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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator

Russell's Parousia

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The Parousia

By James Stuart Russell



The Kingdom of Heaven, or of God.

There is no phrase of more frequent occurrence in the New Testament than ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ or ‘the kingdom of God.’ We meet with it everywhere---in the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Book. It is the first thing in Matthew, the last in Revelation. The Gospel itself is called ‘the gospel of the kingdom;’ the disciples are the ‘heirs of the kingdom;’ the great object of hope and expectation is ‘the coming of the kingdom.’ It is from this that Christ Himself derives His title of ‘King.’ The kingdom of God, then, is the very kernel of the New Testament.

But while thus pervading in the New Testament, the idea of the kingdom of God is not peculiar to it; it belongs no less to the Old. We find traces of it in all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi; it is the theme of some of the loftiest psalms of David; it underlies the annals of ancient Israel; its roots run back to the earliest period of Jewish national existence; it is, in fact the raison d’etre of that people; for, to embody and develop this conception of the kingdom of God, Israel was constituted and kept in being as a distinct nationality.

Going back to the primordial germ of the Jewish people we find the earliest intimation of the purpose of God to ‘form a people for himself’ in the original promise made to their great progenitor, Abraham: ‘I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed’ (Gen. xii. 2, 3). This promise was soon after solemnly renewed in the covenant made by God with Abraham: ‘In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’ (Gen. xv. 18). This covenant relation between God and the seed of Abraham is renewed and more fully developed in the declaration subsequently made to Abraham: ‘I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God’ (Gen. xvii. 7, 8). As a token and seal of this covenant the rite of circumcision was imposed upon Abraham and his posterity, by which every male of that race was marked and signed as a subject of the God of Abraham (Gen. xvii. 9-14).

More than four centuries after this adoption of the children of Abraham as the covenant people of God, we find them in a state of vassalage in Egypt, groaning under the cruel bondage to which they were subjected. We are told that God ‘heard their groaning, and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.’ He raised up a champion in the person of Moses, and instructed him to say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians; . . . and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God,’ etc. (Exod. vi. 6, 7). After the miraculous redemption from Egypt, the covenant relation between Jehovah and the children of Israel was publicly and solemnly ratified at Mount Sinai. We read that ‘in the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, . . . Israel camped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation’ (Exod. xix. 3-6).

It is at this period that we may regard the Theocratic kingdom as formally inaugurated. A horde of liberated slaves were constituted a nation; they received a divine law for their government, and the complete frame of their civil and ecclesiastical polity was organised and constructed by divine authority. Every step of the process by which a childless old man grew into a nation reveals a divine purpose and a divine plan. Never was any nationality so formed; none ever existed for such a purpose; none ever bore such a relationship to God; none ever possessed such a miraculous history; none was ever exalted to such glorious privilege; none ever fell by such a tremendous doom.

There can be no doubt that the nation of Israel was designated to be the depositary and conservator of the knowledge of the living and true God in the earth. For this purpose the nation was constituted, and brought into a unique relation to the Most High, such as not other people ever sustained. To secure this purpose the Lord Himself became their King, and they became His subjects; while all the institutions and laws which were imposed upon them had reference to God, not only as the Creator of all things, but as the Sovereign of the nation. To express and carry out this idea of the kingship of God over Israel is the manifest object of the ceremonial apparatus of worship set up in the wilderness: ‘Jehovah caused a royal tent to be erected in the centre of the encampment (where the pavilions of all kings and chiefs were usually erected), and to be fitted up with all the splendour of royalty, as a moveable palace. It was divided into three apartments, in the innermost of which was the royal throne, supported by golden cherubs; and the footstool of the throne, a gilded ark containing the tables of the law, the Magna Charta of church and state. In the anteroom a gilded table was spread with bread and wine, as the royal table; and precious incense was burned. The exterior room or court might be considered the royal culinary apartment, and there music was performed, like the music at the festive tables of Eastern monarchs. God made choice of the Levites for His courtiers, state officers, and palace guards; and of Aaron for the chief officer of the court and first minister of state. For the maintenance of these officers He assigned one of the tithes which the Hebrews were to pay as rent for the use of the land. Finally, He required all the Hebrew males of a suitable age to repair to His palace every year, on the three great annual festivals, with presents, to render homage to their King; and as these days of renewing their homage were to be celebrated with festivity and joy, the second tithe was expended in providing the entertainments necessary for those occasions. In short, every religious duty was made a matter of political obligation; and all the civil regulations, even the most minute, were so founded upon the relation of the people to God, and so interwoven with their religious duties, that the Hebrew could not separate his God and his King, and in every law was reminded equally of both. Consequently the nation, so long as it had a national existence, could not entirely lose the knowledge, or discontinue the worship, of the true God.’

