Chapter 1 - Its Meaning and Implications

Hope of the Morning Star
 
We are going to take up, the Lord willing, a question (or questions) which of late seem more and more to be dividing those who alike look for the coming of the Lord as near at hand. The question is not, therefore, whether that coming be personal and premillennial or not: for, those for whom I write are equally assured that it is both; and the number of those who possess that assurance is, we may trust, becoming greater every day. For those who may still have question even as to this, there are now everywhere at hand abundant means of satisfaction. Nay, they have only, when once inquiry has been awakened with them, to examine their Bibles with a free and honest heart, to find it. They need but to give credit to Scripture for speaking with the same straightforwardness as we use with one another. They need only - not to confound Israel and the Church; death or the taking of Jerusalem with the coming of the Son of man, and that in the clouds of heaven, and with all the holy angels with Him. To those simple, and not confused with unnatural interpretations, the word of God will be-come simple; and the great hGpe of the Church and of Israel will shine out with unmistakable plainness; nay, with a lustre lighting up every other part.

It is not as to this, at any rate, that we are now to inquire. The question before us is one that will take more attentive consideration to answer. There are apparent difficulties on the face of Scripture itself with that which nevertheless we must accept as the true one; and there are correspondingly objections which require full examination before we are entitled to do so. Especially as they seem to have led many who not long since held it to abandon it for another.

The hope of the Morning Star may sufficiently characterize the view before us. Christ Himself is the Morning Star, and as such promised to the Christian overcomer. The morning star as such precedes the sunrise; does not enlighten the earth, but is lost in the beams of the sun when it arises. In Scripture it is the seal upon the closing page of the New Testament, as the Sun of righteousness is the seal upon the last page of the Old. It is connected with heaven alone; while the Sun in its rising brings heaven and earth together. We hold, as many have held it, that Christ's coming as the Morning Star is the hope of the Christian, and introduces him to the enjoyment of his place with Christ in heaven. The dead saints of all the past are raised; the living are changed and caught up to meet the Lord in the air along with these. And this is the first thing now to be looked for, whatever signs may in fact be given before it of the Lord's approach; as even now there are many.

This "rapture of the saints" necessarily closes what we call the Christian dispensation. The true Church is gone from the earth, and what is left is a mere corrupt profession, now to be spued out of Christ's mouth as utterly distateful to Him, and which is soon to give up even the profession, and, not having received the love of the truth, to fall under the terrible delusion of Antichrist.

Darkness is then covering the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; and this is the time, and these are the circumstances under which the light begins to break for Israel. The day of the Lord begins amid such utter darkness, and not before we are gathered to Him. As long as the gospel is still going out, Israel are "enemies" (treated by God nationally as such) "for your sake "- that is, for the Gentiles (Rom. xi. 28). Now the darkness begins to disperse, and instead of the remnant among them being added to the Church, as in the present time, they "return to the children of Israel" (Mic. v. 3): to Israelitish hopes and promises.

Prophecy as to the world, broken off with the breaking off of Israel, begins again, and time, which ceases to be reckoned when she is wholly (though but temporarily) given up as the people of God, now is reckoned again. The "end of the age," which is in fact the last week of Daniel's seventy, brings with it the ability to reckon prophetic times, and thus amid the gloom to calculate the nearness of deliverance. And they will need and value it, while having to endure to the end, to find the promised blessing: for this is "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. xxx. 7), Israel's travail-time in which the nation will be born to God, when at last every one written among the living in Jerusalem shall be holy, "when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughter of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning" (Isa. iv. 3, 4).

Terrible will be the time they come through, 'great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. xxiv. ii; Dan. xii. i). It is the time of Antichrist, of the abomination of desolation in the holy place: when the world is permitted to show itself in its full character, the restraint upon the development of evil is removed, Antichrist shall replace Christ in the worship of the nations, and the "abomination" in the temple of God in Israel, challenge Him also in His Old Testament character, as well as in His New. The denial that Jesus is the Christ will accompany the denial of the Father and the Son (i John ii. 22).

The end will be delivering judgment by the coming of the Son of man from heaven, as the lightning gleam in the storm of judgment, from east to west over the heavens. The nations assembled against Jerusalem meet with complete overthrow; the leaders in the great revolt against God being cast into the lake of fire, Satan shut up in the bottomless pit; and the saints who have come with Christ to the judgment of the earth taking the place of rulers with Him over it during the thousand years of peace that follow.

