The parousia

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Dr. J. M. Macdonald’s Life and Writings of St. John.


This volume was ready for the press before the author had an opportunity of consulting the elaborate work of Dr. Macdonald of the Life and Writings of St. John. Though it cannot be said that Dr. Macdonald does for St. John what Conybeare and Howson have done for St. Paul, yet there is much that is valuable in his work. It is especially gratifying to the author to find that, on the difficult question of ‘the two witnesses,’ Dr. Macdonald has arrived at a conclusion almost identical with his own. It would seem, however, to be with Dr. Macdonald only a happy guess. Paley says, ‘He discovers who proves;’ and Dr. Macdonald has not gone deeply into the investigation of the problem.

On the question of the date of the Apocalypse Dr. Macdonald unhesitatingly pronounces for the early date; and his remarks on this subject are weighty and powerful. He sees, what indeed is obvious enough, that the internal evidence settles the question beyond all controversy.

But Dr. Macdonald has failed, as so many expositors have failed, to find the true key to the Apocalypse. He follows Moses Stuart closely in the interpretation of the latter portion of the Revelation, and sees in the harlot city, not Jerusalem, but Rome. There is an inconsistency in his statements respecting Babylon (the city on the Euphrates) which amounts to self-contradiction. At page 138 he represents the literal Babylon as a large and populous city in the time of St. Peter, and quotes with approval from J. D. Michaelis and D. F. Bacon to show that it had a large Jewish population and offered a most desirable field for the labours of that apostle. At page 225, however, he says: ‘The literal Babylon was no more. The prophecies in regard to it uttered by Isaiah had long since been fulfilled.’ Both these statements cannot be correct. We have the clearest evidence that in the apostolic age Babylon was a deserted city. Probably the province, Babylonia, is confounded with the city, Babylon.

The following extracts are interesting and valuable:---

 Date of the Apocalypse.


‘The external evidence seems, on the whole, to be of comparatively little value in deciding the true date of the Apocalypse. The main reliance, it is clear, must be upon the argument from internal evidence. When it has been made to appear that Irenaeus says nothing respecting the time when the Book of Revelation was written, and that Eusebius ascribes its authorship to another John than the apostle, it is sufficiently evident that the remaining testimony of antiquity, conflicting as it is, or about evenly balanced between the earlier and later date, is of little account in deciding the question. And when we open the book itself, and find inscribed on its very pages evidence that at the time it was written Jewish enemies were still arrogant and active in the city in which our Lord was crucified, and that the temple and altar in it were still standing, we need no date from early antiquity, nor even from the hand of the author himself, to inform us that he wrote before that great historical even and prophetic epoch, the destruction of Jerusalem.’---Pp. 171, 172.


The Two witnesses. (Rev. xi.)

‘If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans . . . . But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth. During the time the Romans were to read down the Holy Land and the city, they were to prophecy. Their being clothed in sackcloth intimates the mourningful character of their mission. In their designation as the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks or lamps standing before God, there is an allusion to Zechariah iv., where these two symbols are interpreted of the two anointed ones, Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the prince, founder of the second temple. The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light. They possess the power of working miracles as wonderful as any of those performed by Moses and Elijah. What is here predicted must have been fulfilled before the close of the miraculous or apostolic age. All who find here a prediction of the state of the church during the ascendancy of the Papacy, or at any period subsequent to the age of the apostles, are of course under the necessity of explaining away all this language which attributes miraculous power to the witnesses. They were at length to fall victims to the war, or to the same power that waged the war, and their bodies were to lie unburied three days and a half in the streets of the city where Christ was crucified. Their resurrection and ascension to heaven must be interpreted literally; although, as in the case of the miracles they performed, there is no historical record of the events themselves. If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case; and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled. The wave of ruin which swept over Jerusalem, and wafted them up to heaven, erased or prevented every human memento of their work of faith, their patience of hope, and labour of love. The prophecy that foretold them is their only history, or the only history of the part they were to take in the closing scenes of Jerusalem. We conclude, then, that these witnesses were two of those apostles who seem to be so strangely lost to history, or of whom no authentic traces can be discovered subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem. May not James the Less, or the second James (in distinction from the brother of John), commonly styled the Bishop of Jerusalem, have been one of them? Why should he not remain faithful at his post to the last? According to Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian historian, who wrote about the middle of the second century, his monument was still pointed out near the ruins of the temple. Hegesippus says that he was killed in the year 69, and represents the apostle as bearing powerful testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus, and pointing to His second coming in the clouds of heaven, up to the very moment of his death. There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God.’---Pp. 161, 162.



