THE EVER-IMMINENT COMING OF OUR LORD. (Concluded.)
EVERY one who has given much study to the passages referring to the coming of the Lord will readily admit that the subject is one of great difficulty. It is much easier to criticise explanations that have been offered than to put forward one that is better. It is doubtful if any theory will ever be presented which will be perfectly satisfactory. We believe, however, that an explanation can be given which is not liable to the insuperable objections to which those we have been discussing are exposed.
We do not believe the first step can be made toward a solution of the difficulties enveloping this subject, as long as all references to the coming of the Lord are regarded as alluding indiscriminately and exclusively to His personal advent. If they all spoke of the coming as only possibly near, still there would be the impossibility of reconciling such statements with their evident knowledge of future events which must happen before His coming. But, as we have seen, there are numerous passages which speak of His coming not only as possibly near, but as certainly near. There are also others which, if they teach anything about the nearness of our Lord’s advent, and thus support the pre-millennial conception, take for granted that He will appear before those who were alive when the New Testament was written, have passed away: “We that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15); “That thou keep the commandment . . . until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 6:14); “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord” (Jas. 5:7); “That ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:10). All these passages, if interpreted to favor Pre-millennialism at all, prove too much. They not only assume that Christ might come, but that He certainly would come, in the generation then living, and the teaching was false. The interpretation which commits us to Pre-millennialism, thus inevitably leads us to a conclusion which makes the apostles fallible, and their teaching of no sure worth to prove anything.
This leads us to our first position:
1. There are “comings” of the Lord spoken of in the New Testament other than His visible and personal advent.
(1) The Lord is represented as coming in His special and more striking providential dealings with men.
Many illustrations of this usage are found in the Old Testament: “In every place when I record my name, I will come unto thee and I will bless thee” (Ex. 20:24). “Ye are a stiffnecked people: if I go up into the midst of thee for one moment, I shall consume thee” (Ex. 33:5). “He bowed the heavens also and came down” (2 Sam. 22:10). “Our God shall come and shall not keep silence” (Ps 50:3). “Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down” (Ps. 144:5). “Behold the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud and cometh unto Egypt” (Isa. 19:1). “Behold, God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God: he will come and save you” (Isa. 35:4). “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down. . . . When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down” (Isa. 64:1-3; see also Ps. 80:2; Micah 1:3-5; 7:4; Mal. 4:6; Zeph. 1:7, etc.).
So, likewise, the pouring out of some great judgment is frequently called the coming of the day of the Lord. (Isa. 2:12; Joel 1:15; 2:11; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:7, etc.)
It need not surprise us, therefore, if, in the New Testament, the grander displays of the divine power in Providence, should be called the coming of the Lord, or the day of the Lord. It would rather be strange if no such allusions were found there.
We do find, in the New Testament, our Lord’s providential dealings called His coming. The references to the Lord’s coming in the letters to the seven churches are all acknowledged, by such a champion of Pre-millennialism as Dr. Kellogg, to be allusions to His comings in Providence. The most judicious of commentators who, in some points, agree with Pre-millennialists, also explain them the same way, e.g., Alford, Meyer. No one who studies them can reach any other conclusion. Our Lord says to the church at Ephesus: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5); to the church at Pergamos: “Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth” (2:16); to the church in Sardis: “Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (3:3).
Now, our Lord’s second and personal coming was not determined by the impenitence of these churches, as the comings here mentioned are. The judgments which are threatened constituted His coming, in each case, and these have long since fallen upon them.