Of course, this is not even a proper sketch of what takes place during and at the close of the interval thus indicated between the taking away of the saints to meet the Lord and His appearing in glory with them. The question before us is not of details as to the events that fill up the interval, but of whether it exists at all; whether the rapture of the saints and their return with Christ are separated by any appreciable length of time; whether or not the Church goes through the tribulation; whether the dispensations can so far overlap as to permit of Jewish saints, with hopes and worship corresponding to this, to co-exist upon earth with Christianity and the heavenly hopes that accompany it; whether the calculation of prophetic times is designed for Israel or the Church, or both; whether we are to look for the events or some of them, which admittedly precede Christ's coming in glory, as to take place before we are caught up to be with Him? The last point seems to be perhaps in special contention, one very vigorous writer regularly characterizing the view against which he contends as "Any moment Adventism." But our decision as to this will be best reached as the final result of answers given to the other questions, which manifestly all so bear upon one another as to make the decision of one very much that of all; while yet they constitute so many distinct lines of proof which, if they agree together in what answer they yield, confirm each the other as well as the whole view. They will be, not a threefold, but a fivefold cord, not quickly to be broken.

But before we take up such questions, in seeking answer to which the full strength of the objections made will be seen and tested, let us take into consideration the proof as to the whole which we may gain from a brief review of Scripture. It is perfectly plain, and is said in so many words by the apostle, that "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory" (Col. iii. 4). It is quite clear, therefore, if we may take Scripture in its full force, that the taking up of the saints to be with Him, as described in i Thess. iv, must be before the appearing. This indeed still leaves it uncertain that any sensible length of time elapses between the two. Yet it argues that the Lord's descent into the air to the gathering place for His people is not an appearing. It is so far an unseen stage of His coming, and the rising of His saints to meet Him likewise would be unseen also: for when He appears we shall appear with Him, and "those that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."

What is connected with these two phases of His coming it is important to notice. With the first, Christ's reception of us to Himself, and the joys of the Father's house (John xiv. 2, 3). With the second the reward of works, which is in the Kingdom. With the first, thus, the fruit of Christ's work; with the second, the fruit of our own. The order is noticeable. The first is the hope of the Morning Star, Christ Himself the Christian hope, but which leaves the world unblessed. The second is the daydawn for the world, the "Sun of righteousness. The coming of the Son of man, as in Matt. xxiv., is manifestly the appearing. He comes in the clouds of heaven, with all the holy angels with Him, and the comparison with lightning shows plainly the approach of judgment. Now what connects itself with this in this chapter? First, the "abomination of desolation standing in the holy place "- the Jewish holy place, for when they would see it, those that were inJudea were to flee to the mountains. Secondly, and given as the reason of their flight, "For then shalt be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to that time, no, nor ever shall be." This unequalled trouble is to be as short as severe: for "except those days should be shortened no flesh should be saved, but for the elect's sake these days shall be shortened:" Thirdly, immediately after this, "they shall see the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth"- or "land"-"mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

Now, here we find, in the last days, a Jewish remnant with some knowledge of Christ it must be supposed, for the exhortation addressed to them implies that they will be listening to His words, and yet so little Christian as to be under the strict law of the sabbath (ver. 20), and liable to be deceived by false reports of His being in the desert or in the secret chambers (ver. 25): just such as those disciples were whom the Lord then addresses. What has become of Christians and of Christianity at a time when this is possible, and when once more the holy place is recognized as in Jerusalem? Yet this is before the appearing of Christ, and some little while before, however grace may limit the time of tribulation spoken of. Does not this look as if Christianity were gone from the earth at this time, shortly before His appearing?

If we look further, this impression deepens. Our Lord has just referred us to Daniel. We find the equivalent of the expression for the first time, chap. ix. 27: "for the overspreading of abomination he shall make it desolate." A better translation would be, "because of the wing of abomination, a desolator ;" but for our purpose either rendering may suffice. This is in the well-known prophecy of the seventy weeks, and in the latter half of the last week. At the end of the whole period would come the blessing, for Judah and Jerusalem, of which the angel speaks: for then would be made an end of sins, and reconciliation for iniquity, and everlasting righteousness brought in, and the holy place anointed (not made desolate); and yet according to the prophecy desolation continues up to the very end of this time. The blessing must come, then, suddenly indeed. In Matthew we see how it comes, by the appearing of Christ for them, and as in a moment.

