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Open Companion Bible: Systems of Interpretation "Dr. Henry Alford summarized the early history of preterism this way: "The Praeterist view found no favour, and was hardly so much as thought of, in the times of primitive Christianity. Those who lived near the date of the book itself had no idea that its groups of prophetic imagery were intended merely to describe things then passing, and to be in a few years completed." (Thomas Ice, "The History of Preterism," in Tim LaHaye, and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harverst House Publishers, 2003), 45.)
At age six he wrote "A Life of Paul", and at age 10 he penned a pamphlet entitled "Looking unto Jesus: the Believers' Support Under Trials and Afflictions." At sixteen, Henry wrote in his Bible: "I do this day, as in the presence of God and my own soul, renew my covenant with God, and solemnly determine henceforth to become His, and to do His work as far as in me lies." He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. Being ordained in 1833, he built a reputation
Dividing Line Between Destruction of Jerusalem and General Judgment - Both "Interwrapped" until Matthew 24:28
The "Double-Sense Theory")
(On Matthew 21:33-46, The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen; Significance of A.D.70; Nature of Christ's Return) 'We may observe that our Lord makes "when the Lord cometh" coincide with the destruction of Jerusalem, which is incontestably the overthrow of the wicked husbandmen. This passage therefore forms an important key to our Lord's prophecies, and a decisive justification for those who, like myself, firmly hold that the coming of the Lord is, in many places, to be identified, primarily, with that overthrow." (in location)
(On Matthew 3:7)
(On Luke 13:9)
(On Romans 13:11)
(On I Corinthians 7:29-31)
(On I Corinthians 16:22)
(On Philippians 3:20,21)
(On Philippians 4:5)
(On I Thessalonians 4:15)
II Thessalonians 2:2)
(On Hebrews 3:6,14,6:11 and "The End")
(On Hebrews 13:14)
(On James 5:1,3)
(On I Peter 1:13)
(On I Peter 5:1)
(On the Papal Antichrist Theory)
the Subject Matter of Revelation)
(On Revelation 10:6)
(On Revelation 12:14)
‘It would not be clear from this passage alone whether St. Peter regarded the coming of the Lord as likely to occur in the life of these his readers or not; but as interpreted by the analogy of his other expressions on the same subject, it would appear that he did." (Quoted in The Parousia)
17. Grotius holds Antichrist to be the godless Caligula, who ordered universal supplication to himself as the High God, and would have set up a colossal image of himself in the temple at Jerusalem : and in "him that hindereth" he sees L. Vitellius, the proconsul of Syria and Judaea, whose term of office delayed the putting up of the statue, -- and in "that lawless one" Simon Magus. This theory is liable to the two very serious objections, 1) that it makes "the man of sin" and the lawless one" into two seperate persons: 2) that it involves an anachronism, our Epistle having been written after Caligula's time.
18. According to Wetstein, the "man of sin" is Titus, whose army, "while the temple was burning and all around it, taking their standards into the sacred enclosure, and placing them before the eastern gate, sacrificed to them there, and saluted Titus imperator with great cheering." (Josephus.) His "hinderer" is Nero, whose death was necessary for the reign of Titus, and his apostacy, the rebellion and slaughter of three princes, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, which brought in the Flavian family. But this is the very height of absurdity, and surely needs no serious refutation.
19. Hammond makes the man of sin to be Simon Magus, and the Gnostics, whose head he was. The "gathering together to Christ." ver. 1, he interprets as the "greater liberty of assembling in Church meetings to worship Christ:" the apostacy, the falling off of Christians to Gnosticism (1 Tim. iv. 1) : the revelation of the man of sin, the Gnostics "putting off their disguise, and revealing themselves in their colours, i.e. cruel, professed enemies to Christ and Christians :" ver. 4 refers to Simon "making himself the supreme Father of all, who had created the God of the Jews" (Iren. i. 20). By that which hindereth, he understands the union yet subsisting more or less between the Christians and the Jews in the Apostle's estimation, which was removed when the Apostles entirely separated from the Jews: and him that hindereth he maintains to virtually the same with that which hindereth, but if any masculine subject must be supplied, would make it the law. The mystery of lawlessness he referes to the wicked lives of these Gnostics, but mostly to their persecution of the Christians. Ver. 8 he explains of the conflict at Rome between Simon and the Apostles Peter and Paul, which ended in the death of the former. Lunemann adds, "The exegetical and historical monstrosity of this interpretation is at present universally acknowledged."