(2) Our Lord is said to come to take His people to himself when they die. I know that our pre-millennial brethren regard the thought of this as almost a shocking one. They speak of death as a repulsive thing, as the “king of terrors,” as something to be dreaded, even by believers. They heap all manner of contempt upon the idea that anything so loathsome as death would be called the coming of the Lord. One of the greatest joys in the thought that our Lord may immediately appear is that thus they may escape this “enemy.” All the same, however, for over eighteen centuries since Christ came, believers have all had to die. However much they may have rejoiced in the hope of being spared bodily dissolution, their hope has proved an illusion, and, perhaps, death has been all the more bitter because they had learned to look upon it as such a fearful thing. Surely this is a false view of the nature of death to the believer. Can we believe our Lord, for ages, would make no adequate provision for His people in the last solemn hour? Does all this represent correctly the teaching of the Bible, or the facts of Christian deathbeds? Death is represented as a falling asleep. Paul says that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law: but,” he joyfully adds, “thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56, 57). Even the body shall be the trophy of victory at the resurrection. Christ died “that he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14, 15). Paul can desire to “depart and be with Christ,” although he knows that death will meet him on the way (Phil. 1:23). When the time comes for him to face death he can exult (2 Tim. 4:7). In the New Testament, although death is called an enemy, he is an enemy which is overcome for us now, as he shall be destroyed at the resurrection. The New Testament does not give us a sombre view of death. Ample provision is made for the believer against its dread and power. This pre-millennial representation is, we are sure, as unwholesome as it is a misconception of Bible teaching.
Whatever may be said of the other references to the Lord’s coming, there is one which seems undoubtedly to be to His coming for the believer at death. We refer to John 14:1-4:
“Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself: that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Now the Father’s house, with the mansions or abiding places, was in heaven, whither Jesus was going, not on earth in the millennial glory. Neither were His people to be kept waiting for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, before they were to be received by Christ to himself, to abide with Him in these homes He was preparing for them. Paul knew that to die was to be with Christ, and so it is with all who believe on Him. They do not have to wait until the resurrection of the body to be received by our Lord unto himself. It is at death they are thus received, and are with Christ in the mansions prepared in heaven. It is at death, then, that Jesus comes for them, and this is the comfort for all His people. Those who assert that it is not at death, but at His second personal advent, will either have to show that believers are not received to the abiding places in heaven until the later coming, or that, while received to be with Christ at death, our Lord here passes over all the time which they are with Him until then, and speaks as though they were first taken to himself at that late date.
Notice also another passage, Luke 12:43-46 (comp. Matt. 24:47-51): “Blessed is that servant whom his lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, . . . and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful.”
This parable is given in reply to Peter’s question: “Lord, speakest thou this parable to us, or even unto all?” Even if what our Lord proceeds to say referred to the apostles exclusively, it cannot be His personal coming which is spoken of; for they have been for long centuries in glory with their Lord, and how can they be found watching at a coming which is still future? But our Lord is evidently here speaking in a general way; He includes the apostles, but only as they belong to the class they represent throughout the ages. But if He referred to all of this class, it is equally impossible for His personal advent to be here alluded to. For, let it be noticed, the watching and the heedlessness here spoken of are not merely in view of a coming which may or may not occur during the period of watching or carelessness. They are in view of a coming which is certain to happen during that time. It is not “whom the Lord, if He comes, shall find,” etc.; but “the Lord, when He comes, shall find so doing.” How can the Lord, when He comes, we know not how long hence, find all the faithful of the class He refers to, still watching, when they have been with Him, many of them, for nearly two thousand years ? Observe, also, it is only “if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming,” etc.; or, on this condition, that our Lord declares He will come upon him with destruction. Now, who can hold that our Lord’s personal advent is determined by the disobedience of some of His professed servants? Again, the coming here spoken of, with its destruction, is to overtake the unfaithful servant in the midst of his violence and riotousness. Does our Lord’s second advent, which is still future, cut off all this class throughout the ages, in the midst of their sin This coming, therefore, is one which takes place in the lifetime of both faithful and unfaithful, through all time. The only possible escape from this conclusion would be on an impossible assumption that our Lord is here not speaking generally so as to include the apostles and encourage them to faithfulness and warn them against unfaithfulness, by His words; but that He is alluding exclusively to a generation two thousand years or more in the future. Besides, in any case, if we refer this parable exclusively to our Lord’s second coming, the reward and punishment here described would be only for those of the last generation, while it is obviously meant to encourage and warn people in all ages. There is a coming here spoken of, then, which shall be to all earlier generations what the personal advent of our Lord shall be to the last.
Now, if this is made clear, it is further evident that the doom which the coming of the Lord brings to the unfaithful servant is His death, being “cut asunder,” one form of judicial execution, and what comes after death, “appointing his place with the unfaithful,” or hypocrites, as Matt. 24:51. The Lord’s coming in this passage, then, seems to be His coming with His judgments at death. It is most reasonable to believe, also, that His coming to the faithful, here spoken of, is His coming at death also. It appears impossible, at least, to make this coming other than that either in providence or at death.
