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THE PAROUSIA IN THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN.
In the Synoptical Gospels we have generally been able to compare the allusions to the Parousia, recorded by the Evangelists, one with another; and have often found it advantageous to do so. It is not easy, however, to interweave the Fourth Gospel with the Synoptics, and it is somewhat remarkable that not one allusion to the Parousia in the latter is to be found in the former. It is therefore preferable on all accounts to consider the Gospel of St. John by itself, and we shall find that the references to the subject of our inquiry, though not many in number, are very important and full of interest.
The Parousia and the Resurrection of the Dead.
In the references to the approaching consummation which we have found in the Synoptical Gospels, it is impossible not to be struck with the constant association of the Parousia with a great act of judgment. From the very first notice of this great event to the last, the idea of judgment is put prominently forward. John the Baptist warns the nation of 'the coming wrath.' The men of Nineveh and the queen of the south are to appear in the judgment with this generation. In the harvest at the close of the age the tares were to be burned, and the wheat gathered into the barn. The Son of man was to come in His glory to reward every man according to his works. The judgment of Capernaum and Chorazin was to be heavier than that of Tyre and Sidon. The closing parables in our Lord's ministry are nearly all declaratory of coming judgment -the pounds, the wicked husbandman, the marriage of the king's son, the ten virgins, the talents, the sheep and the goats. The great prophecy on the Mount of Olives is wholly occupied with the same subject.
It is remarkable that the first allusion which St. John makes to this event recognises its judicial character. But we now find a new element introduced into the description of the approaching consummation. It is connected with the resurrection of the dead; of 'all that are in the graves.' ' The hour is coming when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth,' etc.
There can be no doubt that the passage just quoted (ver. 28, 29) refers to the literal resurrection of the dead. It may also be admitted that the preceding verses (25, 26) refer to the communication of spiritual life to the spiritually dead.(1) The time for this life-giving process had already commenced,-' The hour is coming, and now is.' The dead in trespasses and sins were about to be made alive by the quickening power of the divine Spirit acting upon men's souls in the preaching of the gospel of Christ. This lifegiving power belonged by divine appointment to the Son of God, to whom also wag committed, in virtue of His humanity, the office of supreme Judge (ver. 27).
Anticipating that this claim to be the Judge of mankind would stagger His hearers, our Lord proceeds to strengthen His assertion and heighten their admiration by declaring that at His voice the buried dead would ere long come forth from their graves to stand before His judgment throne.
The reader will particularly note the indications of time specified by our Lord in these important passages. First we have 'the hour is coming, and now is: ' this intimates that the action spoken of, viz. the communication of spiritual life to the spiritually dead, has already begun to take effect. Next we have 'the hour is coming,' without the addition of the words 'and now is:' intimating that the event specified, viz., the raising of the dead from their graves, is at a greater distance of time, although still not far off. The formula ' the hour is coming' always denotes that the event referred to is not far distant. It does not indeed define the time, but it brings it within a comparatively brief period. We find these two expressions, 'the hour is coming,' and 'the hour is coming, and now is,' employed by our Lord in His conversation with the woman of Samaria (John iv. 21, 23), and their use there may help us to determine their force in the passage before us. When our Lord says, 'the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,' He intimates that the time was already present, for had He not begun to collect the materials of that spiritual Church of true worshippers of which He spoke ? When, however, He says, 'Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father,' He speaks of a time which, though not distant, was not yet come. He foresaw the period of which He spoke, when the worship of the temple would cease,-- when Mount Zion would be 'ploughed as a field,' and Mount Gerizirn also be overwhelmed in the deluge of wrath. But the abrogation of the local and material was necessary to the inauguration of the universal and spiritual ; and therefore it was that the temple with its ritual must be swept away to make room for the nobler worship 'in spirit and in truth.'
