Chapter 5 - The Saints in the Tribulation - Who Are They?

We have already briefly considered the structure of the book of Revelation, and the evidence that it gives us as to the change of dispensation that is impending. The argument is a connected one of many arguments combined. We have in the first chapter the Lord in the midst of the candlesticks, the Christian assemblies. In the addresses to these which follow in the next two chapters, emphasized in each case by a solemn appeal for our attention, we find what is in fact the history of the Church of God on earth. As they progress from the address to Thyatira onwards, the promise or the warning of His coming is more and more enforced; ending with the threat of Laodicea being spued out of His mouth, and immediately after this a Voice as of a trumpet calls, and the apostle is caught up to heaven. There he sees thrones around the throne of God, - a throne of judgment circled by the bow of God’s covenant with the earth; and, while the company of kings and priests sing their redemption song to the Lamb slain, he is told that this is Jndah’s Lion - the King of the Jews - who has prevailed to open the book. We look upon the earth again as the book is being opened; judgments are being poured out upon it; there are saints there still and martyrs; presently a company sealed out of all the tribes of Israel; then an innumerable company of Gentiles also, but who have all come out of the great tribulation; by and by we see the actors in this, - the last beast of Daniel, and the lamb-like, dragon-voiced beast who leads men to worship him; times are reckoned, the half-weeks of the last week of Daniel; and looking on beyond the judgment of Babylon the Great, we see the marriage of the Lamb is come, and presently the Lamb Himself, with a glorious train of saints who follow Him, descends to the judgment of the earth.

Now this is simply the story of Revelation, with scarce a word of comment, and none needed, one would think, to make it plain. Through all this latter part we hear nothing of the Church of God on earth. The Lion of Judah opens the book; the book gives us Jewish scenes, Israel, Jerusalem, the time of Jacob’s trouble, the instruments of it, the false woman and her doom, until after the marriage of the Lamb, He comes with His saints from heaven. Does this fit with Mr. Newton’s views, or Mr. Brown’s, or Dr. West’s, or with that view which they all oppose? What have they to say about it? what arguments do they use against it? I can only speak as far as my knowledge goes, but as far as I know, they use no arguments; they simply ignore it. They give us proofs of their views, or what they conceive proofs, from Revelation, as from other parts of Scripture; but face this long line of witnesses they do not. We have seen what has been so far offered; we are going on still to see what Mr. Newton offers; but it is well to keep in mind how much of positive testimony for the views they are opposing they leave aside.

Mr. Newton hopes he may now assume, upon the warrant of the parables of the Tares and of the Fishes, and the Lord’s parting words in Matthew, that saints marked by the characteristics of the present dispensation will be found on the earth until the end. He urges that their testimony will be most needed, and suffering most glorious in the times preceding the end. He finds that "On all past occasions of destroying judgments, whether on Sodom, or the world at the flood, or on Egypt, or on Jerusalem, some testified and suffered, though all were removed before the threatened judgment fell". He urges also that "all who have thus testified have not been either ignorant of or enemies to the truth peculiar to the dispensation that was closing in; for how then could they have testified at all?"(P. 25.)

He does not notice the Lord’s assurance to Philadelphian overcomers that He would keep them "out of the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. iii. io), nor that the tribulation to come at the end is "Jacob’s trial," although it may involve others also, as we have seen. He does not understand that the end of the age is not part of the present dispensation, but the time of darkness covering the earth, and gross darkness the peoples, when the light begins to dawn on Israel (Isa. lx), and that God’s testimony for that time is an Elias one (Mal. iv. 5; Rev. xi. 3 - 6,) and not that of the Church. He does not know that he can "find with any degree of accuracy the extent of this testimony"(!), and that on account of that of which he does not know the signification, that "the recorded facts of prophecy have always Jerusalem for their centre;" and he needs to remind us that "a Christian in Jewish circumstances is a Christian still"!