In this connection, three allusions to the coming of the Lord in the letters to the seven churches deserve attention. To the church in Thyatira our Lord says, “Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25); to the church in Philadelphia, “I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown” (3:11); to the church in Smyrna, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (2:10). “That which ye have,” “That which thou hast,” refer to the faithfulness already shown in trials and temptations. This they were exhorted to maintain until the Lord came. What is the coming here spoken of ? It is only a question between the coming in providence and in death. The providences which some have thought to be His coming are the trials about to come, which should test the faithfulness they were exhorted to hold fast through them (see 2:23, 3:10). But if this be the coming of the Lord, then the exhortation must have been, “hold fast when I come in these trials,” not “till I come in them.” The coming, then, would seem to be when Jesus appears to deliver them from the trials, when the testing shall be over. In 3:11, where He says, “I come quickly,” hold fast the faithfulness already shown, in the trials I have just told you are about to come, He means, “Be patient, endure the trials: you will not have to suffer them long. I come quickly to deliver you from them.” Compare, also, these expressions given above. It is by holding fast their faithfulness, until the Lord comes, and comes quickly, that they are to make sure of the crown prepared (2:26; 3:11). It is in Rev. 2: 10, by being faithful unto death, that they are to assume their crown. Does not this mean that the coming of the Lord is at their death, when He comes to take them from the trials, after they have given them sufficient testing It seems hard to escape the conclusion.
(3) There is a coming of the Lord in His kingdom spoken of, which does not refer to this personal advent.
We have already referred to Matt. 16:28: “Verily I say unto you, there be some of them that stand here, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” This coming was not to be till some of them had died, while it was to occur before all were dead. There should be, “some of them” alive, when He should thus come, and only some of them. All who did live until this coming were to see it. The attempt to break the force of this passage by making the coming spoken of His transfiguration before but three of them only six days after, and while they were all still living, is worse than useless.
Doubtless Matt. 10:23 refers to this same coming. “But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” Now, there have actually been some who, in their zeal to refer all the comings of the Lord to His second personal advent, have argued that “the cities of Israel have not yet been” gone through.
They do not seem to have noticed that our Lord was addressing His twelve disciples in all this chapter, and that this coming should happen while these twelve were going about their work in Palestine. Compare with this Matt. 24:14: “And the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world (inhabited earth) for a testimony unto all the nations: and then shall the end come.” The end and the coming of the Lord are acknowledged to be the same period. Now, are we to believe that the coming of the Lord, which should happen before the apostles had gone through the cities of Israel, and the coming that was not to occur until the Gospel had been preached in all the world, are the same? If they are the same, all the worse for our pre-millennial friends, for the time specified for the coming in the first passage is already long past. Therefore, that of the second is long past also, and neither of them refers to His personal advent. But the Gospel has not yet been preached in all the world for a witness, as Pre-millennialists believe, and all must hold who believe this coming to be His personal advent; for had it been, our Lord would have come as He had promised. The coming of Matt. 10:23, at least, is long past.
(4) Our Lord declares He himself would come in the coming of the Spirit (John 14:18, 23; 16:16-22).
(5) There is also a coming of the Lord which is spiritual (Rev. 3:20; Eph. 2:17, etc.).
2. In view of these forms in which our Lord is said to come, how shall we explain the references to His coming in the New Testament?
(1) Let us notice, first, the class of passages in which believers are represented as waiting, or looking fore the coming of the Lord, or are exhorted thus to do.
“So that ye come behind in no gift: waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7, 8). “For our citizenship is in heaven: from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory” (Phil. 3:20, 21). “How ye turned unto God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9, 10). “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:12, 13). “Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God,” etc. (2 Pet. 3:11, 12).
There are some Pre-millennialists who deem it impossible to wait for, or look for, a coming of the Lord which is not possible at any moment. They, therefore, conclude from these passages, as well as from others, that the New Testament writers must have regarded the personal advent of our Lord as possibly at hand. But this is an extreme view of the case, as some pre-millennial brethren themselves acknowledge; for we can wait and look for what we know to be in the future. We wait and look for the return of dear friends from the day of their departure, although they are to be absent for weeks or months or even years. In this case, “wait” is used in the sense of making the return the great object of desire; it is ever kept in longing thought. A general is said to wait for a battle he knows will not be fought for days or weeks. “Wait,” in this case, is used in the sense of having all his preparations so made for the enemy that he has nothing else to do, with reference to the coming conflict, until the battle. In both these senses we can wait and look for the coming of the Lord, whatever be our idea of the time of His coming. The condition of the waiting is not the nearness but the certainty of His coming. If we know that our Lord is surely coming, and that we shall have the same share in all the blessings He comes to bring whether He appears to-morrow or a thousand years hence, we can hold His coming in thought as the great object of desire, and be moved to faithfulness in order to be prepared for it, especially when it is remembered that the time for this preparation is limited to a life which may end at any time.
But neither Paul nor Peter, when writing these epistles, in which these expressions are found, thought the coming of the Lord might be immediately impending.
In the last chapter of First Corinthians, in which one of the passages is found, Paul expects to return to Corinth (16:2), then to send on their contributions to Jerusalem, and perhaps go himself (vs. 3, 4) after he had passed through Macedonia (v. 5). He expects to tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost, etc. Now, if the Corinthians could wait for what they knew would not take place for months, and was indefinitely future, why was it impossible to wait for what was to be a thousand years hence? Then we know that in the second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul definitely puts the coming of the Lord into the indefinite future. He could not have meant, therefore, in 1 Thess. 1:9, 10, that the coming of the Lord might be immediately impending, because the Thessalonian Christians were to “wait for his Son from heaven.”
This class of passages really teaches that believers are to keep the coming of the Lord, as the great consummation of their highest hopes, ever present in their thought and feeling, so as to act continually in view of it and its power, as though it were actually near.
(2) In the second place, let us notice the class of passages in which believers are exhorted to faithfulness, or growth in grace is said to continue “until” Christ comes.
“He which began a sure work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6); “That ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ” (v. 10); “That thou keep the commandment without spot, without reproach, until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ’” (1 Tim. 6:14); “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (Jas. 5:7); “Trade ye herewith till I come” (Luke 19:13); “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye—the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed ” (1 Cor. 15:51, 52); “We that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4: 15).
As already remarked, these passages, if they teach anything about the nearness of our Lord’s advent, declare too much, for they would make it apparent that the authors of the New Testament not only thought this great event possibly, but certainly near. This would be in conflict with the knowledge they show they had of events which they knew must happen before His coming.
It would also prove that, in statements which are made in the most categorical way, they were in the most grievous error, and would make it impossible for us to trust them as inspired teachers in anything. How then are we to explain these various passages? Our Lord and the scripture writers knew that their teaching was for more than those first addressed. They had in mind all to whom it was to apply down through the ages to the end. When Paul says to the Corinthians, “For as oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come" (1 Cor. 11:26), he did not mean that these identical believers were to continue to observe the Supper till the coming of the Lord. He had in mind the whole continuous line of believers, beginning with them, and reaching down to the second coming. The “ye” of direct address included all living saints until that time. This great succession of believers should continue to observe the Supper until His second advent. So, also, our Lord, in the great commission, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20). He surely did not expect the eleven disciples he was addressing to “make disciples of all the nations.” It was not with them only He was to be “until the end of the world.” He evidently had in mind the collective body of believers beginning with them, but reaching on until the end of the world, when the great commission should be fulfilled. In the parable (Luke 19:13) the ten servants represent all of the class mentioned throughout the ages. In this same way must 1 Cor. 15:51, 52 and 1 Thess. 4:15 be explained. Paul did not expect, with the Corinthian and Thessalonian brethren, to live on until our Lord’s second advent. There were to be two classes then, the dead and the living; the former to be raised, the latter to be changed. He naturally continues to reckon himself and his fellow-Christians then, in the class they were in now, as in his thought he thus takes in all the living and all the dead.
Another principle comes in, perhaps, to help us explain some of the passages that remain. The second coming looms up, often, in overshadowing grandeur, in the apostle’s thought. Then, also, only the life on earth has to do with determining the relation in which men will stand to this grand event, whether as prepared or unprepared. It is not surprising, therefore, that the time between death and the second coming should drop out of view, both as overshadowed by it, and as having no direct bearing upon the condition of men in that fateful day; and that this supreme and transcendent day should be spoken of as in immediate connection with the life on earth. The first four passages given above seem, on this principle, to have a natural explanation.
(3) In this connection let us consider the last, and perhaps the most difficult, group of passages we need to examine. We refer to those in which men are commanded to watch, in view of the coming of the Lord. We may be surprised to know that all of these in the gospels are in connection with a single discourse of our Lord. We have, then, really but the varied references of this kind to deal with, given at a single sitting of our Lord. It will be found that parts of all the passages in Mark and Luke, embodying commands to watch, are contained in Matt. 24:37-51. We conclude, therefore, that what they give, in these connected passages, not found in Matt. 24:37-51, are but fuller accounts of the same thought.
Let us, then, examine Matt. 24:37-51 in the connection in which it stands. The difficulty in interpreting this discourse of our Lord, as given in Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, is acknowledged.
In Mark 13:4 and Luke 21:7 it is represented as given in answer to a specific question as to the time when the temple was to be destroyed. In Matt. 24:3, there is added, “And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Our Lord answers both the questions. But the answer is not first given of one and then of the other, with a clear line of division between: it is rather, in part of the discourse, at least, an answer of one of the questions through that of the other which was its type.
The crux of the difficulty is in v. 34: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished.” There are three chief interpretations. There is that of the rationalistic interpreters who hold that “generation” here means the people then living, and that our Lord really believed Jerusalem was not only to fall, but He himself was to return in person to end the world, within this brief space. This view, as is readily seen, assumes that our Lord is not only ignorant of the time of His coming, but though ignorant, He makes the most positive statement possible, prefacing it with “verily ” as though it could not be disputed, as to the terminus ad quem, for His coming; and that this positive statement, made with such perfect assurance and with such manifest intention that it should be received as true, was to prove false by we know not how much more than eighteen centuries. We can suppose our Lord ignorant of the precise time of His second coming; but we cannot believe Him to be unconscious of His ignorance, or, when conscious of it, to hazard the most positive statements as though He had the most definite knowledge. This interpretation, at least, assumes our Lord not only to be ignorant, but that He might think that He knew that whereof He was thus ignorant, and to declare, under this delusion, what was to prove untrue. Then away forever with the thought of His infallibility as a teacher of truth. But how, in that case, is it to be explained that, in no other instance, has the truth of either His prophecies or His teachings been successfully challenged by candid men If He were in such grievous error in His statement in this discourse as to His second coming, how comes it that in all pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem the event proved Him to have had such accurate knowledge We reject this interpretation as not self-consistent, and as involving what is contradictory and subversive of all reliance upon even the words of our Lord as a revelation from God.
The second is the pre-millennial interpretation which makes the word “generation ” mean “nation” or “race.” The verse then reads: “This nation or race shall not pass away,” etc.
But, as Dr. Broadus says, “The word cannot have any other meaning here than the obvious one. The attempts to establish for it the sense of race or nation have failed. There are some examples in which it might have such a meaning, but none in which it must, for in every case the recognized meaning will answer, and so another sense is not admissible.
Olshausen also declares, “The word γενεα is not used in the sense of nation in any one passage, either of the New Testament or of profane writers.”
So of commentators generally, excepting Alford. But even though the sense nation were allowable here, on philological grounds, it would not help those who hold the coming of the Lord spoken of in this chapter to be exclusively His personal advent; for the Jewish nation has long ceased to exist, and still our Lord tarries. If “generation” here means “nation,” the coming in our Lord’s thought, when He uttered these words, must have been the providential, at the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Romans took away from the Jews their “name and nation.” Neither will the sense of race serve, in the connection of this passage. Did the disciples suppose the race of men in general, or of the Jews in particular, might be blotted out before their Lord’s return, that He needed to assure them to the contrary, in this most solemn and emphatic way? If this were their thought which He needed to correct, they evidently did not suppose His personal advent to be very near, for we can scarcely suppose they thought the race was about to be cut off Besides, the implication of the words, “This generation shall not pass away until,” etc., is that what is foretold is not completely fulfilled “until” the generation is near its end. If generation here mean race, then it means that the coming of the Lord here spoken of is to be delayed until the Jewish race was nearing the end of its existence. In any case, then, this discourse, on the pre-millennial assumption, instead of giving the impression that our Lord’s second coming might possibly be nigh, would put it forward into the dim and indefinite distance, and make inexplicable how He could proceed to give the disciples the solemn warnings to watch and be ready, lest it might come upon them as a thief.
