TEN SERMONS on the SECOND ADVENT
IV. NO MILLENIUM WITHOUT CHRIST.
"Immediately after the Tribulation of those days shall
the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall
fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven shall be shaken; and then shall
appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of
the earth mourn and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of
Heaven with power and great glory." - Matt. xxiv. 29, 30.
No consideration of the word of Prophecy can be satisfactory, which does not give full weight and importance to the last great prophetic utterance of the great prophet Himself. Let us approach it as worthy of, and as commanding our deepest attention, and closest consideration. We have not before us the visionary utterances of a mere enthusiast, or the deceptive imaginations of a mere man, but the solemn, prophetic announcement of "God manifest in the flesh."
Notice, first of all, that we have three records of two great prophecies; one recorded in Luke xxi., and the other in Matt. xxiv. and Mark xiii. These two statements appear to have been made on different occasions, in different places and under different circumstances; and therefore naturally there is also a difference as to the their subject-matter. In point of time, that recorded in Luke xxi. appears to have been spoken first, and in the Temple itself. Luke xxi. 5, "And as some spake of the Temple He said," &c. It was "on one of those days as He taught the people in the Temple" (xx 1) probably on the Tuesday, and before He left the Temple with His disciples. But that recorded in Matt. xxiv. and Mark xiii. was uttered "As He said upon the Mount of Olives over against the Temple," Peter, James, John and Andrew come to Him, and ask Him certain questions privately. Here, the words of Jesus are the answer to definite questions. "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world? ("consummation of the age" R.V. margin.) The Lord therefore tells them and us in this second prophecy, of the events which shall immediately precede and be the sign of His coming.
Now the first three or four verses of both discourses, and of all the three records are almost identical:- Matt. xxiv. 4-8, Mark xiii. 5-7, Luke xxi. 8-11. But here a remarkable change occurs which gives us the key to the right understanding of these prophecies. In Matt. and Mark the Lord goes on to speak of the sorrows of which those verses were "the beginning" and continues, and develops what He had begun to describe. But in St. Luke he stops short here; He does not go forward, but goes back to tell us what shall be before all these things," and for thirteen verses (Luke xxi. 12-24) He speaks of what shall be "BEFORE" "the beginning of sorrows," and to speak of the then impending destruction of Jerusalem, concluding at verse 24 with the words "and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." It is the concluding days of these "times of the Gentiles," which in Matt. and Mark the Lord enlarges on, and describes the events which lead up to His appearing (Matt. xxiv. 8-28, and Mark xiii. 9-23): and then all three records again coincide, and culminate in the grand and final "sign" about which the disciples had enquired.
To attempt to harmonize these prophecies without noticing the great diverging point of Luke xxi. 12, is to attempt the impossible; and the best proof that it is so is the fact that no commentator who treats all three records as referring to one and the same subject, succeeds in satisfying his own mind, still less the minds of his readers.
But observing these notes of time, and this key to the change of subject in Luke xxi. 12, we learn that in Matt. xxiv. and Mark xiii., Jesus does not refer to the destruction of Jerusalem at all, but begins long after that event, and gives an epitome of the closing in of the last days of the "times of the Gentiles," the days immediately preceding His coming in glory with all His saints: while in St. Luke xxi. He devotes only four verses to those events, (8-11) and at verse 12 goes back to tell us what shall be "before all these things."
In fact, these two discourses, taken together, are occupied with three great subjects,
1. The Destruction of Jerusalem:
2. The Coming of Christ in Glory: and
3. The events immediately preceding that coming.
In Matt. and Mark, Jesus enlarges on the events that shall immediately lead up to His coming in glory. He foretells the four great characteristics of the beginning of these last events:- "Wars" (the Red horse of the second seal, Rev. vi. 4), "Pestilences" (the Black horse of the third seal, Rev. vi. 5, 6), "Famines" (the Pale horse of the fourth seal, Rev. vi. 7, 8), and "Earthquakes" (the sixth seal, Rev. vi. 12). He speaks of the witnessing gospel (Rev. vi. 2), and refers to a great event foretold by Daniel as a sure sign of the approaching end. The tribulation then rapidly deepens until it reaches its culminating point, and then (Matt. xxiv. 29, 30) "IMMEDIATELY after the tribulation of those days... they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven."
Now in St. Luke, as I have said, there is little or nothing about these awful and final events. In Luke xxi. 8, 9, the Lord refers to them, but pointedly says "the end is not by and by" (R.V. "the end is not immediately.") Then in verse 10 and 11, He bears us rapidly forward to the end, and almost anticipates verse 25. Thus, having thrust the whole of those closing events into these fours verses, the Lord suddenly turns back, saying (verse 12) "But, BEFORE all these things," and enlarges on the nearer, and then impending woe of the city of Jerusalem. And when He says in verse 24 "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled," the events which shall be the fulfilling of these very times form the chief subject of the discourse in Matt. xxiv. and Mark xiii., which refers to that future siege (enlarged on in sermon No. vii.).*
* The word "immediately" marks off the prophecy in Matt. from that recorded in Luke, where we have instead long "times of the Gentiles" following on the siege of Jerusalem.