20. Le Clerc holds the apostasy to be the rebellion of the Jewish people against the yoke of Rome : the man of sin, the rebel Jews, and especially their leader Simon, son of Giora, whose atrocities are related in Josephus: every one called God, &c. denotes the government : - "that which hindereth" is whatever hindered the open breaking out of the rebellion, -- partly the influence of those Jews in office who dissuaded the war, - partly fear of the Roman armies : and he that hindereth, on one side, the "Roman prefect," - on the other, the "chief men of the nation, King Agrippa and most of the high priests." The mystery of lawlessness is the rebellious ambition, which under the cloke of Jewish independence and zeal for the law of Moses, was even then at work, and at length broke openly forth.
21. Whitby takes the Jewish people for Antichrist, and finds in the apostasy the falling away of the Jewish converts to their old Judaism, alluded to in the Epistle to the Hebrews (iii. 12-14 ; iv. 11 ; vi. 4-6 ; x. 26,27 al. fr.). His "hinderer" is "the Emperor Claudius, who will let till he be taken away, i.e. he will hinder the Jews from breaking out into an open rebellion in his time, they being so signally and particularly obliged by him, that they cannot for shame think of revolting from his government."
22. Schöttgen takes Antichrist to be the Pharisees, Rabbis and Doctors of the law, who set themselves above God, and had impious stories tending to bring Him into contempt : the apostast, the rebellion against Rome : the hindrance, "the Christians, who by their prayers put off the event for some time, until they, admonished by a divine oracle, departed from Jerusalem, and seceded to Pella : " the mystery of iniquity, "the perverse doctrine itself," referring to 1 Tim. iii. 16.
23. Nösselt and Krause understand by Antichrist the Jewish zealots, and by the hindrance, Claudius, as Whitby. Lastly, Harduin makes the apostasy the falling off of the Jews to paganism, -- the man of sin, the High Priest Ananias (Acts. xxiii. 2), -- the hinderer, his predecessor, whose term of office must come to an end before he could be elected. From the beginning of his term, the man of sin was working as a prophet of lies, and was destroyed at the taking of Jerusalem by TItus.
"All these preterist interpretations have against them one fatal objections :- that it is impossible to conceive of the destruction of Jerusalem as in any sense corresponding to the Lord's coming, in St. Paul's sense of the term : see especially, as bearing immediately on this passage, 1 Thess. ii. 19; iii. 13 ; iv. 15 ; v. 23." (The New Testament for English Readers, First Thessalonians, Introduction, p 86)
(On Matthew 24:29) - An attempt to create a great interval between that which goes after, and that which came before "All the difficulty which this word [immediately] has been supposed to involve has arisen from confounding the fulfillment of the prophecy with it's ultimate one. The important insertion (ver. 23,24) in Luke xxi.. shows us that be " tribulation " includes (wrath upon this people), which is yet being inflicted, and the treading down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, still going on; and immediately after that tribulation, which shall happen when the cup of Gentile iniquity is full, and when this gospel shall have been preached to all the world for a witness, and rejected by the Gentiles, shall the coming of the Lord Himself happen. . . . (The expression in Mark is equally indicative of a considerable interval -- in those days after that tribulation.) The fact of His coming and its attendant circumstances being known to Him, but the exact time unknown, He speaks without regard to the interval, which would be, employed in His waiting till all things are put under His feet,' etc. (Alford Gr. Test, Matt. xxiv. 29)
Matthew 24:30) - On "Earth / Land" cf. Zech 12:12
(On Luke 17) - Asserting that Luke 17 is about the "final" second coming of Christ "There is not a word in all this of the destruction of Jerusalem."(Alford Gr. Test, in loc.)
(On Matthew 25:30) - On "Earth / Land"
"Endorsed, October 1858.' This is candour highly honourable to the critic, but it suggests the reflection, --if, with all the light and experience of eighteen centuries, the prophecy on the Mount of Olives still remains an unsolved enigma, how could it have been intelligible to the disciples who eagerly listened to it as it fell from the lips of the Master ? Can we suppose that at such a moment he would speak to them in inexplicable riddles ?-that when they asked for bread He would give them a stone ? Impossible. There is no reason for believing that the disciples were unable to comprehend the words of Jesus, and if these words have been misapprehended in subsequent times, it is because a false and unnatural method of interpretation has obscured and distorted what in itself is luminous and simple enough. It is matter for just surprise that such disregard should have been shown by expositors to the express limitations of time laid down by our Lord ; that forced and unnatural meanings should have given to such words as aiwn genea. entew.j, &C. ; that arbitrary lines of division should have been drawn in the discourse where none exist,-- and generally that the prophecy should have been subjected to a treatment which would not be tolerated in the criticism of any Greek or Latin classic. Only let the language of Scripture be treated with common fairness, and interpreted by the principles of grammar and common sense, and much obscurity and misapprehension will be removed, and the very form and substance of the truth will come forth to view. "
(On John 14:3) - Declaring the second coming of Christ as not being an event, but multiple events "The coming again of the Lord is not one single act, as His resurrection, or the descent of the Spirit, or His second personal advent, or the final coming to judgment, but the great complex of all these, the result of which shall be His taking His people to Himself to where He is. This ercomai is begun (ver. 18) in His resurrection; carried on (ver. 23) in the spiritual life, making them ready for the place prepared; farther advanced when each by death is fetched away to be with Him (Phil. i. 23); fully completed at His coming in glory, when they shall ever be with Him (I Thess. iv. 17) in the perfected resurrection state." (Greek Test., in loc.)