Such was the government instituted by Jehovah among the children of Israel---a true Theocracy; the only real Theocracy that ever existed upon earth. Its intense and exclusive national character deserves particular notice. It was the distinctive privilege of the children of Abraham, and of them alone: ‘The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth’ (Deut. vii. 6). ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth’ (Amos iii. 2). ‘He hath not dealt so with any nation’ (Ps. cxlvii. 20). The Most High was the Lord of the whole earth, but He was the King of Israel in an altogether peculiar sense. He was their covenanted Ruler; they were His covenanted people. They came under the most sacred and solemn obligations to be loyal subjects to their invisible Sovereign, to worship Him alone, and to be faithful to His law (Deut. xxvi. 16-18). As the reward of obedience they had the promise of unbounded prosperity and national greatness; they were to be ‘high above all nations in praise and in name and in honour’ (Deut. xxvi. 19); while, on the other hand, the penalties of disloyalty and unfaithfulness were correspondingly dreadful; the curse of the broken covenant would overtake them in a signal and terrible retribution, to which there should be no parallel in the history of mankind, past or to come. (Deut. xxviii.)

It is only reasonable to presume that this marvellous experiment of a Theocratic government must have had for its object something worthy of its divine author. That object was moral, rather than material; the glory of God and the good of men, rather than the political or temporal advancement of a tribe or nation. It was no doubt, in the first place, an expedient to keep alive the knowledge and worship of the One true God in the earth, which otherwise might have been wholly lost; and, secondly, notwithstanding its intense and exclusive spirit of nationalism, the Theocratic system carried in its bosom the germ of a universal religion, and thus was a great and important stage in the education of the human race.

It is instructive to trace the growth and progressive development of the Theocratic idea in the history of the Jewish people, and to observe how, as it loses its political significance, it becomes more and more moral and spiritual in its character.

The people on whom this unequalled privilege was conferred showed themselves unworthy of it. Their fickleness and faithlessness neutralised at every step the favour of their invisible Sovereign. Their demand for a king, ‘that they might be like all the nations,’ was a virtual rejection of their heavenly Ruler. (1 Sam. viii. 7, 19, 20.) Nevertheless their request was granted, provision for such a contingency having been made in the original framing of the Theocracy. The human king was regarding as the viceroy of the divine King, and thus he became a type of the real, though unseen, Sovereign to whom he, as well as the nation, owed allegiance.

It is at this point that we note the appearance of a new phase in the Theocratic system. If we regard David as the author of the second Psalm, it was as early as his time that a prophetic announcement was made concerning a King, the Lord’s Anointed, the Son of God, against whom the kings of the earth were to set themselves and the rulers to take counsel together, but to whom the Most High was to give the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. From this period the mediatorial character of the Theocracy begins to be more clearly indicated:---there is a distinction made between the Lord and His Anointed, between the Father and the Son. We meet with the titles Messiah, Son of God, Son of David, King of Zion, given to One to whom the kingdom belongs, and who is destined to triumph and to reign. The psalms called Messianic, especially the 72nd and 110th, are sufficient to prove that in the time of David there were clear prophetic announcements of a coming King, whose rule was to be beneficent and glorious; in whom all nations were to be blessed; who was to unite in Himself the twofold offices of Priest and King; who is declared to be David’s Lord; and is represented as sitting at the right hand of God ‘until his enemies be made his footstool.’

Henceforth through all the prophecies of the Old Testament we find the character and person of the Theocratic King more and more fully delineated, though in the description are blended together diverse and apparently inconsistent elements. Sometimes the coming King and His kingdom are depicted in the most attractive and glowing colours,---‘a Rod is to spring from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch to grow out of his roots,’ and under the conduct of this scion of the house of David all evil is to disappear and all goodness to triumph. The wolf is to dwell with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid: ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Isa. xi. 1-9). The loftiest names of honour and dignity are ascribed to the coming Prince; He is the ‘Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there is to be no end.’ He is to sit upon the throne of David, and to govern his kingdom with judgment and with justice for ever (Isa. ix. 6, 7).

But side by side with these brilliant prospects lie dark and gloomy scenes of sorrow and suffering, of judgment and wrath. The coming King is spoken of as a ‘root out of a dry ground;’ as ‘despised and rejected;’ as ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;’ as ‘wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities;’ ‘brought like a lamb to the slaughter;’ ‘dumb like a sheep in the hand of the shearers;’ ‘cut off out of the land of the living’ (Isa. liii.). He is described as coming to Jerusalem ‘lowly’ and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass’ (Zech. ix. 9); Messiah is to be cut off, but not for Himself (Dan. ix. 26); and among the latest prophetic utterances are some of the most ominous and sombre of all. The Lord, the Messenger of the covenant, the expected King, is to come: ‘But who may abide the day of his coming? That day shall burn as a furnace; it is the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ (Mal. iii. 1, 2; iv. 1, 5).

This seeming paradox is explained in the New Testament. There actually was this twofold aspect of the King and the kingdom: ‘The King of glory’ was also ‘the Man of sorrows;’ ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ was also ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’

Ancient prophecy had given abundant reason for the expectation that the invisible Theocratic King would one day be revealed, and would dwell with men upon the earth; that He would come, in the interests of the Theocracy, to set up His kingdom in the nation, and to rally His people around His throne. The opening chapters of St. Luke’s gospel indicate the views entertained by pious Israelites respecting the coming kingdom of the Messiah. It was understood by them to have a special relation to Israel. ‘He shall be great,’ said the angel of the annunciation, ‘and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the house of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever.’ ‘Rabbi!’ exclaimed the guileless Nathanael, as the God suddenly flashed upon him through the disguise of the young Galilean peasant, ‘thou are the Son of God, thou are the King of Israel!’ (John i. 44) It is no less certain that His coming was then believed to be near, and it was eagerly expected by such holy men as Simeon, who ‘waited for the consolation of Israel,’ and to whom it had been revealed that he should not ‘see death before he had seen the Lord’s anointed’ (Luke ii. 25, 26). There was indeed a wide-spread belief, not only in Judea, but throughout the Roman Empire, that a great prince or monarch was about to appear in the earth, who was to inaugurate a new epoch. Of this expectation we have evidence in the Annals of Tacitus and the Pollio of Virgil. Doubtless the cherished hope of Israel had diffused itself, in a more or less vague and distorted form, throughout the neighbouring lands.

But when, in the fulness of time, the Theocratic King appeared in the midst of the covenant nation, it was not in the form which they had expected and desired. He did not fulfil their hopes of political power and national pre-eminence. The kingdom of God which He proclaimed was something very different from that of which they had dreamed. Righteousness and truth, purity and goodness, were only empty names to men who coveted the honours and pleasures of this world. Nevertheless, though rejected by the nation at large, the Theocratic King did not fail to announce His presence and His claims. He was preceded by a herald, the predicted Elias, John the Baptist, whom the people were constrained to acknowledge as a true prophet of God. The second Elijah announced the kingdom of God as at hand, and called upon the nation to repent and receive their King. Next, His own miraculous works, unexampled even in the history of the chosen people for number and splendour, gave conclusive evidence of His divine mission; added to which the transcendent excellence of His doctrine, and the unsullied purity of His life, silenced, if they did not shame, the enmity of the ungodly. For more than three years this appeal to the heart and conscience of the nation was incessantly presented in every variety of method, but without success; until at length the chief men in the Jewish church and state, bitterly hostile to His pretensions, impeached Him before the Roman governor on the charge of making Himself a King. By their persistent and malignant clamour they procured His condemnation. He was delivered up to be crucified, and the title upon His cross bore this inscription,---


This tragic event marks the final breach between the covenant nation and the Theocratic King. The covenant had often been broken before, but now it was publicly repudiated and torn in pieces. It might have been thought that the Theocracy would now be at an end; and virtually it was; but its formal dissolution was suspended for a brief space, in order that the twofold consummation of the kingdom, involving the salvation of the faithful and the destruction of the unbelieving, might be brought about at the appointed time. This twofold aspect of the Theocratic kingdom is visible in every part of its history. It was at once a success and a failure---a victory and a defeat; it brought salvation to some and destruction to others. This twofold character had been distinctly set forth in ancient prophecy, as in the remarkable oracle of Isaiah xlix. The Messiah complains, ‘I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought and in vain,’ etc. The divine answer is, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. And He said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth.’ To take only one other example: we find in the Book of Malachi this twofold aspect of the coming kingdom, for while ‘the day that cometh’ is to ‘burn as a furnace,’ and to ‘consume the wicked as stubble,’ ‘unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings’ (Mal. iv. 1, 2). Notwithstanding, therefore, the rejection of the King, and the forfeiture of the kingdom by the mass of the people, there was yet to be a glorious consummation of the Theocracy, bringing honour and happiness to all who owned the authority of the Messiah and proved dutiful and loyal to their King.

Have we any data by which to ascertain the period of this consummation? At what time may the kingdom be said to have fully come? Not at the incarnation, for the proclamation of Jesus ever was, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ Not at the crucifixion, for the petition of the dying thief was, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.’ Not at the resurrection, for after the Lord had risen the disciples were looking for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Not at the ascension, nor on the day of Pentecost, for long after these events we are told, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ, ‘after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sate down on the right hand of God: from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool’ (Heb. x. 12, 13). The consummation of the kingdom, therefore, is not coincident with the ascension, nor with the day of Pentecost. It is true that the Theocratic King was seated on the throne, ‘on the right hand of the Majesty on high,’ but He had not yet ‘taken his great power.’ His enemies were not yet put down, and the full development and consummation of His kingdom could not be said to have arrived until by a solemn and public judicial act the Messiah had vindicated the laws of His kingdom and crushed beneath His feet His apostate and rebellious subjects.

There is one point of time constantly indicated in the New Testament as the consummation of the kingdom of God. Our Lord declared that there were some among His disciples who should live to see Him coming in His kingdom. This coming of the King is of course synonymous with the coming of the kingdom, and limits the occurrence of the event to the then existing generation. That is to say, the consummation of the kingdom synchronises with the judgment of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem, all being parts of one great catastrophe. It was at that period that the Son of man was to come in the glory of His Father, and to sit upon the throne of His glory; to render a reward to His servants and retribution to His enemies (Matt. xxv. 31). We find these events uniformly associated together in the New Testament,---the coming of the King, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of the righteous and the wicked, the consummation of the kingdom, the end of the age. Thus St. Paul, in 2 Tim. iv. 5, says, ‘I charge thee therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to judge the living and the dead at his appearing and His kingdom.’ The coming, the judgment, the kingdom, are all coincident and contemporaneous, and not only so, but also nigh at hand; for the apostle says, ‘Who is about to judge; . . . who shall soon judge’ [mellontoz krinein].

It is perfectly clear, then, according to the New Testament, that the consummation, or winding up, of the Theocratic kingdom took place at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem and the judgment of Israel. The Theocracy had served its purpose; the experiment had been tried whether or not the covenant nation would prove loyal to their King. It had failed; Israel had rejected her King; and it only remained that the penalties of the violated covenant should be enforced. We see the result in the ruin of the temple, the destruction of the city, the effacement of the nation, and the abrogation of the law of Moses, accompanied with scenes of horror and suffering without a parallel in the history of the world. That great catastrophe, therefore, marks the conclusion of the Theocratic kingdom. It had been from the beginning of a strictly national character---it was the divine Kingship over Israel. It necessarily terminated, therefore, with the termination of the national existence of Israel, when the outward and visible symbols of the divine Presence and Sovereignty passed away; when the house of God, the city of God, and the people of God were effaced from existence by one desolating and final catastrophe.