Bishop Warburton on ‘Our Lord’s Prophecy on the Mount of Olives,’ and on ‘The Kingdom of Heaven.’

The following observations by the learned author of ‘The Divine Legation’ are in remarkable accord with the opinions expressed in this work:---

‘The prophecy of Jesus concerning the approaching destruction of Jerusalem by Titus is conceived in such high and swelling terms, that not only the modern interpreters, but the ancient likewise, have supposed that our Lord interweaves into it a direct prediction of His second coming to judgment. Hence arose a current opinion in those times that the consummation of all things was at hand; which hath afforded a handle to an infidel objection in these, insinuating that Jesus, in order to keep His followers attached to His service, and patient under sufferings, flattered them with the near approach of those rewards which completed all their views and expectations. To which the defenders of religion have opposed this answer: That the distinction of short and long, in the duration of time, is lost in eternity; and with the Almighty, "a thousand years are but as yesterday," etc.

‘But the principle both go upon is false; and if what hath been said be duly weighed, it will appear that this prophecy doth not respect Christ’s second coming to judgment, but His first; in the abolition of the Jewish polity and the establishment of the Christian,---that kingdom of Christ which commenced on the total ceasing of the Theocracy. For as God’s reign over the Jews entirely ended with the abolition of the temple service, so the reign of Christ, "in spirit and in truth," had then its first beginning. This was the true establishment of Christianity, not that effected by the conversion or donations of Constantine. Till the Jewish law was abolished, over which the "Father" presided as King, the reign of the "Son" could not take place; because the sovereignty of Christ over mankind was that very sovereignty of God over the Jews transferred and more largely extended.

‘This, therefore, being on of the most important eras in the economy of grace, and the most awful revolution in all God’s religious dispensations, we see the elegance and propriety of the terms in question to denote so great an event, together with the destruction of Jerusalem, by which it was effected; for in the whole prophetic language, the change and fall of principalities and powers, whether spiritual or civil, are signified by the shaking of heavens and earth, the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars; as the rise and establishment of new ones are by processions in the clouds of heaven, by the sound of trumpets, and the assembling together of hosts and congregations.’

The author avails himself of this opportunity to make a few observations on
several points which have come under his notice since the first publication
of this volume.

DOLLINGER ON "The Man of Sin"

It is with great satisfaction that he finds himself in substantial agreement with the distinguished ecclesiastical historian and theologian, Dr. Dollinger, of Munich, in his interpretation of St. Paul's prediction in 2 Thessalonians. (1) Dr. Dollinger distinctly identifies the "Man of Sin" with Nero, a conclusion now so generally accepted by the highest authorities, that it may be regarded as a settled point. (2) He clearly distinguishes between the "Man of Sin" and "the Apostasy," so frequently confounded by the mass of interpreters.  Dollinger shows that the former is a person, the latter a heresy. (3) He recognizes "the Beast" of the Apocalypse as the Emperor, and therefore identical with the "Man of Sin." (4) The miracles wrought by the "Second Beast" (the Beast from the earth) he regards as a representation derived from our Lord's prophecy on the Mount of Olives.

"Magical and theurgic arts are inseparable from Heathenism."

The whole of Dr. Dollinger's observations on this subject are most important, but as they are too lengthy for quotation here, the reader is referred to the "First Age of the Church," vol. 2. pp. 79-96. It is only fair to add that Dollinger seems to hold a personal Antichrist, and a twofold or typical fulfillment of prophecy.


The belief that Rome is the Babylon of the Apocalypse is so firmly established in most minds, that nothing but the clearest evidence to the contrary will be able to dislodge it.  Yet some of the ablest critics long since suspected that Babylon was a pseudonym of ancient Jerusalem. The illustrious Herder in his Commentary on the Book of Revelation affirms -

"Rome was not in the circle of the prophet's vision, nor is Rome in coincidence with the symbols and metaphors; but the resemblance to Jerusalem is as perfect as the case can be supposed to furnish" (p. 153).