(On John 16:16) - Defending Multiple Fulfillments
I Thessalonians 1:9-10 - (Defending Imminence Statements)
I Thessalonians 4:15 - (Defending Imminence Statements)
(On John 1:1) "Theos must then be taken as implying God, in substance and essence,--not ho theos, 'the Father,' in person. It does not = theios, nor is it to be rendered a God--but, as in sarx egeneto, sarx expresses that state into which the Divine Word entered by a definite act, so in theos en, theos expresses that essence which was His en arche:--that He was very God. So that this first verse might be connected thus: the Logos was from eternity,--was with God (the Father),--and was Himself God." (Alford's Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Vol. I, Part II (Guardian Press, 1975; originally published 1871), p. 681)
"The reason why the early date and mainly contemporary explanation of the book is daily winning fresh adherents among unbiased thinkers of every Church and school, is partly because it rests on so simple and secure a basis, and partly because no other can compete with it. It is indeed the only system which is built on the plain and repeated statements and indications of the Seer himself, and the corresponding events are so closely accordant with the symbols as to make it certain that this scheme of interpretation is the only one that can survive. A few specimens may suffice to show how completely other systems float in the air.
Let us suppose that the student has found out that in viii.13 the true reading is "a single eagle," not an angel ; but, whether eagle or angel, he wants to know what the symbol means. He turns to the commentators, and finds that it is explained to be the Holy Spirit (Victorinus); or Pope Gregory the Great (Elliott); or St. John himself (DeLyra); or St. Paul (Zeger); or Christ himself (Wordsworth). The Præterists mostly take it to be simply an eagle, as the Scriptural type of carnage--the figure being suggested not by the resemblance of the word "woe!" ("ouai") to the eagle's screams, but by the use of the same symbol for the same purpose by our Lord in His discourse about the things to come. [Matt. xxiv.28.]
But this is nothing! The student wishes to learn what is meant by the star fallen from heaven, in ix.1. The Historical school will leave him to choose between an evil spirit (Alford); a Christian heretic (Wordsworth); the Emperor Valens (DeLyra); Mohammed (Elliott); and, among others, Napoleon (Hengstenberg) !
11 and there shall be great earthquakes, bin divers places; cand in divers places bthere shall be cfamines and pestilences; and there shall be terrors and great signs from heaven. [Great natural disturbances would constitute the third sign. That these preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, there is abundant historic evidence. Alford enumerates the earthquakes as follows: 1. A great earthquake in Crete, A. D. 46 or 47. 2. One at Rome when Nero assumed the manly toga, A. D. 51. 3. One at Apamæa in Phrygia, mentioned by Tacitus, A. D. 53. 4. One at Laodicea in Phrygia, A. D. 60. 5. One in Campania, A. D. 62 or 63. There were an indefinite number of famines referred to by Roman writers, and at least one pestilence during which thirty thousand perished in Rome alone. All these signs are mentioned by unbelieving writers such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Philostratus, and Seneca, who speak of them because of their importance and not with any reference to the prophecy of Christ.]
B.W. JOHNSON ON ALFORD
34, 35. This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Some hold that "all these things," in verse 33 and 34, refer only to what was said of the fall of Jerusalem, ending with verse 28. Others have contended that the phrase includes the second coming, but refers directly to the end of Jerusalem, which was a type of the end of the world. I believe, rather, that "all these things" embraces all thus far predicted, and that "this generation" means the Jewish race, instead of only those then living. The Greek word so rendered is used in the sense of race in the Greek classics, and as examples of such use in the New Testament, Alford points to Matt. 12:45, and Luke 16:8, as examples of such use in the New Testament. Christ has described the awful end of the Jewish state; after such a destruction and scattering of the remnant to the ends of the earth, all the examples of history would declare that the Jewish race would become extinct. Christ, however, declares that, contrary to all probability, it shall not pass away until he comes. They still exist, 1850 years after the prediction, distinct, but without a country.
