When someone introduces a different slant on what we have formerly accepted, our first impulse is to brand it with some denigrating name and counter it with a few familiar proof-texts. However, that only deals with the issue superficially and prejudicially regardless of whether our assumption is true or false.
When we began reading more recently that the prophecies relating to Israel and the coming of the Lord were all fulfilled in the first century, that was the sort of knee-jerk reaction to it. The matter was called the A.D 70 theories and was dismissed quickly by a few proof-texts upholding traditional concepts without giving any sufficient harmonizing explanations of the many references to the imminent return of Christ.
In our last issue, I noted numerous references from Malachi and the Gospels to the soon return of the Lord to be fulfilled in the lifetime of some of Jesus’ listeners. Now we will extend our look through Acts and the Epistles. We will note that terms and expressions like day of the Lord, coming (parousia – either arrival or continuing presence) of the Lord, the great and terrible day, the day approaching, the day of his coming, the day of his appearing (his being revealed, the revelation / apocalypse), coming in the clouds, end of the world-age, last days, last time, last hour, end of all things, day of vengeance, coming in his glory, and coming in his kingdom all spoke of something seemingly imminent and within the lifetime of many of those addressed.
These things are being offered here to challenge restudy rather than to propose all the answers. Let us restudy non-defensively, realizing that this is not a life-or-death issue.
Further confirming Jesus’ promise to come to his disciples, two men present as Jesus ascended assured them, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same manner as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
On Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy worded in the cataclysmic style of the Hebrew writers, and declared that the present happenings were fulfilling the prophecies of the last days and the coming of the day of the Lord (2:17-21). He concluded his discourse with the exhortation to “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (v. 40) in order that they be spared when Jesus came in vengeance upon the nation. Again, this judgment is connected with the parousia. Later, Paul would declare, “He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed..” (17:31).
The coming and vengeance is mentioned again in Paul’s first epistle. Those early converts were “..to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes. 1:9-10). For those who had killed Jesus, “God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (2:14-16). “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (3:19). To disciples living then, Paul’s desire was “..that he may establish our hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (3:11-13).
In perhaps the most widely used passage of Paul concerning the parousia, he consistently includes himself (we, not they) with those addressed in all the events to occur (4:13-17). He identifies himself with “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord” and “we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” Continuing his remarks in Chapter 5, he told them the Lord will come as a thief but that the day should not take them by surprise because of their watchfulness. Are they still watching?! Then he gives his benediction for them: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (5:23-24).
To the Thessalonians who were already suffering persecutions and afflictions arising from the disturbing times, Paul encourages his current readers, “…since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel …To this end we always pray for you…” (2 Thes. 1:5-12). Continuing in Chapter 2, he assured them that the current distresses were not evidence that Jesus had already come but that further developments of “the mystery of lawlessness” already at work but still restrained would bring a falling away of many, even as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24, and the revealing of the “man of sin.” Paul was writing to current disciples personally, not to us living hundreds of years later.
Paul told the Corinthians that they were enriched “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). Are they still waiting? Their work would be tested, “for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (3:10-15). Some would be rewarded while the work of others would be lost without the loss of their own salvation.
In further reference to that time of judgment, Paul urges, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things that are now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God” and “..that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (4:5; 5:5).
The End of the Ages Has Come
The immediacy of these things is emphasized: “I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none… For the form of this world is passing away.” Also, “Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.” (7:29-31; 10:11).). The end of the ages had come upon those addressed. In the communion they were to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26).
The association Paul makes of the coming and the resurrection deserves much explanation which I am not prepared to give, but we shall only note that connection here. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” 15:22-24). Still including himself with the Corinthian disciples whom he addressed, he declared, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (15:51-52). Though the ancients and some disciples who had died were “asleep,” Paul said that all of those addressed would not, but that instead they (“we”) would be changed instantly in their transition.
In his personal autograph of the letter, he shouts, “Our Lord, come!” (maranatha) (16:22). That would have had little meaning to them if it was referring to something in the dimly distant future.
In 2 Corinthians he continues including himself with the disciples addressed: “that you can be proud of us as we can be of you, on the day of the Lord Jesus” and “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (1:14: 4:14). “Though our outer nature is wasting away…” applied to him and those addressed (4:16). He wrote of what awaited if, not when, their present earthly tent were destroyed. God would not leave them naked but would clothe them with immortality prepared for the accompanying judgment (5:1-10).
In Galatians we see only an indirect allusion to the subject: “…who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age…” (1:4).
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul makes use of some of the terminology that we are making note of, such as “But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Etc. (2:6-16). He encouraged disciples with, “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand” (13:11-12). Also, “…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (16:20).
The Colossians were assured, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:4), and “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (4:6)
The Ephesians “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (1:13-14) and “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30). Paul spoke of their present age and the one which was to come (1:21; 2:7).