Of course, it cannot be absolutely proved that the phrase 'the hour is coming' refers to precisely the same point of time in these two instances, though the presumption is strong that it does. Let it suffice, at this stage, to note the fact that our Lord here speaks of the resurrection of the dead and the judgment as events which were not distant, but so near that it might properly be said, 'The hour is coming,' etc.
We have in these passages another new phrase in connexion with the approaching consummation, which is peculiar to the Fourth Gospel. We never find in the Synoptics the expression 'the last day,' although we do find its equivalents, 'that day,' and 'the day of judgment.' It cannot be doubted that these expressions are synonymous, and refer to the same period. But we have already seen that the judgment is contemporaneous with the 'end of the age ' (sonteleia ton aiwnoj), and we infer that ' the last day' is only another form of the expression 'the end of the age or Aeon.' The Parousia also is constantly represented as coincident in point of time with the ' end of the age,' so that all these great events, the Parousia, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the last day, are contemporaneous. Since, then, the end of the age is not, as is generally imagined, the end of the world, or total destruction of the earth, but the close of the Jewish economy; and since our Lord Himself distinctly and frequently places that event within the limits of the existing generation, we conclude that the Parousia the resurrection, the judgment, and the last day, all belong to the period of the destruction of Jerusalem.
However startling or incredible such a conclusion may at first sight appear, it is what the teachings of the New Testament are absolutely committed to, and as we advance in this inquiry, we shall find the evidence in support of it accumulating to such a degree as to be irresistible. We shall meet with such expressions as ' the last times,' ' the last days,' and ' the last hour,' evidently denoting the same period as the last day,'-- yet spoken of as being not far off, and even as already come. Meanwhile we can only ask the reader to reserve his judgment, and calmly and impartially to weigh the evidence, derived, not from human authority, but from the word of inspiration itself.
It is usual to explain these words as meaning that a great crisis in the spiritual history of the world was now at hand : that the death of Christ upon the cross was the turning-point, so to speak, of the great conflict between good and evil, between the living and true God and the false usurping god of this world- that the result of Christ's death would be the ultimate overthrow of Satan's power and the final establishment of the kingdom of truth and righteousness on the ruins of Satan's empire.
No doubt there is much important truth in this explanation, but it fails to satisfy all the requirements of the very distinct and emphatic language of our Lord with respect to the nearness and completeness of the event to which He refers : 'Now is the judgment of this world ; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.' It is not enough to say that, to the prophetic foresight of our Saviour, the distant future was as if it were present; nor, that by His approaching death the judgment of the world and the expulsion of Satan would be virtually secured, and might therefore be regarded as accomplished facts. Nor is it enough to say, that from the moment when the great sacrifice of the Cross was offered, the power and influence of Satan began to ebb, and must continually decrease until it is finally annihilated. The language of our Lord manifestly points to a great and final judicial transaction, which was soon to take place. But judgment is an act which can hardly be conceived as extending over an indefinite period, and especially when it is restricted by the word now, to a distinct and imminent point of time. The phrase 'cast out,' also, is evidently an allusion to the expulsion of a demon from a body possessed by an unclean spirit. But this suggests a sudden, violent, and almost instantaneous act, and not a gradual and protracted process. No figure could be less appropriate to describe the slow ebbing and ultimate exhaustion of Satanic power than the casting out of a demon. We are compelled, therefore, to set aside the explanation which makes our Lord's words refer to a judgment which, after the lapse of many ages, is still going on; or to an expulsion of Satan which has not yet been effected. He would not speak of a judgment which was not to take place for thousands of years as 'now,' nor of a 'casting out' of Satan as imminent, which was to be the result of a slow and protracted process.
We conclude, then, that when our Lord said, ' Now is the judgment of this world,' etc., He had reference to an event which was near, and in a sense immediate: that is to say, He had in view that great catastrophe which seems to have been scarcely ever absent from His thoughts- the solemn judicial transaction when 'the Son of man was to sit upon the throne of his glory '-the great ' harvest' at the end of the age, when the angel reapers were to 'gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity.' If it be objected to this that the word kosmos (world) is too comprehensive to be restricted to one land or one nation, it may be replied that kosmos is employed here, as in some other passages, especially in the writings of St. John, rather in an ethical sense than as a geographical expression. (See John vii. 7 ; viii. 23 ; 1 John ii. 15 ; v. 14.)
