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ON THE RETURN OF JESUS
The better to understand this pretence and to discover, its falsity, I will mention a few facts. First, it should be known that the Jews themselves had two different systems of their Messiah. Most of them, indeed, expected in such a person a worldly sovereign, who should release them from slavery, and make other nations submissive to them. In this system there was nothing but splendour and glory, no previous suffering, no return; the long-wished-for kingdom was to begin immediately upon the coming of the Messiah. However, there were some few others who said their Messiah would come twice, and each time after quite a different manner. The first time he would appear in misery, and would suffer and die. The second time he would come in the clouds of Heaven, and receive unlimited power. The Jew Trypho in Justin Martyr acknowledges this twofold future of the Messiah. It is to be found in the Talmud and also in other Jewish writings. The more modern . Jews liave even made a double Messiah, out of this twofold coming; the one of the tribe of Joseph, who was to suffer and die; the other of the tribe of Judah, descended from David, who ^was to sit upon his throne and reign. The Jews, at the time of their bondage, had indeed tried so hard to strengthen the sweet hope they entertained of a deliverer, by so many Scripture passages, that, with the assistance of pharisaic allegories, they found their Messiah in countless sayings, and in almost all directions. For this reason, the passages, which in themselves contained no such allusion, ran so contrary to one another that in order to make them all rhyme together the Jews could help themselves in no other way than by imagining a twofold Messiah. It was, for example, believed that Zacharias referred to the Messiah when he said: " Hop for joy thou daughter of Zion, shout thou daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy king will come to thee : the same is just, and a saviour.'' But then, again, he describes him as " poor," and " riding upon an ass." Thus there were many other passages in Scripture which, on account of some circumstances, appeared to them to speak of the hoped-for king and saviour, but which still intermingled his miserable condition, oppression, and persecution. In contradiction to this, Daniel, in his nocturnal visions, sees the following: u And there came one in the clouds of Heaven like the son of a man and came unto the aged one (one stricken in years), and to the same was given all power and honour, and kingdom, that all nations and tongues should serve him." Here we have nothing but power and grandeur, as in several other passages which, according to Jewish ideas, relate to a promised saviour. In consequence, the few Jews, who combined the two accounts, could hardly fail to alight upon the notion that a Messiah would come twice, and each time after quite a different manner. One sees for oneself that the apostles of this system, however few there were, made use of it all the more because their first and most palatable system had, on account of its failure, been set aside; and one sees also that, after the death of Jesus as Messiah, they promised themselves a glorious future from him.
Further, it should be known that the Jews imagined the resurrection of the dead would take place after the second coming of the Messiah, when he would judge the living and the dead, and then the kingdom of Heaven or of the next world would begin, by which, however, they did not, like the Christians of the present day, mean a blissful or miserable eternity after the end of the world; but they meant the glorious reign of the Messiah upon this earth, which should indemnify them for their previous and then existing condition. The apostles were therefore obliged, in their new creed, to promise a different return of Christ from the clouds, by which all that they had vainly hoped for would be fulfilled, and by which his faithful followers, after the judgment had been passed, would come into the inheritance of the kingdom. If the apostles had not promised such a glorious return of Christ, no man would have concerned himself about their Messiah, or have listened to their preachings. This glorious kingdom was the solace of the Israelites in all their tribulations; in the certain hope of it they bore every trial, and they willingly gave up all they had, because they expected to receive it back an hundredfold.
Now if the apostles had at that time said that it would be about seventeen, eighteen, or several hundred years before Christ would return in the clouds of Heaven and begin his kingdom, people would simply have laughed at them, and would naturally have thought that by their placing the fulfilment of the promise far beyond the lives of so many men and generations, they were only seeking to hide their own and their master's disgrace. No Jew separated the second coming of the Messiah so far from the first; and as the first was bound to have taken place on account of the second, there was no good reason why the kingdom of glory should not begin soon. Who would have parted with his means of subsistence or his fortune for the sake of it, and made himself poor before the time and in vain ? Whence could the apostles have drawn the means which they were to divide so plentifully among their new converts ? It was then imperative that the apostles should promise the second corning of Christ and the kingdom of glory in good time, or at all events during the lifetime of the then existing Jews. The sayings also which they impute to Christ point to his return before that generation of Jews had passed away. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, when Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and of his second coming, the disciples ask him, " Tell us when shall these things be ? What will be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world ? " By the end of the world they meant, according to Jewish language, the end of the time previous to the kingdom of the Messiah, or the abolishment of the present kingdom, which was supposed to be directly connected with the new kingdom. So the apostles and evangelists impute to their master an answer which commences by warning them against any false Christs or Messiahs who might pretend to be himself before the end came. He says: " But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars will fall from Heaven, and the powers of the heavens will quake;" that is, in the prophetic language of the Hebrews, that the existing world or the existing constitution of the Jewish republic should come to an end. Jesus continues: " And then will appear the sign of the son of man in heaven, and then all the generations of earth shall strike their breasts and shall see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and glory," etc. "Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away until all this has happened. But of the day and of the hour no man knows. Therefore watch, for ye know not at what hour your Lord cometh. Therefore be prepared, for the son of man will come at an hour when you look not for him. But when the son of man cometh in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then will he sit upon the seat of his glory, and all nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate them one from the other, like as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." According to these speeches, the visible coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven to the kingdom of his glory is clearly and exactly appointed to take place, soon after the imminent tribulations of the Jews, and before " this generation," or those Jews who were alive at the time of Jesus, had passed away or died. And although no one was to know of the day or the hour, yet those who were then alive, particularly the disciples, were to watch and be prepared, because he should come at an hour when they were not expecting him. That this was the true meaning of the words of the evangelist is clearly shown by another passage from the same; for after Jesus had said he must go up to Jerusalem and would there be killed and would rise again, he adds: " For it surely will come to pass that the son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then will he reward each one according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing among you who shall not taste of death until they have seen the son of man come into his kingdom"
No speech in this world can more distinctly fix the time of the visible glorious return of Christ to a certain period and within the bounds of a not yery distant one. Some of those persons who then stood upon the same spot around Jesus were not to die before his return, but were to see him come into his kingdom.
But as Christ unfortunately did not come in the clouds of heaven within the appointed time, nor even after many centuries had passed away, people try now-a-days to remedy the failure of the promise by giving to its words an artificial but very meagre signification. The words " this generation shall not pass away " must needs be tortured into meaning that the Jewish people or Jewish nation shall not pass away. By such an interpretation they think that the promise may still stand good. Thus they say the Jewish nation has not passed away, therefore the appointed time for the second coming of Christhas not elapsed. But the Jews are fostered and cherished all too well in Christendom for that gentle nation to pass away, and it seems as though one had calculated upon the is^btprfuge being as necessary many centuries hence, as it is now. But neither now nor in future can it ever warrant a saferefuge. Matthew's words, or, if you prefer it, Christ's own words quoted in the foregoing passage, can never be reconciled to the mind, because the people who in one particular spot stood around Jesus before his suffering, could certainly not signify the whole Jewish nation after many successive centuries. Neither is it possible that any of them have not yet tasted of death! To assert this one would be obliged, as a last resource, to invent an everlasting Jew, who had existed from the time of Jesus. I will now proceed to show from the quoted words themselves, that the fundamental word yeveA does not at all signify a nation or a people. The people or the nation of the Jews, or any other people or nation, is expressed by the words Xoo? and eOvos, but the word gevea in the New Testament and everywhere else, means generation, or, people who are living together in the world at the same time, and who by their exit from this stage, make room for other generations.
It will be remembered that in the beginning of the gospel of Matthew, are counted, from Abraham to David <ywea\ reva-apes /catSe/ca, fourteen generations, and again from David to the Babylonian captivity, Tec7<7ap€9 tcaiSefca, fourteen generations; lastly from the Babylonian captivity- to Christ reo-o-ape? fcatSefccij fourteen generations, all of which are also named by Matthew in the table of generations. Now any other generations besides those existing were Called old generations, those which had passed away. The generation living at the time of Jesus was aurr) yevea, the present generation, or this generation, which would also in its own time, pass away irapeXOrj. Jesus often describes the then existing one as a wicked, adulterous, unbelieving generation, because it had calumniated both him and John, and had required a sign from heaven. He said that the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba would fare better at the day of judgment than this generation, which had heard a far greater prophet than Jonas, and a wiser than Solomon, and yet had despised him. Jesus particularly includes his own disciples in this generation, and reproves them as a faithless and perverse generation, when they could not drive out a certain devil; and he asks, "How long shall I be with you ? " In every other part of the New Testament, the word yevea has the same signification, as every one can see who pleases to wander through the fans of concordance. The seventy interpreters, the Apocrypha, Philo, Josephus, and also the profane Scribes attribute exactly the same meaning to it. With the Hebrews, particularly, it is nothing else than the Hebrew -ivt Dor. Thus Solomon says, "one generation passes away, the other comes." Moses says that God allowed the Israelites to wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years long, until the whole generation which had done evil in the sight of the Lord had passed away. And again, when referring to those who had lived at the time of Joshua, it is written, that the whole generation had been gathered to its fathers.
It is therefore irrefutable that in Jesus' speech in Matthew " this generation " avrrj yevea means nothing more than " the Jews who lived at the time of Jesus," These were not to pass away or die until he should " return in the clouds with great power and glory." Now as it is undeniable that nothing of the kind happened, the fact that the Jewish nation has not passed aw;ay but still exists is a sorry cloaking to the falsity of the prediction. "This generation," which could and would pass away, cannot possibly be the entire nation with all its generations at different times. Neither Jesus nor the Jews ever thought that their people or nation would pass away, but that one generation after the other would pass away was acknowledged by Moses, Joshua, Solomon, and was known to every one, from the common experience of mortality. It might then be said of a generation that it should pass away, and consequently the time of a future occurrence might, through the limit of the life of a present generation, be appointed; but no Jew said of the whole Jewish nation that it would pass away; therefore the time of a future occurrence could not be appointed upon the passing away of the whole nation. Indeed, a fulfilment of a particular promised thing cannot, after its hoped-for reality, be decided through an invulnerable thing, a thing which perpetually continues from century to century, unto eternity. Were I standing beside the Danube, the Elbe, or the Rhine, and, knowing all the currents of the stream, were I to say to any one: This river shall not pass away until I come again; would it not be equivalent to saying, "I shall never come again"? To assert that "the whole Jewish nation, with all its continual generations, shall not pass away until Christ comes again," would be a nice way of appointing his return in the clouds! To any Jew one might as well say: " He will not come again until the river Jordan has passed away, until eternity is at an end." Therefore it is impossible that " this generation " in Christ's prediction should have meant anything but "the Jews who were then living."Further, what could more clearly have pointed out the sense and object of the words than the following speech of Jesus in another passage: " there be some among you standing here by me who shall not taste of death until they see the son of man come into his kingdom?" The meaning here is identically the same as that in the foregoing mode of expression: "this generation shall not pass away;" for those who stood there, by Jesus, were certain persons of that generation, or, of the then existing Jews, and they were not to taste of death until they saw him come again in the clouds; and, in so far as the then existing generation of Jews is (in the latter expression) limited by the lives of persons named, the thing is even more particularly and exactly decided, so that any one who could still raise objections to a meaning so circumstantially determined, must have lost all sense of shame. It is certain that in the Old Testament the first coming of the Messiah is not anything like so exactly fixed to a particular time, as is the second coming in the New Testament; and a Jew can use, as a pretext for the non-appearance of his hoped-for Messiah, much fairer and more reasonable interpretations and arguments than a Christian can for the non-return of Christ.
In going through the New Testament, one sees that the disciples had this conception of the promised return of Jesus, and that they imparted to the newly converted that it would take place very soon, indeed, during their own lifetime. The disciples are represented by Luke as enquiring of Jesus after his resurrection: " Lord, wilt thou not at this time restore the kingdom to these Israelites?" Again, in their epistles, they pretend that the return of Christ is near at hand, and exhort the faithful to watch and be ready, as it would come to pass in their own time, aye, and might come at any hour or moment, that they might be found in a condition to take part in the kingdom of glory. James likewise encourages them thus: " Be then patient, dear brethren, until the return of the Lord. . . . Be ye also patient, for the return of the Lord is near at hand. . . . Behold, the judge standeth at the door." Paul writes to the Thessalonians, that although some among them had gone to sleep before the return of the Lord, they would be carried to meet him when he appeared in the clouds, at the same time as those who then remained alive. He says: "I would not have you ignorant, dear brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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 warshout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sackbut of Grod: and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Therefore comfort ye one another with these words. But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so coineth as a thief in the night j for when they shall say Peace and safety, then sudden destruction coineth upon them as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief."
In the same manner Paul says to the Corinthians: " Behold, I tell you a secret. We shall indeed not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump; for the trump will sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
It is then not to be wondered at, that the early Christians after such plain words from Jesus himself, and from his apostles, should daily have looked for this return of Christ in the clouds, or that they should have been in constant expectation of the glorious kingdom, believing that at least some among them would be alive at the time of its commencement. Can we blame them for thinking the time too long, when one after another fell asleep without living to witness it ? Is it surprising that scoffers should have come at last and said, " Where is the promise of his return? for from the days when our fathers fell asleep, all remains as it was at the beginning of the creation?" It must have come to the ears of Paul, that the Thessalonians, from his own first epistle and the speeches of others, considered the return of Christ to be so very near, that it would be impossible to redeem the promise. So in his next epistle he speaks in mysterious words of a "falling off" of a "man of sin," of the "son of perdition," of the " godless one who must come first," who was even then at work, but was detained, and when at last he revealed himself, the Lord, would put him to death with the breath of his mouth, and would, destroy him by the brightness of his coming. He therefore prays the Thessalonians: " Be not soon shaken in mind, nor be troubled neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." But this dark dilatory consolation could not be depended upon for any length of time, for even should the "son of perdition" be intended to represent the Emperor Caligula, or any of his successors (as many think) he must soon have been revealed. Why was he not destroyed by the '* brightness of Christ's coming " ? If, on the other hand, by " the son of perdition" was meant one who belonged to a later century, the prediction of Jesus himself that " some of those standing by him should not taste of death until they had seen him come into his kingdom " would not have been fulfilled. And the promise which Paul himself made to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, yiz.: that some among them would not be fallen asleep when Christ with the trump of Grod should come in the clouds to his kingdom, would not have been fulfilled. The truth is that compare Paul's words with whichever account you will, they cannot accord with, or be applied to, a single one of them, and almost the only conclusion you can come to is that to draw himself out of the difficulty with honour, he carefully concealed himself in the dark, so that the delay of the return of Christ could be placed farther and farther away at pleasure.
Our good Paul, however, does not thoroughly understand the art of giving evasive answers. Peter is a better hand at it. He says: "Know that in the last days scoffers will come and will say: Where is the promise of his return? for from the days the fathers fell asleep, everything remains as it was from the beginning of creation." After mentioning some things which have nothing to do with the subject, he continues: "I would not have you ignorant, beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to us-ward. . . . But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," etc. Even at that time there seem to have been scoffers, for Peter warns his faithful followers against them, and tells them not to be persuaded by them. If then after seventeen hundred years there should come scoffers who ask: Where is now his return ? Peter has already answered in advance, that they have only waited a little over one-and-a-half of the Lord's days more than was due, and that the delay was owing to his " long-suffering." And if the return of Christ should not occur for another couple of thousand years, Peter has again met the scoffer with the answer that his calculation is wrong, the two thousand years were only a couple of days which Christ has spent for their benefit in heaven before he let himself down. But such like answers will, I fear, give little satisfaction to sensible honest men, and even less to the scoffers. The thing which cannot be supported by better props than these must be in a very bad way.
What business here has the verse from Psalm ex. ? According to the evangelists, Christ so distinctly fixed his second coming that some of those who then stood round him were to be living when he returned in the clouds. It would then be absurd to push his return so far ahead, because a thousand years with Grod are as one day; for the return, you see, was not fixed according to God's days, but according to man's days, namely, the days of those men who stood around. In any case it is absurd to measure the time by God's days, even were they a hundred thousand human years long; but if this was to be comprehended according to human understanding, why then did Peter make a human day into a thousand years ?
Here, then, there was no alternative but that of burying the exact appointment of the time in oblivion, as though it had never been fixed at all, and instead of it to make a terminus so long that it can be extended to eternity; for three hundred and sixty-five thousand human years would then have to elapse before one of God's years could come to an end, and yet the delay could not be called a delay, because either the " long-suffering " or some other peculiarity of God would be sufficient reason why one ought not to enquire so very particularly into His foresight, His prophecies, and His truth. The apostles, meanwhile, gained this much by the early foolish Christianity: that once the faithful had fallen asleep and the real terminus had been well passed over, the succeeding Christians and fathers of the Church could by idle hopes and promises go on keeping up the delusion. We read that John, one of the apostles and evangelists, who at the time of Jesus was very young, and who lived the longest, pretends to be he who might perhaps live to see the return of Christ. He introduces Peter as saying to Jesus: " Lord, and what shall this man do?" and Jesus as answering: -"If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" Jesus, however, as not having said that he should not die but only " If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee ? " Accordingly, John concludes his Revelation thus: "He which testifieth these things saith, ' Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus." *
After the apostles, the first fathers of the Church still continued to hope that Christ would appear and begin his kingdom upon earth in their own times; and thus it went on from century to century, until at last the unaccomplished time of Christ's second coming became forgotten, and our present theologians pass nimbly over the matter because it is not beneficial to their purposes; they also try to cultivate a very different object in the return of Christ in the clouds of Heaven, to that which he himself and his apostles taught.
Hermann Samuel Reimarus was born on the 22nd December, 1694, at Hamburg. His father, Nikolaus, the son of a clergyman of Stolzenberg, near Stettin, was a native of Kiel, where he had studied theology. He married the daughter of a distinguished patrician family of the name of Wetken. He was so good a man and so accomplished a scholar that his influence upon the education and character of his son, whom he taught almost entirely until he had attained his twelfth year, must have been a very important one. Reimarus left his father's house to become a pupil of the renowned John Albrecht Fabricius, whose daughter he eventually married. At the age of sixteen he left the Johanneum for the Gymnasium, and in the year 1714, when he was twenty years old, he entered the University of Jena. Theology was his favourite study, but he also occupied himself with great energy and perseverance in classics and philosophy, and in 1716 became adjunct of the philosophical faculty at Wittemberg. In the years 1720 and 1721, to gain further knowledge, he journeyed to Holland and England, returning thence to his former post at Wittemberg, which he retained until the year 1723, when he was appointed Rector of the School at Wismar. Four years later, on the death of G. Edzard at Hamburg, the Professorship of the Hebrew and other Oriental languages became vacant. The salary of this appointment was not remunerative; but out of attachment to his native place Reimarus applied for and easily obtained it, resisting other more advantageous offers, particularly a brilliant invitation to become the successor of Gesner at Gottingen.
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"Adora quod incendisti, incende quod adorasti!" Remigus rocks!
Date: 06 Oct 2005