ALFORD ON THE MILLENNIUM AND FIRST RESURRECTION
On one point I have ventured to speak strongly, because my conviction on it is strong, founded on the rules of fair and consistent interpretation. I mean, the necessity of accepting literally the first resurrection, and the millennial reign. It seems to me that if in a sentence where two resurrections are spoken of with no mark of distinction between them (it is otherwise in John 5:28, which is commonly alleged for the view which I am combating),--in a sentence where, one resurrection having been related, "the rest of the dead" are afterwards mentioned, --we are at liberty to understand the former one figuratively and spiritually, and the latter literally and materially, then there is an end of all definite meaning in plain words, and the Apocalypse, or any other book, may mean any thing we please.
The following is taken from Alford's Greek Testament, Volume IV, Part II, his note under Revelation 20:5 ("This is the first resurrection"):
It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this Commentary, that I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any considerations of difficulty, or any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it. Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense: and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents.
Phil. i. 10.---‘That ye may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ.’
The day of Christ is evidently regarded by the apostle as the consummation of the moral discipline and probation of believers. There can be no doubt that he has in view the day of the Lord’s coming, when He would ‘render to every man according to his works.’ On the supposition that the day of Christ is still future, it follows that the moral discipline of the Philippians is not yet completed; that their probation is not finished; and that the good work begun in them is not yet perfected.
Alford’s note on this passage (chap. i. 6.) deserves notice. ‘The assumes the nearness of the coming of the Lord. Here, as elsewhere, commentators have endeavoured to escape from this inference,’ etc. This is just; but Alford’s own inference, that St. Paul was mistaken, is equally untenable.AND...
Phil. iii. 20, 21.---‘For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,’ etc.
These words bear decisive testimony to the expectation cherished by the apostle, and the Christians of his time, of the speedy coming of the Lord. It was not death they looked for, and waited for, as we do; but that which would swallow up death in victory: the change which would supersede the necessity of dying. Alford’s notes on this passage is as follows:---
‘The words assume, as St. Paul always does when speaking incidentally, his surviving to witness the coming of the Lord. The change from the dust of death in the resurrection, however we may accommodate the expression to it, was not originally contemplated by it.’ (Taken from The Parousia)
Jas. v. 1, 3.---‘Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming . . . . Ye laid up treasure in the last days.’
This bold denunciation of the powerful oppressors and robbers of the poor in the last days of the Jewish State recalls to our minds the warnings of the prophet Malachi: ‘I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless; and them that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Mal. iii. 5). That judgment was now drawing nigh, and ‘the judge was at the door.’
Nothing can be more frank than the recognition which Alford give of the historical significance of this commination, and its express reference to the times of the apostle. Accounting for the absence of any direct exhortation to penitence in this denunciation, he says,---
‘That such does not here appear is owing chiefly to the close proximity of judgment which the writer has before him.’ Again he observes, ‘"Howl" [o l o l u x e i n ] is a word in the Old Testament confined to the prophets, and used, as here, with reference to the near approach of God’s judgments.’ Again: ‘These miseries are not to be thought of as the natural and determined end of all worldly riches, but are the judgments connected with the coming of the Lord: cf. ver. 8,---"the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." It may be that this prospect was as yet intimately bound up with the approaching destruction of the Jewish city and polity, for it must be remembered that they are Jews who are here addressed.’
The only drawback to this explanation is the unfortunate ‘may be’ in the last sentence. How could a peradventure be thought of in a case so plain? Our concern is with what was in the mind of the apostle, and surely no words can convey a stronger testimony to his conviction that ‘the last days’ and ‘the end’ were all but come.
In his note on ver. 3, Alford gives the apostle’s meaning with perfect accuracy:---
‘The last days (i.e. in these, the last days before the coming of the Lord), etc.’
1 THESS. i. 9, 10-- 'Ye turned to God from your idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the coming wrath.'
This passage is interesting as showing very clearly the place which the expected coming of Christ held in the belief of the apostolic churches. It was in the front rank; it was one of the leading truths of the Gospel. St. Paul describes the new attitude of these Thessalonian converts when they 'turned from their idols to serve the living and true God;' it was the attitude of 'waiting for his Son.' It is very significant that this particular truth should be selected from among all the great doctrines of the Gospel, and should be made the prominent feature which distinguished the Christian converts of Thessalonica. The whole Christian life is apparently summed up under two heads, the one general, the other particular : the former, the service of the living God; the latter, the expectation of the coming of Christ. It is impossible to resist the inference, (1) That this latter doctrine constituted an integral part of apostolic teaching. (2) That the expectation of the speedy return of Christ was the faith of the primitive Christians. For, how were they to wait ? Not Surely, in their graves; not in Heaven; nor in Hades; plainly while they were alive on the earth. The form of the expression, 'to wait for his Son from the heavens,' manifestly implies that they, while on earth, were waiting for the coming of Christ from heaven. Alford observes 'that the especial aspect of the faith of the Thessalonians was hope; hope of the return of the Son of God from heaven;' and he adds this singular comment: 'This hope was evidently entertained by them as pointing to an event more immediate than the church has subsequently believed it to be. Certainly these words would give them an idea of the nearness of the coming of Christ; and perhaps the misunderstanding of them may have contributed to the notion which the apostle corrects, 2 Thess. ii. 1.' This is a suggestion that the Thessalonians were mistaken in expecting the Saviour's return in their own day. But whence did they derive this expectation ? Was it not from the apostle himself ? We shall presently see that the Thessalonians erred, not in expecting the Parousia, or in expecting it in their own day, but in supposing that the time had actually arrived.
I Thess. ii. 16 -- ' But the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.'
Here the apostle represents the 'coming wrath' as already come. Now it is certain that the judgment of Israel, that is, the destruction of Jerusalem and the extinction of the Jewish nationality, had not yet taken place. Bengel seems to think that the apostle alludes to a fearful massacre of Jews that bad just occurred at Jerusalem, where 'an immense multitude of persons (some say more than thirty thousand) were slain.' Alford's explanation is : ' He looks back on the fact in the divine counsels as a thing in past time, q.d. " was appointed to come;" not "has come." Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon on this text, refers it to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. "The wrath is come," i.e. it is just at hand; it is at the door : as it proved with respect to that nation : their terrible destruction by the Romans was soon after the apostle wrote this epistle." Either Bengel's supposition is correct, or the final catastrophe was, in the apostle's view, so near and so sure that he spoke of it as an accomplished fact.
"This is the most complete account that we possess of the mysterious transition which the human spirit experiences when it quits its earthly tenement and enters the new organism prepared for its reception in the eternal world. It comes to us vouched by the highest authority,---it is the profession of his faith made by an inspired apostle,---one who could say ‘I know.’ It is the declaration of that hope which sustained St. Paul, and doubtless also the common faith of the whole Christian church. Nevertheless, the passage ought to be studied from the standpoint of the apostle, as his personal expectation and hope.
Observe the form of the statement---it is rather hypothetical than affirmative: "If my earthly tabernacle be dissolved,’ etc. This is not the way in which a Christian now would speak respecting the prospect of dying; there would be no ‘if’ in his utterance, for what more certain than death? He would say, "When this earthly tabernacle shall be taken down;" not, ‘if it should be,’ etc. But not so the apostle; to him death was a problematical event; he believed that many, perhaps most, of the faithful of his day would never suffer the change of dissolution; would not be unclothed, that is disembodied, but would ‘be alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.’ Perhaps at this time he had begun to have misgivings about his own survival; but what then? Even if the earthly tenement of his body were to be dissolved, he knew that there was provided for him a divinely prepared habitation, or vehicle of the soul; an indestructible and celestial mansion, not made with hands; not a material, but a spiritual body. His present residence in the body of flesh and blood he found to be attended with many sorrows and sufferings, under the burden of which he often groaned, and for deliverance from which he longed, earnestly desiring to be endued with the heavenly vesture which was awaiting him above (ver. 2). The Pagan conception of a disembodied spirit, a naked shivering ghost, was foreign to the ideas of St. Paul; his hope and wish were that he might be found ‘clothed, and not naked;’ ‘not to be unclothed, but clothed upon.’ Conybeare and Howson have, of all commentators, best caught and expressed the idea of the apostle: ‘If indeed I shall be found still clad in my fleshly garment.’ It was not death, but life, that the apostle anticipated and desired; not to be divested of the body, but invested with a more excellent organism, and endued with a nobler life. There is an unmistakable allusion in his language to the hope which he cherished of escaping the doom of mortality, ‘not for that we (I) would be unclothed,’ etc., i.e. ‘not that I wish to put off the body by dying,’ but to merge the mortal in the immortal, ‘that mortality might be swallowed up of life.’
The following comment of Dean Alford well conveys the sentiment of this important passage:---
‘The feeling expressed in these verses was one most natural to those who, like the apostles, regarded the coming of the Lord as near, and conceived the possibility of their living to behold it. It was no terror of death as to its consequences, but a natural reluctance to undergo the mere act of death as such, when it was written possibility that this mortal body might be superseded by the immortal one, without it.’
Rom. xiii. 11, 12.---‘And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand,’ etc.
It is not possible for words more clearly to express the apostle’s conviction that the great deliverance was at hand. It would be preposterous to regard this language, with Moses Stuart, as referring to the near approach of death and eternity. In that case the apostle would have said, ‘The day is far spent, the night is at hand.’ But this is not the manner of the New Testament; it is never death and the grave, but the Parousia, the ‘blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ,’ to which the apostles look forward. Professor Jowett justly observes that ‘in the New Testament we find no exhortation grounded on the shortness of life. It seems as if the end of life had no practical importance for the first believers, because it would surely be anticipated by the day of the Lord.’ This undoubtedly true; but what then? Either the apostle was in error, or our confidence must be withheld from him as an authoritative expounder of divine truth; or else he was under the guidance of the spirit of God, and what he taught was unerring truth. To this dilemma those expositors are shut up who cannot bring themselves even to imagine the possibility of the Parousia having come to pass according to the teaching of St. Paul. It is curious to see the shifts to which they resort in order to find some way of escape from the inevitable conclusion.
Tholuck frankly admits the expectation of the apostle, but at the sacrifice of his authority:---
‘From the day when the faithful first assembled around their Messiah until the date of this epistle, a series of years had elapsed; the full daybreak, as Paul deemed, was already close at hand. We find here corroborated, what is also evident from several other passages, that the apostle expected the speedy advent of the Lord. The reason of this lay, partly in the general law that man is fond to imagine the object of his hope at hand, partly in the circumstance that the Saviour had often delivered the admonition to be every moment prepared for the crisis in question, and had also, according to the usus loquendi of the prophets, described the period as fast approaching.’
Stuart protests against Tholuck’s surrender of the correctness of the apostle’s judgment, but adopts the untenable position that St. Paul is here speaking of---
‘The spiritual salvation which believers are to experience when transferred to the world of everlasting life and glory.’
Alford, on the other hand, admits that---
‘A fair exegesis of this passage can hardly fail to recognise the fact that the apostle here, as well as elsewhere (1 Thess. iv. 17; 1 Cor. xv. 51), speaks of the coming of the Lord as rapidly approaching. To reason, as Stuart does, that because Paul corrects in the Thessalonians the mistake of imagining it to be immediately at hand (or even actually come), therefore he did not himself expect it soon, is surely quite beside the purpose.’
The perplexity which the double-sense theory involves is placed in a. strong light by the confession of Dean Alford, who, at the close of his comments on this prophecy, honestly expresses his dissatisfaction with the views which he had propounded. ' I think it proper,' he says, ' to state, in this third edition, that, having now entered upon the deeper study of the prophetic portions of the New Testament, I do not feel by any means that full confidence which I once did in the exegesis, quoad prophetical interpretation, here given of the three portions of this chap. xxv. But I have no other system to substitute, and some of the points here dwelt on seem to me as weighty as ever. I very much question whether the thorough study of Scripture prophecy will not make me more and more distrustful of all human systematising, and less willing to hazard strong assertion on any portion of the subject.' (July 1855.) In the fourth edition Alford adds, 'Endorsed, October 1858.' This is candour highly honourable to the critic, but it suggests the reflection, --if, with all the light and experience of eighteen centuries, the prophecy on the Mount of Olives still remains an unsolved enigma, bow could it have been intelligible to the disciples who eagerly listened to it as it fell from the lips of the Master ? Can we suppose that at such a moment he would speak to them in inexplicable riddles ?-that when they asked for bread He would give them a stone ? Impossible. There is no reason for believing that the disciples were unable to comprehend the words of Jesus, and if these words have been misapprehended in subsequent times, it is because a false and unnatural method of interpretation has obscured and distorted what in itself is luminous and simple enough. It is matter for just surprise that such disregard should have been shown by expositors to the express limitations of time laid down by our Lord ; that forced and unnatural meanings should have given to such words as ai,w.n genea. entew.j, &C. ; that arbitrary lines of division should have been drawn in the discourse where none exist,-- and generally that the prophecy should have been subjected to a treatment which would not be tolerated in the criticism of any Greek or Latin classic. Only let the language of Scripture be treated with common fairness, and interpreted by the principles of grammar and common sense, and much obscurity and misapprehension will be removed, and the very form and substance of the truth will come forth to view.
1 John ii. 18.---‘Even now are there many antichrists.’
In the opinion of some commentators the name ‘the antichrist’ is supposed to designate a particular individual, the incarnation and embodiment of enmity to the Lord Jesus Christ; and as no such person has hitherto appeared in history, they have concluded that his manifestation is still future, but that the personal antichrist may be expected immediately before the ‘end of the world.’ This seems to have been the opinion of Dr. Alford, who says:---
‘According to this view we still look for the man of sin, in the fulness of the prophetic sense, to appear, and that immediately before the coming of the Lord.’
‘The church in Babylon [she in Babylon] elected together (with you) saluteth you; and Marcus my son.’
It is not easy to convey in so many words in English the precise force of the original. Its extreme brevity causes obscurity. Literally it reads thus: ‘She in Babylon, co-elect, saluteth you; and Marcus my son.’
The common interpretation of the pronoun she refers it to ‘the church in Babylon;’ though many eminent commentators---Bengel, Mill, Wahl, Alford, and others---understand it as referring to an individual, presumably the wife of the apostle. ‘It is hardly probable,’ remarks Alford, ‘that there should be joined together in the same message of salutation an abstraction, spoken of thus enigmatically, and a man (Marcus my son), by name.’ The weight of authority inclines to the side of church, the weight of grammar to the side of wife.
1 Tim. vi. 14.---[I give thee charge] ‘that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall show,’ etc.
This implies that Timothy might expect to live until that event took place. The apostle does not say, ‘Keep this commandment as long as you live;’ nor, ‘Keep it until death;’ but ‘until the appearing of Jesus Christ.’ These expressions are by not means equivalent. The ‘appearing’ [e p i f a n e i a ] is identical with the Parousia, an event which St. Paul and Timothy alike believed to be at hand.
Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. After quoting Bengel’s remark ‘that the faithful in the apostolic age were accustomed to look forward to the day of Christ as approaching; whereas we are accustomed to look forward to the day of death in like manner,’ he goes on to observe:---
‘We may fairly say that whatever impression is betrayed by the words that the coming of the Lord would be in Timotheus’s life-time, is chastened and corrected by the k a i r o i z i d i o i z [his own times]of the next verse.’
In other words, the erroneous opinion of one sentence is corrected by the cautious vagueness of the next! Is it possible to accept such a statement? Is there anything in k a i r o i z i d i o i z to justify such a comment? Or is such an estimate of the apostle’s language compatible with a belief in his inspiration? It was no ‘impression’ that the apostle ‘betrayed,’ but a conviction and an assurance founded on the express promises of Christ and the revelations of His Spirit.
No less exceptionable is the concluding refection:---
‘From such passages as this we see that the apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages,---constant expectation of the Lord’s return.’
But if this expectation was nothing more than a false impression, is not their attitude rather a caution than an example? We now see (assuming that the Parousia never took place) that they cherished a vain hope, and lived in the belief of a delusion. And if they were mistaken in this, the most confident and cherished of their convictions, how can we have any reliance on their other opinions? To regard the apostles and primitive Christians as all involved in an egregious delusion on a subject which had a foremost place in their faith and hope, is to strike a fatal blow at the inspiration and authority of the New Testament. When St. Paul declared, again and again, ‘The Lord is at hand,’ he did not give utterance to his private opinion, but spoke with authority as an organ of the Holy Ghost. Dean Alford’s observations may be best answered in the words of his own rejoinder to Professor Jowett:---
‘Was the apostle or was he not writing in the power of a spirit higher than his own? Have we, in any sense, God speaking in the Bible, or have we not? If we have, then of all passages it is in these which treat so confidently of futurity that we must recognise His voice: if we have it not in these passages, then where are we to listen for it all?’
JOHN xiv. 3-- 'And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself.'
JOHN xiv. 18. -- ' 1 will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.'
John xiv. 28.-- 'l go away, and come again unto you.'
JOHN xvi. 16.-- ' A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.'
JOHN Xvi. 22.-- ' 1 will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.'
Simple as these words may seem they have occasioned great perplexity to commentators. Their very simplicity maybe the chief cause of their difficulty: for it is so hard to believe that they mean what they seem to say. It has been Supposed that our Lord refers in some of these passages to His approaching departure from earth, and His final return at the 'end of all things,' the consummation of human history; and that in the others He refers to His temporary absence from His disciples during the interval between His crucifixion and His resurrection.
