"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke ch. 21:26.
IN considering the teaching of Scripture on the coming personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary to have an unprejudiced mind. Too often, a preconceived view prevents that full liberty to the Holy Spirit without Whom things to come cannot be discerned by the natural mind. It is He Who guides into all the truth. When sometimes after a long struggle, we lay aside the philosophies of men and take to our knees, we discover at once what problems the human mind weaves so fruitlessly for itself and how wonderfully His Good Spirit resolves them for us. Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned. The truth the Holy Spirit reveals cannot be appreciated by an unspiritual mind, and therefore we are not surprised that the great outstanding truth of the New Testament should be denied and even ridiculed by so many.
For the Christian worker today nothing is more important than a clear understanding of God's purpose in this present dispensation. When God was manifested in the flesh in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ men rejected Him. The King came, proclaiming the kingdom but His sceptre was refused. Out of that rejection proceeded the mystery of the Church. When our Lord ascended He left behind Him those who on the Day of Pentecost were filled with the Holy Spirit and became the Church, His Body, and His Witness in the world. It was not possible that the Kingdom could be founded in a society, which had rejected the King. Therefore the mystery of the Church emerged as men and women were called out from the world by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. The kingdom is to come on the earth but not until the rejected King returns. Our Lord left His command to preach the gospel, He left no command to the Church to attempt to permeate an unchristian society with Christian principles. The Kingdom of God is to be established in the hearts of a redeemed people: it is an impossibility in an unredeemed, unregenerate society.
And since it is a kingdom it implies the presence of the king; where the kingdom is there the king must be. It corresponds with our ideas of the fitness of things and the New Testament is literally full of declarations that so it will be. This truth is indigenous to the Scriptures and if it is to be rejected they must go with it. To the writer as a Baptist it is nothing less than amazing that theologians who, on the authority of the New Testament claim to be Baptists, refuse the same authority for this truth. If the New Testament is sound enough basis for the baptism of believers by immersion, as it is, then it is a sounder basis for the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again in like manner as the disciples saw Him go into heaven.
By every word of Scripture it may confidently be claimed that He is to return. The promise of Acts ch.1v 8 has never been fulfilled. We cannot doubt that such a word at such a solemn moment was intended to be literally accomplished. Certainly the promise is not fulfilled when the believer dies. St. Paul declared to the Christians in Corinth what he had " received of the Lord " concerning the observance of the Lord's Supper. He enjoins them to observe it "until He come." If the coming is at the death of the believer, then " until death" would have made it clear. And if, as others assert, our Lord came at the fall of Jerusalem, by what amazing contradiction do those who hold this view continue to observe a sacrament which, if they are right, should have ceased in A.D. 70? To one generation of disciples our Lord has had to say "O fools, and, slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." May it be our wisdom to heed His word.
Yet in the minds of many who accept the general truth in this matter there is a disposition to leave the subject alone because our Lord definitely affirmed, " Of that hour knoweth no man, not even the Son but the Father." The writer accepts the English translation although it can be contested. But it is not the final word. The actual moment of His coming is an eternal secret, but the signs of His approach have been clearly revealed. Certainly we must be careful that we do not fall into the error of that cheap criticism which declares God has nothing to do with days and hours; for if the Creator of the sun and moon is oblivious to time, who is conscious of it? Further, while the course of events shows clearly that had the actual year been revealed to the first disciples it would have been fatal to the early church, yet if our hope is to be kept alive we may reasonably anticipate that the Holy Spirit will reveal some signs of the fulfilment of prophecy in history.
It has been claimed that the words of our Lord in Luke 21: are of doubtful authenticity. We are assured in *(The Lord of Thought by Dougall and Emmett, page 299) " it is rash to use this chapter, even in its Marcan form, as evidence that Christ adopted apocalyptic ideas." Let us suppose it is the insertion of another hand. Shall we not acknowledge in ordinary justice that he has made a splendid guess as to the condition of the world in later times? Would the reader care to write a forecast of even five years hence? Would not our modernists paint a glowing picture of the world in 1000 years' time altogether different from the dyspeptic outlook of this unknown interpolator? If Christ did not utter these words out of His Divine wisdom, who was the prophetic genius who could see the world after centuries of Christian teaching in the awful conditions which are so true in their reflection of our time?
That our Lord had prophetic authority we do not doubt. With His disciples He surveyed the temple " adorned with goodly stones," and to the amazement of those about Him declared " not one stone upon another, " should remain. His words were literally fulfilled, for the very foundations were ploughed up. That temple, representative of civilisation, culture, art and religion, perished even as He said. So too He saw " Jerusalem compassed with armies" and in the thought of it wept over the city. What He has to say as to the future should make us ponder, if nothing more.
Let us then consider the signs mentioned by our Lord. He declared there would be spiritual confusion centring in Him. It is worthy of notice that our Lord saw very clearly that He was to be the factor in the world's religious life. That He is the centre of religious confusion there can be no doubt. Christian Science, Spiritualism, Russellism, Christadelphianism all give Him a place, but not the place the Scriptures give Him. A halo is thrown around any cult by the character of Christ as a Good Man, but as a Crucified Redeemer, through Whom alone salvation from sin is secured, He is still rejected. All over the world the Name of Christ is commanding respect, but it is the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount, it is not the Crucified Christ through Whose blood we have forgiveness of sins.There are to be wars and anarchy. How truly such a word describes our times needs no emphasis. As to anarchy the world is rife. It is beautiful poetry to call it the birth throes of a new era it is the hard fact that the world is perishing in its sin. "Nation shall rise against nation." All around us is bitter hatred. Self-determination in the world has resulted not in peace but in new boundaries bristling with bayonets.
All small nations, given their liberty, have rushed to defend themselves. One recognises the political value of the League of Nations, but it is powerless to stop war. War is the fruit of sin, and while sin remains wars must be. The worldwide distress of nations from China to Mexico is all too apparent. Settlement is nowhere to be found. The whole world is seething with discontent and unrest. Strange indeed that after 2,000 years of Christian teaching so it should be. And are not men's hearts failing them for fear? Statesmen were never so unable to forecast the future as to day. Diplomacy is paralysed with unspeakable dread. There are to be cosmic disturbances as signs of His coming. It is rather a big step in the faith of some to connect signs in the sun, moon and stars, earthquakes and famines with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. But one or two points are worthy of consideration.
We believe in the star of Bethlehem guiding the wise men from the cast. We believe that when our Lord was crucified there was " darkness over all the earth." St. Paul assures the Colossian Christians " For by Him -were all things created," and " by Him all things hold together." As to the prevalence of earthquakes and other phenomena of land and sea and sky each must note the occasions for himself. During the last few months great upheavals and shocks of nature have abounded in various parts of the world. Recent events have produced many freaks of weather which cause many people to ask the question What is this mystery? Why does not some scientist come forward with a detailed explanation, or are all these weather changes still subjects of conjecture?
Of course, these things do not prove that the Lord's return is near. It may be so, but possibly conditions have yet to get much worse. God's people, however, as they see evil coming to its consummation, need not be troubled, for when these things begin to come to pass, then is the time not to look down but to look up, "for the time of redemption draweth nigh." Such an attitude does not mean hypocritical indifference to the fortunes of our fellows. On the contrary, by believing these things new nerve will be given to the enterprise of preaching the gospel and pleading with all men everywhere to accept salvation at the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church sadly needs a new inspiration to evangelism. It will find it as it correctly interprets the signs of the times.
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