Thus of these two prophecies, part has been already literally fulfilled (Luke xxi. 12-24); and part remains to be also as literally fulfilled. The great fact, however, which stands out most prominently in these prophecies, the evidence of which is absolutely overwhelming, is this:- that our Lord leaves no room for any Millenium of happiness and peace before He comes. There is no controversy as to the literal fulfilment of Luke xxi. 12-24. For Jerusalem was literally "compassed by armies" (verse 20); the stones of its Temple and walls were literally thrown down, (though some of them were 60 feet long, by 8 feet high, and 10 feet abroad); and Jerusalem is literally "trodden down of the Gentiles" (verse 24). But language is utterly useless, if the word "UNTIL" does not mean that a time shall come when Jerusalem shall be no more trodden down! and when those "times" shall have no end! And we are all agreed, that those "times" have not yet come to an end! We all know what mighty efforts have been made to end them; what wars have been waged; what crusades have been undertaken to end these "times." But all in vain. Jerusalem is still "trodden down of the Gentiles." No power has been able to end the period of Gentile supremacy. But when God's time has come to end it, no power on earth, nor all the powers combined shall be able to prolong those "times" by a single day!
Now, let us remember that in Matt. and Mark, the Lord takes up the prophecy just when these "times of the Gentiles" are about to close with the last of Daniel's seventy hebdomads. He enlarges on the determined desolations (Dan. ix. 26, 27), and describes a time of future trouble to which the former cannot be compared. He says (Matt. xxiv. 29) "Immediately after the tribulation of those days;" and Mark. xiii. 24, "In those days, after that tribulation;" and Luke xxi. 25, when the "times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken, and THEN shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." Truly there is nothing here that looks like a Millenium! The Lord leaves no room for it between the Tribulation and His personal appearing. The Tribulation ends with His coming. "IMMEDIATELY," He says! Surely if He wished us to look for a Millenium of glory without Him, and before He comes, here was the time to mention it, here was the place to speak of it. But not only does He not do so, but He does the very opposite. Instead of describing His coming as following upon a period of peace and glory amongst the nations, He puts it "Immediately after the Tribulation of those days," and as succeeding "distress of nations with perplexity."
Those who think that in St. Matt. and Mark the Saviour refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, are compelled to "interpret" Matt. xxiv. 30, of Titus and his armies:- "They shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." They call this "prophetic language," as though "prophetic language" were a totally different language from all other language. And so it must be if the coming of Titus was indeed the "lightning" of Matt. xxiv. 27, which "cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west"! But surely this very interpretation condemns itself, and the whole system which is built upon it! For if verse 30 "then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory," means the coming of Titus with his armies, then in Matt. xxvi. 64, Jesus must have meant the same when He said to His judges," Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." And He must have "spoken blasphemy" and been "guilty of death," because He made Himself equal to Titus! Such treatment of Scripture stands self-condemned; for it leaves no room at all for any future advent of Christ, in a prophecy which was an express answer to the Question, "What shall be the sign of THY coming?"
Again, Jesus said (Luke xxi. 28) "Lift up your heads for your redemption draweth nigh." But in what way was the coming of Titus a ground for such a lifting up the head, or for such a looking for redemption!
And, note further, that this lifting up of their heads is caused by no spread of gospel light and peace amongst the nations. On the contrary, there is the greatest "distress of nations with perplexity," "and then" - the very next thing is (verse 27) "THEN shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."
Even when Jesus does speak about the preaching the Gospel, He particularly informs us that it is only "for a witness to all nations" (Matt. xxiv. 14, and Mark xiii. 10), and not for the conversion of all nations.
And when he speaks of the setting up of "the Abomination of Desolation" (Matt. xxiv. 15, and Mark xiii. 14), He refers to the Prophet Daniel. But it is clear from Daniel xii. that this must be still future, for speaking of that same time of trouble the interpreting Angel says to Daniel (xii. 1) "At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: AND AT THAT TIME THY PEOPLE SHALL BE DELIVERED." Well, at the time when Titus came, Daniel's people were destroyed! and if that can be interpreted to mean "delivered" then language may mean anything and nothing, and there is an end of the whole matter!
