Pastor David B. Curtis


The Parousia

A careful look at the New Testament doctrine
of our Lord's Second Coming

By James Stuart Russell

II. Our Lord's Answer to the Disciples, cont.:

(i) The Parousia a time of judgment alike to the friends and the enemies of Christ.

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

MATT. xxv. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut. Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour' [wherein the Son of man cometh].

Almost all expositors suppose that Jerusalem and Israel now disappear wholly from the scene, and that our Lord refers exclusively to the final consummation of all things and the judgment of the human race. This supposed transition is rendered more easy to the English reader by a new chapter commencing at this point.

But has our Lord really dropped the subject with which He and His disciples had been hitherto occupied ? Has He passed from the near and imminent to a far distant era, separated from His own time by hundreds and thousands of years ? If it were so, we might surely expect some very distinct indication of the change of subject. But there is absolutely none. On the contrary, the supposition of a new theme being introduced by this parable is entirely forbidden by the express terms in which the parable opens and closes. it opens with a very explicit note of time,-' Tote,' then, at that time. There is no hiatus between the end of chap. xxiv. and the commencement of chap. xxv. The connecting link ' then' carries forward the discourse, and knits it into close connection as regards theme, time, and the persons addressed. This is further confirmed by the fact that the moral of the parable of the ten virgins is precisely the same as that of the good man of the house in the preceding chapter, viz. the necessity of watchfulness. The closing words,- 'Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour,'- so evidently addressed to the disciples, are the very same which our Lord had already spoken in chap. xxiv. 42; so that in both passages the reference must be to the self-same event.

It does not come within our province to give a detailed exposition of this parable. There are theologians who find a mystery in every word: in the number ten, in the number five, in virginity, in lamps, in oil, etc. (See Lange in loc.) As Calvin sarcastically observes, 'Multum se torquent quidam, in lucernis, in vasis, in oleo.' Suffice it here to note the great lesson of the parable. It is the necessity for constant readiness and watchfulness for the sudden and speedy return of the Son of man. Unwatchfulness and unreadiness would involve the penalty which befell the foolish virgins, viz. exclusion from the marriage supper of the Lamb.

We find therefore in this parable an organic connection with the whole previous discourse of our Lord. It is still the same great theme of which He is speaking,- the consummation which was to take place within the limits of the existing generation, -- and concerning which the disciples expressed so natural an anxiety.


(k) The Parousia a time of judgment.

Parable of the Talents.

MATT. xxv. 14-30. -- ' For [the kingdom of heaven is] as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I Will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well clone, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I win make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard mail, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance : but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the. unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

In this parable we find an evident continuation of the same sub though presented in a somewhat different aspect. The moral of the preceding parable was vigilance ; that of the present is diligence. It can hardly be said that a new element is introduced in this parable, for the representation of the coming of Christ as a time of judgment runs through the whole prophetic discourse of our Lord. It is this fact which gives point and urgency to the oft-reiterated call to watchfulness. Not only was it to be a time of judgment for Jerusalem and Israel, but even for the disciples of Christ themselves. They too were 'to stand before the Son of man.' There was danger lest 'that day' should come upon them unprepared and unaware. This association of judgment with the Parousia comes out in the parable of the good man of the house, and still more in that of the good and the evil. servants. It is yet more vividly expressed in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, has greater prominence still in the parable of the talents ; but it reaches the climax in the concluding parable, if it may be so called, of the sheep and the goats.

It is not necessary to enter into the details of the parable of the talents. Its leading features are simple and obvious. It contains a solemn warning to the servants of Christ to be faithful and diligent in the absence of their Lord. It points to a day when He would return and reckon with them. It sets forth the abundant recompense of the good and faithful, and the punishment of the unfaithful servant.

The point, however, which chiefly concerns us in this investigation is the relation of this parable to the preceding discourse. What can be more plain than the intimate connection between the one and the other? The connective particle 'for' in ver. 14 distinctly marks the continuation of the discourse. The theme is the same, the time is the same, the catastrophe is the same. Up to this point, therefore, we we find no break, no change, no introduction of a different topic ; all is continuous, homogeneous, one. Never for a moment has the discourse swerved from the great, all absorbing theme,- the approaching doom of the guilty city and nation, with the solemn events attendant thereon, all to take place within the period of that generation, and which the disciples, or some of them, would live to witness.