The well-known commentator, John David Michaelis, shrewdly conjectured that Babylon is identical with Jerusalem. Speaking of the place from which the First Epistle of Peter was written, he says:

"If I could only find a single authority for calling Jerusalem by the name of Babylon, I would rather follow Cappellus and Harduin who take Jerusalem to have been the place; which was also, according to Cyril of Alexandria, meant by Isaiah when he is speaking of Babylon. For the contents of this Epistle are not so well suited to any time as to that soon after the Council of Jerusalem, whilst Peter continued in that city.  It is not impossible that St. Peter might call Jerusalem by the name of Babylon after she had begun to persecute the Church; and the expression of the elected church at Babylon seems to imply a paradox which would be removed had Jerusalem itself been named. It is therefore not improbable that St. Peter might in an epistle make use of this figurative and opprobrious name to signify Jerusalem. . . . Add to this that St. Peter sends a salutation from Mark, and this Mark, who was also called John, was returned to Jerusalem, not long before the said Council (Acts 13:13) All circumstances thus concurring, and it being never more necessary to the Gentile converts that they should 'stand in the true grace of God,' it appears to me, whilst I am writing, probable in the highest degree, that this Epistle was written at Jerusalem soon after the Council, i.e., in the year of Christ 49. . . . I am the less influenced by the testimony of the ancients to the contrary, as the matter depends not upon the historical question, whether St. Peter ever was at Rome, but upon the critical question, whether he calls Rome by the name of Babylon?"

Michaelis has placed this title in the margin -

"The First Epistle of St. Peter was written at Jerusalem at the time of the first council" (See Introd. Lect. to the "Sacred Books of the New Testament,"  by J. D. Michaelis, § 148).


It has been supposed that the description of the "great city" in the Apocalypse, as seated on seven city hills, is conclusive evidence that Rome is here intended. The reader will see how this point is dealt with in its proper place. The author has shown how Zullig enumerates seven hills or mountains in Jerusalem. Herder also remarks -

"The seven heads of the Beast are said to be seven mountains; assuming the woman to be a city founded upon seven mountains.  Such was the situation of Jerusalem." (Comm., Herder, p. 156)

As Herder does not stay to prove his assertion, it may be well to supplement it with evidence of a confirmatory kind.  Dr. Lange, in his discussion respecting the site of Golgotha, observes -

"Jeremiah predicts (Jer. 31:36-40) that the city should in future times extend beyond the north wall (the second wall) and inclose Gibeat Gareb, or the Leper's Hill, and Gibeat Goath, or the Hill of Death (of roaring, groaning). The position of Gareb can correspond only with Under Bezetha, and the position of Goath only with Upper Bezetha where Golgotha rose. Both of these elevations were inclosed by Agrippa, as parts of the new city, and lay inside the third wall. From the context we learn that Gareb and Goath were unclean places, but, being measured in with the holy city, became sanctified. That the Goath hill of Jeremiah is identical with the Golgotha of the Evangelists, is more than probable. The wall of Agrippa was built around Bezetha by Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great" (Lange on Matt. 27:33).

A sketch-plan of ancient Jerusalem, showing Mount Gareb and Mount Goath is given in "Palestine Explored," by the Rev. James Neil, M.A., formerly incumbent of Christ Church, Jerusalem. Mr. Neil enumerates the seven hills on which the city was built, Mount Zion, Mount Ophel, Mount Moriah, Mount Bezetha, Mount Acra, Mount Gareb, and Mount Goath.


Doubtless most readers will shrink from the demand made upon their faith, when they are asked to believe that the predictions of our Lord in Matt. 24, and the kindred prophecy of St. Paul in 1 Thess. 4., had a veritable accomplishment.  Many will regard it as an extravagance which refutes itself.  Let them consider whether this demand is not made by the most express affirmations of Inspiration. These predictions are bounded by certain limits of time. The time is explicitly declared to fall within the period of the then existing generation. No artifice of logic, no violence of interpretation, can evade or gainsay this undeniable fact. credible or incredible, reasonable or unreasonable, the authority of Scripture is committed to the affirmation. And why should it be thought incredible?  The reply will be, "Because there is no historical evidence of the fact."