Another strange thing is that he has to go to Old Testament scriptures for the main part of his proof of Christians giving this testimony, and to justify what seems strange in this, he has to refer to Rom. xvi. 26, taking, as many do, the "prophetic scriptures" there, as being those of the Old Testament prophets. (Comp. Eph. iii. 5.) He illustrates this by types, however, which we should all admit, and some other passages which show a singular lack of knowledge of the calling of the Church which he says they reveal. But I cannot dwell on this. From the Old Testament he brings forward Daniel. Here he interprets for us the "wise," who "instruct many" among the Jewish people, without being able to prevent their fall "by the sword, and by flame, by captivity and by spoil many days." This he calls, though we may well doubt it, "the moment of Jerusalem’s ratified desolation," and thinks we can be therefore at no loss to understand them to be "Christ and His servants; nor from that time forward would the Holy Spirit give the name of ‘understanding ones’ to any but those who acknowledged Him and had received His Spirit."

But on the contrary, most commentators refer this to the Maccabees, and with apparent reason. We have not time to argue as to it, it is plain; but proof-text it can hardly be when all depends upon a very questionable interpretation. The "wise" or "understanding ones," with this special meaning forced upon them, are then found by him in the time of Israel’s great tribulation following; and so his point is proved. But to merge Christ among the "understanding ones" is certainly not the way of the Spirit of God; and the presence of Christians depends entirely upon this. On the other hand "the two witnesses" of Rev. xi. would certainly have this character of "wise," while as certainly they are not what we should now call Christians. All here is mere rash assertion and not proof. That these understanding ones (as illustrated by the witnesses) will be worn out by the Little Horn, (identified at the last with the Beast itself,) is seen in Revelation, and being raised from the dead they will have a heavenly place contrasted with Israel’s earthly one. That these are, in fact, the saints of the high places, of whom Daniel speaks, and who are Mr. Newton’s next and remaining proof of Christians in Jerusalem, we have no need to question. He makes no distinction between "heavenly" and "Christian"; but he must certainly know that those he is opposing do make one, and that for them all that he gives for proof is entirely futile.

This closes his argument from the Old Testament: he passes on to Revelation, which he rightly takes as in its "central part" relating to the same period as (much of) Daniel. Here his first argument is from persons being mentioned "who keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus"; and again in chap. xiv. : "here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." No doubt there is difficulty in defining in any perfectly satisfactory way what either expression may mean. "The testimony of Jesus" is said, in the book of Revelation itself, to be "the spirit of prophecy" (xix. in), and this will be found in the saints of those days. There is no excuse for confounding this with Church testimony. "The faith of Jesus’ will be, no doubt,imperfect enough in the darkness of days from which the light of Christianity has disappeared, and the Spirit itself as now known and enjoyed in Christianity. I presume He will be known as Messiah, not in His own proper glory as Jehovah; and this will be the discovery that will bow them in humiliation and repentance, when they look upon Him whom they have pierced. The next text (chap. xiii. 7), if parallel with Dan. vii. 20, is nevertheless also, as we have seen, of no importance whatever for his argument.

Again, those on the sea of glass (chap. xv. 2) are saints martyred under the beast, and having got victory over him in this way, and the passage in chap. XX. 4 - 6, which Mr. Newton rightly associates with the former one, shows that such have their part in the first resurrection, and reign with Christ for the thousand years of the Kingdom. All this is very familiar truth to those whose views he is opposing; and he certainly must know it. There is nothing about the Church in either passage. As a specimen of what a more minute interpretation would give, he adduces chap. xi. i, to urge that the worshippers in the temple of God (the sanctuary) must be Christians. In his argument he says rightly enough that the temple consisted of two inner courts, but speaks as though this were proof that for worshippers in it, the holiest of all must be accessible. There is no proof of it whatever. For the priest in Israel the veil was not rent, but he could worship in the temple in the outer holy place, and once a year the high priest went into the holiest. There is absolutely no token of Christian worship: the "clear evidence" of it, of which he speaks, does not exist.

But while all this is to him clear, the witness of the whole book of Revelation, as I have briefly given it, passes absolutely without notice. And yet when he wrote this he must have known quite well that it stood at least to be accounted for. Of the Jewish remnant of the last days which according to Mr. Newton exists side by side with the Christian one he says:- "They must have an intermediate standing: not Antichristian, for they would be consumed; not Christian, for then as suffering with and for Jesus, they would also reign with Him, and stand upon the sea of crystal in heavenly glory; whereas they are destined, after having passed through the fires from which the Christian remnant are altogether delivered, to be God’s witnesses on the earth: . . . I now request your attention to the following passages which show that this remnant is not owned by the Lord, nor has the spirit of grace and supplication poured on it, until after the Lord has appeared, and they have been carried through the day of His judgment" (Pp. 43, 44). He quotes for this, first, Isa. x. 12, 20 - 22; of which he says: - "The passage teaches us that they are not regarded as returning’ and ‘staying themselves' upon the Lord, until after He has accomplished all His work upon Mount Zion and Jerusalem." (P. 15.)