(1) The Parousia a time of judgment.

The Sheep and the Goats.

MATT. XXV. 31-46-' When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all [the] nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shalt set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

'Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Die in: naked, and ye clothed Die: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee ,in hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink ? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in ? or naked, and clothed thee ? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee ? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

'Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire., prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat : I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee ? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.'

Up to this point we have found the discourse of Jesus on the Mount of Olives one connected and continuous prophecy, having sole reference to the great catastrophe impending over the Jewish nation, and which was to take place, according(, to our Lord's prediction, before the existing generation should pass away. Now, however, we encounter a passage which, in the opinion of almost all commentators, cannot be understood as referring to Jerusalem or Israel, but to the whole human race and the consummation of all things. If the consensus of expositors can establish an interpretation, no doubt this passage must be regarded as wholly quitting the subject of the disciples' interrogatory, and describing the last scene of all in this world's history.

It may be freely admitted that this parable, or parabolic description, has many points of difference from the preceding portion of our Lord's discourse. It seems to stand separate and distinct from the rest, without the connecting links which we have found in other sections. Still more, it seems to take a wider range than Jerusalem and Israel ; it reads like the judgment, not of a nation, but of all nations; not of a city or a country, but of a world ; not a passing crisis, but final consummation.

It is therefore with a deep sense of the difficulty of the task that we venture to impugn the interpretation of so many wise and good men, and to contend that the passage is not only -,in integral part of the prophecy, but also belongs wholly to the subject of our Lord's discourse,-- the judgment of Israel and the end of the [Jewish] age.

1. This parable, though in our English version standing apart and unconnected with the context, is really connected by ,i very sufficient link with what goes before. This is a parent in the Greek, where we find the particle (Greek), the force of which is to indicate transition and connection, -- transition to a new illustration, and connection with the foregoing Context. Alford, in his revised New Testament,. preserves the continuative particle-- 'But when the Son of man shall have come in his glory,' etc. It might with equal propriety be rendered -- And when,' etc.

2. This 'coming of the Son of man' has already been predicted by our Lord (Matt. xxiv. 30, and parallel passages, and the time expressly defined, being included in the comprehensive declaration, 'Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled' (Matt. xxiv. 34).

3. It deserves particular notice that the description of the coming of the Son of man in his glory' given in this parable tallies in all points with that in Matt. xvi. 27, 28, of which it is expressly affirmed that it would be witnessed by some then present when the prediction was made.

It may be well to compare the two descriptions

MATT. xvi. 27, 28.

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

'Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

MATT. XXV. 31-33.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations,' etc.

Here the reader will note

(a) That in both passages the subject referred to is the same, viz. the coming of the Son of man- the Parousia.

(b) In both passages He is described as coming in glory.

(c) In both He is attended by the holy angels.

(d) In both He comes as a King. ' Coming in his kingdom; ' ' He shall sit upon his throne; Then shall the King,' etc.

(e) 'In both He comes to judgment.

(f) In both the judgment is represented as in some sense universal. 'He shall reward every man 'Before him shall be gathered all the nations.'

(g) In Matt. xvi. 28 it is expressly stated that this coming in glory, etc., was to take place in the lifetime of some then present. This fixes the occurrence of the Parousia within the limit of a human life, thus being in perfect accord with the period defined by our Lord in His prophetic discourse. 'This generation shall not pass,' etc.

We are fully warranted, therefore, in regarding the coming of the Son of man in Matt. xxv. as identical with that referred to in Matt. xvi., which some of the disciples were to live to witness.

Thus, notwithstanding the words ' all the nations ' in Matt. xxv. 32, we are brought to the conclusion that it is not the 'final consummation of all things ' which is there spoken of, but the judgment of Israel at the close of the [Jewish] ,aeon or age.

4. But it will still be objected that a very formidable difficulty remains in the expression 'all the nations.' The difficulty, however, is more apparent than real; for

(1) It is not at all uncommon to find in Scripture universal propositions which must be understood in a qualified or restricted sense.

There is a case in point in this very discourse of our Lord. In Matt. xxiv. 22, speaking of the 'great tribulation,' He Says, ' Except those (lays should be shortened there should no flesh be saved.' Now it is evident that this 'great tribulation' was limited to Jerusalem, or, at all events, to Judea, and yet we have an expression used in regard to the inhabitants of a city or country -which is wide enough to include the whole human race, in which sense Lange and Alford actually understand it.