But it may be said, How could this judgment of Israel be spoken of as 'now,' any more than a judgment which is still in the future ? Forty years hence is no more now than four thousand years. To this it may be replied, That event was now imminent which more than any other would precipitate the day of doom for Israel. The crucifixion of Christ was the climax of crime,-- the culminating act of apostasy and guilt which filled the cup of wrath, and sealed the fate of 'that wicked generation.' The interval between the crucifixion of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem was only the brief space between the passing of the sentence and the execution of the criminal; and just as our Lord, when. quitting the temple for the last time, exclaimed, 'Behold, your house is left unto you desolate !' though its desolation did not actually take place till nearly forty years after, so He might say, 'Now is the judgment of this world'-- though a like space of time would elapse between the utterance and the accomplishment of His words.
In like manner the ' casting out of the prince of this world' is represented as coincident with 'the judgment of this world,' and both are manifestly the result of the death of Christ. But how can it be said that Satan was cast out at the period referred to, viz. the judgment at the close of the age ? That event marked a great epoch in the divine administration. It was the inauguration of a new order of things : the 'coining of the kingdom of God' in a high and special sense, when the peculiar relation subsisting between Jehovah and Israel was dissolved, and He became known as the God and Father of the whole human race. Thenceforth Satan was no longer to be the god of this world, but the Most High was to take the kingdom to Himself. This revolution was effected by the atoning death of Christ upon the cross, which is declared to be 'the reconciliation of all things unto God, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven' (Col. i. 20). But the formal inauguration of the new order is represented as taking place at ' the end of the age,' the period when 'the kingdom of God was to come with power,' and the Son of man was to sit as Judge 'on the throne of his glory.' What, then, could be more appropriate than the 'casting out ' of the prince of this world at the period when his kingdom, 'this world,' was judged ?
It may be objected that if any such event as the casting out of Satan did then take place, it ought to be marked by some very palpable diminution of the power of the devil over men. The objection is reasonable, and it may be met by the assertion that such evidence of the abatement of Satanic influence in the world does exist. The history of our Saviour's own times furnishes abundant proof of the exercise of a power over the souls and bodies of men then possessed by Satan which happily is unknown in our days. The mysterious influence called 'demoniacal possession' is always ascribed in Scripture to Satanic agency ; and it was one of the credentials of our Lord's divine commission that He, 'by the finger of God, cast out devils.' At what period did the subjection of men to demoniacal power cease to be manifested ? It was common in our Lord's days : it continued during the age of the apostles, for we have many allusions to their casting out of unclean spirits; but we have no evidence that it continued to exist in the post-apostolic ages. The phenomenon has so completely disappeared that to many its former existence is incredible, and they resolve it into a popular superstition, or ,in unscientific theory of mental disease,-- an explanation totally incompatible with the representations of the New Testament.
It is worthy of remark that our Lord, on a previous occasion, made a declaration closely resembling that now under consideration.
When the severity disciples returned from their evangelistic mission they reported with exultation their success in casting out demons through the name of their Master:
Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name' (Luke x. 17). In His reply, Jesus said, I I beheld Satan ,is lightening fall from heaven ; ' an expression nearly equivalent to the words, ' Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,' and on which Neander makes the following suggestive remarks :
In comparing these two remarkable sayings of our Lord there are three points that deserve particular notice :
1. They are both uttered on occasions when the approaching triumph of His cause was vividly brought before Him.
2. In both, the casting out of Satan is represented as an accomplished fact.
3. In both it is regarded as a swift and summary act, not a slow and protracted process : in the one case Satan falls ' as lightning from heaven,' in the other he is 'cast out' as an unclean spirit from a demoniac.