The prophecy in Daniel is an instance of that non-reckoning of time, which has been already referred to as characterizing the present period. The seventy weeks are but 490 years. Sixty-nine of them end (483 years) when Messiah first comes. He is however cut off, and has nothing (so we should read the twenty-sixth verse): He does not bring in the blessing, and a time of confusion follows. Plainly the last week has not been fulfilled, and it is of this last week that the Lord in Matthew speaks. Here the doings of the "prince to come" are described, and it is not Christ, but His total opposite. A comparison of the chapters makes this absolutely plain. From the time of Messiah's cutting off until this prince appears there is only a gap of time, the length of which is in no way indicated to us; but we know that all the Christian centuries have in fact come in in that break. The nation of Israel has been set aside, and the heirs of heaven are being gathered. With the seventieth week Israel again comes into prominence, and time begins once more to be reckoned: but instead of blessing there comes for her a time of unequalled trouble until the last week is run out.

Notice the time from the setting up of the abomination till the full end: half a week of years, "time, times and a half," three years and a half; forty and two months; according to Jewish reckoning, 1260 days. We see how divine pity has in fact shortened the days. These numbers are of importance to us just now as a link of connection with other scriptures which will presently come before us. The covenant also made by this Gentile prince - we should read here "he shall confirm a covenant with the many," (the mass of the Jewish people, )- which he breaks in the midst of the week, enables us to understand better the sacrificial worship going on in Israel according to such agreement, and the idolatry ensuing: "the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up" (Dan. xii. ii).

Thus far it is plain that the prophecies in Daniel and in Matthew throw light on one another. Let us put by their side a third, which links the time of this Jewish distress with the last days of Christendom. I refer to 2 Thess. ii. for the full scripture, which with the help of what we have already got, we shall now easily understand. The prophecy of the man of sin has been so long applied to the head of the Romish superstition, that Protestant Christians are very jealous of another application. Yet the apostle makes the revelation of the "man of sin" to be the sign of the "day of the Lord being now present," as the Revised Version rightly gives it, while popery has been fully manifested, for those that have eyes to see, more than 300 years. Moreover the "day of the Lord" leading us to Zechariah's prophecy of Israel's last trouble (chap. xiv.), and Zechariah leading us to Matthew and to Daniel, the "abomination of desolation standing in the holy place" is so simply explained by one who "sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God" (Revised Version), that an unprejudiced mind can hardly refuse the identification of one with the other.

Every other circumstance corresponds. We find this man of sin the leader of the grand final apostacy of professing Christians from the faith of Christ (vers. 3, 9-12): God at last giving over to strong delusion those who believed not the truth when it was there,- an awful climax to which everything is surely tending now. Moreover, just as in Matthew the Lord appears at the end of the time of trouble, so here the wicked one is "consumed with the breath of His mouth, and destroyed with the manifestation of His coming" (R. V).

Thus Christendom is apostate, or apostatizing from the faith at the very time that the company of believing Jews, which Matt. xxiv. shows us, are suffering in the great tribulation. Jewish and Christian apostacy unite together at the close (i John ii.22). Now where, we may ask again, during all this time, are the saints of the present day? Where are the real Christians, when the mass of mere professors have become apostate, and the saints of Jerusalem are plainly once more professors of Judaism? and in that "end of the age" which, as the last broken off week of determined times for Israel, is unmistakably Jewish? The apostle beseeches the Thessalonians "by the coming of our Lord Jesus C'hrist, and our gathering together unto Him," not to be deceived: and we ought now to understand such an appeal.

But this is by no means the full weight of evidence.
The book of Revelation as a whole may be brought forward as proof, the most detailed and elaborate that could be given, perhaps; and can only be rightly understood with what we had already before us. We must look at this, however briefly, or we could have no idea how full the proof from Scripture is.
Revelation is divided, and that by the Lord Himself, into two main parts, "the things that are," and "the things that shall be after these" (meta tauta). "Hereafter" is not sufficiently explicit, and so far misleading: these divisions give us, as we shall see, the "present things," the time in which the Church of God is upon earth; the "things after these," that which begins when the true Church has been removed to heaven, and God's dealings with Israel begin, for their recovery and final blessing.

