Paul knew full well that the earthly and material Hebrew Kingdom would came in its own good time, but we claim most emphatically that none of the writers of the New Testament expected the Millennium within the first century, as has been very illogically reasoned by same.
As proof of this we must carefully examine the 21st chapter of Luke, bearing in mind that here we have a prophecy made by the Lord before His death. No subsequent statement in the Scriptures can set this prophecy aside. God never requires to set aside previous statements He has made, or correct them, as we often have to do. He may amplify or repeat in fuller form, but His Word can never be found defective.
Some of those listening to the Lord had asked Him about the time when the huge stones of the Sanctuary would be disrupted and the Holy Place demolished. The Lord replied that false Messiahs would come, and they would hear of wars and disturbances as occurring first, before the consummation arrived (verses 8 and 9). Then He told them (v. 10) that nation would be roused against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There would be (v.11) great earthquakes and famines and pestilences, frightful sights and great signs from heaven.
All these things lie still in the future. The Lord then continues, in v. 12, to answer their question regarding the time when the Temple would be destroyed. He steps right back to a time long before the last days, and describes events which took place within a generation in the first century. "But before all these things they will be laying hands an you . . .and persecuting you..." Then in verse 20, "Now whenever you may be perceiving Jerusalem being surrounded by encampments, then know that her desolation has drawn near. Then let those in Judea be fleeing into. the mountains . . .seeing that these are days of vengeance. . ." Then comes the time when Israel will be "led into captivity into all the Nations" (v. 24), and "Jerusalem will be trodden by Nations until eras of Nations may be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in sun and moon and constellations and on the earth. . . perplexity . . .fear and apprehensiveness. . . for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then they will be viewing the Son of Mankind coming in a cloud. . ." From verse 12 to the middle of verse 24 events are described which happened well "Before all these things" spoken of in verses 8 and 9, and verses 25-27. We might say, nineteen hundred years before these things. The Lord is here prophesying events which took place before and about the year A.D. 70. The words were uttered a good few years before Paul came an the scene, but it is hardly credible that Luke would not share his information with Paul later.
That generation was not to pass away until all things the Lord prophesied might be occurring. He did not say, till all things would be fulfilled. They were to be set in motion, come into being, as indeed, eras of Gentiles are still being fulfilled.
In other wards, all throughout the period covered by the book of Acts, certain terrible events were looming over the guilty nation of Israel. One of these events was the desolation of Jerusalem. Surely that generation which put to death the Lord of Glory must have been the most hardened and wicked that Israel had ever produced. One of the more immediate of the impending judgments was the desolation of the City and "days of vengeance," followed by a captivity into all the nations. It might be argued, of course, that all these events are to be fulfilled only towards the close of the current age. Would this mean that the Jews are once more to be led captive out of Palestine and scattered among all nations ?
The Lord dropped no hint that a change of heart in Israel (i.e. repentance) would stay the execution of this doom impending over the nation. We ought to understand verse 32 in the light of verse 28, "Now at these things beginning to be occurring." The events from verse 12 onwards commenced to take place very soon after the crucifixion, while the second half of verse 24 is still occurring. The Lord's prophecy is even now being fulfilled.
Even if the Nation had repented during the Acts period, the Lord could not have returned to them and set up a Millennial Kingdom. Peter's speech in Acts 3:20-21 proves this. What Peter promises is seasons of refreshing from the Lord's face, followed by the dispatch of the Lord, but under the proviso that heaven must receive Him until "times of restoration of all which God talks through the mouth of His holy prophets from obscurity." There is as large a parenthesis between verses 19 and 20 as there is between verses 11 and 12 of Luke 21, or in the middle of verse 24 of the same chapter.
I do not think anyone could place the captivity into all nations at any other time than the first century A.D., just when history places it. And it must be understood that such a huge event is not one that could happen in a few days. Nations cannot be completely uprooted or replanted within a brief time.
It is necessary also to make due allowance for the expression, "eras (or seasons) of nations." This surely implies a very long period. Not eras of the nations, in general, but eras of individual nations, One after the other.