Neander, therefore, has somewhat missed the real point of the expression, in his otherwise admirable remarks. We think the words plainly point to a great judicial transaction, taking place at a particular point of time, that time very near, and as the consequence and result of the Saviour's death upon the cross. Such a transaction and such a period we can find only in the great catastrophe so vividly depicted by our Lord in His prophetic discourse, and we can therefore have no hesitation in understanding His words to refer to that memorable event.
No other explanation satisfies the requirements of the declaration : 'Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.'
Simple as these words may seem they have occasioned great perplexity to commentators. Their very simplicity maybe the chief cause of their difficulty: for it is so hard to believe that they mean what they seem to say. It has been Supposed that our Lord refers in some of these passages to His approaching departure from earth, and His final return at the 'end of all things,' the consummation of human history; and that in the others He refers to His temporary absence from His disciples during the interval between His crucifixion and His resurrection.
A careful examination of our Lord's allusions to His departure and His coming again will satisfy every intelligent reader that His coming,' or coming again,' always refers to one particular event and one particular period. No event is more distinctly marked in the New Testament than the Parousia, the 'second coming' of the Lord. It is always spoken of as an act, and not a process ; a great and auspicious event ; a ' blessed hope,' eagerly anticipated by His disciples and confidently believed to be at hand. The apostles and the early believers knew nothing of a Parousia spread over a vast and indefinite period of time; nor of several 'comings,' all distinct and separate from one another; but of only one coming,-- the Parousia, 'the glorious appearing of the great God even our Saviour Jesus Christ' (Titus ii. 13). If anything is clearly written in the Scriptures it is this. It is therefore with astonishment that we read the comments of Dean Alford on our Lord's words in John xiv. 3
This is all evolved out of the single word ercomai! But if ercomai has such a variety and complexity of meaning, why not npayw and porenomai ? Why should not the 'going away' have as many parts and processes as the 'coming again?' It may be asked likewise, How could the disciples have understood our Lord's language, if it had such a 'great complex' of meaning? Or how can plain men be expected ever to come to the apprehension of the Scriptures if the simplest expressions are so intricate and bewildering ?
This comment is not conceived in the spirit of lucid English common sense, but in the mystical jargon of Lange and Stier. What can be more plain than that the 'coming again' is as definite an act as the 'going away,' and can only refer to that one coming which is the great prophecy and promise of the New Testament, the Parousia ? That this event was not to be long deferred is evident from the language in which it is announced: 'Ercomai -- 'I am coming.' The whole tenor of our Lord's address supposes that the separation between His disciples and Himself is to be brief, and their reunion speedy and perpetual. Why does He go away ? To prepare a place for them. Is it, then, not yet prepared ? Has he not yet received them to Himself ? Are they not yet where he is ? If the Parousia be still in the future these hopes are still unfulfilled.
That this anticipated return and reunion was not a far-off event, many centuries distant, but one that was at hand, is shown in the subsequent references made to it by our Lord. ' A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father' (John xvi. 16). He was soon to leave them; but it was not for ever, nor for long,-- 'a little while,' a few short years, and their sorrow and separation would be at an end ; for 'I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you' (chap. xvi. 22). It will be observed that our Lord does not say that death will reunite them, but His coming to them. That coming, therefore, could not be distant.
That it is to this interval between His departure and the Parousia that our Lord refers when He speaks of 'a little while' is evident from two considerations: First, because he distinctly states that He is going to the Father, which shows that His absence relates to the period subsequent to the ascension; and, secondly, because in the Epistle to the Hebrews this same period, viz. the interval between our Lord's departure and His coming again, is expressly called ' a little while.' ' For yet a little while, and be that is coming shall come, and will not tarry' (Heb. x. 37).