It is also evident our Lord thought it extremely important that His disciples should hear what He was saying. He introduces this sentence with the emphatic note of attention, “Verily.” Can we doubt He intended them to understand Him and thought they did so But could they possibly have understood this generation here to have meant this race, when the word He used never signified race but always generation, and when, too, there was a word which meant race rather than generation, which He might have used? But did He intend them to understand the word which usually, if not invariably, meant the short period of a single life, to have the sense of race, a term covering a great and indefinite length of time? If He did make them understand that in the connection in which He used it, the word meant an indefinitely long instead of a short period, then can we escape the conclusion that He took special pains to disabuse their minds of the thought of the possible nearness of His second advent, and intended the men of that generation, at least, to dismiss it from their practical thought?
Thus we see that no help can come to the pre-millennial view, even if we allow the word generation the meanings its advocates would force upon the word.
The third interpretation of this passage does not ask us to believe our Lord used the word “generation” in an unusual, if not an unknown, sense, and then urged upon them the fact thus stated in language they would not be expected to understand, as though it were of the greatest practical moment. The usual, if not the invariable, meaning of the word is maintained.
It is in this generation—in the lifetime of the people then living—that all these things, including the Lord’s coming, were to have their fulfilment. But how can this be when He had been speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem and His second and personal advent?
As we have already seen, there was a coming of the Lord to occur in the lifetime of that generation. In Matt. 16:28: “There be some that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Dr. Broadus, voicing the conclusion of a host of commentators, declares this is an undoubted reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. And yet, in the preceding verse (Matt. 16:27) our Lord had as undoubtedly been referring to His second and visible advent: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds.” There is here the most sudden transition from His second personal coming, which none then living was to see, to a coming so near that some then living should behold it. In the same way, in this discourse of Matt. 24, our Lord makes as sudden transitions between what refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and His second advent. How can this be explained except that the destruction of Jerusalem here, as in Matt, 16:28, is spoken of as a coming of the Lord, and a type of His final coming, so that one can be, and is, referred to in terms of the other? Our Lord saw in the destruction of Jerusalem a reflection of His grander coming at the end of the world. While speaking directly of the one, He also had His eye fixed, through it, upon the other. There is thus an interblending, to a large extent, of the two events, and language is used of one which will apply to both. The lesser coming is the type and prophecy of the grander, and the same descriptions have a double reference to both. We do not mean that all the language is of this character, but that some of it is. Understood in this way, v. 34 means: “All the things which are to have a grander fulfilment in my grander coming, this generation shall live to see in the lesser fulfilment in my lesser coming, at the destruction of Jerusalem. Ye shall live to see the fulfilment of all these things in the type, which are later to come to pass in the grander way in the antitype.” Students of Old Testament prophecy, who have noticed how the grander deliverances of the gospel day are described in language which refers directly to the rescue from the captivity in Babylon, and how, in many other cases, the prophets weave descriptions of what is to occur in the remote future around events which are soon to happen to those whom they are addressing, will not have so great difficulty in accepting this interpretation of Matt. 24:34.
