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EIGHTEEN centuries ago Jesus appeared in Judea. At that time the world was looking for the advent of some remarkable personage. The divine bearing of the Saviour, his doctrines, and his deeds, attracted the notice of his countrymen. To the unpracticed eyes of the simple fishermen, he sustained the character of the expected national deliverer. At his command, they cheerfully left their nets and followed him, moved also by the expectation that he had come to " restore the kingdom to Israel.” But the more practiced eyes of the scribes and Pharisees could discern no temporal deliverer in the son of Joseph, the carpenter. His mean origin, his meekness, his mild, peaceful nature, and above all, perhaps, his non-resistant doctrines were, in their view, utterly inconsistent with the purpose and character of their expected Messiah. They, therefore, rejected him.
The scorn of the Pharisee served but to increase the love and devotion of the disciple; and though the hopes of the latter were oft deferred by the conduct of their Master, still they retained the conviction that he would ere long achieve the redemption of Israel from Roman thrall. This conviction seems never, for a moment, to
have deserted them until the hour of his arrest in Gethsemnane. Then, when they saw him in the hands of his enemies, yielding as a lamb in the clutch of their long baffled wrath, they for the first time despaired of ever following his standard to victory. For a while their despair was complete; rendered so by the fact of his cru. cifixion. Their hopes all perished when he died upon the cross. The rayless gloom of utter disappointment then settled, like night, upon their sinking hearts. Their hopeless estate is thus confessed by one of the melancholy twain, who, soon after the crucifixion, journeyed to Emmaus: “ We trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel.” At that time they spoke of him as a prophet, and not as the promised Messiah.
Jesus arose from the dead, and startled his disciples by appearing in their midst. Their extinguished hopes were at once rekindled, and they asked him with eagerness, “ Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel ?" 2 We infer from this question that they were still ignorant of his true character. They saw in him nothing more than a temporal deliverer.
From such ignorance respecting his real character, we might infer a corresponding ignorance relative to the nature of his kingdom. Such ignorance enshrouded their minds. His kingdom's spiritual character they did not perceive. They were looking for something outward and visible. The Master's declaration had not been remembered: “ The kingdom of God cometh not with observa
While Jesus journeyed with his disciples through Palestine, he predicted his crucifixion and resurrection. He also told his followers that, after his ascension to his Father and their Father, he would again appear to them. This prediction refers to what is usually termed his " second coming.” Did his disciples understand that he was personally to appear ? Did they understand that this second coming was to take place before all of their number had bowed to the mandate of death? Further; Did they associate with this "coming" the end of the material world, and the resurrection of the dead? These questions have provoked much discussion on the part of the learned. Among the prominent arguments adduced on the side of the affirmative, ranks the one which is supposed to be contained in the following extract from the writings of Paul : “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For 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." 4
1 Luke xxiv. 21.
2 Acts i. 6.
3 Luke xvii. 20.
The supporters of the negative of the foregoing ques. tions, have contended that the text just quoted, and similar texts, do not imply the belief on the part of the inspired penman, that the second coming of Christ was then near at hand. They contend that all these texts may be interpreted in perfect consistency with the belief, on the part of their authors, that the second coming of Christ would not take place until many centuries had elapsed. We have not time to discuss this matter; nor is it essential that we should do this. One thing is very certain, viz: that some of the early Christians--some of those to whom Paul and Peter wrote-expected the visible appearance of the Sava iour, as the judge of the quick and the dead, ere their lifelabors had ended. It may be well to remember this fact, as it will serve to explain others which, in its absence, might seem mysterious.
Before proceeding with the main object of this article, we desire to notice a few other facts, more or less related to our theme.
1. That neither Paul, nor his associate apostles, specie fied the day on which the Son of Man would appear, or the world come to an end. The reason why they did not do this was a very good one that day had not been revealed to them, and they would not assume to be wise above what was revealed.
2. That Christ gave no direct reply to questions which curiosity, on their part, prompted with reference to the time of his second coming Soon after his resurrection,
41 Thess. iv. 15–17.
the disciples asked him, as we have seen, “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel ?" Mark his reply, for it is worthy of special attention. “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” He would not, even if he could, reply to questions of this character. But there was another reason why he answered them as he did. He gave that reason when he said to his disciples, “But of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.", 5
We will digress a moment, to notice the manner in which one who has attempted what the Saviour never assayed, disposed of the objection to his prophecy which the above quotation presents. The modern prophet, Miller, after premising that he believed our Saviour, when he used this language, was speaking of the end of the world, thus proceeds: 66 Christ means to say that no man nor angel knew at what time of day the end would come, whether at midnight, at cock-crowing, or in the morning !" Such an explanation needs no refutation. Its own inherent absurdity will do that the most effectually.
But it is not the design of this article to refute the positions or reasonings of any of the false prophets of the Christian era. We rather propose to give a brief sketch of the predictions that have been made at various epochs respecting the second coming of Christ, and the end of the world; and also to introduce to the reader some of the personages who made these predictions. We are prompted to this labor by the belief, that its successful prosecution would do more than labored argument towards fortifying the minds of men against such delusions as have so often distracted Christendom. Let fanaticism see her. self as she has been, and the world will see less of her antics in future.
We have adverted to the fact that certain of the early Christians the contemporaries of the apostles-believed that the end of all things was near. They seemed to feel that the shadow of the earth's coming doom was already dimming the splendor of the risen Sun of Righteousness. We do not say that this belief was well founded. We
6 Mark xiii. 32.