Conceive of an act of vision, 'ye shall see,' divided into three distinct operations, each separated from the other by a long interval, and the last still uncompleted after the lapse of eighteen centuries, and this in the face of our Lord's express declaration that it was to be 'in a little while.' This is not criticism, but mysticism. So artificial and intricate an explanation could never have occurred to the disciples, and it is surprising that it should have occurred to any sober interpreter of Scripture. But even the disciples, though at first perplexed about I the little while,' soon fully comprehended our Lord when He said,
Supplement this by three other words of Jesus, and we have the substance of His teaching respecting the Parousia:
Language is incapable of conveying thought with accuracy if these words do not affirm that the return of our Saviour to His disciples was to be speedy.
It would serve no purpose to specify and discuss the various - interpretations of this passage which learned men have conjectured. Had it been a riddle of the ancient Sphinx, it could not have been more perplexing and bewildering. Those who wish to see some of the numerous opinions which have been broached on the subject will find them referred to in Lange. (5)
The words themselves are sufficiently simple. All the obscurity and difficulty have been imported into them by the reluctance of interpreters to recognise in the ' coming' of Christ a distinct and definite point of time within the space of the existing generation. Often as our Lord reiterates the assurance that he would come in His kingdom, come in glory, come to judge His enemies and reward His friends, before the generation then living on earth -bad wholly passed away, there seems an almost invincible repugnance on the part of theologians to accept His words in their plain and obvious sense. They persist in supposing that He must have meant something else or something more. Once admit, what is undeniable, that our Lord Himself declared that His coming was to take place in the lifetime of some of His disciples (Matt. xvi. 27, 28), and the whole difficulty vanishes. He had just revealed to Simon Peter by what death he was to glorify God, and Peter, with characteristic impulsiveness, presumed to ask what should be the destiny of the beloved disciple, who at that moment caught his eye. Our Lord did not give an explicit answer to this question, which savoured somewhat of intrusiveness, but his reply was understood by the disciples to mean that John would live to see the Lord's return. 'If I will that he tarry till I come.' This language is very significant. It assumes as possible that John might live till the Lord's coming. It does more, it suggests it as probable, though it does not affirm it as certain. The disciples put the interpretation upon it that John was not to die at all. The Evangelist himself neither affirms nor denies the correctness of this interpretation, but contents himself with repeating the actual words of the Lord,-- 'If I will that he tarry till I come.' It is, however, a circumstance of the greatest interest that we know how the words of Christ were generally understood at the time in the brotherhood of the disciples. They evidently concluded that John would live to witness the Lord's coming; and they inferred that in that case he would not die at all. It is this latter inference that John guards against being committed to. That he would live till the coming of the Lord he seems to admit without question. Whether this implied further that he would not die at all, was a doubtful point which the words of Jesus did not decide.
Nor was this inference of 'the brethren' so incredible a thing or so unreasonable as it may appear to many. To live till the coming of the Lord was, according to the apostolic belief and teaching, tantamount to enjoying exemption from death. St. Paul taught the Corinthians,-' We shall not all Sleep [die], but we shall all be changed' (I Cor. xv. 51). He spoke to the Thessalonians of the possibility of their being alive at the Lord's coming: ' We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord' (I Thess. iv. 15). He expressed his own personal preference 'not to be unclothed [of the bodily vesture], but to be clothed upon' [with the spiritual vesture]-- in other words, not to die, but to be changed (2 Cor. v. 4). The disciples might be justified in this belief by the words of Jesus on the evening of the paschal supper: 'I will come again, and receive you unto myself.' How could they suppose that this meant death? Or they may have remembered His saying on the Mount of Olives, 'The Son of man Shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect,' etc. (Matt. xxiv. 31). This, He had assured them, would take place before the existing generation passed away. They were, therefore, not wholly unprepared to receive such an announcement as our Lord made respecting St. John.(6)
We may therefore legitimately draw the following inferences from this important passage:
1. That there was nothing incredible or absurd in the supposition that John might live till the coming of the Lord.
2. That our Lord's words suggest the probability that he would actually do so.
3. That the disciples understood our Lord's answer as implying besides that John would not die at all.
4. That St. John himself gives no sign that there was anything incredible or impossible in the inference, though he does not commit himself to it.
