That Christ will come again, and come again in person, is agreed by all Christians. The testimony of Scripture is so plain and explicit that no one who believes it to be inspired questions the fact. Some indeed suppose that in a certain sense, Christ came at the destruction of Jerusalem; others that He comes at death; some again speak of His coming to the soul of each believer in the power of the Holy Spirit; still others that He comes in great providential crises, etc.
But all alike look for a coming of Christ beyond all these, a coming "in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." It is of this event we have to speak.
Another fact, concerning which there is little or no question among those who believe the Bible to be an inspired book, is the certainty of a future period of universal blessedness on earth. Scripture so plainly teaches this that hours would be consumed in simply citing passages.
And here also there are differences of opinion as to the means by which, and the time at which this period will be introduced; but as to the fact there is no doubt. The question before us is, which of these two events comes first? Are we to expect the Millennium before the Lord returns in person, or are we to look for His coming to introduce the Millennium? The Word of God alone must decide, and its decision must stand, whether we appreciate its full significance
We suggest certain lines of Scripture proof.
1. The prophet Daniel, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the great image, says: "In the days of these kings (i.e., the ten kingdoms represented by the 'toes' of the colossus) shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (2:44; cf. also 7:13,14,27). This was the specific prophecy, on which, together with all the Old Testament prophecies, the Jews based their expectation of the Messiah's kingdom.
Now, it was during the existence of the last of the four world-empires, represented by the "legs of iron" (2:40)—generally agreed to mean Rome—and before it was broken up into its ten-toed condition, and while still in its full power and integrity, that Jesus Christ appeared among men, and Christianity, or the Gospel age, began.
The miracles that Christ wrought and the doctrines He promulgated were so extraordinary, the multitudes in Judea thought the kingdom spoken of by Daniel was immediately to be set up. Then Jesus spake a parable to them of "a certain nobleman, who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return" (Luke 19:11 and following). The "nobleman" is Christ. The people thought the kingdom should "immediately appear." "No," says Jesus in the parable, "I must first go into a far country and receive the kingdom from my Father, and return, before it can be set up." Nothing can be plainer or more decisive than this. And then the parable goes on to describe what would occur prior to the setting up of the predicted kingdom. There is not a hint about the gradual spread of truth and righteousness till the whole world should be ready to receive Christ for its King. Instead, we have the endowing of His servants with gifts to be employed for Him during His absence, and until His return—"Occupy till I come";—we have the deliberate and general rejection of Him by the world—"His citizens hated Him," "we will not have this man to reign over us"—we have His investiture with the kingdom during His absence, according to our Lord's words to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world"; also Daniel's testimony, "I saw one like unto the Son of Man come unto the Ancient of Days; and there was given unto Him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples and nations and languages should serve Him" (Dan. 7:13,14); next, in the parable, we have the Lord's Return, "having received the kingdom"; then follows the rewarding of the faithful servant, the judgment of the unfaithful and the slaying of the "enemies," with which the scene closes.
There is nothing beyond this, except the kingdom itself. If language can teach anything plainly, this is clear, that the kingdom which the people thought was "immediately" to appear was not to "appear" till all these events should first transpire; but one of those events is the Return of the Lord. It follows then that Christ will come again before the Millennium begins.
2. Again, in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 we have a discourse by our Lord to His disciples. In it He predicts the destruction of the temple, the overthrow of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the surviving Jews—"For there shall be great distress in the land and wrath upon the people. And they shall fall by the sword and shall be led captive into all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). And what is to be the end of this period of suffering and dispersion? The words of Jesus are explicit—"Immediately after the tribulation of those days" (not after a millennium of peace and blessing), "shall the sun be darkened, etc., and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:29,30). Could anything be more explicit? Those days of tribulation, as Luke teaches, begin with the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, already eighteen centuries ago. They continue through the whole period of the dispersion, until the "times of the Gentiles" be fulfilled, and they end, as all three evangelists tell us, with the coming of the Son of man. If then, we ask, there is to be a period of millennial blessedness, and this is impossible during the continuance of Jewish tribulation and dispersion, which dispersion reaches on to the Coming of the Lord, is it not plain that there can be no millennium before Christ Himself returns?