This, however, is an assumption. It deserves consideration whether we have not all the evidence which the nature of the case admits. What evidence, for example, may be reasonably required that the most seemingly incredible event predicted in Matt. 24:31, and in 1 Thess. 4:17, commonly denominated "the rapture of the saints," actually took place?  The principal, if not the only, portion that seems to come within the cognizance of human sense, is the removal of a great multitude of the disciples of Christ from this earthly scene. We might expect, therefore, that there should be some trace in history of this sudden disappearance of so vast a body of believers. It surely must have made a blank in history; a failure, at the least, in the continuity of the records of Christianity. Admitting that the predictions do not require an absolute and universal removal of the whole body of the faithful (for it is manifest that there is a clear distinction made between the watchful and the unwatchful, the ready and the unready, and that as many might be shut out of the kingdom as those who went in), yet the language of the prophecy certainly implies the sudden and simultaneous removal of a very great number of the faithful. Is there, then, any vestige in history of such a blank? Most certainly there is, and just such an indication as we might expect. A silence which is expressive. Silence where, a moment before, all was life and activity. The ecclesiastical historian will tell you that the light suddenly fails him. The Christian Church of Jerusalem, of which an apostle could say, "Thou seest, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jews which have believed," suddenly dwindles into two wretched sects of Ebionites and Nazarenes. Where are the many myriads of St. James?  Where are the hundred and forty and four thousand" whom St. John saw, with the seal of God on their foreheads, and standing with the Lamb on the Mount Zion? Did they perish in the siege of Jerusalem?  Certainly not; for it is universally agreed that, forewarned by their Divine Master, they retired from the doomed city to a place of safety.  Yet they seem to disappear and leave no trace behind.  Ask the ecclesiastical historian to put his finger on the spot where the records of early Christianity are most obscure, and he will unhesitatingly point to the period when the Acts of the Apostles end. Of this period the learned Neander says that, "We have no information, nor can the total want of sources for this part of Church history be at all surprising." And, again, he speaks of "the age immediately succeeding the Apostolic," of which we have unfortunately so few authentic memorials ("Planting and Training," chaps. v. and x.). Hiudekoper, a Dutch theologian, in his work entitled, "Christ's Descent to the Under-world," remarks that

"On leaving the Apostolic age we almost lose sight of the Christians in a historical chasm of sixty or eighty years."

Archdeacon Farrar more emphatically dwells upon the fact and probable cause of this unaccountable eclipse -

"Although we are so fully acquainted with the thoughts and feelings of the early Christians, yet the facts of their corporate history, and even the closing details in the biographies of their very greatest teachers are plunged in entire uncertainty. When, with the last word in the Acts of the Apostles, we lose the graphic and faithful guidance of St. Luke, the torch of Christian history is for a time abruptly quenched. We are left, as it were, to grope among the windings of the Catacombs. Even the final labors of the life of St. Paul are only so far known as we may dimly infer from the casual allusions of the Pastoral Epistles. For the details of many years in the life of St. Peter, we have nothing on which to rely, except slight and vague allusions, floating rumors, and false impressions, created by the deliberate fictions of heretical romance.

"It is probable that this silence is in itself the result of the terrible scenes in which the apostles perished. It was indispensable to the safety of the whole community that the books of the Christians, when given up by the unhappy weakness of 'traditores,' or discovered by the keen malignity of informers, should contain no compromising matter. But how would it have been possible for St. Luke to write in a manner otherwise than compromising, if he had detailed the horrors of the Neronian persecution?  It is a reasonable conjecture that the sudden close of the Acts of the Apostles may have been due to the impossibility of speaking without indignation and abhorrence of the Emperor and the Government, which, between A.D. 64 and 68, sanctioned the infliction upon innocent men and women, of atrocities which excited the pity of the very Pagans. The Jew and the Christians who entered on such themes, could only do so under the disguise of a cryptograph, hiding his meaning from all but the initiated few, in such prophetic symbols as those of the Apocalypse. In that book alone we are enabled to hear the cry of horror which Nero's brutal cruelties wrung from Christian hearts." ("The Early Days of Christianity," vol. 2. pp. 82, 83)

Still more vividly and forcibly, if possible, the case is put by the able reviewer of Renan's "St. Paul" in the pages of "The Edinburgh Review," April, 1870 -