Understood in this way, the exhortations to watchfulness because of the imminence and suddenness of the Lord’s coming which follow, are not so hard to explain. There was a coming which was imminent. This was the grand stroke of His providence in the destruction of Jerusalem. While this one coming in this one providential event would serve as a basis of warning for the people of the first generation of our era, just as His grander personal coming would thus serve for the last, our Lord was speaking for the people of all ages, and these two specific comings would not serve this purpose for the generations between. We find our Lord, therefore, in Matt. 24:45 sq., and in Luke 12:42 where the same or a similar discourse is recorded, generalizing, and thus making the warnings applicable to all in all time, by stating there was a coming for reward to the faithful and judgment upon the unfaithful which was sure to all, and which we have found reason to believe is our Lord’s providential coming at death. These forms of our Lord’s providential comings are but types of His final and personal advent, and gain their fullest significance from it. Through these lesser foreshadowings, therefore, men are to have their minds fixed upon the larger reality, just as the Jews were to see Christ’s greater sacrifice through the typical offerings of the old economy. While referring, therefore, to the nearer event, and the language, “Ye know not the day nor the hour,” and similar expressions are appropriate to it directly, in a larger sense, we are to watch, also, in view of the grander coming, as we are vigilant and ever alert to be ready for it, seeing that our term for preparation for it will expire with His earlier coming at death, which is, therefore, practically so far as readiness to meet it is concerned, the same as His final appearance. In this way our Lord lays the foundation for a perpetual watchfulness, which does not depend for its existence for all generations up to the present and no one knows how long in the future, upon men being kept in ignorance, and which, if the time of His second coming were made known, could not be exercised. There is a coming of the Lord which is always imminent for all. At this coming our destiny will be fixed for the grander coming which is to follow. It is little wonder, under these circumstances, if often the intervening time which does not bear on our relation to final destiny at the grander coming, should drop out of view, and these two comings be practically treated as one.
Along this line of interpretation is to be found, we believe, the solution of the difficulties of this difficult chapter. As all our Lord’s exhortations to watchfulness are contained in this single discourse, delivered by Him to His disciples as He sat on the Mount of Olives, over against the Temple, this explanation, if it suffices for any of them, suffices for all.
Some pains have thus been taken to present the results of an inductive study of the teaching of the New Testament on the coming of the Lord. All the passages bearing upon the subject have been examined with honest care. The conclusions reached, with as much of the grounds upon which they rest as could be embodied in this condensed treatise, are left with the reader in the hope that they may prove of service in relieving a perplexing subject of some of its difficulties.
Let it be understood, however, that this subject has not been discussed because it was thought some explanation of this kind must be found or the pre-millennial view accepted. There is no such alternative as this. Our Lord and the scripture writers were either ignorant of the over eighteen hundred years which have passed and the unknown length of years which are still to intervene before He comes, or they were not. If the future, during all this great period of years with its crowding events of highest moment for the Church and the world, was so hidden from them that they really thought the Lord’s second advent might surprise them with its transcendent events before they died, what right have our pre-millennial friends to assume they must know of the thousand years of the millennium, if it were to precede this coming, any more than the other thousand and more, and, perhaps, many thousands of years, which were to pass before He was to return? But if they did know that a great stretch of years was to pass before the second advent, then, according to our pre-millennial friends who interpret all His references to His coming as of His personal appearing, they must have commanded the believers of their day to watch, etc., lest the coming of the Lord should take them unaware, although His second advent was known to be far distant. But if they used these expressions in a sense which would be thus allowable, although one or two, or perhaps many, thousands of years lay between them and the coming in view of which they were to watch, etc., there then would be no impropriety in using them, although the thousand years of the millennium were to be added to the years which were to precede His advent. So, also, if they declared this coming was at hand, although all this time was to elapse before He was to appear, they might equally have said it was nigh, although the millennium was to be over before His coming.
This reasoning holds of all the New Testament writings except Revelation; for in all these there is not the slightest allusion to a millennium. It is only near the end of this last inspired message from God that the single reference to it is found. But Revelation is also the one book in which there is a series of visions supposed to cover the whole period from John’s time until after the second advent. And yet our Lord, in full view of this and also in His exaltation above all the limitations of His knowledge as to the time of His reappearing, says, at the close of Revelation, “Yea I come quickly.” Now, if our Lord used these words of His personal coming, He used them in a sense consistent with the delay of His second advent for hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of years. Why should they not be consistent, then, in the same sense, although the millennium is to precede His coming?
On any imaginable ground that Pre-millennialists may take, therefore, the argument that if the millennium were to come before our Lord’s second advent, this grand event could not have been spoken of as possibly near, does not hold good. Whatever the reader may think of the view above elaborated, the pre-millennial argument just stated does not hold, and all that has been hitherto advanced on the general question at issue between Pre-millennialists and Post-millennialists, maintains its full force.
 “Commentary” in loco.
 “Commentary” in loco.
 “Com. on Matt.,” pp. 228, 368.