3. Consider next, Acts 3:20,21, "And He shall send Jesus Christ...whom the heaven must receive [i.e. retain] until the times of restitution [restoration] of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." Those "times of restoration of all things," none will dispute, refer to some period of universal blessedness and peace still in the future, a future limited by the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven—"whom the heaven must retain until the times of restitution." Peter does not say, "must retain" during the times of restitution, or until the end of them, but "until the times" i.e., until those times arrive. Paul testified before King Agrippa, "I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made to our fathers, unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly [earnestly] serving God night and day, hope to come [attain]" (Acts 26:6,7).
Clearly then Christ does not come at the close of the millennial period, but at its commencement—to introduce it.
4. Take another line of proof. In 2 Thess. 2:3-8, Paul describes the events which would occur between the time in which he was writing and the Coming of the Day of Christ. "That day shall not come," he says, "except there come"—What? The millennium? No, but "a falling away first, and the man of sin be revealed, etc." And to show that the millennium cannot ensue before the coming of Christ, the apostle goes on to say, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work," only there is one that restraineth now until he be taken out of the way. If then "the mystery of iniquity" was already working in the apostle's day and ultimately to head up in the person of the "man of sin," the "son of perdition"; and if that "wicked (lawless) one" is to continue and work until the return of the Lord, and only to be destroyed by the "brightness of His coming"—the outshining of His parousia,—how then, we ask, can there be an intervening millennium?
5. The New Testament teaching concerning the resurrection of believers is another line of proof. 1 Thess. 4:15,16 tells us that "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven" to raise the righteous dead and translate the righteous living—them that "remain unto the coming of the Lord." To this accords 1 Cor. 15:23, "Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming," and Rev. 20:5,6, "This is the first resurrection; blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection...they shall reign with Christ a thousand years." This is the resurrection the apostle strove to attain—literally the out-resurrection from among the dead (Phil. 3:11). Taking these passages and others of like import together, we learn that the Lord will come to raise the righteous that they may reign with Him in His kingdom. From 1 Cor. 15:54, we learn what is to follow that coming and resurrection,—"then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory." But where is it so written? Only in one place (Isaiah 25), and that single passage gives force and special point to the citation; for there it stands connected with the introduction of the millennial period (verses 6-8), "In this mountain shall the LORD of Hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things,— He will swallow up death in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away all tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth, for the Lord hath spoken it." The second coming of Christ is therefore at the beginning, and not at the close of the millennium.
6. There is one more line of Scripture proof we would suggest. The Bible presents four great lines of revelation in the outworking of the divine purpose of redemption, viz.: Creation; the Gentiles or nations; Israel; the Church. This is the Old Testament order in its historical unfolding. The New Testament reverses the order and presents first the calling and destiny of the Church; then follows the restoration of the kingdom to Israel under the sway of Messiah's sceptre on David's throne; next the calling of the Gentiles or nations, and last the deliverance of creation from the bondage of corruption. Acts 15:13-18, gives the divine order of events. Each of these lines runs its predicted course of mingled imperfection and pain and suffering until the time of consummation—"the dispensation of the fulness of times"—at the second coming of Him in whom "all things" shall head up (Eph. 1:10). There is no peace, no rest from suffering, no glory for any of these four great subjects of revelation till
(1) Take first the Church.
Everywhere in the New Testament, the Church is presented as an elect body—the ecclesia—and as compared with the multitudes of earth, a small company, a body called out. "Simeon hath declared," says James at that first council in Jerusalem, "how God at the first did visit the Gentiles [the nations], to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). This is the work of the present dispensation. And not only is the Church described as an elect body, but also as a witnessing and persecuted body, in the world but not of it.