(2) There is great probability in the opinion that the phrase ' all the nations ' is equivalent to 'all the tribes of the land' (Matt. xxiv. 30). There is no impropriety in designating the tribes as nations. The promise of God to Abraham was that he should be the father of many nations (Gen. xvii. 5; Rom. iv. 17, 18).

In our Lord's time it was usual to speak of the inhabitants of Palestine as consisting of several nations. Josephus speaks of ' the nation of the Samaritans,' 'the nation of the Batanaeans,' ' the nation of the Galileans,'-- using the very word (e;tnoj) which we find in the passage before us. Judea, was a distinct nation, often with a king of its own; so also was Samaria; and so with Idumea, Galilee, Paraea, Batanea, Trachonitis, Ituraea, Abilene,-- all of which had at different times princes with the title of Ethnarch, a name which signifies the ruler of a nation. It is doing no violence, then, to the language to understand (pa,nta ta. e;nh ) as referring, to 'all the nations' of Palestine, or ' all the tribes of the land.'

(3) This view receives strong confirmation from the fact that the same phrase in the apostolic commission (Matt. xxviii.19), 'Go and teach all the nations,' does not seem to have been understood by the disciples as referring to the whole population of the globe, or to any nations beyond Palestine. It is commonly supposed that the apostles knew that they had received a charge to evangelise the world. If they did know it, they were culpably remiss in not acting upon it. But it is presumable that the words of our Lord (lid not convey any such idea to their mind. The learned Professor Burton observes : I It was not until fourteen years after our Lord's ascension that St. Paul travelled -for the first time, and preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Nor is there any evidence that during that period the other apostles passed the confines of Judea.' (1)

The fact seems to be that the language of the apostolic commission did not convey to the minds of the apostles any such ecumenical ideas. Nothing more astonished them than the discovery that 'God had granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life' (Acts xi. 18). When St. Peter was challenged for going in 'to men uncircumcised, and eating with them,' it does not appear that he vindicated his conduct by an appeal to the terms of the apostolic commission. If the phrase ' all the nations' had been understood by the disciples in its literal and most comprehensive sense, it is difficult to imagine bow they could have failed to recognise ,it once the universal character of the gospel, and their commission to preach it alike to Jew and Gentile. It required a distinct revelation from heaven to overcome the Jewish prejudices of the apostles, and to make known to them the mystery 'that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel ' (Ephes. iii. 6).

In view of these considerations we hold it reasonable and warrantable to give the phrase ' all the nations' a restricted signification, and to limit it to the nations of Palestine. In this sense it harmonises well with the words of our Lord, " Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come' (Matt. x. 23).

5. Once more, the peculiar test of character which is applied by the Judge in this parabolic description is strongly opposed to the notion that this scene represents the final judgment of the whole human race. It will be observed that the destiny of the righteous and the wicked is made to turn on the treatment which they respectively offered to the suffering disciples of Christ. All moral qualities, all virtuous conduct, all true faith, are apparently thrown out of the reckoning, and acts of charity and beneficence to distressed disciples are alone taken into account. It is not surprising that this circumstance should have occasioned much perplexity both to theologians and general readers. Is this the doctrine of St. Paul ? Is this the ground of justification before God set forth in the New Testament? Are we to conclude that the everlasting destiny of the whole human race, from Adam to the last man, will finally turn on their charity and sympathy towards the persecuted and suffering disciples of Christ ?

The difficulty is a grave one, on the supposition that we have here a description of 'the general judgment at the last day,' and ought not to be slurred over, as commonly it is. How could the nations which existed before the time of Christ be tried by such a standard ? How could the nations which never heard of Christ,-- or those which flourished in the ages when Christianity was prosperous and powerful, be tried by such a standard ? It is manifestly inappropriate and inapplicable. But the difficulty is easily and completely solved if we regard this judicial transaction as the judgment of Israel at the close of the Jewish aeon. It is the rejected King of Israel who is the judge: it is the hostile and unbelieving generation, the last and worst of the nation, that is arraigned before His tribunal. Their treatment of His disciples, especially of His apostles, might most fitly and justly be made the criterion of character in ' discerning between the righteous and the wicked.' Such a test would be most appropriate in an age when Christianity was a persecuted faith, and this is evidently supposed by the very terms of the King's address :- 'I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, was naked, sick, and in prison.' The persons designated as 'these my brethren,' and who are taken as the representatives of Christ Himself, are evidently the apostles of our Lord, in whom He hungered, and thirsted, was naked, sick, and in prison. All this is in perfect harmony with the words of Christ to His disciples, when He sent them forth to preach-- 'He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth. a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward ; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward' (Matt. x. 40-42).

