Where is the Promise of His Coming?
The testimony of the apostle Peter has a decisive bearing upon the question under consideration; and his testimony is the more weighty because he was in a special sense the apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:7,8). Most assuredly therefore, if there were to be hereafter an era of earthly greatness and world-supremacy for a revived and re-constituted nation of Israel, and if that were the hope of Israel, the revelation thereof would be found in the writings of Peter. But the writings of that servant of Christ show conclusively that, not only had he no knowledge of such a future for the Jewish nation, but there is nothing of that sort in the purposes of God.
The testimony we wish particularly to bring to the reader's attention is found in Peter's second Epistle, Chapter III; but before presenting it, we will briefly notice several pertinent matters in his first Epistle.
In 1 Peter 1:7 is a reference to "the appearing of Jesus Christ" and the "praise and honor and glory" that will then be the portion of those who endure successfully the trial of their faith. The apostle had previously referred to the living hope of those "strangers... elect according to the foreknowledge of God"; which hope he describes as - not a place in the millennial earth, but - "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven" (v. 4). This is the "salvation (that is) ready to be revealed in the last time" (v. 5), and this, he says is "the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v. 13). Can we think the Holy Spirit would have written thus if the appearing of Jesus Christ were to be followed by a thousand years (or period) of earthly bliss for Jews and Gentiles?
Furthermore, the apostle makes at this point an illuminating statement concerning the general subject of O.T. prophecy, showing that it is not at all what the Jewish rabbis of that time were teaching (and what is taught among Christians today) namely, that it had to do with a future state of earthly glory and dominion for the Jewish nation; but that what was revealed to the prophets of Israel concerning "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow," were the very same things "which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" (vv. 11,12). And we have seen by the above quotations that those things ("which things the angels desire to look into") are such as leave no room for a millennium of earthly delights. Moreover, were it otherwise, and were such a millennium a part of "the glory that should follow," it certainly would have been mentioned here and in other like passages in the N.T.
Chapter II of this first Epistle brings into view two great results of the sufferings of Christ, namely, first, the "spiritual house" that is now being built upon Christ, the "chief Corner Stone, elect precious," laid in Zion; and second, the "holy nation," which is "a royal priesthood" and "a peculiar people" to God. As has been already pointed out, this passage (I Peter 2:1-9) shows that the "Zion" of unfulfilled prophecy is a spiritual locality; that the "temple" of unfulfilled prophecy is a "spiritual house," and that the "Israel" that was to inherit the promise of future glory, is that "holy nation," which includes all who have been begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and have been redeemed by His precious blood.
THE PROMISE OF HIS COMING
Turning now to Peter's second Epistle, we find in Chapter III a prophecy concerning a class of persons, designated "scoffers," who should come upon the scene "in the last days." It is evident, from the attention paid to them in this Epistle, that those "scoffers" would constitute a prominent and highly influential class of persons in the end-times of the gospel era. What would specially distinguish them is the doctrine they would hold, the substance of which is the gradual and uninterrupted progress of human civilization (which is the essence of the modern theory of evolution); and on the basis of which doctrine they would deride those Bible prophecies that foretell the sudden and complete destruction of the world, including all the great works whereof men make their boast, at the second coming of Christ. The characteristic attitude of those scoffers of the last days is very plainly revealed by their derisive question: "Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (v. 4).
It is specially to be noted, for the purpose of the present inquiry, that the apostle here contemplates the coming of Christ - not as the beginning of an era of tranquillity and prosperity for the earth, but - as the signal for its utter destruction.
Those "scoffers," whose doctrine so strikingly resembles that of present-day evolutionists and modernists, are charged with being "willingly ignorant" of historical facts recorded in the Bible, which show that all things have not continued without interruption at the hand of God, and also of Bible prophecies, to the effect that mundane affairs will not continue without interruption on His part in the future. Specifically the apostle charges them with being willfully (or willingly) ignorant that the world, which existed in the days of Noah, having been, by the word of God, "overflowed with water, perished"; and that, correspondingly, "the heavens and earth which now are, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (vv. 5-7).
This gives us Peter's outlook for the world that now is, and tells what is to happen to it at the coming again of Jesus Christ - not a millennium of peace and plenty, but total destruction by fire, a destruction comparable to what was accomplished in the days of Noah by the agency of water.
The passage gives us also the Holy Spirit's answer to those who scoff at the promise of the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ; an answer which manifestly could not have been given if His coming were to have the effect of changing the present conditions on earth into a millennium of unmixed blessedness.
Then follows (vv. 8,9) the Divine explanation of what appears, from the human standpoint, to be a long delay on God's part, evincing the slackness in the fulfilment of His promise. First, the apostle reminds his readers that God, who inhabiteth eternity, does not measure time as man does; for that with Him one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. And he adds (this being a statement to which special heed should be given) "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
This verse needs no explanation; for it plainly declares what the preceding verses had distinctly intimated, that at the coming again of Jesus Christ the opportunity for repentance will end, and all who have not previously repented will "perish"; just as in the days of Noah all who were not in the ark "perished" (v. 6). It is absolutely impossible, in the light of this verse, to maintain that the entire Jewish nation is to be saved (and many Gentiles also) at the Lord's second coming.
Manifestly, if there were to be, as now is commonly taught, salvation for every Jew in the world, and for Gentiles too, at the second coming of Christ, it could not be said that the delay in His coming is due to the long suffering of God and to His desire that not any should perish.
The apostle then proceeds to declare that, notwithstanding the seeming delay, and notwithstanding the confident assertions to the contrary of the scoffers of the last days, "the day of the Lord will come" (v. 10); and moreover he proceeds to tell how it will come, and also what will happen when it does come.
First be it observed that the apostle speaks of the coming of Christ and the coming of the day of the Lord as one and the same thing. It is utterly impossible therefore, that a period of a thousand years should intervene between the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and "the day of the Lord." This makes pre-millennialism of the current type (which is practically the same as that held by the Jew of Christ's day) an impossibility.
Then the apostle declares that the day of the Lord will come as a complete surprise, even "as a thief in the night"; and in so saying, Peter is merely repeating what Christ Himself had declared with great emphasis and particularity. Paul also says the same (I Thess. 2:5) and John likewise (Rev. 3:3). The testimony of Scripture to the effect that the second coming of Christ will be at such a time as will take all men, His own followers included, by surprise, is copious and very impressive. And this makes it still further impossible that His coming should be at the end of a millennium of earthly tranquility, peace and prosperity; so that the Scripture we are considering is as fatal to post-millennialism, of the type currently held by some, as it is to pre-millennialism.
Let us recall some of the plain statements of Scripture touching this transcendently important matter:
Matthew 24:47. "As the lightening cometh out of the east and shineth unto the west; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be." (See Luke 17:24).
Matthew 24:30,31. "They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet."
I Thess. 4:16. It will be "with a shout, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God."
Matt. 24:36-42. It will be unexpectedly; at a time known only to the Father.
I Thess. 5:2,3. "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them."
II Thess. 1:7-9. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel - who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."
In order to uphold the doctrine of a millennium under Jewish auspices to follow the coming of the Lord, it is necessary to assume that Peter, in writing the above prophecy, purposely overlooked the millennium, passing it over in silence and writing as if the next thing following this present age was to be the day of judgment. But what calls for explanation, in order to give plausibility to the above supposition, and what has never been explained to the writer's satisfaction, is how - upon the assumption that this age is to be followed by a millennium of earthly bliss - the apostle Peter, and every other New Testament writer who deals with the subject of Christ's second coming, could write as if the day of judgment were to follow immediately hereafter.
That Peter does indeed write as if the next thing after this day of salvation is the day of the Lord, and that every other N.T. writer does the same, is indisputable; and the only reasonable explanation thereof is that they have so written because so it is to be.
Then the apostle delivers an admonition based upon his prediction of what is to happen when Christ comes again, saying: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat" (v. 11,12).
Manifestly, Peter could not have written this admonition if, instead of predicting the day of judgment at the second coming of Christ, he had foretold a millennium of earthly delights; for clearly it is not possible for God's people of this present era to be impressed by the approaching dissolution of the existing heavens and earth and to be "looking for," much less "hasting unto," the day of God, if in fact, and if the word of God elsewhere makes known, that a thousand years are to intervene, during which the earth that now is will exist in a glorified state.
Then Peter says: "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness." But manifestly, the new heavens and new earth could not be in the foreground of his expectation, or of ours, if there were to come first a millennium of the Lord's own presence, during which we are to share the glory of His throne. In that case "the coming of the day of God" would be but faintly in view, if at all.
In this connection we should recall the Lord's promise to His disciples that in the regeneration, they should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. That prospect must have been always before Peter's eyes; and since he here tells us that he according to the Lord's promise, was looking for new heavens and a new earth, it is certain that Christ's promise to his disciples will be fulfilled - not in an earthly millennium, but - in the new creation.
No one, we are sure, could read this passage in 2 Peter with an open mind, and in simple confidence that the word of God is written to enlighten and not to mislead, without being convinced that, at the end of this present day of salvation, Christ will come again; and that His coming will be followed immediately by the day of judgment, the destruction of the present creation by fire, and the ushering in of the new heavens and new earth. And we say, moreover, that there is not a passage anywhere in the Bible that teaches, or that fairly implies, anything to the contrary; while there are not a few that confirm it.
It is appropriate at this point to turn back a few pages to the Book of Hebrews, and to recall once more that the fathers of Israel were taught, even as the saints of the present era are taught, to look - not for a glorified earth, whereof the earthly Jerusalem is to be the metropolitan city and the religious center, but - "for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," and for "a better country, that is an heavenly" (Heb. 11:10 and 16).
Peter's concluding exhortation reiterates the main doctrine of the passage, namely, that "the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation"; thus evincing a desire to impress upon the reader's mind that the lapse of time before the fulfilment of the promise of His coming is due to the solemn fact that His coming marks the very end of the day of salvation. And Peter continues without a break or new sentence, saying, "even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking of these things."
Let us beware, therefore, of those who would make it appear that Paul, in his Epistles, teaches anything not in perfect harmony with what Peter declares in the passage we have been considering. And let it be recalled at this point that, as has already been shown, Paul also, in his foretelling of the second coming of Christ, gives prominence to the fact that it will be attended by the destruction of the world by fire, and the judgment and perdition of ungodly men. For Paul too looks on to the end of the present order of things; to the time when God will recompense tribulation to them who now trouble His people, and to those who now are troubled rest with his apostles; and according to Paul, that will be "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction form the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." And once more we are told that this will be "When He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day (2 Thess. 1:6-10). Thus we see that, as in Peter's account, so likewise in Paul's the conspicuous features of the events that will attend the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, and the flaming fire, and the everlasting punishment of the ungodly. Paul identifies these as they "that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ"; which words make it evident that the events he describes - that is, the awarding of "rest" to God's people and "tribulation" to their enemies - will take place at the end of this day of gospel salvation. "That day" of vengeance will follow next after this day of the gospel.
Again we see, as from Peter's description of that coming "day of the Lord's vengeance" (Isa. 34:8), that it is impossible that those events could be preceded by a millennium during which the earth was populated by none but worshippers of God. So this passage in 2 Thessalonians also makes post-millennialism (of the commonly held sort) an utter impossibility.
Between the teaching of Paul and that of modern pre-millennialists there is this immense difference: According to the former, all who obey not the gospel of Christ are to be punished, when He comes again, with everlasting destruction from His presence; but according to the latter, the Jewish rejecters of the gospel (and others a little later) are to be blessed with a thousand years of undiluted happiness and prosperity in His presence. Is it possible to imagine a greater difference than that?
In the endeavor to harmonize this passage (2 Thess. 1:7-10) with the usual pre-millennial teaching, it is sometimes said that the passage refers to a "second stage" of Christ's coming. For according to one of the recent refinements of the doctrine, the one "coming' of our Lord is divided into several "stages," and certain passages are assigned to the first stage, and others, that cannot be made to agree with the interpretation placed upon the first group of Scriptures, to the second stage; it being usual to place the "great tribulation" - which we are told is to last three-and-a-half years - between the two "stages." But, apart from the fact that there is not the slightest warrant for this arbitrary arrangement of passages, which all refer to one and the same coming of the Lord from heaven, the difficulty referred to above is not in the least lessened thereby. For it is impossible to see, in the light of this passage, how any segment of humanity, Jew or Gentile, can be converted and blessed after a first (or any other) stage of the Lord's coming.
Furthermore, to those who give attention to the wording of the passage it will be evident that it relates - not to a later stage, but - to the very earliest period of the Lord's second coming. For all are agreed that the first thing on the program of the events of "that day," is the resurrection of "the dead in Christ" and the catching away of all who are His (the living being changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye) to meet the Lord in the air. Such is the clear teaching of I Corinthians 15:51,52 and I Thessalonians 4:13017. And it is important (in view of the modern teaching of a "secret rapture") to notice that both the above cited passages make this to be a world-shaking event. The first (I Cor. 15:51,52) states that the instantaneous change of all the people of God in the world to the state of immortality, and the simultaneous raising of the dead incorruptible, will be "at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." And the second passage puts it thus: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thess. 4:13-17).
All are agreed, we believe (and certainly it should be evident to all who give consideration thereto) that these two passages refer to the same coming events. And it seems quite clear also that the passage we have quoted from 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 refers to the very same events; for the apostle is there speaking of the time when God will award "rest" to His people, the time of the union of Christ with His saints, when He shall come to be glorified and admired in them. All the passages we have examined, and all others that relate to the subject in hand, agree in testifying that, at the coming again of our Lord from heaven, the day of salvation will end, and the day of eternal "rest" for His people, and of eternal "destruction" for His enemies, will begin.
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