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THE PAROUSIA IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
THE 'GOING AWAY' AND THE 'COMING AGAIN.'
THE last conversation of Jesus with His disciples before His crucifixion was concerning His coming to them again, and the last word left with them at His ascension was the promise of His coming again.
The expression 'in like manner' must not be pressed too far. There are obvious points of difference between the manner of the Ascension and the Parousia. He departed alone, and without visible splendour; He was to return in glory with His angels. The words, however, imply that His coming was to be visible and personal, which would exclude the interpretation which regards it as providential, or spiritual. The visibility of the Parousia is supported by the uniform teaching of the apostles and the belief of the early Christians: 'Every eye shall see him' (Rev. i. 7).
There is no indication of time in this parting promise, but it is only reasonable to suppose that the disciples would regard it as addressed to them, and that they would cherish the hope of soon seeing Him again, according to His own saying, 'A little while, and ye shall see me.' This belief sent them back to Jerusalem with great joy. Is it credible that they could have felt this elation if they had conceived that His coming would not take place for eighteen centuries ? Or can we suppose that their joy rested upon a delusion ? There is no conclusion possible but that which holds the belief of the disciples to have been well founded, and the Parousia nigh at hand.
THE LAST DAYS COME.
In these words of St. Peter, the first apostolic utterance spoken in the power of the divine afflatus of Pentecost, we have an authoritative interpretation of the prophecy which he quotes from Joel. He expressly identifies the time and the event predicted by the prophet with the time and the event then actually present on the day of Pentecost. The ' last days ' of Joel are these days of St. Peter. The ancient prediction was in part fulfilled ; it was receiving its accomplishment before their eyes in the copious effusion of the Holy Spirit.
This outpouring of the Spirit was introductory to other events, which would in like manner come to pass. The day of judgment for the Theocratic nation was at hand, and ere long the presages of 'that great and notable day of the Lord' would be manifested.
It is impossible not to recognise the correspondence between the phenomena preceding the day of the Lord as foretold by Joel, and the phenomena described by our Lord as preceding His coming, and the judgment of Israel (Matt. xxiv. 29). The words of Joel can refer only to the last days of the Jewish age or aeon, the ounteleia ton aiwnoj, which was also the theme of our Lord's prophecy on the Mount of Olives. In like manner the words of Malachi as evidently refer to the same event and the same point of time,-- 'the day of his coming,' ' the day that shall burn as a furnace,' ' the great and dreadful day of the Lord' (Mal. iii. 2; iv. 1-5).
We have here a consensus of testimonies than which nothing can be conceived more authoritative and decisive,-- Joel, Malachi, St. Peter, and the great Prophet of the new covenant Himself. They all speak of the same event and of the same period, the great day of the Lord, the Parousia, and they speak of them as near. Why encumber and embarrass a prediction so plain with supposititions double references and ulterior fulfilments? Nothing else will fit this prophecy save that event to which alone it refers, and with which it corresponds as the impression with the seal and the lock with the key. The catastrophe of Israel and Jerusalem was at hand, long foreseen, often predicted, and now imminent. The self-same generation that had seen, rejected, and crucified the King would witness the fulfilment of His warnings when Jerusalem perished in 'blood and fire, and vapour of smoke.'
THE COMING DOOM OF THAT GENERATION.
This verse fixes the reference of the apostle's address. It was the existing generation whose coming doom he foresaw, and it was from participation in its fate that he urged his hearers to escape. It was but the echo of the Baptist's cry,
'Flee from the coming wrath.' Here, again, there can be no question about the meaning of 'genea',-it is that 'wicked generation' which was filling up the measure of its predecessor; the perverse and incorrigible nation over which judgment was impending.
Before leaving this address of St. Peter we may point out another example of a universal proposition which must be taken in a restricted sense. ' I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.' The effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not literally universal, but it was indiscriminate and general in comparison of former times. The necessarily qualified use of so large a phrase shows how a similar limitation may be justifiable in such expressions as 'all the nations,' ' every creature,' and ' the whole world.'
THE PAROUSIA AND THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS.
It is scarcely possible to doubt that in this address the apostle speaks of that which be conceived his bearers might and would experience, if they obeyed his exhortation to repent and believe. Indeed, any other supposition would be preposterous. Neither the apostle nor his auditory could possibly be thinking of ' times of refreshing' and 'times of restoration' in remote ages of the world; blessings which were at a distance of centuries and millenniums would hardly be powerful motives to immediate repentance. We must therefore conceive of the times of refreshing and of restoration as, in the view of the apostle, near, and within the reach of that generation.
But if so, what are we to understand by 'the times of refreshing and of restoration'? Are they the same, or are they different, things ? Doubtless, virtually the Same ; and the one phrase will help us to understand the other. The restitution, or rather restoration [apokatustasij] of all things, is said to be the theme of all prophecy ; then it can only refer to what Scripture designates 'the kingdom of God,' the end and purpose of all the dealings of God with Israel. It was a phrase well understood by the Jews of that period, who looked forward to the days of the Messiah, the kingdom of God, as the fulfilment of all their hopes and aspirations. It was the coming age or aeon, aiwn o mellwn, when all wrongs were to be redressed, and truth and righteousness were to reign. The whole nation was pervaded with the belief that this happy era was about to dawn. What was our Lord's doctrine on this subject? He Said to His disciples, 'Elias indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things' (Mark ix. 12). That is to say, the second Elijah, John the Baptist, had already commenced the restoration which He Himself was to complete ; had laid the foundations of the kingdom which He was to consummate and crown. For the mission of John was, in one aspect, restorative, that is in intention, though not in effect. He came to recall the nation to its allegiance, to renew its covenant relation with God: he went before the Lord, 'in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord' (Luke i. 17). What is all this but the description of 'the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,' and 'the times of restoration of all things,' which were held forth as the gifts of God to Israel ?
But have we any clear indication of the period at which these proffered blessings might be expected ? Were they in the far distant future, or were they nigh at baud ? The note of time is distinctly marked in verse 20. The coming of Christ is specified as the period when these glorious prospects are to be realized. Nothing can be more clear than the connection and coincidence of these events, the coming of Christ, the times of refreshing, and the times of restoration of all things. This is in harmony with the uniform representation given in the eschatology of the New Testament: the Parousia, the end of the age, the consummation of the kingdom of God, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, all synchronise. To find the date of one is to fix the date of all. We have already seen how definitely the time was fixed for the fulfilment of some of these events. The Son of man was to come in His kingdom before the death of some of the disciples. The catastrophe of Jerusalem was to take place before the living generation bad passed away. The great and notable day of the Lord is represented by St. Peter in the preceding chapter as overtaking that 'untoward generation.' And now, in the passage before us, he as clearly intimates that the arrival of the times of refreshing, and of the restoration of all things, was contemporaneous with the 'sending of Jesus Christ' from heaven.
But it may be said, How can so terrible a catastrophe as the destruction of Jerusalem be associated with times of refreshing or of restoration ? There were two Bides to the medal: there was the reverse as well as the obverse. Unbelief and impenitence would change 'the times of refreshing' into 'the days of vengeance.' If they ' despised the riches of the goodness and forbearance and long- suffering of God, 'then, instead of restoration, there would be destruction; and instead of the day of salvation there would be 'the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God' (Rom. ii. 4, 5).
We know the fatal choice that Israel made; how 'the wrath came upon them to the uttermost;' and we know how it all came to pass at the appointed and predicted period, at the 'close of the age,' within the limits of that generation.
We are thus enabled to define the period to which the apostle makes allusion in this passage, and conclude that it coincides with the Parousia.
We are conducted to the same conclusion by another path. In Matt. xix. 20 our Lord declares to His disciples, 'Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory,' etc. We have already commented upon this passage, but it may be proper again to notice that the 'regeneration' [paliggenesia] of St. Matthew is the precise equivalent of the 'restoration' [apokatastasij] of the Acts. What is meant by the regeneration is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt, for it is the time 'when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory.' But this is the period when He comes to judge the guilty nation (Matt. xxv. 31). There is no possibility of mistaking the time ; no difficulty in identifying the event: it is the end of the age, and the judgment of Israel.
We thus arrive at the same conclusion by another and independent route, thus immeasurably strengthening the force of the demonstration.
CHRIST SOON TO JUDGE THE WORLD.
We have already seen that the Lord Jesus Christ is declared to be constituted the Judge of men (John v. 22, 27). As clearly it is declared that the time of judgment is the Parousia. With equal distinctness we are taught that the Parousia was to fall within the term of the generation then living. The judgment was therefore viewed by St. Paul as being near. We have in the passage now before us an incidental but unnoticed confirmation of this fact. The words 'he will judge' do not express a simple future, but a speedy future, mellei krinein, He is about to judge, or will soon judge. This shade of meaning is not preserved in our English version, but it is not unimportant.
Here, then, we are again met by the oft-recurring association of the Parousia and the judgment, both of which were evidently regarded by the apostle as nigh at hand.
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