The Church's completeness, her consummation as a "glorious church," will not be till Christ comes again in resurrection power. This is her "blessed hope," its fruition to be reigning with Christ in His kingdom over a redeemed world, as His Bride and co-regnant queen. Since then the Church is not complete till "this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
Accordingly, just so soon as the Church (the ecclesia) the fulness (pleroma) of the Gentiles is brought in, then shall "all Israel be saved" (Rom. 11:25,26), and "the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the saints of the Most High" (Dan. 7:27). So here again we learn that there will be no millennium, no kingdom of heaven on earth, until the Messiah Himself comes, and "there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer" (Rom. 11:26).
(3) The Nations and Gentiles.
Again we refer to the passage in Acts 15. When the tabernacle and throne of David shall be restored, it will be in order that "the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord" (comp. Rom. 11:12-15). "Then," according to the Psalmist, "shall the nations be glad and sing for joy, the world also and they that dwell therein"; or as quoted in Rom. 15, "Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people"; again, "Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles"; and again, "Isaiah saith, There shall be a root of Jesse and He that ariseth to rule over the Gentiles, on Him shall the Gentiles hope." This does not refer to the Church, for the Church, which is Christ's Body, is not reigned over but reigns with Him in His kingdom.
There is no peace therefore to the nations, no period of universal blessedness and peace, but rather overturning and overturning, till He shall come, whose right it is, and He shall reign King of kings and Lord of lords.
Then too—and not till then—shall creation itself receive deliverance (Rom. 8:19-23). Like a poor wounded stag, panting for the water-brooks, with outstretched neck, "Creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God"; "for the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." It groans and travails in pain, and "not only [so], but ourselves also...groan within ourselves, waiting for our redemption, to wit, the redemption of our body." But this "redemption of the body" will not be till Christ Himself, "who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Then also shall "the floods clap their hands and the hills be joyful together before the LORD, for He cometh, for He cometh, to judge the earth in righteousness and the peoples with His truth" (Psa. 98:8,9; 96:11-13). There's no rest therefore for Creation until the Lord comes again to restore all things.
We conclude, from whatever direction we approach the truth of Christ's second coming on the lines of Scripture, the verdict is the same and cannot be confuted, that our Lord's Return is Premillennial, possible at any time and always to be watched for by the faithful servant, at "midnight or at cock-crowing or in the morning." Can we wonder then that the aged, beloved Apostle, hearing in his island prison the sublime assurance, thrice from the Lord Himself, "Behold, I come quickly!" should lay down his pen and close the Book of God and respond, "Amen. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."
It may not be amiss to subjoin the testimony of one or two church historians as to the faith of the Primitive Church concerning the coming and kingdom of our Lord, testimony all the more significant in that the writers did not themselves accept the doctrine they attest.
Dr. Philip Schaff in his Church History says, "The most striking point in the eschatology of the ancient church is the widely current and very prominent Chiliasm, or the doctrine of a visible reign of Christ on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years." "This precious hope was a copious fountain of encouragement and comfort under the pains of that martyrdom which sowed the seed of a glorious harvest, or the Church." "In the age of Constantine, however, a radical change took place in this belief. After Christianity contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman Empire, and was embraced by the Caesars themselves, the Millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited for and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearing of Christ or from the conversion of Constantine, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state church."
Dr. Adolph Harnack, in his article on the "Millennium" in the Brit. Encyclopedia, says,—"It must be admitted that this expectation—of the nearness of Christ's second advent and the establishing of His reign of glory on earth—was a prominent feature in the earliest proclamation of the Gospel, and materially contributed to its success." "It was associated, and to all appearance inseparably associated, with the Gospel itself."
The infidel historian Gibbon, among the five reasons (chap, 5) which he gives for the rapid and widespread progress of the Christian religion in the first centuries, mentions this same article of faith in the early church as one of them.
From Meat in Due Season: Sermons, Discourses and Expositions of the Word of Prophecy by Arno C. Gaebelein. New York: Arno C. Gaebelein, Inc., [19--?].
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