There is one point, however, that does present an apparent difficulty in Matt. xxiv. 34, Mark xiii. 30, and Luke xxi. 32, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." It is quite true that the word "generation" is used not merely of a period of so many years, but it means, even as in English, a race, or a stock, especially in its moral character. "God is in the generation of the righteous" (Ps. xiv. 5); "This is the generation of them that seek Him" (Ps. xxiv. 6); "The generation of the upright shall be blessed" (Ps. cxii. 2); "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than children of light" (Luke xvi. 8); "Ye are a chosen generation" (I Peter ii. 9). The moral character of the generation of the rejectors of Jesus, shall be maintained to the end, for corporate bodies continue to exist, notwithstanding the passing away of their individual members.
But while all this is true, it is also true that the pronoun, "this" is demonstrative, and I would ask, May it not refer to the generation then in the speaker's prophetic vision. Jesus is speaking very emphatically of the actual "beginning" of these final events which immediately precede His coming, and He is addressing those who see the "beginning" of "these things." "And when these things BEGIN to come to pass, lift up your heads," &c. (Luke xxi. 28); "When ye shall see these things come (R.V. "coming") to pass" (Mark xiii. 29). The Great Prophet is standing amid those future scenes. He speaks to whoever may witness the "beginning," or the "becoming" of the tribulation; and He says that the generation which sees the "beginning" will see the end. All will be compressed in that one generation. The period between the "beginning" of the Tribulation and the end of the age will be very brief, and the same generation that sees the one will witness the other.
There arises therefore here a very natural question which we may well ask, and it is this: Is there any sign by which we may know this "beginning" of the Tribulation and thus lift up our heads? Yes. The Saviour anticipates our question, and in Matt. xxiv. 32, Mark xiii. 28, and Luke xxi. 29, He gives "the parable of the fig-tree." "Behold the fig-tree and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves, that summer is now nigh at hand, so likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand, even at the doors!" The sign of the coming is similar to the sign of summer. (Blessed summer for the Saints of God, for it tells of deliverance from the winter of Tribulation: It tells of their "escape" from those things which are coming on the earth; and of standing before the Son of Man. Luke xxi. 36).
We may know with certainty that the season is near, though we can predicate nothing as to the day. We may know with certainty that when the tribulation of the last days "begins," it is the beginning of the end, and the redemption of the waiting Church is so near that "the Lord Himself" has already commenced his Descent to gather his Saints unto Himself, and meet them in the air. Before the breaking of a single "Seal" (Rev. vi.) He will have called to his Saints, "Come up hither" (Rev. iv. 1), and they shall be safely housed with Him amidst the scenes of Heavenly worship (Rev. iv. and v.). Hence His word of encouragement: "When these things BEGIN to come to pass, then, look up and lift up your heads for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke xxi. 28). The "beginning" of these awful scenes is the moment of the Church's deliverance.*
* For a fuller answer to this question see the APPENDIX which shows that the time seems to be near when God will deal once again with His ancient people, and that we are already near the beginning of the end!
It must always be a matter of uncertainty, which of the world's great trials is the "beginning" of the last. Therefore no one can know. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the Angels of Heaven, but my Father only" (Matt. xxiv. 36).. But it will be as in the days of Noah" (verse 37), when no one is expecting it, that His Saints shall be separated. "They know not until the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. THEN shall two be in the field, the one shall be taken and the other left... Watch ye therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matt. xxiv. 37-42).
Here we have a distinct reference to I Thess. iv. 16, 17, when at the very "beginning" of the Tribulation "the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." And so shall we "stand before the Son of Man," "accounted worthy," in all His worthiness to "escape these things" that shall then come on the earth (Luke xxi. 36).
The "beginning" of the Tribulation marks the time when the Lord will thus come FOR His Saints; and the height and end of it marks the time when He will appear in glory WITH all His Saints.
Surely it behoves us to heed the warning with which the Lord concludes His great prophecy in St. Luke xxi. 34-36. "Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.* Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all those things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."
* It is obvious that this can in so sense apply to Titus and his armies coming against Jerusalem.
Christians who are looking for a Millenium without Christ, are, it is evident from Christ's last great prophecy, greatly deceived. Christians who are looking for the improvement of the world, will see it in the increasing "distress of nations." Christians who are looking for the progress of the Church, will see it in the progression of the "down-grade" of error, departure from the Faith, and corruption of Truth! How much more blessed in the obedience of Faith to be "looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us." It is one thing to "escape" the Tribulation, it is another thing to go through it.
Dear brethren, amid the scenes which shall soon issue in "THE BEGINNING" of that Tribulation, may we heed this warning, and "escape" it by being now separated from the world by Christ, "found in Him," and gathered to Himself at His coming: Washed from our sins, sheltered from wrath, safe from judgment, through the precious blood of that same Jesus.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography