01 April 2004
A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)Let both grow together until the harvest . . ..
Jesus, Matthew 13:30
The world's function dictates its future. Specifically, it functions as a place isolated from the Father's Glory. There, the children of God derive their being and resolve their willfulness. It also functions as a place of probation until the full number of them, having ceased their rebellion, have entered fully into the will of the Father. They will then have passed the critical tests associated with their probation. The essence of the matter is the willfulness of the children. Being in the likeness of the Father, they have ideas and the independence to assert them consistent with the freedom of the will. Theirs would be an empty freedom, though, if they were without choices – that is, alternatives to the will of the Father. Therefore, the Father provided the world as a set of alternatives that gives reality to freedom. He also shared his creative qualities with the children so that they can create other alternatives using the raw material comprising the world-place.
The Father's will for the children is one thing, and one thing only, absolutely exclusive of any other consideration. That one thing is his eternal Glory. Their reception into Glory, though, requires that they must first will it for themselves. If the father were to take them in against their will, their contrary minds would spoil it, for themselves and for the Father. This is the particular willfulness for which the world serves as a place of resolution, and this is the essential goal of the probation of the children. The ultimate issue is the simple choice: the life of this world, or the life of eternal glory.
It follows that the world itself can never be glorious, therefore the glorification of the world is not a part of its future. We children evolve with eternal glory in our hearts such that we can never realize fulfillment apart from glory, but we must not find it here in the world. Then the Father's will for us would be frustrated, for it is his will that we share in his glory. The withholding of glory is the sole limitation imposed on the world and on the life of the children in the world. This is the subjection of the world to futility defined by Jesus in terms of its "pass away-ness" (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Therefore the world is and must always remain a futile place -- a place of disappointments, of crushed hopes, of insecure possessions, of failed aspirations and doomed dreams. There will never be a glorious "millennial reign" of righteousness and peace on this earth. It is not God's will.
The Purpose of the WorldThe world has absolutely no purpose of its own, apart from the children. They are its sole reason-to-be. When they all have qualified for glory, having successfully served their probation in the world, the world must end. The world is good, but only while it serves its essential function associated with the divine will. At its root, it is the fundamental manifestation of evil, being an alternative to the eternal Glory that is the will of the Father. So also it must have an end when it has fulfilled its purpose. Until then, it must remain bound by its chains of futility. The continuation of this subjugation to futility is the evidence we need of the reign of the Kingdom of God.
The End of the WorldCosmology has now pretty well established that the world did have a beginning in the explosion of a primordial and infinitesimal singularity of infinite density known as the Big Bang. According to current estimates, this explosion began some fifteen to twenty billion years past. It isn't over yet. The galaxies, flung outward from the primeval singularity with other forms of energy, continue to extend their vast trajectories at the frontier of the universe. The singular explosion also marked the birth of time, a rough intruder into eternity.
When we think of the end of the world, there appear to be two reasonable options. Scientists have shown that it will have one of two ends, depending on the unknown material density of the universe. Either it will burn out and grow cold as it expands forever (if the density is below a critical value) or gravity will turn it back upon itself. In the latter case it would compress itself into the primordial fireball from which it began, and ultimately, perhaps, to its birthing singularity. It's futility would then release it – into the glorious and divine liberty of the children of God.
Which of these two ends will be the lot of the world? This has been a subject of lively debate among scientists and philosophers. Now, that the world will end by a gravitational contraction that reduces it to a fireball is not certain. Perhaps there is another route to an "end by fire" as described in Scripture; but why not? Why should not the Father from the beginning have equipped the world with all the components necessary to bring itself to an end once it has fulfilled its purpose? This would be an end by natural means; in a sense, nature committing suicide. The end of earth, and of earth life, may also be accomplished naturally by the collision of the earth with a comet of some other astronomical body.
According to Jesus:Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:29-31).Every one of the natural phenomena listed here: the darkened sun and moon, the falling stars, and the shaking powers of the heavens would characteristic of a cometary collision with the earth. Such a collision could certainly destroy all life and render the earth uninhabitable. Vast clouds of dust and smoke would darken all heavenly bodies and render them invisible from the earth's surface, for anyone who might remain to look for them. The incoming cometary bodies would fulfill the prophecy of stars falling from the heavens.
There are at least two objections to this view of the end. First, Jesus seems to be speaking of something more cosmic than the end of life on a single planet. The end of life on earth may be the end of the world for us, but not necessarily for those children of God who have arisen on other planets throughout the cosmos. To this one might respond that Jesus was on the earth speaking to earthlings, and consequently he spoke in terms relevant only to us. Furthermore, our "cosmos" would certainly come to an end, which would justify the cosmic flavor of Jesus’ prophecy. He did specify that "all the tribes of the earth" would mourn because of him.
The second objection to some such natural end as the cometary destruction of the earth comes from those who expect the world to end in consequence of supernatural action. The cosmos began supernaturally; perhaps it is to end supernaturally. The modern cosmologists are in agreement here, for they admit that their natural laws cannot see back to the beginning closer than 10-12 seconds after the instant of the big bang (Life in the Universe, by Stephen Weinberg in Scientific American, October 1994). I see no reason to object to a supernatural end of all things, but I must acknowledge that I do not know how it will be, nor can I say with assurance whether Jesus spoke of the end of earth, or of the end of the cosmos. The important point here is to recognize that his words are consistent with either view.
The DifferenceThere is only one sharp difference remaining between the biblicists and the cosmologists, and this time it is the biblicists who must compromise to effect a reconciliation. It is their turn, for most recently it was the cosmologists who acceded to the biblicists. That was when the cosmologists converted from the "steady state" theory of the cosmos to agree with the biblicists that the world does, indeed, have both a beginning and an end. Einstein, for example, held long and tenaciously to the steady state, which led him to commit what he later called "the greatest blunder of my life." The major remaining disagreements are in the amount of time that has passed since the creation of the world and in the amount remaining until the end. The biblicist must expand his thinking to conform to the known reality with which we have to deal, from thinking "thousands" to thinking "billions." If he can accept that adjustment, he will have breached a major barrier to the reconciliation of science and religion.
Why should not these two disciplines have a reconciliation? They seek precisely the same goal: Truth, in all its glory. Since they have the same goal in view, and since each has made its own historic contribution, why should they not now unite in the quest? The same Truth stands as the final goal, therefore there can be no contradiction between good science and good religion.
They use the same tool: the human mind. The difference is in their methods. Both are in quest of a revelation, and that the same one: the significance of the human experience. One seeks it through investigation and experiment coupled with the precisely logical method of mathematics. The other seeks it through divine revelation and experience coupled with the faith based method of prayer and meditation. One seeks knowledge through observation, the other seeks knowledge through the eyes of faith, but both seek the same thing. One looks outwardly, at the world without; the other looks inwardly, at the world within. Yet in the end the differences are only quantitative – matters of emphasis, of degree and not of essence. Both have faith. Both exercise logic. Both listen attentively to the sources. Both are profound believers in the quest and in the reality of the Truth that is their common goal. In the end, they will be one.
I have said all this to introduce this one idea for subsequent discussion: the utterances of Jesus define a world view that is perfectly consistent with reality. From his perspective, only two primary stages of development pertain to the world experience, and these are implicit in his utterances. These two stages are defined by events that bracket them, which are also revealed in his utterances. A single human life has also these same two stages, which are: (1) the early period of growth and development, and (2) the longer period of mature experience that continues until the end. Historically, for the world, the first period is that before the crucifixion of Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God. The second, in which we now find ourselves, spans the time from the crucifixion until the end of the world. For the individual, the first ends when one "graduates" into adult responsibility and the second ends with one's death.
Jesus' PerspectiveNow Jesus entered the world before his crucifixion, of course, so that his immediate perspective was near the end of the first period of the world. He was looking to future events that were to:He also concerned himself with the circumstances that were to prevail during the brief time that remained until the end of the first period. Then, beyond, that he concerned himself with the circumstances that were to prevail during the second period. This, of course, includes our "today." His concerns therefore addressed two periods and to two separate and distinct sets of demarcating events. Therefore we should expect his views to express a dualism growing out of the dual focus on two periods and two sets of events, and they do.
- (1) close the first period and inaugurate the second, and
- (2) close the second.
We also should exercise some care here to avoid two very common errors. First, we should acknowledge that Jesus' view of reality was from the perspective of eternity, where temporal durations are of no consequence. Therefore, the brevity of the time remaining until the end of the first period, at his crucifixion, is not relevant in evaluating the significance of that period. The much longer second and final period, in which we now live, may be much less significant in his view. Even if the second period should continue for billions of years, the length still is of no significance in evaluating the revelations of Jesus. His focus is upon the weight of events, not upon the measure of their times. When he expresses a sense of urgency, it is because of the gravity of the event to follow. It is the event that gives significance to the brevity of the time. Standing by itself, apart from the events, the time would be of no consequence. It is therefore conceivable that the events of the brief period remaining before the crucifixion carried, for Jesus, far more weight than all the rest of history and time. I do not say that they did, but they might, and we should be prepared to view them in this light. We should not evaluate them by their location (in our past), or by the brevity of their duration.
Second, it would be an error to allow ourselves to be influenced by the eschatological preachments of churchmen. Many of them form their confused views, involving millennial reigns and dispensations, without primary attention to the utterances of Jesus. Being captive to the love of life, they are loathe to give it up to the reality that binds it. Therefore they conceive grandiose visions of a world where righteousness has triumphed. They little realize, in their darkness, that the vision is itself an evil delusion contrary to the will of the Father and to all reality. Their views tend to be complex and intricate and they present them with great authority. They buttress every point by chapter and verse. There is only one problem: they do not know what they are talking about, not having listened carefully to the utterances of Jesus. In contrast, the picture of the future that Jesus draws is simple and straightforward, as we shall see.
ArmageddonIt is appropriate to introduce here a specific example of the confusion created by the preachers during their speculations about the future. One of their favorite themes is a thing they call "Armageddon." Notice first that Jesus never used the word, so that we should immediately question whether it justifies the attention given to it.
The idea comes from the Revelation of John, where we read:The sixth angel poured his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, issuing from the mouth of the dragon and from the mouth of the beast and from the mouth of the false prophet, three foul spirits like frogs; for they are demonic spirits performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!) And they assembled them at the place which is called in Hebrew, Armageddon (Revelation 16:15,16).I use this discussion of Armageddon, based on these verses from Revelation to explain the source of this fundamental Doctrine of Last Things held by many Christians. I do not imply by it's use that it or anything in Revelation is divinely inspired, for I do not consider it so. However, there are several passages therein that are consistent with the Truth as revealed by the Lord and it is interesting to see how these can contribute to our understanding by seeing how they can be integrated into the doctrine of Jesus. The same applies to the references from Acts and the Epistles that may be set forth below. After the fact, and after struggling for a long, long time to fully integrate these documents with the message of Jesus, I finally realized that while, in restricted cases they may shed some light on a subject, they are completely unnecessary to our enlightenment. Instead, they serve a malicious function of confusing and distracting us from the Truth. Revelation is particularly deceptive in that it presents itself as being words from the mouth of Jesus. It is not so.
This passage that speaks of Armageddon comes in the midst of a longer one in which angels are pouring the seven bowls full of the wrath of God out upon various unfortunate places. These include the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the throne of the beast, the great river Euphrates, and the air. All this is highly metaphorical language such that it is easy to err in seeking to understand it, as is true with the whole Book of Revelation. If we are to comprehend it aright, it will be necessary, if possible, to relate it to the utterances of Jesus to establish its proper place in time. How will we do this?
We look for a clue; the Spirit always gives a clue, if we are open to receive it. It does not take long to find it: "Lo, I am coming like a thief!" Now, how does this relate to the utterances of the Lord? Both Matthew and Luke include utterances that are similar to this phrase. The following is from Matthew:Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44)."The coming of the Son of Man" is Jesus' expression for his return at the end. Then he will receive the children of the Father and judge the righteous and the unrighteous as more fully described in Matthew 25. He will send no advanced notice. It is necessary to be ever watchful to respond properly to him when he comes to "break into the house." According to the Revelation, this is "the Great Day of God the Almighty," when the Kings of the whole earth will be assembled for battle with the Son of Man. This has already happened once, at a "mountain" called Golgotha. It was foretold by the Second Psalm and confirmed by the Apostles (Acts 4:24-31). Jesus also used similar language in interpreting his presence in the world. He explained how he could break into the house of the strong man and spoil his goods when he explained his ability to cast out demons:Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house (Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27).In both cases, he pictured himself as outside the house, about to break into it. In the first case he interpreted his ability to do this as a result of the "binding of the strong man," – that is, of Satan. In the second case, he interpreted his ability to do this as the result of thief like stealth. He used the element of complete surprise, of coming totally unexpectedly to keep the householder unprepared and asleep. Also, just as the Revelation describes a gathering of Kings to do battle on "The Great Day of God the Almighty" when he comes like a thief, just so does the Second Psalm and the Acts present his first coming to do battle with the powers of this world, when "truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27,28).
There are then two events that follow the pattern laid out in the Revelation: The Battle of Mt. Calvary, and the Battle of Mt. Megiddo, or Armageddon. But are they really two separate events? The binding of Satan preceded the Battle of Mt. Calvary, as a thief first binds the householder then enters the house to spoil his goods. Thus it involves a thief like coming, and breaking into a house. It is associated with the gathering together of the kings of the earth, and it is also associated with a mountain. Also, the general language of the Revelation passage applies more aptly to the Battle of Mt. Calvary than to the end of the world. Armageddon is the outpouring of the bowl of the sixth angel. When the seventh angel pours out his bowl, there is a great voice out of the temple, and from the throne, saying, "It is done" (Revelation 16:17)!
This is the language used by Jesus when speaking his last words from the cross: "It is finished" (John 19:30)! So, all the figures and events in the "Mount Megiddo" passage in The Revelation are present at Mt. Calvary. Can the Revelation passage be only a figurative description of a past event? Jesus also spoke of his next coming, the "Coming of the Son of man" as "like a thief," and that is the precise language of the Revelation. In addition, the words, "It is done" will be very appropriately spoken when the world ends. I conclude, therefore, that John in the Revelation spoke both historically and prophetically. He was looking back to the first coming and the Battle of Mt. Calvary, and projecting the same pattern of events to the future "coming of the Son of Man" and the Battle of Mt. Megiddo. The two are similar in that both involve powerful conflicts in the spiritual realm that have political ramifications. In the first case, Jesus overcame Satan and his sub regents to establish the kingdom, or rule, of God on earth. In the second case, the Satanic powers will be released for one final rebellion against the divine authority. Their defeat will herald the end of the world and of what would have been their "political" domain had they been victorious.
Now, see how the gathering of the kings of the earth, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, was fulfilled at Mt. Calvary. Although the language of the Second Psalm seems aimed at a fulfillment through the struggle of armies in a military conflict, that is not how it came about. Neither will it be so on the last day, that "Great Day of God the Almighty." These are metaphors only, intended to dramatize the cosmic dimensions of the struggle between the forces of Christ and of Satan. There will never be a literal "Battle of Armageddon" as portrayed here. Evil military forces will never battle with the armies of "righteous and God fearing nations," in a struggle for the rule of the world. Jesus has already fought, and won, that battle at Mt. Calvary.
You see, then, how the preachers err in failing to resort to the words of the Lord in their attempts at interpreting the other scriptures, with the result that, by recourse to Revelations, they greatly confuse both themselves and all those who hear them. Jesus said it all (in the gospels, not in the Book of Revelations) if we can hear him.
Jesus' Focus on the JewsJesus focused his ministry exclusively upon the Jews. This he made perfectly clear when he said:I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).Not only was this the focus of his personal ministry, but he also made it the focus of the ministries of the disciples while he was with them. This he expressed just as clearly when he commissioned the twelve and sent them out to preach the Kingdom:Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5,6).We do not conclude from this that he did not concern himself with the Gentiles. On the contrary, he never spurned an opportunity to manifest the outreach of his love to all persons everywhere. It was a matter of timing: the Jews first, the Gentiles later. It was because his concern was for all mankind that he made this one of the pillars of his message to the Jews . . . so that those Jews who came to him could not fail to understand that they must, after his departure, reach out to all the world in his name. If the Jewish disciples should fail to broadcast his word to the world after his departure, then his mission would fail. It was therefore essential that they understand and accept this, and he expressed this very early in his preaching ministry – as early as his first sermon at the home synagogue in Nazareth. He seemed to know what the result there was to be, for in his wisdom he lacked nothing in his understanding of the powerful national prejudices that are so common among men. The Jews are no exception. He prefaced his remarks at Nazareth with the words:A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house (Mark 6:4).Disaster ensued. They became enraged and rushed upon him so that he barely escaped. They had at first been very favorably impressed. It must have been a great temptation to him to say nothing offensive; but he did, and they were quick to turn against him! Yes, he knew well the power of their prejudice. He also knew that there must be no equivocation in this matter if he was to realize his purpose. The nearness of the Kingdom dictated his exclusively Jewish ministry and its urgency. After the coming of the Kingdom, the ministry must expand to include all the world. But in the short time remaining before the Kingdom's coming, the Jews, who were in some sense the exclusive possessors of the Kingdom, were to be gathered as lost sheep to the flock. They expected places of power and leadership in the Kingdom when it came. Thus it was that both Jesus and John called out to the nation to repent because of the nearness of the Kingdom (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15). Thus it was that Jesus instructed the twelve, telling them to preach the Kingdom in every city where he himself was about to come (Matthew 10:7-23). Later he instructed the seventy messengers similarly, commanding them to tell everyone that the Kingdom of God had come near (Luke 10:1-9). He promised the twelve that they were to sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel:Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).When Jesus appeared after his resurrection, it was a return of the Son of Man in his Kingdom. The Kingdom had come on earth, so that all power, in heaven and on earth, had already come to him (Matthew 28:18). Then it was that he recommissioned the disciples, saying to them:All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).Do you see the clear implication? It was because he had received all authority, that is, because the Kingdom had come in power, that he then expanded the commission to include all the world. The limited ministry to the Jews therefore ended at the coming of the Kingdom. Since then, those Jews who survive have had to take their places in the midst of the other nations of the earth.
His feelings were ambivalent whenever he contemplated his people, Israel. On the one hand his great love and compassion caused him to see them as lost sheep without a shepherd, or as sheep whose shepherds had led them astray (Matthew 9:36). On the other hand, knowing that the multitudes of them would turn against him in rejection, he also saw them as wolves. I am thinking of when he sent the twelve out into the cities and villages of Israel, saying,Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).Yet his compassion was, and is, boundless. Though he knew the multitudes were wolves, "he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). It was this emotion that moved him to say to the twelve, and later to the seventy also as he prepared to send them out on their preaching tours:The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:37-38; Luke 10:2).John's Gospel expresses it as follows:Do you not say, There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?" I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps." I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor (John 4:35-38).In speaking of others who had labored, He spoke of the prophets before them whose labors were effective for the sowing of the word of Truth in the field of Israel. That seed had sprung up and grown white unto harvest. Jesus, "the Lord of the Harvest," is selecting and sending out laborers to gather in those who are to enter the Kingdom at its coming, and thus to have primary places therein.
He also expressed this view in parables, revealing how he looked, with the Father, to the nation of Israel for a harvest of fruit:A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vine dresser, "Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?" And he answered him, "Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down" (Luke 18:6-9).Here Jesus is taking his cue from Isaiah, who described Israel in the same way:"My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?Now going on to another of Jesus' parables, we find that he was fully as specific as Isaiah:
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry" (Isaiah 5:1-7)!There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, "They will respect my son." But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance." And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons" (Matthew 21:33-41).Jesus said to them,Have you never read in the scriptures: The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it (Matthew 21:42,43).It was harvest time for Israel. The Father had invested everything in this small nation; he had waited patiently for a very long time. He had sent his prophets but they had killed them; and now he had sent his son, whom they also would kill. Theirs was the Kingdom, and they were the children of the Kingdom. Yet no fruit was forthcoming. Jesus and his disciples would labor again in the Father's vineyard, Judah and Jerusalem. This was their last chance. If they did not produce this time, the tree would be cut down. The murderers of the Son would be killed. The vineyard would be let out to others. The Kingdom would be taken away from then and given to a nation producing the fruit thereof.
Jesus therefore labored to bring forth fruit from the vineyard of Israel as he and his disciples went forth to till and fertilize the unfruitful fig tree. Yet he seemed to know all along that the effort was largely in vain. The keepers of the vineyard would put the son to death (Matthew 21:39). Then there would be a terrible judgment against the nation – an outpouring of divine wrath such as the world had never seen (Matthew 21:44). Jesus felt the force of this wrath as it wrought a sorrow in his heart. Foreseeing its tragic end, he looked upon Jerusalem and lamented it as follows:O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and your would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35).Finally, the end of the time of harvest had almost arrived. Only a handful had responded to him, and he foresaw the judgment of Jerusalem because of this lack of response. He approached the city from the descent of the Mount of Olives and looked upon the panorama grandly displayed across the Kidron valley. The tears flooded his eyes as he uttered the words of final judgment:Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:41-44).That very day he entered the city, cleansed the temple and healed many blind persons. At evening he left, going to Bethany and lodging there for the night. The next day he again approached the city, hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. So he said to it:May no fruit ever come from you again (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:14)!The next day, as he approached the city again with his disciples, Peter said, "Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered" (Mark 11:21)! Jesus proceeded to use this as an object lesson on the power of the prayer of faith. But this was not his original reason for cursing the tree. In his disappointment at the fruitlessness of the fig tree of Israel, he chose to use this fruitless fig tree as an object lesson representing the nation. For as the fig tree withered and died, so was the nation to wither and die. The fig tree itself was not to be blamed for being fruitless. Mark informs us, ". . . It was not the season for figs" (Mark 11:13). Not so the nation; for that fig tree, it was the season for "figs," yet it was almost fruitless. There remained only the terrible judgment that Jesus had earlier foreseen and announced to his disciples:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, 'You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down (Matthew 24:1,2; Mark 13:1,2; Luke 21:5,6).The nation refused to respond. The desired harvest did not appear. Therefore, a time of judgment was foretold that would be the end of Israel as a nation, and of Jerusalem as a city of the people of God. The fig tree was to be cut down.
Major Ideas for the FutureWe have, then, these major ideas woven into the tapestry of the future as revealed in the words of Jesus: A time of harvest, but no harvest was forthcoming; then a fierce judgment. John the Baptist initiated the time of harvest when he entered the scene proclaiming, "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 3:1,2)! Jesus closed the time of harvest when he departed with the cry,It is finished (John 19:30)!The moment of that cry was the moment of the coming of the Kingdom of God in power upon the earth. Thereafter, for Israel and Jerusalem, there was the expectation of judgment that Jesus had announced to the unfruitful nation. Roman armies meted the judgment when, a few years later, they surrounded the city and laid siege to it. After a long and cruel time they overcame it and cast its stones to the ground as Jesus had prophesied. Even the die-hard remnant that later gathered at the Dead Sea fortress of Masada did not survive. They, too, fell to the sword of Rome that meted the wrath of God.
Yet the harvest had not been absolutely fruitless. Jesus had succeeded in calling out of the nation a small band of disciples through whom he expected to initiate a wider harvest of the world. In his prayer in John 17, he seems to focus upon these few persons as the key to the consummation of the work of the Father on the earth. They are the ones who will perpetuate the Word of Truth in the world. Others will believe through their word, and all believers will be as one. In the end, the believing remnant will enter the Glory of God (John 17:22,24; Matthew 25:34).
The TimingWhat of the timing of these things? I remind you that the Kingdom came when Jesus died on the cross, which was consistent with his utterance:There be some standing here who shall not taste of death until the Kingdom of God be come (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27).Even if you have not perceived the coming of the Kingdom at Calvary, this saying still places it within the temporal bounds of that generation. Jesus repeatedly focused upon that generation of the Jews in his utterances, and this also gives knowledge about the timing of events. Not only the Kingdom, but also the final judgment of the nation of Israel was to come upon that generation. In the same context as that in which he pronounced the destruction of Jerusalem, he stated:Truly, I tell you, all these things shall come upon this generation (Matthew 23:36).The most specific reference is from Matthew 24, where, after describing the awful judgment to be meted upon the Jews, he made it unmistakably plain that:
Truly I tell you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled (Matthew 24:34).We can conclude, then, that Jesus was speaking in the midst of the time of the harvest of Israel. The limited response of the nation was to result in its judgmental destruction before the end of that generation. The Kingdom of God was also to come within that same span of time. He labored in a field where others, the prophets, had labored before him, sowing the seed of the Word of God. Then followed a period of growing and of cultivation; but now the fields were white unto harvest (John 4:35), and the Father expected the harvest of the fruit of souls. The keepers of the vineyard had other plans. They wanted the harvest for themselves. Therefore they turned upon the Son and killed him, saying, "Now the inheritance will be ours" (Luke 20:14)! The result was that the Father mustered his sword, the armies of the Roman, Titus, and destroyed those villains. This took place about 70 A.D., after the coming of the Kingdom at the crucifixion, about 30 A.D.
Therefore the history of the Theocracy of the Jews embraced periods and events defined as (1) a sowing; (2) a growing; (3) a mowing; (4) the coming of the Kingdom; and (5) a final, destructive judgment upon that unrepentant generation. Items (1) and (2) were in Jesus' past. Item (3) was contemporary with him. Items (4) and (5) were in his future, with item (4) coming at his death. For us, in the end of the Twentieth Century, every one of these events is long past, and it is in the past that we will find them. They are not hidden in our future. Jesus foretold the coming of the Kingdom and the judgment of Israel exactly as they occurred. This fact gives confidence that his prophecies for the whole world are also being, and shall be, fulfilled.
The Focus on the WorldThe program for the world follows the same pattern as that for Israel. Jesus shows this in the Parable of the Tares:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, "Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?" He said to them, "An enemy has done this." The servants said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?" But he said, "No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matthew 13:24-30).The disciples asked him to explain this parable and he replied: He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:37-43).The same pattern is evident here, except that the field is the world, not just the nation of Israel. Everything else is self explanatory.
The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly also defines the processes proceeding in the world under the authority of the Kingdom of God. This is one of the "parables of the Kingdom," and describes the process prevailing at the present:
The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).Here is the obvious interpretation: Jesus has scattered the seed in the world, starting the process that ultimately issues in a harvest of souls for the Kingdom. Now the world is on its own while the process continues. There is no intervention from Jesus, the husbandman. He, as King, has all authority yet chooses not to interfere in the process that he has begun. He is the man who "sleeps and rises night and day" while the world produces, of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. After the grain is ripe, that is, after all nations have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom and the full number has responded, then he will again spring into action. At once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest is ripe. Not only are we forbidden to root out the tares, or otherwise to interfere in the operation of the world, but even the King does not interfere! The Word is here, the Spirit is here, the Kingdom is here . . . yet all leave the world to produce "of itself!"
Summarizing the program for the world at large, it includes:
- (1) the sowing of the seed, which Jesus and his disciples did. He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man (Matthew 13:37). The good seed is the Word (Luke 8:11), which consists of the utterances of Jesus. The word enters the hearts of the sons of the Kingdom. They are the visible manifestations of the sowing, and are identified with the seed. The sons of the evil one (the devil) are also at work in the world, sowing the seeds of evil (Matthew 13:25). They also produce their healthy offspring.
- (2) Next, there is the period of growing together. "Let both grow together." This is our period. The most important thing to acknowledge is that the owner of the field has forbidden any effort to root out the evil from the world (Our world) (Matthew 13:28-29). Jesus specifically acknowledged that both the sons of the evil one and sons of the Kingdom are to coexist throughout the growing period (Matthew 13:29). Any effort to root out the evil will will be equally hazardous to the sons of the Kingdom and to the evil ones. Here he has said to everyone who would change the world, "Don’t do it!" "Let both grow together!" Yet the clergymen continually bombard us with their calls to dedicate our lives to the task of "changing the world." This is totally contradictory to the Word of Christ.
- (3) Next is the mowing of the world. This is when he "puts in the sickle." The harvest of the world will come, and will correspond exactly with the earlier harvest of Israel. This is the Second Resurrection, the ultimate fulfillment of the will of God.
- (4) then is the Parousia, the Second Coming, the Coming of the Son of man, when "every eye shall see him," when there will be no "Lo, here" or "Lo, there!" This corresponds with the first coming and more particularly with the "Coming of the Kingdom" at the first Resurrection, that is, the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb.
Jesus has two sowings, two growings, two mowings (harvests), two comings, and two judgments in his schedule. Everything comes in twos, because he dealt first with Israel, then with the world, and the pattern for his dealings with both is the same. Even the same metaphors apply!
- (5) Finally, there is the end of the world, the end of the age, the final consummation of all things together with the final Judgment.!
The Destruction of the Temple and the Jewish NationIn the synoptic passages, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, we see how these two sets of ideas come together in the mind of Jesus. We also see how the disciples often confuse them. These passages describe events on a day when Jesus and the disciples were in the temple area of Jerusalem. Let us focus on Matthew 24, where we read:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered the, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1,2; Mark 13:1,2; Luke 19:40-44; 21:5,6).Later, as he sat on the Mount of Olives over against the panoramic view of the Temple Mount and all its great buildings, the disciples came to him and asked him this question: "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age" (Matthew 24:3)? This question, which the disciples supposed begged a single answer, was really two questions in one, with two different answers. Jesus proceeded to provide the two answers, one to each question.
Impressed as they were by the seeming permanence of the structures on the Temple Mount, the disciples supposed that they must stand forever. Therefore they identified the destruction of the Temple and related structures with the "close of the age." Jesus, of course, knew better. He was careful to provide an answer intended to clarify for them this distinction. He also told them, and us, all we need to know about the time of the two events, the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world. Jesus' answer makes the distinction clear enough, but for some reason the disciples did not grasp it. Neither did whoever first recorded the words as we now have them. They mixed his answers to the two questions,
We will be confused if we read the verses consecutively. The two answers need first to be sorted. Then they will be seen to make perfect sense and to be the answers to two question, not one, as the disciples supposed. Jesus' answers follow, appropriately sorted from Matthew 24.
- (1) When is the destruction of the Temple?, and
- (2) What will be sign of your coming and of the close of the age?
The answer to the first question is in the following two segments: verses 15-22, and 32-35. Remembering now that the question is: "When will this be?" (i.e., the destruction of the great buildings of the Temple Mount), here is Jesus answer:
When you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (Let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the house top not go down to take what is in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantel. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."Daniel's "abomination of desolation" (Daniel 9:27), is in a context that describes the profanation of the Temple by Gentiles. The events related to the destruction of the temple by Titus about 70 A.D. fit the prophesy well. This was surely the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy of the "abomination that makes desolate." The second segment also must speak of the same, since it was particularly stated that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." 70 A.D. fits this well, coming about 40 years after Jesus spoke, designating "this generation."
There is yet another good reason to relate the first segment to Titus' destruction of the Temple. Jesus would not have instructed the disciples to flee for their lives at the end of the world. On that day, whoever would save his life will lose it (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33). But, in 70 A.D., it served the agenda of the Kingdom of God for the disciples to save themselves so that they would be preserved to propagate the Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world. Jesus likewise saved his life from danger in Nazareth, and elsewhere, so that he might fulfill his purpose upon earth. It will be helpful to refer to Luke 17, to a passage where Jesus responds to the Pharisees question about the coming of the Kingdom. Here he used similar language but with a totally different meaning:
. . . so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let him who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it (Luke 17:30-33).The distinction is plain. In Matthew 24, Jesus provided instructions to insure that the lives of the disciples would be saved from the disaster to come upon the nation and the city of Jerusalem. In Luke 17, his instructions were to insure that the disciples do not try to save anything, including their very lives. For, if they try to save themselves, they will lose life eternal.
The Close of the AgeThe second question, about the signs of the close of the age has three segments as follows: verses 4-14, 23-31, and 36-44.
Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: this is but the beginning of the sufferings. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.This plainly describes events that cannot have transpired as of the time of the present writing. Here is not the destruction of a city; here is nothing less than the end of the world. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the disciple who was in the field fled to the mountains. He or she also survived to preach the Gospel to the nations. It will be different at the close of the age. Then, the disciple who is in the field "will be taken." The cosmic happenings defining this event clearly speak of the end of the world, for here is a darkened sun, falling stars, darkness, and the sign of the son of Man in heaven. Then if anyone says to you, 'Lo, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, 'Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, 'Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles ill be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sigh of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
Jesus did not know the time of the end of the world, and he said so. What he did was (1) describe the kinds of events that would occur in the interval preceding the end, and caution us not to be deceived by those things and think the end is nigh, and (2) describe events near the end, so that we might know the end is at hand and be prepared. He did caution us to be ready always, because his return and the close of the age is to be at a time we do not expect.
Curious, isn't it? When times are dark and doomsayers abound, that is not the time of doom. But some day when things are bright and peace and safety prevail, then comes the end – catastrophically, unexpectedly, finally.
The full span of history, from the moment Jesus died on the cross until the moment you are reading this, belongs to the interval preceding the end. Review the history of this time and see how accurately he spoke: nations and kingdoms have been continually rising against one another, and they are still doing so (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10). There has been no secure peace, nor will there be. The faithful ones have suffered tribulation in the world, and they will continue to suffer (John 16:33). The world has never been hospitable to the children of the Kingdom, nor will it be. False prophets of every stripe have arisen, and they will continue to do so. They have led many, many people astray and will continue to do so. There have been famines and earthquakes in many places and there continues to be such. Wickedness is multiplied and most men's love has grown cold, and so it will continue. The most precise description given of the conditions that are to prevail in the world until the end is this:Wickedness is multiplied (Matthew 24:12).This world is not a perfect place, and it cannot be so. Its state of perfection has peaked and now is in decline, becoming more imperfect as the centuries pass. This is true though the Kingdom of God has fully come on the earth! Far from securing the perfection of the world, as the preachers think, the operation of the Kingdom perpetuates its bondage to futility.
In another utterance Jesus said,The poor you have always with you (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8).Why, then, do some disciples dedicate themselves to the proposition that poverty must be eliminated from the earth? Poverty, war, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, the multiplication of evil, the deceitfulness of false prophets – Jesus foretold them all, and history has confirmed him. It will continue to do so, even until the end, just as he prophesied. I do not mean by this statement to impugn the very worthy activities of those disciples who minister through sharing their means with the poor in obedience to Jesus' emphasis on the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is the natural and necessary response to the Spirit of Jesus working through his disciples, unless they do it out of a motivation to effect changes in the world, (eliminate poverty from the earth) which is not according to the Spirit of our Lord.
Yes, the Kingdom has already come, long ago at the crucifixion, at the moment of Jesus' death, after he partook of the fruit of the vine. All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to him, and he is reigning from the right hand of the Father in Glory. These things therefore exist according to the will of the King. He could purify the earth if he would, whenever he would, so great is his power in his Kingdom. That he does not do so says something very important about the function the world is fulfilling – that it is and must forever remain an alternative to glory. As an alternative, it must never become glorious.
In Christendom there is a common conviction that the Kingdom of God has not yet come, but when it comes it will usher in a worldwide, utopian reign of peace. This would be the fulfillment of one of man's oldest dreams. Sadly, this conviction is in diametric opposition to the reality with which we have to deal.
The facts are
That the world has not found secure peace among men and nations is powerful evidence of the rule of God in his Kingdom. I remind you how it was in the Roman Empire of the first century. It was a time of relative peace in the world, enforced by the Pax Romana. Then the Kingdom came, and he who now rules from the right hand of God has dashed them in pieces like a potters vessel, fulfilling the Second Psalm.
- (1) The Kingdom of God has come. It is on earth in its consummate form. And
- (2) It operates in a way that prevents the Golden Age.
The language of Jesus suggests that at the time of the end, the world may be permitted again to unite and have peace, for then men will be saying, "peace and safety (Matthew 24:37-39). The breakup of the Roman Empire was not the first time the Father intervened in human affairs. That is exactly what happened at the primeval Tower of Babel. There he confused the language of a united humanity and scattered them abroad over the face of the earth. The end of the world is to follow a similar pattern.
I have shown how the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24 must be sorted. There are two separate prophecies, one pointing to the end of the Jewish nation and of Jerusalem before the passing of that generation. The other points to the end of the world. The parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 also must be sorted. I will not quote them here, but the proper sorting is as follows: Judgment on the Jewish nation: Mark 13:14-23, 28-31; Luke:20-24, 28-33; Judgment on the world: Mark 13:5-13, 24-27, 32-37; Luke 21:8-19, 25-27, 34-36.
The Present Time and the EndNow let us return to Matthew 24 to examine in greater detail the events prophesied for the present and for the end of the world. Verses 9-14 describe the tribulation that is the lot of true disciples in every age while the world stands. There is no basis in the utterances of Jesus for a special "Tribulation" at the end time, seeing that the world has always been, and will always be, hostile to the Truth. This describes the normal condition of legitimate discipleship throughout history. The earlier passage, Matthew 10:17-21, describes a similar tribulation that was the lot of the early disciples as they went out to witness to the nation of Israel. This is only another aspect of the duality of the future in the utterances of Jesus. He foresaw both the tribulation of the first disciples in Israel, and the tribulation of later disciples throughout the world until the end, and described both tribulations similarly. Verse 14 reads as follows:And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
The Prime Condition for the EndThis tells us the prime condition for the end of the world – the gospel of the Kingdom must first be preached to all nations!
It duplicates the prime condition for the destruction of the nation of Israel. Then, the Gospel of the Kingdom consisted of the proclamation of its nearness, and Jesus urged the disciples on to their preaching mission to the cities of towns of Israel:When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of Man comes (Matthew 10:23).Here the coming of the Son of Man refers not to his coming at the end of the world, but to his coming "in his Kingdom" after the resurrection. Therefore, that the world has not yet ended strongly suggests that the particular gospel, called by Jesus the "gospel of the Kingdom" has not yet been preached to all nations. Has it been yet been preached to any nation,? We hear little or nothing of the good news, that the Kingdom is consummated on the earth, having fully come. How very much one hears from the preachers about how it is yet to come! That, of course, is not good news at all. It is bad news that tells us that the kingdom is yet to come, and therefore is not yet come!
How Long?I do not deduce from this that the world will end the instant the last nation hears the gospel of the Kingdom. There may be other conditions that will delay its coming beyond that. One thing is certain – it will not end before the last nation hears it.
How long will it take for the last nation of receive the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom? Many would suppose that this has already occurred, since they identify the gospel of the Kingdom with what the preachers are busily spreading around the globe. Or, if it has not, they think that it must happen in this generation. They point to the development of electronic communications worldwide, and to the plethora of electronic evangelists. They are mistaken. What they are seeing and hearing must be only the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy from verse 24:For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22).Or, that from verse 11f.:And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold.These two verses describe the exact condition of the world today. So it is not surprising that the world has not yet heard the Gospel of the Kingdom. Considering the little progress since the introduction of this gospel two thousand years ago, many more millennia may pass before all nations hear. If the years should stretch out into the billions? Even that is conceivable, given the little progress to date.
The Two ComingsJesus prophesied two separate "comings" in the passages listed above and in
others not yet mentioned. One was the coming of the Kingdom, fulfilled at the crucifixion; the other is the coming of the Son of Man, which is not yet fulfilled. The coming of the Kingdom coincided with the first coming of the messiah, whereas the coming of the Son of Man is the Second Coming. The first one is long past, the second is not yet, but Jesus spoke of them in similar fashion.The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, "Lo, here it is!" or "There!" for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Luke 17:20,21).
And he said to the disciplesThe days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, "Lo, there!" or "Lo, here!" Do not go, do not follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day (Luke 17:22-24).Do you see the titillating similarities and differences? The coming of the Kingdom is invisible ("comes not with observation"). No one saw it, and so no one is aware of it, except through the revelation of the Word. Therefore no one said, "Lo, here it is!" or "There!" Why, it was already in the midst of them! The coming of the Son of Man is different, in that it will be universally visible. No one will be unaware of it, and so, again, no one will cry out, "Lo, here it is!," or "There!" Meanwhile, if someone cries out to you that the Son of Man is here, or there, do not believe it. When it happens, you will know it! It will take place precisely as Jesus described it in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. His angels will be sent out to gather the elect from every corner of the earth and from one end of heaven to the other, thatWherever the body is, there will the vultures be gathered together (Luke 17:37).That this gathering will not be on the earth is clear, for he will gather the elect "from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven" (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:27).
Therefore there is no place in the future for any kind of renovation of the world or of human society. The earth will continue into the future as it has in the past, perfectly consistent with the prophecies of Jesus. Then, sometime near or distant, the Son of Man will appear like lightning and will gather his elect from the earth, including those he must first resurrect.
These are the only end time events in the prophetic utterances of our Lord. There is no yet coming Kingdom, no end time tribulation, no future millennial reign of righteousness on earth and no restoration of the Jews to Palestine. Modern Israel is an anachronism, not a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The Father is through with the Jews as a nation, and has been through with them since the final desecration of their Temple by Titus in 70 A.D. The fig tree has been cut down!
The Thousand Years AgainWhat, then, does John in Revelation mean by ". . . over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6)? Though this is in Revelation, there may be an element of Truth in it. When the Kingdom of God came at the death of Jesus on the cross, his millennial reign began. Every witness in the New Testament agrees that his reign began at or near that time. Jesus himself said,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Matthew 28:18).Peter wrote of Christ,. . . who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him (I Peter 3:22).Revelation says it this way:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever (Revelation 11:15).There can be no doubt. He is reigning now! He is reigning together with all those who have been raised to newness of life in him (the First Resurrection). He will reign with them forever and ever. We are in the midst of the Millennium, and you are missing out on it if you do not believe. But, you ask, what about the 1000 years? It has been nearly two thousand years since his resurrection.
The thousand years means one thing and one thing only: a very long time. It could end tomorrow (a thousand, but not thousands, as some have foolishly thought). It may last for thousands or millions or billions of years longer. The numbers mean absolutely nothing to the Absolute One. His realm is the infinite and the eternal, and it is from that perspective that Jesus looked upon the world. What are numbers, anyway? Are they not merely marks on the meter stick or the yard stick, marks on the measuring cup, marks on the balance or on the face of the clock? Are they not all devices by which we attempt to measure the finite physical reality with which we have to deal and by which we are accustomed to think? But the eternal one, the Lord Jesus who rules from the right hand of the Father, has no need of such devices, for no numbers can comprehend the width, height, or length of Eternal glory. There is no measure by which we can measure him. It is foolish even to think of such a thing. So when Jesus, as the Son of God, the eternal one, came into the world, he had very little use for numbers. He utilized them very seldom, and then only as an accommodation to our mode of thinking. The numbers important to him were, perhaps, two or three, as when he said,
Wherever two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).The only really important number was the number "one." He loved this number more than any other, and spoke of it often, for in eternity it alone has significance. See how he looked to it and utilized it in so many ways in the following example:The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them, and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me (John 17:22,23).But what of the earth, you ask? Is it not to be purged of evil? Foolish person, why do you ask? Have you not heard the word of our Lord:Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21)?So, why are you concerned about the earth if you do not treasure it? Seek those things that are above! Here is your problem: you love your life, this earth experience, and you cannot give it up to its ultimate futility.
Judgment DayGoing now to Matthew 25, one learns that not only the elect ones, but also the wicked, will be raised to stand before him on that day. They will stand in a different group, separated from the elect as the shepherd separates the goats from the sheep. Then comes the judgment – a day of surprises for all. The wicked:. . . will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:46).Also consider this: because no one could see the first coming, the coming of the Kingdom, we now have a commission to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom to every nation. It came, but not with observation; therefore no one will know of it unless we tell them. The second coming, the Coming of the Son of Man, will be universally visible. Therefore absolutely no one will or can have any commission to proclaim it to others. There will be no need. So when they say, "Lo, here it is!" or "There!" do not believe it!
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