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THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPELS
Our Lord's declaration before the High Priest.
The reply of our Saviour to the solemn adjuration of the high priest is the almost verbatim repetition of what He had declared to the disciples on the Mount of Olives,-- 'They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory ' (Matt. xxiv. 30). It is evidently the same event and the same period that are referred to. The language implies that the persons addressed, or some of them, would witness the event predicted. The expression 'Ye shall see' would not be proper if spoken of something which the hearers would none of them live to witness, and which would not take place for thousands of years. Our Lord therefore told His judges that they, or some of them, would live to see Him coming to judgment, or coming in His kingdom. This declaration is in harmony with what our Saviour said to His disciples,-' The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels. . . . Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man in his kingdom' (Matt. xvi. 27, 28). Some of His disciples, and some of His judges, would live long enough to witness that great consummation, less than forty years distant, when the Son of man would come in His kingdom, to execute the judgments of God on the guilty nation. This is precisely what the prophecy on the Mount of Olives asserts: 'This generation shall not pass,' etc. Here again we have neither obscurity nor ambiguity. But can as much be said for the interpretation which makes our Lord's words refer to a time still future, and an event which has not yet taken place ? Can as much be said for the interpretation which finds in this scene, which the Jewish Sanhedrim were to witness, no one distinct and particular event, but a prolonged and continuous process, which began at the resurrection of Christ, is still going on, and will continue to go on to the end of the world ?
This strange interpretation, which is that of Lange and Alford, is based partly on the assumption that our Lord's prediction has never yet been fulfilled, and partly on the word 'henceforth,' which is held to indicate a continuous process. (1) But is such an explanation credible, or even conceivable ? Is it true that the high priest and the Sanhedrim began from that time to see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven ? etc. How could such an apparition be a continuous process ? Plainly, the words can only refer to a definite and specific event; and we can be at no loss to determine what that event is. It can be no other than the Parousia, so often predicted before. That was not a protracted process, but a summary act,-- sudden, swift, conspicuous as the lightning. The sense is well expressed by the editors of the 'Critical English Testament: ' The meaning cannot be, that immediately after the moment of His answer He should so come, and they so see Him; but rather that He would now depart from them, and that when they next saw Him, after His rejection by them, it would be at His coming in glory, as foretold by the prophet Daniel.' (2)
We find, then, in this declaration of our Lord an additional confirmation of His previous statements that His coming again would take place within the period of the existing generation. Some of His judges, as well as some of His disciples, were to witness it; and there would be no meaning in such an assertion if it did not imply that they were to witness it 'in the flesh.'
Here we have a statement so clear, so definite in every point that can fix its reference, -time, place, persons, circumstances,-- that no room is left for uncertainty. It points to a time which was not far distant, but at hand-' the days are coming; '-a time which the persons addressed and their children would live to see; -- a time of great tribulation, which would fall with peculiar severity upon womanhood and childhood; -- a time when, in the agony of their terror, despairing multitudes would cry to the mountains and the hills to fall on them and cover them.
Those memorable details will be found most valuable in the elucidation of Scripture prophecy at a subsequent stage of this investigation. Meanwhile it is clear that this pathetic description can refer only to the catastrophe of Jerusalem in the last days of her history. We have only to turn to the pages of Josephus for the facts which illustrate and confirm our Saviour's language. The horrors of that tragic history culminate in the episode of Mary of Peraea, whose Thyestean banquet horrified even the merciless banditti who prowled like famished wolves through the city. It is in the light of an incident like this that we see the full meaning of the words, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare.'
It is with a movement of something like impatience that we listen to Stier, beguiled by the ignis fatuus of a double sense, insisting on a hidden meaning in our Saviour's words: 'He spoke expressly and primarily of the judgment of Jerusalem and Israel, yet He contemplated and refers to that which was shadowed out in this historical type,-the judgment of all the impenitent, and of all unbelievers in common, down to the last." (3) So also Alford, following Stier. It is only in the imagination of the expositor, however, that this ulterior reference exists: there is no suggestion of it in the text; and it is with a degree of wonder that we find a scholarly critic so far forgetting his true vocation as to pronounce 'the historical and actual specific fulfilment' to be 'the least thing: the meaning of the word reaches much further.' If ever there was a case in which double meanino's and typical fulfilments are not to be thought of, surely it is here. At such an hour of anguish, there could be but one thought present to the heart of Jesus. He saw the gathering storm of wrath in which the devoted city was soon to be enveloped, and which would burst with such violence on the tender and delicate, the children and the mothers of Jerusalem. , and He reciprocated the pity which He received from those compassionate hearts,-- more touched in that moment by their anticipated woes, than by His own. What need is there to go beyond that tragical catastrophe, and seek for another concerning which the context is altogether silent ?
Luke xxiii. 42.-- 'And He said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.'
The single point which concerns us in this memorable incident is the reference made by the malefactor to our Lord's coming in his kingdom.' In whatever way he had come by the knowledge, He recognised in the rejected Prophet by his side the King of Israel, the Son of God. He believed that, notwithstanding His rejection and crucifixion by Israel, He would one day 'come again in his kingdom.' Marvellous faith in such a man and at such a moment! If the thief on the cross had listened to the testimony of Jesus before the high priest, or if he had known what He said to the disciples, that 'some of them should not taste of death till they had seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom,' we could better account for his faith and his prayer. At any rate, there could not have been more intelligence and precision in the language of a disciple than in the words of this 'brand plucked out of the fire.' What notion the malefactor entertained respecting the time of that coming,-- whether he conceived it to be near or distant, we have no means of knowing; but it is presumable that he thought of it as near. A dying man would scarcely pray to be remembered in some distant age, after centuries and millenniums had rolled away. In such a crisis it could only be the imminent, or the immediate, that could be in his thoughts. One thing seems certain: the most incredible of all interpretations is that which would represent his prayer as still unanswered, and the coming' of which he spoke as still among the events of an unknown futurity.
It is usual to regard this commission as if it were addressed to the whole Christian Church in all ages. No doubt it is allowable to infer from these words the perpetual obligation resting upon all Christians in all times, to propagate the Gospel among all nations ; but it is important to consider the words in their proper and original reference. It is Christ's commission to His chosen messengers, designating them to their evangelistic work, and assuring them of His constant presence and protection. It has a special application to the apostles which it cannot have to any others. We have already adverted to the fact that the disciples, to whom this charge was given, do not seem to have understood it as directing them to extend their evangelistic labours beyond the bounds of Palestine, or to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately. It is certain that they did not immediately, nor yet for years, act upon this commission in its largest sense ; nor does it seem probable that they would ever have done so without an express revelation. As Dr. Burton has shown, no less than fifteen years elapsed between the conversion of St. Paul and his first apostolic journey to preach among the Gentiles. "Nor is there any evidence that during that period the other apostles passed the confines of Judaea." (4) There is much probability therefore in the opinion that the language of the apostolic commission did not convey to their minds the same idea that it does to us, and that, as we have already seen, the phrase 'all the nations ' [pa,nta ta. e[qnj] is really equivalent to 'all the tribes of the land.'
But what especially deserves notice is the remarkable limitation of time, the 'terminus ad quem,' here specified by our Saviour. 'Lo, I am with you always [all the days], even to the close of the age'. Nothing can be more misleading to the English reader than the rendering 'the end of the world; ' which inevitably suggests the close of human history, the end of time, and the destruction of the earth,-- a meaning which the words will not bear. Lange, though far from apprehending the true significance of the phrase, rightly gives the sense, 'the consummation of the secular won, or the period of time which comes to an end with the Parousia.' What can be more evident than that the promise of Christ to be with His disciples to the close of the age, implies that they were to live to the close of the age ? That great consummation Was Dot far off ; the Lord had often spoken of it, and always as an approaching event, one which some of them would live to see. It was the winding up of the Mosaic dispensation ; the end of the long probation of the Theocratic nation ; when the whole frame and fabric of the Jewish polity were to be swept away, and 'the kingdom of God to come with power.' This great event, our Lord had declared, was to fall within the limit of the existing generation. The 'close of the age' coincided with the Parousia, and the outward and visible sign by which it is distinguished is the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the terminus by which in the Now Testament the field is bounded. To Israel it was 'the end,' 'the end of all things,' 'the passing away of heaven and earth,' the abrogation of the old order, the inauguration of the new. Of this great providential epoch, history tells us much, but prophecy more. History shows us the predicted Signs Coming to pass; the premonitory symptoms of the approaching catastrophe --the false Christs, the wars and rumours of wars, the insurrections and commotions, the earthquakes, famines, and pestilences ; the persecutions and tribulations; the invading legions of Rome; the besieged and captured city; the burning temple; the slaughtered myriads; the extinguished nation. But history cannot lift the veil which hangs over the spirit world ; it leads us up to the very border, and bids us guess the rest. But we have a more sure word of prophecy which, instead of conjecture, gives us assurance. It reveals 'the Son of man coming in his glory ; ' the King seated on the throne ; the judgment set, and the books opened. It reveals the sheep and the goats separated the one from the other ; the righteous entering into everlasting life; the wicked sent away into everlasting punishment. If we have not the historical verification of the unseen and spiritual, as we have of the visible and material elements of this consummation, it is because they are not in the nature of things equally cognizable by the senses. But we accept them on the faith of His word who declared, 'Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation ; ' and again, ' Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled.' ' Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.' The literal fulfilment of all that falls within the sphere of human observation is the voucher for the credibility of the remainder, which belongs to the realm of the unseen and the spiritual.
1..(a/rti) in later Greek came to signify soon,' 'presently:' see Liddell and Scott; and thus our translators, correctly, Here-after,' which leaves the actual time of the event future, but not necessarily immediate,'-- Critical English Test. vol. iii. P. 860, note.
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