Had Israel repented in the first century, before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, and had their Kingdom been "restored," are we to understand that the seasons of Gentiles were to interrupt the Kingdom? Was the reign of Messiah to be disrupted in some way?
The prophets in Israel knew there was to come a period of unknown duration and character, intervening between the sufferings of Messiah and the glories of the Kingdom. According. To 1 Peter 1:10, they searched out what or what particular era the spirit of Messiah within them made evident, testifying beforehand to the sufferings in store for Messiah. As to the defection of the chosen nation, there never was any secret. What the Prophets were deeply concerned about was the nature and extent of the interval between the murder of Messiah and the events which were to follow in the history of the nation.
That the Christ was to be slain, and rise on the third day the disciples ought to have known, as they had been plainly told. But even after His resurrection they were just as ignorant about the immediate fate of the nation, Apparently they had paid little heed to the discourse narrated in Luke 21.
It is quite true that in Acts 1:6-8 the disciples appeared to believe there was a possibility of the Israelitish Kingdom being restored "at this time." The Lord lets them go on in their ignorance. Often He preferred His listeners to think out things for themselves. It was not for them to know the times or the seasons just yet. The fact that they were to go off and proclaim a message must not be taken as implying that the Kingdom was coming in their day.
We might ask the important question, was it likely that God would restore the earthly, material, political Kingdom of Israel, ere the people of the Kingdom had entered His spiritual Kingdom?
A much more important matter centres around that frequent title, The Son of Mankind, so often used by the Lord. Jerusalem will not be acquainted with the Lord until she shall say, "Blessed is He Who is coming in name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39). But it is just as true that Israel shall not see Him again except as the Son of Mankind. He is to come again as Son of Mankind (Matt. 24:27-44). The nation that could not tolerate Paul after he had mentioned His commission to Gentiles (Acts 22:21) was totally unable to receive as Messiah Him who was Son of Mankind. The mob which martyred Stephen could tolerate him only until he declared that he beheld the Son of Mankind standing at God's right hand. (Act7:56). When the Lord asked His disciples Matt. 16:13 "Who are men saying the Son of Mankind is?" He was asking a very difficult question. Peter rightly declared Him to be the Christ, the Son of God, the living God. But this does not tell us whether he understood the expression "Son of Mankind."
When the Chief Priest asked the Lord whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, He acknowledged it. He was the Son of God, though in extreme humiliation and weakness. But the Lord tells him something more, that it is as the Son of Mankind that He will be coming on the clouds of heaven. Not as a Jewish nationalist Messiah will He return to earth, but as the one unique Son of solidaric Mankind. Surely this was double blasphemy to the Chief Priest. What did the religious Jew have in common with a Messiah who summed up all humanity in Himself? What the Jew had failed to do was to identify himself with the Nations. The Gentiles were outsiders, dogs. But the Son of Mankind identifies Himself completely with the whole race. The title "Son of Humanity" incorporates far more than mere Judaism could produce.
In the Acts account, the only prospect of the Kingdom is distant, if not very distant. No wonder that the well-known term ,parousia (presence) does not occur in Acts. This is rather surprising, if that parousia was expected within that generation.
Peter, in his epistles, is not awaiting any immediate Kingdom. He did foresee his martyrdom, and makes preparations for the period after his departure, so that the saints should lack nothing (2 Peter 1:13-15). He points to the rise of apostates (ch. 2) and speaks of the "last days," and the scoffers who will then ridicule the message concerning the Lord's presence. Peter tells of the longsuffering of the Lord, who is not slack regarding His promises. Instead of waiting for the Hebrew Kingdom, Peter points forward to the presence or parousia of the Day of God. Then the glorious prospect of "eon-day," the great period of Israel's bliss, comes into mind. He ascribes glory to Christ "both now and for eon-day," as though that eon lay far in the distant future, in the Day of Jehovah.