I can only answer that to me it says nothing of the kind. It does say that in that day there will be no going back on the part of the saved remnant, to repeat the sad story of declension, so often recurring in the past. They "shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but stay upon the Lord." Then the truth of their return is affirmed: "The remnant shall. . . unto the Mighty God. For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall return." There is nothing about their only returning after God has accomplished His work. It does not mean that He delivers them in an unbelieving condition, and then they believe. That is certainly not God’s ordinary way of delivering, but to wake up a soul to faith and then answer it. Nothing contrary to that is said here. The next passage is from Zech. xiii.: "And it shall come to pass that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined . . . they shall call on My name and I will hear them: I will say, It is My people, and they shall say, The Lord is my God."

This expresses only the full confidence reached as the result of purification; but it is because they are "silver" He refines them. No one ever refined into silver what was not silver; and that is not what is done here. The third passage, Zech. xii. 9 - xiii. i, shows undoubtedly that an amazing discovery is made by them when they look upon Him whom they have pierced; and I think that will be, as before said, when they realize their rejected Messiah to be Jehovah Himself. That they own Jesus as Messiah seems clear from the guidance given to them in His own prophecy of the end of the age (Matt. xxiv.); but the "Man, Jehovah’s Fellow" may be yet unknown. As to what is said about their having to believe nationally, and the nation being born in a day, Zion travailing and bringing forth, he is surely wrong in taking that as new birth, a truth of which as such the Old Testament never speaks. That at the time of their deliverance, the remnant will come to the birth, as the new nation of Israel, is true, and is what is meant by this. The implication that as individuals they were not born again before is unwarranted and false.

Again, the principle is a very simple one, that in the Psalms and prophetic Scriptures, we may take out all that is bright and happy and confident, and apply it to a Christian remnant, while we relegate all that is gloomy and querulous to a co-existing Jewish one. It is a short road to interpretation, but a most unsafe one, The Psalms, for instance, are expressive of the whole education and purification of a Jewish remnant, through all the trials of the latter days, until they are brought into full blessing. Of this the five psalms, from Ps. iii. to vii., are an introductory epitome, which shows this very clearly. But they begin with faith (Ps. iii.), the joy of which they can contrast with the restless seeking of "any good" on the part of the ungodly around them (Ps. iv.). Here they reason and plead with these, but in the next, as the evil grows more determined, plead against them (Ps. v.), assuring themselves of the distinction God will make between them and the wicked. But the gloom darkens and the shadow falls upon their own souls (Ps. vi.). The prevalence of the evil makes them dread divine displeasure, and the confidence they have had changes into a cry for mercy. In the seventh psalm the shadow passes, they can maintain again their innocence as far as their persecutors are concerned and look for divine intervention; which in the eighth is come.

This is only an introduction, of course, but it shows the character of the book, which the arbitrary invention of contrasted remnants completely destroys. All these fruitful exercises become but the wailings of unconverted men; all the expressions of faith belong to another people! This is indeed a "higher criticism" of a peculiar kind, which by taking texts here and there and applying the moral test, putting in juxtaposition passages of diverse character, from different places, and apart from their context, can make it at least a tedious and difficult thing to expose its unsoundness. And this is made worse by misleading comments scattered here and there throughout, in which truth itself can be so applied as to give apparent countenance to what is error. Who would not agree, for instance, that "to suffer for righteousness’ sake in conscious fellowship of spirit with God, is something very different from suffering penalty under the rebuke of His heavy hand"? But apply this to the case before us, - a remnant of converted people making part of a nation which as such is away from God, and going on to complete apostasy; suffering penalty thus, and involving these in their sufferings, who from sharing their guilt at first have been gradually awakened, with the light increasing for them, but allowed of God for their good to be thoroughly exercised as to everything. Plowed up as to their sin, they find their way amid the promises and threatenings of His word, without firm footing as to the gospel; and in a time of trouble such as never was !