Each part has a prefatory vision which is the key to all that follows. "The things which thou hast seen" (i. 19) are the first of these: Christ's own inspection of the Churches (the candlesticks), His witness for Himself during the night of His absence. The candlesticks are seven, the number of completeness; and while they are, in the first place, the, seven Asiatic churches, yet these are clearly representative of the Church at large. Only in this way do the addresses in the next two chapters attain due relation to the universal character of the rest of the book; only in this way do we understand the emphatic call at the end of each address, to every one who has an ear to listen; only in this way, question it however we may, does the Church of God on earth come at all into the prophecy. Moreover, it is anything but a new thing to say that these churches, as successively brought before us here, will be found, by any one who seriously inquires into it, to present the characters of the Church in successive stages of its history to the present time. Thus we can see how more and more urgently, from the address to Thyatira onwards, as warning or as encouragement, the coming of the Lord is pressed; until to the Philadelphia overcomer is given the assurance of being "kept out of the hour of temptation which is to come upon the whole world, to try those that dwell upon the earth." And then, indicating the way of accomplishment of this, the announcement now is made, "I come quickly." How else should they be kept out of the very "hour" of a universal trial, but by being taken up to meet the descending Lord? After which Laodicea gets a final threatening to be spewed out of Christ's mouth; He, though still knocking, being already outside the door!

Thus the "things that are" end, and a new vision begins, with a Voice as of a trumpet calling up to heaven. The scene entirely changes, and the seer becomes in the Spirit afresh. A throne set in heaven is before him; and there are thrones around the Throne. These thrones have human occupants, who are priests as well as kings, and sing the song of redemption when the Lamb appears (chap. v. 8-xo). Through the scenes that follow they are still in their places round the throne, "all the angels" being seen again round them in an outer circle. Other redeemed ones take their place "before" that Throne, but not "around" it (chap. vii. ii, 15).

But let us look at the Throne itself: it is a throne of judgment; "lightnings and voices and thunders" proceed out of it. The earth is threatened; nay, but the bow of promise, of the color of new verdure refreshed by rain, assures us that God's covenant as to the earth is not forgotten; rather, it is coming into remembrance, as if anew. This storm is to purify and bless. Heaven's open doors having received the multitudes of heavenly saints, the time of the earth is come; and therefore Israel's. The book of God's counsels as to the future is opened: who can open it? The Lamb! Yes, assuredly it is the Lamb; but notice His character now: "The Lion of Me tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the book" (chap. v. 5). Judah's, Israel's, conquering King it is who opens the future now, and this makes doubly clear that that which is to follow concerns the earth and Israel.

Pass on: the lightnings flash and the thunders utter their voice; but four angels stand upon the four corners of the earth to keep back the winds from every quarter, until, as the voice of the interpreting angel declares, they have sealed the servants of God in their foreheads (vii. 1-3). And who, then, are these? "A hundred and forty and four thousand out of every tribe of the children of Israel." Can these be simply symbolically such? No: Judah's Lion is opening the book. The Gentiles are not indeed forgotten: look at the vast multitude out of all nations that, in the next vision, are seen before the throne. Ah, the great throng of the redeemed of all time are they? No, says the interpreting voice again, "These are they that come," not "out of great tribulation" simply, as our common translation has it, but "out of the tribulation, the great one," as it literally reads. They are a multitude gathered out of the time of the end, as we have seen it; and of Gentiles, separate from the multitude of Israel's sealed ones: both joining together in testimony as to the period we have reached. The church-scroll that Peter saw let down from heaven, has been taken up thither again. Jew and Gentile are no more united into one body,but are in different spheres of blessing; the Jew having the foremost place, and becoming the communicator of blessing to the nations round; Israel becomes Jezreel, the "seed of God." Surely, in all this, it should not be hard to determine the doctrine of Scripture as to the coming of Christ for His saints, or the hope of the Church as the Morning Star. With the last week of Daniel's seventy, the greater part of Revelation is concerned. What very definitely marks this is the frequent specification of the very time before mentioned, the half week or half-weeks, whichever way we take it, of the last week. It is variously connected (i) with the maintenance of a special Elias-like testimony, the two witnesses, in the time of the end (chap. xi. 3-8); (2) with the flight of the Jewish remnant into the wilderness ,and their protection there (chap. xii 6, 14); and with the "practising" of the Roman "beast," when the little horn seen by the Old Testament prophet has become the 8th head of empire as seen by the New Testament one. Here no essential mistake seems possible. In the i9th chapter, after the marriage of the Lamb has taken place in heaven, we see Him descend with His saints to the judgment of the earth. Here from the closing portion of the book, as before from the beginning of it, we have witness that the taking up of the saints precedes by some time, at least, His appearing with them; but this the other passages that we have examined, not oniy confirm, but develop fully.

For all this, there are many opposers of this doctrine; and we are now to look at the arguments by which they would substantiate their opposition.