We are thus brought to the conclusion, the only one which in all respects suits the tenor of the entire discourse, that we have here, not the final judgment of the whole human race, but that of the guilty nation or nations of Palestine, who rejected their King, despitefully treated and slew His messengers (Matt. xxii. 1-14), and whose day of doom was now near at hand.

This being so, the entire prophecy on the Mount of Olives is seen to be one homogeneous and connected whole: 'simplex duntaxat et unum.' It is no longer a confused and unintelligible medley, baffling all interpretation, seeming to speak with two voices, and pointing in different directions at the same time. It is a clear, consecutive, and historically truthful representation of the judgment of the Theocratic nation at the close of the age, or Jewish period. The theory of interpretation which regards this discourse as typical of the final judgment of the human race, and of a world-wide catastrophe attendant upon that event,-- really finds no countenance in the prediction itself, while it involves inextricable perplexity and confusion. If, on the one hand, it could be shown that the prophecy, as a whole, is in every part equally applicable to two different and widely separated events; or, on the other hand, that at a certain point it quits the. one subject, and takes tip the other, then the double sense, or twofold reference, would stand upon some intelligible basis. But we have found no dividing line in the prophecy between the near and the remote, and all attempts to draw such a line are unsatisfactory and arbitrary in the extreme. Still more untenable is the hypothesis of a double meaning running through the whole; a hypothesis which supposes a 'verifying faculty ' in the expositor or reader, and gives so large a discretionary power to the ingenious critic that it seems utterly incompatible with the reverence due to the Word of God.

The perplexity which the double-sense theory involves is placed in a. strong light by the confession of Dean Alford, who, at the close of his comments on this prophecy, honestly expresses his dissatisfaction with the views which he had propounded. ' I think it proper,' be says, ' to state, in this third edition, that, having now entered upon the deeper study of the prophetic portions of the New Testament, I do not feel by any means that full confidence which I once did in the exegesis, quoad prophetical interpretation, here given of the three portions of this chap. xxv. But I have no other system to substitute, and some of the points here dwelt on seem to me as weighty as ever. I very much question whether the thorough study of Scripture prophecy will not make me more and more distrustful of all human systematising, and less willing to hazard strong assertion on any portion of the subject.' (July 1855.) In the fourth edition Alford adds, 'Endorsed, October 1858.' This is candour highly honourable to the critic, but it suggests the reflection, --if, with all the light and experience of eighteen centuries, the prophecy on the Mount of Olives still remains an unsolved enigma, bow could it have been intelligible to the disciples who eagerly listened to it as it fell from the lips of the Master ? Can we suppose that at such a moment he would speak to them in inexplicable riddles ?-that when they asked for bread He would give them a stone ? Impossible. There is no reason for believing that the disciples were unable to comprehend the words of Jesus, and if these words have been misapprehended in subsequent times, it is because a false and unnatural method of interpretation has obscured and distorted what in itself is luminous and simple enough. It is matter for just surprise that such disregard should have been shown by expositors to the express limitations of time laid down by our Lord ; that forced and unnatural meanings should have given to such words as ai,w.n genea. entew.j, &C. ; that arbitrary lines of division should have been drawn in the discourse where none exist,-- and generally that the prophecy should have been subjected to a treatment which would not be tolerated in the criticism of any Greek or Latin classic. Only let the language of Scripture be treated with common fairness, and interpreted by the principles of grammar and common sense, and much obscurity and misapprehension will be removed, and the very form and substance of the truth will come forth to view. (2)

Before passing away from this deeply interesting prophecy it may be proper to advert to the marvellously minute fulfilment which it received, as testified by an unexceptionable witness,-- the Jewish historian Josephus. It is a fact of singular interest and importance that there should have been preserved to posterity a full and authentic record of the times and transactions referred to in our Lord's prophecy ; and that this record should be from the pen of a Jewish statesman, soldier, priest, and man of letters, not only having access to the best sources of information, but himself an eye-witness of many of the events which he relates. It gives additional weight to this testimony that it does not come from a Christian, who might have been suspected of partisanship, but from a Jew, indifferent, if not hostile, to the cause of Jesus.