James does not witness to a soon coming Kingdom, but recommends patience till the presence of the Lord, which he says "has drawn near" (ch. 5:7-8). Yet in the next verse he adds that "The Judge stands before the doors." The Note here in the Concordant Version ought to be studied. An event may draw near without actually happening for a very long time. It would be true for us today to say that the Consummation is drawing near.
Heaven must receive the Lord Jesus until the times of the restoration of all things. Therefore Paul nowhere states that the Rapture of I Thess. 4 was an expectation soon to be realized. He too points forward to the time when wolves' would enter the flock; he foretells the 'apostacy,' and the perils of the last days. He seemed to be aware that when the Son of Mankind returned, He would only with difficulty find the faith on the earth. Paul seemed to foresee a long period of decline after his decease:
The Corinthians were awaiting the Revelation or Apocalypse of the Lord: We cannot deny it. But that does not necessarily mean they were on the lookout for an immediate Revelation of the Lord from heaven in flaming fire. Peter, was looking for the Day of God, but that does not mean it was coming immediately. You and I are awaiting many very important things.We wait patiently for the Universe to be re-headed up again in the Christ. We wait for the Universe to be completely changed back and reconciled to God. We wait for God to become all in all. We might say, our whole life now is bound up with glorious expectations. By faith we can endure and wait for even the most distant wonders of prophecy.
After all, the Apocalypse is closely connected with the Presence or parousia of the Lord. That presence is undoubtedly spread over, a period. Those who are Christ's will be made alive. IN His presence, and more than one company will be made alive within that presence.
Very probably our own unveiling as sons of God and daughters of God will take place when the Lord Himself becomes unveiled.
In 2 Thess. 1:7 Paul could not have told the Thessalonians that vengeance would overtake their persecutors during that Presence of the Lord which will remove His saints from the earth. The proper time for that is "in the unveiling of the Lord Jesus from heaven."
We must not imagine that the Thessalonians were awaiting the Unveiling as the first event they were to expect. They were to wait for the Parousia of 1 Thess. 4:15. This cannot be a different expectation from that found in Phil. 3:20. "For our homeland (citizenship, home, community; politeuma) all along is existing in (the) heavens, out of which (homeland) a Saviour also we are awaiting, the Lord, Jesus Christ." The word "our" is emphatic as though it signified here "the homeland of people like us ." That is to say, all the saints who came under the sway of Paul's Gospel.
One would imagine that if Paul's earlier Epistles are in some way "Israelitish," and pertain to the material earthly political Kingdom of Israel, the saints addressed would find their proper homeland on earth, in Israel. But their expectation as found stated in 1 Thess. 4, is "unto a meeting of the Lord-unto (or into) air." The meeting (apantEsis) is a process, as shewn by the termination of the Greek word, an action seen in process. The root of the word is anti, which means over against, in front of, contra. We might say the meeting is an encounter. Some have argued that the Greek word implies not only the encounter, but a return of the two parties together, in this case a return of the gathered saints to earth with the Lord. But this meaning is not inherent in the word, as the Greek Old Testament amply proves.
The mention of being snatched away or caught away together "into air" implies new bodies in some way at least pneumatized. There, does not appear to be any revelation that during the Presence the saints in Israel obtain such bodies. Paul does indeed reveal in 1 Cor. 15 that Gentile saints will be roused incorruptible, and will be changed.
If these Gentile saints are to be snatched away and then brought back to earth with the Lord, when He comes in great power and glory, it seems strange that He should despatch His messengers to gather all "His chosen ones" from the four winds, from earth's extremity as far as heaven's extremity (Mark 13:27), after He has come to earth. In other words, why were these chosen ones not also snatched away?
Let it further be observed that when He is revealed with His powerful messengers dealing out vengeance, it is from heaven that He appears (2 Thess. 1:7), not merely from the air. This would seem to imply that the saints who ascend into air (1 Thess. 4:17) will then proceed into heaven with Him.
We would urge readers to make a close, careful and independent examination of Luke 21, a chapter which has been far too long neglected. Here if anywhere we require to "rightly divide" the Scriptures. ALEXANDER THOMSON
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