Paul is more specific in the Philippian epistle. He assured them, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” .. “so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:6, 10). He adds, “But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself” (3:20-21). Paul included himself with those addressed, and reminded them, “The Lord is at hand” (4:5).
Much in the first epistle to Timothy relates to the parousia though it is more involved, like this prediction of an apostasy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits, etc.” (4:1f). “I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time…” (6:14) is another assurance of the immediacy of his coming in their lifetime.
In 2 Timothy are references to that Day looming before them. “…he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (1:12), “…may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day…” (1:18), and “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day…” (Read 4:1-8). Timothy was forewarned of the stressful times of the last days that were approaching (3:1-9).
To Titus, Paul wrote encouraging those then “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2:13).
The Day Approaching
As the Day was approaching, Hebrew disciples were already being tested by persecutions. An unidentified writer wrote a letter, or treatise, to them to confirm their faith and further convince unbelieving Jews because the great change was at hand. The spiritual kingdom inaugurated about forty years earlier on Pentecost would be fully confirmed by the destruction of the Jewish system. That which was established at the shaking of Sinai would be supplanted in another shaking by a spiritual kingdom which cannot be shaken (Heb. 12). We will list here some of the terms used.
1:1-2 – in these last days, ..through whom he created the worlds (ages).
2:5 -the world (age) to come.
3:14 – if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
6:11 – the full assurance of hope until the end.
9:26 – he has appeared once for all at the end of the age.
Please look at this passage for richer meanings. “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (v. 26-28).
10:25, 37 – encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. .. For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry.
12:18-29 speaks of the nearness of final consummation.
13:14 – we seek the city which is to come.
From the doomed city of Jerusalem, James writes to the scattered Jews concerning the parousia. Note the following references.
5:1, 3 – miseries that are coming upon you … for the last days.
5:7 – be patient until the coming of the Lord.
5:8 – the coming of the Lord is at hand.
5:9 – behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.
These references speak of the immediacy of the coming in judgment of the Lord for those addressed then. Peter, in his two epistles, also writes to the dispersed disciples who were already suffering from the tumults of the time. Employing the Hebrew literary style, he writes using their cataclysmic literal descriptions of the overthrow and change of religious, social, and national systems. We shall list some of his references.
1 Peter 1:5 – for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1:7 – at the revelation of Jesus Christ
1:13 – the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
4:5 – who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
4:7 – The end of all things is at hand; keep sober and sane, etc.
4:12-13 – ..rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
4:17-19 – ..the time has come for judgment to begin.
5:1 – ..a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.
5:4 – And when the chief Shepherd is manifested.
5:10 – And after you have suffered a little while.
2 Peter 3:3-4 – ..scoffers will come in the last days…where is the promise of his coming?
3:7, 10f – being kept until the day of judgment and destruction …the day of the Lord will come like a thief… waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.
3:14 – …since you wait for these…
The Last Hour
John adds his assurances, “And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour (1 John 2:17-18). “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at this coming” (2:28). “..we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (3:2).
To the seven churches of Asia, John related a message given to him by the Spirit. It was “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show to his servants what must soon take place. … for the time is near” (Rev, 1:1, 3). “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (1:7) It would be in the lifetime of those who put him to death and in retribution for their deed. The parousia would be a judgment against the evils in the seven churches of Asia. If it referred to things hundreds of years in the future, it would have been meaningless to them for those churches are not in existence. “I will come to you soon..”, “..hold fast what you have, until I come”, and “I will come like a thief..” (2:16, 25; 3:4).
22:6 – ..what must soon take place.
22:7 – ..And behold, I am coming soon.
22:12 – Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.
22:20 – He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Here I have scanned references in the epistles regarding the immediacy of the return of Christ as set forth by James Stuart Russell in his book, The Parousia, I have not interrelated these references as he has in his book published in 1878. To order the book for further study, check details in the article in the last issue.
Even if we say that some of the many references in these two articles refer to other comings, we have to admit in all honesty that most of them definitely and unquestionably speak of the imminence, immediacy, and expectancy of his coming in the generation of both the writers and those addressed.
Were Jesus and the writers deceived, or deceiving? Were Jesus’ plans thwarted by some circumstance? If so, can we believe anything else he taught and promised us? Where did he tell of a delay of two millennia or more in fulfilling his plans?
What, other than our pride, can be lost by a restudy of these matters? If you already have satisfactory answers, then skip this class! So far, I have offered few opinions but have tried to state what others have taught about the preterist views of prophecy. If the Lord wills, in the next installment, I will touch on some of the explanations that have been offered relating to the coming of the Lord, his administering judgment, and the resurrection all involved with the last days culminating in A.D. 70. I will still leave things open-ended for you to reach your own conclusions.