of the Gospel of St. John: 'The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe, (John i. 7).

     But the other aspect of his mission is no less distinctly recognized in the Gospels. He is represented, not only as the herald of the coming Saviour, but of the coming Judge. Indeed, his own recorded utterances speak far more of wrath than of salvation, and are conceived more in the spirit of the Elijah of Malachi than of the wilderness-herald of Isaiah. He warns the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the multitudes that crowded to his baptism, to 'flee from the coming wrath.' He tells them that 'the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.' He announces the coming of One mightier than himself, 'whose fan is in his hand, and who will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but who will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (Matt. iii. 12).

     It is impossible not to be struck with the correspondence between the language of the Baptist and that of Malachi. As Hengstenberg observes: 'The prophecy of Malachi is throughout the text upon which John comments." (1) In both, the coming of the Lord is described as a day of wrath; both speak of His coming with fire to purify and try, with fire to burn and consume Both speak of a time of discrimination and separation between the righteous and the wicked, the gold and the dross, the wheat and the chaff; and both speak of the utter destruction of the chaff, or stubble, with unquenchable fire. These are not fortuitous resemblances: the two predictions are the counterpart one of the other, and can only refer to the self-same event, the same 'day of the Lord,' the same coming judgment.

     But what more especially deserves remark is the evident nearness of the crisis which John predicts. 'The wrath to come' is a very inadequate rendering of the language of the prophet. (2) It should be 'the coming wrath;' that is, not merely future, but impending. 'The wrath to come' may be indefinitely distant, but 'the coming wrath' is imminent. As Alford justly remarks: 'John is now speaking in the true character of a prophet foretelling the wrath soon to be poured on the Jewish nation.' (3) So with the other representations in the address of the Baptist; all is indicative of the swift approach of destruction. 'Already the axe was lying at the root of the trees.' The 'winnowing shovel' was actually in the hands of the Husbandman; the sifting process was about to begin. These warnings of John the Baptist are not the vague and indefinite exhortations to repentance, addressed to men in all ages, which they are sometimes assumed to be; they are urgent, burning words, having a specific and present bearing upon the then existing generation, the living men to whom he brought the message of God. The Jewish nation was now upon its last trial; the second Elijah had come as the precursor of 'the great and dreadful day of the Lord:' if they rejected his warnings, the doom predicted by Malachi would surely and speedily follow; 'I will come and smite the land with the curse.' Nothing can be more obvious than that the catastrophe to which John alludes is particular, national, local, and imminent, and history tells us that within the period of the generation that listened to his warning cry, 'the wrath came upon them to the uttermost.'


1. Christol.. vol. iv. p.. 232.

2. thj melloushj orghj

3. Greek Test. in loc.


     The close of John the Baptist's ministry, in consequence of his imprisonment by Herod Antipas, marks a new departure in the ministry of our Lord. Previous to that time, indeed, He had taught the people, wrought miracles, gained adherents, and obtained a wide popularity; but after that event, which may be regarded as indicating the failure of John's mission, our Lord retired into Galilee, and there entered upon a new phase of His public ministry. We are told that 'from that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' (Matt. iv. 17). These are the precise terms in which the preaching of John the Baptist is described (Matt. iii. 2). Both our Lord and His forerunner called 'the nation to repentance,' and announced the approach of the 'kingdom of heaven.' It follows that John could not mean by the phrase, 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand,' merely that the Messiah was about to appear, for when Christ did appear, He made the same announcement. 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' In like manner, when the twelve disciples were sent forth on their first evangelistic mission, they were commanded to preach, not that the kingdom of heaven was come, but that it was at hand (Matt. x. 7). Moreover, that the kingdom did not come in our Lord's time, nor at the day of Pentecost, is evident from the fact that in His prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives our Lord gave His disciples certain tokens by which they might know that the kingdom of God was nigh at hand (Luke xxi. 31).

     We find, therefore, the following conclusions plainly deducible from our Lord's teaching:

1. That a great crisis, or consummation, called 'the kingdom of heaven, or of God,' was proclaimed by Him to be nigh. 2. That this consummation, though near, was not to take place in His own lifetime, nor yet for some years after His death. 3. That His disciples, or at least some of them, might expect to witness its arrival.

     But the whole subject of 'the kingdom of heaven' must be reserved for fuller discussion at a future period.



     There is another point of resemblance between the preaching of our Lord and that of John the Baptist. Both gave the clearest intimations of the near approach of a time of judgment which should overtake the existing generation, on account of their rejection of the warnings and invitations of divine mercy. As the Baptist spoke of 'the coming wrath,' so our Lord with equal distinctness forewarned the people of 'coming judgment.' He upbraided 'the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not,' and predicted that a heavier woe would overtake them than had fallen upon Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrha (Matt. xi. 20-24). That all this points to a catastrophe which was not remote, but near, and which would actually overtake the existing generation, appears evident from the express statements of Jesus.

Matt. xii. 38-46 (compare Luke xi. 16, 24-36): 'Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with generation, and condemn it, for sue came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.'

     This passage is of great importance in ascertaining the true meaning of the phrase 'this generation' [genea]. It can only refer, in this place, to the people of Israel then living- the existing generation. No commentator has ever proposed to call 'genea' here the Jewish race in all ages. Our Lord was accustomed to speak of His contemporaries as this generation:

     Whereunto shall I liken this generation?'- that is, the men of that day who would listen neither to His forerunner nor to Himself' (Matt. xi. 16; Luke vii. 31). Even commentators like Stier, who contend for the rendering of 'genea' by race or lineage in other passages, admit that the reference in these words is 'to the generation living in that then extant and most important age.' (1) So in the passage before us there can be no controversy respecting the application of the words exclusively to the then existing generation, the contemporaries of Christ. Of the aggravated and enormous wickedness of that period our Lord here testifies. The generation has just before been addressed by Him in the very words of the Baptist- ' O brood of vipers' (ver. 34). Its guilt is declared to surpass that of the heathen; it is likened to a demoniac, from whom the unclean spirit had departed for a while, but returned in greater force than before, accompanied by seven other spirits more wicked than himself, so that 'the last state of that man is worse than that first.' We have in the testimony of Josephus a striking confirmation of our Lord's description of the moral condition of that generation. 'As it were impossible to relate their enormities in detail, I shall briefly state that no other city ever endured similar calamities, and no generation ever existed more prolific in crime. They confessed themselves to be, what they were- slaves, and the very dregs of society, the spurious and polluted spawn of the nation.' (2) 'And here I cannot refrain from expressing what my feelings suggest. I am of opinion, that had the Romans deferred the punishment of these wretches, either the earth would have opened and swallowed up the city, or it would have been swept away by a deluge, or have shared the shun. defaults of the land of Sodom. For it produced a race far more ungodly than those who were thus visited. For through the desperate madness of these men the whole nation was involved in their ruin.' (3) 'That period had somehow become so prolific in iniquity of every description amongst the Jews, that no work of evil was left unperpetrated; . . . so universal was the contagion, both in public and private, and such the emulation to surpass each other in acts of impiety towards God, and of injustice towards their neighbors.' (4)

     Such was the fearful condition to which the nation was hastening when our Lord uttered these prophetic words. The climax had not yet been reached, but it was full in view. The unclean spirit had not yet returned to his house, but he was on the way. As Stier remarks, 'In the period between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem, especially towards the end of it, this nation shows itself, one might say, as if possessed by seven thousand devils.' (5) Is not this an adequate and complete fulfilment of our Saviour's prediction? Have we the slightest warrant or need for saying that it means something else, or something more, than this? What presence is there for supposing a further and future fulfilment of His words? Is it not a virtual discrediting of the prophecy to seek any other than the plain and obvious sense which points so distinctly to an approaching catastrophe about to befall that generation? Surely we show most reverence to the Word of God when we accept implicitly its obvious teaching, and refuse the unwarranted and merely human speculations which critics and theologians have drawn from their own fancy. We conclude, then, that, in the notorious profligacy of that age, and the signal calamities which before its close overwhelmed the Jewish people, we have the historical attestation of the exhaustive fulfilment of this prophecy.



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