These various exercises, the conflicts of faith with unbelief, the many forms of trial, are given for their help, and for the help of multitudes in any similar ones, as poured out in the utterances of the Psalms and prophets. Think of a criticism like Mr. N’s, which ignores these varied and subtle differences, and makes it all a question of the highest Christian communion or of suffering penally! Why the Psalms are a human resolution largely - under the control and guidance of God - of problems of the most difficult character. Are they suffering penally? there is sometimes their perplexity. They reason upon it all round: the clouds break and return; but no: we are to use the scissors, it seems, separate what is not fit for the Christians, and give it to these poor, unconverted Jews! and the practical use and beauty of the Psalms are largely gone for us. How much shall we value the miserable experiences of mere unconverted men!

We may close then with this: for here is the rest of his argument, and we have no interest in following Mr. Newton’s further account of how, according to his thought, a Christian remnant is not found in Jerusalem at the last, which we have not been persuaded exists there at all. But it may not be without profit to have seen how destructive of Scripture at large is this system which makes hypothetical differences which do not exist, only to ignore those that are real and vital. There is only one more point, therefore, that we need to consider in this connection, and that is his argument from the eleventh of Romans. He says: - "I would briefly notice these things: -"

1. That it speaks of Israel as blinded for a season by the judicial infliction of the hand of God. It is important to notice the judicial character which attaches to their being broken out of their olive-tree.
 
2. The blindness thus judicially inflicted has never been, and never will be anything more than ‘in part’; that is, it has never rested on every individual in Israel, but there has ever been a seeing remnant. Some, not all, the Jewish branches, have been broken off.
 
3. The fact of there being a seeing remnant during the blindness of Israel, is a proof that Israel as a nation is still under the infliction of the hand of God.

4. That this judicial infliction cannot be continued after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in." Thus, he says, "it is proved beyond a doubt that Israel’s Antichristian period (when as a nation they will be emphatically blinded, though there will be even then a seeing remnant) cannot be after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. Observe, I do not say that as soon as all the elect Gentiles have been gathered in, all Israel will instantly be filled with light and knowledge; but this I affirm that the positive action of the hand of God in blinding them will not be continued after the period which He has been pleased to fix - i. e., when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in. Consequently, the period of their deepest and most fatal blinding cannot be after the period which He has fixed for the ceasing of His wrath against them. There can be no seeing remnant in judicially blinded Israel; no election out of Israel, and therefore no Antichristian period to Israel, after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; therefore all such conditions of Israel must be before the fulness of the Gentiles has come in." (Pp. 63 - 65.)

Now, I apprehend that the writer has spoiled his own argument. For if he had maintained that, as soon as ever the fulness of the Gentiles had come in, all Israel would "instantly be filled with light and knowledge" that would have been consistent at least. But he could not say so; only that the positive action of the hand of God in blinding them will not continue. But that would seem to infer that there would or might be still a seeing remnant for awhile among them after the judicial blinding was removed. Let us see then what in fact takes place. The beginning of the "end of the age" or the last week of Daniel, shows that the fulness of the Gentiles has indeed come in; it shows also that the judicial hardening of Israel is at an end by this week being the return of times determined upon her to bring in her blessing. Israel is now going to be saved; and as a pledge of this, those now converted are no more brought into the Church, but remain Israelites, grafted back into their own olive-tree. Yet this is the time of Antichrist, as Daniel and Revelation unite to show us, and the nation that is to be is refined and purified in a furnace of affliction. It is the remnant that becomes the nation, the rebels and apostates being separated and purged out. It is a mistake, surely, to look at Antichrist as a sign of the "nation "being "emphatically blinded," when in fact, it is Israel’s travail-time; and presently it will be found, when the followers of Antichrist have received their judgment, that "he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning" (Isa. iv. 3, 4).

The fulness of the Gentiles having come in, and so the end of the Church-period, is the very thing which allows this remnant to be formed, which is the nation.in embryo, and to which Antichrist in Jerusalem is Satan’s power in opposition. The man of sin in the temple of God there, instead of showing that the judicial blinding of the nation is going on, shows that God is taking up Israel once more, and that the determined times are bringing on her blessing. Christianity and Judaism, hopes heavenly and hopes earthly, the body of Christ in which is neither Jew nor Gentile, alongside of Jews and Gentiles (if the sheep and goats apply to these last),- all this owned of God alike and going on at one and the same time: this is Mr. Newton’s theory; the very statement of which might assure us that it is only theory. Scripture condemns it in every particular.