So striking is the coincidence between the prophecy and the history that the old objection of Porphyry against the Book of Daniel, that it must have been written after the event, might be plausibly alleged, were there the slightest pretense for such an insinuation.

Though the Jewish people were at all times restless and uneasy under the yoke of Rome, there were no urgent symptoms of disaffection at the time when our Lord delivered this prediction of the approaching destruction of the temple, the city, and the nation. The higher classes were profuse in their professions of loyalty to the Imperial government: 'We have no king but Caesar' was their cry. It was the policy of Rome to grant the free exercise of their own religion to the subject provinces. There was, therefore, no apparent reason why the new and splendid temple of Jerusalem should not stand for centuries, and Judea enjoy a greater tranquillity and prosperity under the aegis of Caesar than she had ever known under her native princes. Yet before the generation which rejected and crucified the Son of David had wholly passed away, the Jewish nationality was extinguished : Jerusalem was a desolation; ' the holy and beautiful house' on Mount Zion was razed to the ground; and the unhappy people, who knew not the time of their visitation, were overwhelmed by calamities without a parallel in the annals of the world.

All this is undeniable; and yet it would be too much, to expect that this will be regarded as an adequate fulfilment of our Saviour's words by many whom prejudice-or traditional interpretations have taught to see more in the prophecy than ever inspiration included in it. The language, it is said, is too magnificent, the transactions too stupendous to be satisfied by so inadequate an event as the judgment of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem. We have already endeavoured to point out the real significance and grandeur of that event. But the one sufficient answer to all such objections is the express declaration of our Lord, which covers the whole ground of this prophetic discourse, ' Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things are fulfilled.' No doubt there are some portions of this prediction which are capable of verification by human testimony. Does any one expect Tacitus, or Suetonius, or Josephus, or any other historian, to relate that 'the Son of man was seen coining in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; that He summoned the nations to his t ribunal, and rewarded every man according to his works ' ? There is a region into which witnesses and reporters may not enter; flesh and blood may not gaze upon the mysteries of the spiritual and immaterial. But there is also a large portion of the prophecy which is capable of verification, and which has been amply verified. Even an assailant of Christianity, who impugns the supernatural knowledge of Christ, is compelled to admit that ' the portion relating to the destruction of the city is singularly definite, and corresponds very closely with the actual event.' (4) The punctual fulfilment of that part of the prophecy which comes within the field of human observation is the guarantee for the truth of the remainder, which does not fall within that sphere. We shall find in the sequel of this discussion that the events which now appear to many incredible were the confident expectation and hope of the apostolic age, and that the early Christians were fully persuaded of their reality and nearness. We are placed, therefore, in this dilemma -- either the words of Jesus have failed, and the hopes of His disciples have been falsified ; or else those words and hopes have been fulfilled, and the prophecy in all its parts has been fully accomplished. One thing is certain, the veracity of our Lord is committed to the assertion that the whole and every part of the events contained in this prophecy were to take place before the close of the existing generation. If any language may claim to be precise and definite, it is that which our Lord employs to mark the limits of the time within which all His words were to be fulfilled. Whatever other catastrophes, of other nations, in other ages, there may be in the future, concerning them our Lord is silent. He speaks of His own guilty nation, and of His judicial coming at the close of the age, as had been often and clearly foretold by Malachi, by John the Baptist, and by Himself. (5) For this His words are to be bold responsible ; but beyond this all is mere human speculation, the hypothesis of theologians, grounded upon no warranty of Scripture.