5. That such an opinion would harmonise with our Lord's express teaching respecting the nearness and coincidence of His own coming, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, and the close of the aeon or age.
6. That all these events, according to Christ's declarations, lay within the period of the existing generation.
Having thus gone through the four gospels, and examined all the passages which relate to the Parousia, or coming of the Lord, it may be useful to recapitulate and bring into one view the general teaching of these inspired records on this important subject.
1. We have the link between Old and New Testament prophecy in the announcement by John the Baptist (the Elijah of Malachi) of the near approach of the coming wrath, or the judgment of the Theocratic nation.
2. The herald is closely followed by the King, who announces that the kingdom of God is at hand, and calls upon the nation to repent.
3. The cities which were favoured with the presence, but rejected the message, of Christ are threatened with a doom more intolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrha.
4. Our Lord expressly assures His disciples that His coming would take place before they should have completed the evangelisation of the cities of Israel.
5. He predicts a judgment at the 'end of the age ' or aeon [sunteleia ton aiwnos], a phrase which does not mean the destruction of the earth, but the consummation of the age, i.e. the Jewish dispensation.
6. Our Lord expressly declares that He would speedily come [mellei epcesqai] in glory, in His kingdom, with His angels, and that some among His disciples should not die until His coming took place.
7. In various parables and discourses our Lord predicts the doom impending over Israel at the period of His coming. (See Luke xviii., parable of the importunate widow. Luke xix., parable of the pounds. Matt. xxi., parable of the wicked husbandmen. Matt. xxii., parable of the marriage feast.)
8. Our Lord frequently denounces the wickedness of the generation to which He preached, and declares that the crimes of former ages and the blood of the prophets would be required at their bands.
9. The resurrection of the dead, the judgment of the world, and the casting out of Satan are represented as coincident with the Parousia, and near at hand.
10. Our Lord assured His disciples that He would come again to them, and that His coming would be in 'a little while.'
11. The prophecy on the Mount of Olives is one connected and continuous discourse, having exclusive reference to the approaching doom of Jerusalem and Israel, according to our Lord's express statement (Matt. xxiv. 34; Mark xiii. 30; Luke xxi. 32.)
12. The parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats all belong to this same event, and are fulfilled in the judgment of Israel.
13. The disciples are exhorted to watch and pray, and to live in the continual expectation of the Parousia, because it would be sudden and speedy.
14. After His resurrection our Lord gave St. John reason to expect that He would live to witness His coming.
1. Some interpreters prefer to understand 'the dead' in verse 25 as having reference to such cases as the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus of Bethany, persons literally raised from the dead and restored to life by our Lord. They understand the argument of our Lord to be something like this : 'You are astonished at the wonderful work which I have wrought upon this impotent man, but you will yet see far greater wonders. The moment is at hand when I will recall even the dead to life; and if this appear incredible to you, a still mightier work will one day be accomplished by my power: for the hour is coming when all that are in the grave shall come forth at my call, and stand before me in judgment.' (Dr. J. Brown. Discourses and Sayings of our Lord vol. i. p. 98.) This explanation has the advantage of consistency, in giving the same sense of the word 'dead' throughout the whole passage; but it seems impossible to admit that our Lord in verse 24 is speaking of literal death. To say that the believer has already 'passed from death unto life' obviously is the same thing as to say that he has passed from condemnation to justification. We feel compelled, therefore, to adopt the generally received interpretation, which regards verses 24 and 25 as referring to the spiritually dead, and verses 28 and 29 to the corporeally dead.
6. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, on the hypothesis that the 'coming' of Christ was not to take place until the 'end of the world,' in the popular acceptation of the phrase, the answer of our Lord would involve an extravagance, if not an absurdity. It would have been equivalent to saying, ' Suppose I please that he should live a thousand years or more, what is that to you ? ' But it is evident that the disciples took the answer seriously.
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