"This volume ["The Life of St. Paul"] takes us through the whole period of, what we may call, the ministry of the great apostle, embracing those all-important fifteen or sixteen years (A.D. 45-61), during which his three missionary journeys were undertaken, and the infant Church, with four bold strides, advanced from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Ephesus, from Ephesus to Corinth, and from Corinth to Rome. Once arrived there, once securely planted in that central and commanding position, strange to say, the Church, with all its dramatis personae, suddenly vanishes from our view.  The densest clouds of obscurity immediately gather round its history, which our eager curiosity in vain attempts to penetrate. It is gone, amid a wreath of smoke, as completely as when a train plunges into a tunnel. In the words of M. Renan - 'The arrival of St. Paul at Rome, owing to the decision taken by the author of the "Acts" to close his narrative at that point, marks for the history of the origin of Christianity the commencement of a profound night, illuminated only by the lurid fire of Nero's horrible festivities, and by the lightning flash of the Apocalypse.' The causes of this sudden and confounding disappearance have not, to this day, been thoroughly investigated. . . . The history of St. Paul's life, and the history of the Apostolic age, together abruptly end. Black darkness falls upon the scene, and a grim and brooding silence - like the silence of impending storm - holds in hushed expectation of the 'day of the Lord' the awe-struck, breathless Church. No more books are written, no more messengers are sent, the very voice of tradition is still.  One voice alone, from amid the silence and the dread, breaks upon the straining ear; it is the Apocalyptic vengeance-cry from Patmos, 'Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen!  Rejoice over her, thou heaven! and ye holy apostles and prophets! for God hath avenged you on her:  she shall be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.' " (Rev.18:20)


It remains for the reader to consider, whether the causes suggested in the preceding quotations furnish an adequate explanation of this singular phenomenon; or whether the solution of the problem is not to be found in the actual occurrence of the events predicted by our Lord and His apostles.  There, in the written record of Inspiration, stand the ineffaceable words which foretell the speedy return of the Son of Man to judge the guilty nation and avenge His own elect. His coming was indissolubly connected with that same generation. The attendant circumstances of His coming are set forth with marked precision. Everything points to a sudden, swift, far-reaching catastrophe, analogous to that which took place "in the days of Noah when the flood came, and took them all away," or in the days of Lot, when the tempest of wrath overwhelmed Sodom and Gomorrah. These are the very images used by  our Lord to describe the suddenness and swiftness of His appearing. No wonder  that there should be a "total blank" in contemporary history; that there should be a solution of continuity in the records of the Christian Church; that the pen of St. Mark should be arrested in the midst of an unfinished sentence; that St. Luke should abruptly break off his narrative of the life and labors of St. Paul. Grant that there is no failure in the predictions of Christ; that His words had a veritable accomplishment; and all is explained. There is an adequate cause for the otherwise unaccountable hiatus which occurs in the Christian history of the time, and for the total obscuration of the Church, and all its greatest luminaries. Is it unreasonable to ask that the plainest declarations of the Lord Himself, and of His inspired witnesses should obtain a candid hearing, and a cordial belief, from all who own Him as Lord and Master?  Surely that robust faith is not utterly extinct, which once could say, "Let God be true, and every man a liar."

This postscript may close with the impressive caution of a great critic and theologian of the last century, which, though it has special reference to the  Apocalypse, is equally applicable to the whole prophetical portion of the New Testament.

"If it be objected that the prophecies in the Apocalypse are not yet fulfilled, that they are therefore not fully understood, and that hence arises the difference of opinion in respect to their meaning, I answer, that if the prophecies are not yet fulfilled, it is wholly impossible that the Apocalypse should be a Divine work; since the author expressly declares (Rev. 1:1) that the things which it contains 'must shortly come to pass.' Consequently, either a great part of them, I will not say all, must have been fulfilled, or the author's declaration, that they should shortly be completed, is not consistent with fact. It is true that to the Almighty a thousand years are but as one day, and one day as a thousand years; but if we  therefore explain the term 'shortly,' as denoting a period longer than that  which has elapsed since the Apocalypse was written, we sacrifice the love of  truth to the support of a preconceived opinion. For when the Deity condescends to communicate information to mankind, He will of course use such  language as is intelligible to mankind; and not name a period short which all  men consider as long, or the communication will be totally useless. Besides,  in reference to God's eternity, not only seventeen hundred but seventeen  thousand years are nothing. But the author of the Apocalypse himself has  wholly precluded any such evasion, by explaining (Rev. 1:3) what he meant by  the term 'shortly,' for he there says, 'Blessed is he that readeth, and they  that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written  therein; for the time is at hand.' According, therefore, to the author's own  declaration, the Apocalypse contains prophecies with which the very persons  to whom it was sent were immediately concerned. But if none of these  prophecies were designed to be completed till long after their death, those  persons were not immediately concerned with them, and the author would surely  not have said that they were blessed in reading prophecies of which the time  was at hand, if those prophecies were not to be fulfilled till after the  lapse of many ages" (J. D. Michaelis, "Introduction to the New Testament,"  vol. 4. pp. 503, 504).
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