This enables us to understand the language of St. Paul when, speaking of the coming of Christ, he represents that event as marking ‘the end’ [to teloz = h sunteleia tou aiwnoz], ‘when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father’ (1 Cor. xv. 24). This has caused much perplexity to many theologians and commentators, who have seemed to regard it as derogatory to the divinity of the Son of God that He should resign His mediatorial functions and His kingly character, and sink, as it were, into the position of a private person, becoming a subject instead of a sovereign. But the embarrassment has arisen from overlooking the nature of the kingdom which the Son had administered, and which He at length surrenders. It was the Messianic kingdom: the kingdom over Israel: that peculiar and unique government exercised over the covenant nation, and administered by the mediatorship of the Son of God for so many ages. That relation was now dissolved, for the nation had been judged, the temple destroyed, and all the symbols of the divine Sovereignty removed. Why should the Theocratic kingdom be continued any longer? There was nothing to administer. There was no longer a covenant nation, the covenant was broken, and Israel had ceased to exist as a distinct nationality. What more natural and proper, therefore, than at such a juncture for the Mediator to resign His mediatorial functions, and to deliver up the insignia of government into the hands from which He received them? Ages before that period the Father had invested the Son with the viceregal functions of the Theocracy. It had been proclaimed, ‘I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion: I will declare the decree; the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee’ (Ps. ii. 6, 7). The purposes for which the Son had assumed the administration of the Theocratic government had been effected. The covenant was dissolved, its violation avenged, the enemies of Christ and of God were destroyed; the true and faithful servants were rewarded, and the Theocracy came to an end. This was surely the fitting moment for the Mediator to resign His charge into the hands of the Father, that is to say, ‘to deliver up the kingdom.’

But there is in all this nothing derogatory to the dignity of the Son. On the contrary, ‘He is the Mediator of a better covenant.’ The termination of the Theocratic kingdom was the inauguration of a new order, on a wider scale, and of a more enduring nature. This is the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘the throne of the Son of God is for ever and ever’ (Heb. i. 8). The priesthood of the Son of God ‘abideth continually’ (chap. viii. 3); Christ ‘hath now obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant’ (chap. viii. 6). The Theocracy, as we have seen, was limited, exclusive, and national; yet it bore within it the germ of a universal religion. What Israel lost was gained by the world. Whilst the Theocracy subsisted there was a favoured nation, and the Gentiles, that is to say all the world minus the Jews, were outside the kingdom, holding a position of inferiority, and, like dogs, permitted as a matter of grace to eat the crumbs that fell from the master’s table. The first coming of Christ did not wholly do away with this state of things; even the Gospel of the grace of God flowed at first in the old narrow channel. St. Paul recognises the fact that ‘Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision,’ and our Lord Himself declared, ‘I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ For years after the apostles had received their commission they did not understand it was sending them to the Gentiles; nor did they at first regard heathen converts as admissible into the church, except as Jewish proselytes. It is true that after the conversion of Cornelius the centurion the apostles became convinced of the larger limits of the Gospel, and St. Paul everywhere proclaimed the breaking down of the barriers between the Jew and the Gentile; but it is easy to see that so long as the Theocratic nation existed, and the temple, with its priesthood and sacrifices and ritual, remained, and the Mosaic law continued, or seemed to continue, in force, the distinction between Jew and Gentile could not be obliterated. But the barrier was effectually broken down when law, temple, city, and nation were swept away together, and the Theocracy was visibly brought to a final consummation.

That event was, so to speak, the formal and public declaration that God was no longer the God of the Jews only, but that He was now the common Father of all men; that there was no longer a favoured nation and a peculiar people, but that the grace of God ‘which bringeth salvation to all men was now made manifest’ (Titus ii. 11); that the local and limited had expanded into the ecumenical and universal, and that in Christ Jesus ‘all are one’ (Gal. iii. 29). This is what St. Paul declares to be the meaning of the surrender of the kingdom by the Son of God into the hands of the Father: thenceforth the exclusive relations of God to a single nation ceases, and He becomes the common Father of the whole human family,---

‘THAT GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL’ (1 Cor. xv. 28).

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