We have thus endeavoured to rescue this great prophecy from the loose and uncritical method of interpretation by which it has been so much obscured and perplexed; to let it speak the same distinct and definite meaning to us as it did to the disciples. Reverence for the Word of God, and due regard to the principles of interpretation, forbid us to impose non-natural constructions and double senses, which in effect would be 'to add to the words of this prophecy.' We dare not play fast and loose with the express and precise statements of Christ. We find but one Parousia; one end of the age; one impending catastrophe; one terminus ad quem, -- 'this generation.' We protest against the exegesis which handles the Word of God in such free fashion as commends itself to many. 'The Lord,' it is said, 'is always coming to those who look for His appearing. We see His coming on a large scale in every crisis of the great human story. In revolutions, in reformations, and in the crises of our individual history. For each one of us there is an advent of the Lord, as often as new and larger views of truth are presented to us, or we are called to enter on new and perchance more laborious and exciting duties.' (6) In this way it might be difficult to say what is not a 'coming of the Lord.' But by making it anything and everything we make it nothing. It is evacuated -of all precision and reality. There is no reason why the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection should not Similarly become common and everyday transactions as well as the Parousia. It is one thing to say that the principles of the divine government are eternal and immutable, and therefore what God does to one people, or to one age, He will do in similar circumstances to other nations and other ages ; and it is quite another thing to say that this prophecy has two meanings: one for Jerusalem and Israel, and another for the world and the final consummation of all things. We hold, with Neander, that 'the words of Christ, like His works, contain within them the germ of an infinite development, reserved for future ages to unfold.' (7) But this does not imply that prophecy is anything that an ingenious fancy can devise, or hag occult and ulterior senses underlying the apparent and natural signification of the language. The duty of the interpreter and student of Scripture is not to try what Scripture may be made to say, but to submit his understanding to 'the. true sayings of God,' which are usually as simple as they are profound. (8)


1.Professor Burton's Bampton Lecture, p. 20. - Back

2. The following extract is taken from an excellent article in the first volume of the Bibliotheca Sacra (1843), by Dr. E. Robinson, entitled 'The coming of Christ.' Up to ver. 42 of chap. xxiv. of St. Matthew, Dr. Robinson maintains the exclusive reference of the prediction to Jerusalem, and thus notices the interpretations which refer it to the 'end of the world:'

'The question now arises whether, under these limitations of time, a reference of our Lord's language to the day of judgment and the end of the world, in our sense of these terms, is possible. Those who maintain this view attempt to dispose of the difficulties arising from these limitations in different ways. Some assign to (e.nqe,wj) the meaning suddenly, as it is employed by the LXX. in Job v. 3, for the Hebrew (map) But even in this passage the purpose of the writer is simply to mark an immediate sequence -- to intimate that another and consequent event happens forthwith. Nor would anything be gained even could the word (nqe,wj) be thus disposed of, so long as the subsequent limitation to 'this generation' remained. And in this again others have tried to refer genea to the race of the Jews, or to the disciples of Christ, not only without the slightest ground, but contrary to all usage and all analogy. All these attempts to apply force to the meaning of the language are in vain, and are now abandoned by most commentators of note.'

After so luminous an exposition it is disappointing to find Dr. Robinson failing to carry out the principles with which he started consistently to the end. Embarrassed by the foregone conclusion that the I final judgment' and 'the end of the world' are somewhere to be found in the prophecy, and unable to see where the theme of Jerusalem ends, and the other and greater theme of the world's catastrophe begins, he adopts the following method. Starting with the assumption that the parable of the sheep and the goats must describe the latter event, he feels his way backwards to the preceding parable of the talents, in which he finds the same subject, the doctrine of final retribution. Going still further back, to the parable of the tell virgins, he finds the object of that parable to be the inculcation of the same important truth. The twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew must therefore, he concludes, refer wholly to the transactions of the last great day.

'But,' he continues, 'the latter portion of chap. xxiv., viz. from ver. 43 to 51, is intimately connected with the opening parable of chap. xxv.,' which seems to furnish a sufficient ground for regarding this passage also as referring to the future judgment. At ver. 43 of Matthew xxiv., therefore, Dr. Robinson conceive that our Lord leaves the subject of Jerusalem altogether and takes up a new topic, the judgment of the world.

It will at once be apparent that the whole of this reasoning is vitiated by the false premise with which it starts, viz., the assumption that the parable of the sheep and the goats refers to the judgment of the human race. We have already shown that there is no new departure at Matt. xxiv. 48. - Back

4. Contemporary Review, Nov. 1876. See Note B, Part I. - Back

5. Jonathan Edwards says, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, -' Thus there was a final end to the Old Testament world : all was finished with a kind of day of judgment, in which the people of God were saved, and His enemies terribly destroyed.' -- History story of Redemption, vol. i. p. 445. - Back

6. Evang. Meg. Feb. 1877, p. 69. - Back

7. Life of Christ, 165. - Back

8. See Note A, Part I. - Back

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322