A careful examination of our Lord's allusions to His departure and His coming again will satisfy every intelligent reader that His coming,' or coming again,' always refers to one particular event and one particular period. No event is more distinctly marked in the New Testament than the Parousia, the 'second coming' of the Lord. It is always spoken of as an act, and not a process ; a great and auspicious event ; a ' blessed hope,' eagerly anticipated by His disciples and confidently believed to be at hand. The apostles and the early believers knew nothing of a Parousia spread over a vast and indefinite period of time; nor of several 'comings,' all distinct and separate from one another; but of only one coming,-- the Parousia, 'the glorious appearing of the great God even our Saviour Jesus Christ' (Titus ii. 13). If anything is clearly written in the Scriptures it is this. It is therefore with astonishment that we read the comments of Dean Alford on our Lord's words in John xiv. 3
The coming again of the Lord is not one single act, as His resurrection, or the descent of the Spirit, or His second personal advent, or the final coming to judgment, but the great complex of all these, the result of which shall be His taking His people to Himself to where He is. This ercomai is begun (ver. 18) in His resurrection; carried on (ver. 23) in the spiritual life, making them ready for the place prepared; farther advanced when each by death is fetched away to be with Him (Phil. i. 23); fully completed at His coming in glory, when they shall ever be with Him (I Thess. iv. 17) in the perfected resurrection state.' (3)
This is all evolved out of the single word ercomai! But if ercomai has such a variety and complexity of meaning, why not npayw and porenomai ? Why should not the 'going away' have as many parts and processes as the 'coming again?' It may be asked likewise, How could the disciples have understood our Lord's language, if it had such a 'great complex' of meaning? Or how can plain men be expected ever to come to the apprehension of the Scriptures if the simplest expressions are so intricate and bewildering ?
That this anticipated return and reunion was not a far-off event, many centuries distant, but one that was at hand, is shown in the subsequent references made to it by our Lord. ' A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father' (John xvi. 16). He was soon to leave them; but it was not for ever, nor for long,-- 'a little while,' a few short years, and their sorrow and separation would be at an end ; for 'I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you' (chap. xvi. 22). It will be observed that our Lord does not say that death will reunite them, but His coming to them. That coming, therefore, could not be distant.
That it is to this interval between His departure and the Parousia that our Lord refers when He speaks of 'a little while' is evident from two considerations: First, because he distinctly states that He is going to the Father, which shows that His absence relates to the period subsequent to the ascension; and, secondly, because in the Epistle to the Hebrews this same period, viz. the interval between our Lord's departure and His coming again, is expressly called ' a little while.' ' For yet a little while, and be that is coming shall come, and will not tarry' (Heb. x. 37).
Here again we are constrained to protest against the forced and unnatural interpretation of this passage (John xvi. 16) by Dr. Alford:
'The mode of expression,' he observes, 'is purposely enigmatical; the qewreite and oesqe not being co-ordinate : the first referring to physical, the second also to spiritual sight. The odesqj (ye shall see) began to be fulfilled at the resurrection; then received its main fulfilment at the day of Pentecost ; and shall have its final completion at the great return of the Lord hereafter. Remember, again, that in all these prophecies we have a perspective of continually unfolding fulfilments presented to us.' (4)
Heb. iii. 6.---‘If we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto
We have already had occasion to remark upon the significant phrase ‘the end,’ as it is used in the New Testament. It does not mean to the last, or to the end of life; but to the close of the aeon. Alford correctly observes,---
‘The end thought of, is not the death of each individual, but the coming of the Lord, which is constantly called by this name.’
Heb. x. 25.---‘Exhorting one another, and so much more as ye see the day approaching.’
‘The day’ means, of course, ‘the day of the Lord,’ the time of His appearing,---the Parousia. It was now at hand; they could see it approaching. Doubtless the indications of its approach predicted by our Lord were apparent, and His disciples recognised them, remembering His words, ‘When ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors’ (Mark xiii. 29). It is not fair to palter with these words in a non-natural or double sense, and say with Alford,---
‘That day, in its great and final sense, is always near, always ready to break forth upon the church; but these Hebrews lived actually close upon one of those great types and foretastes of it, the destruction of the Holy City.’
To the same effect is his note on Heb. ix. 26:---
‘The first Christians universally spoke of the second coming of the Lord as close at hand, and indeed it ever was and is.’Heb. xii. 25-29.---‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.’
The parallel, or rather contrast, between the situation of the ancient Israelites drawing near to God at Mount Sinai and that of the Hebrew Christians expecting the Parousia is here further carried out, with the view of urging the latter to endurance and perseverance. If it was perilous to disregard the words spoken from Mount Sinai---the voice of God by the lips of Moses; how much more perilous to turn away from Him who speaks from heaven---the voice of God by His Son? That voice at Sinai shook the earth (Exod. Xix. 18; Ps. lxviii. 8); but a more terrible convulsion was at hand, by which, not only earth, but also heaven, were to be finally and fore ever removed.
But what is this impending and final ‘shaking and removing of earth and heaven’? According to Alford,---
‘It is clearly wrong to understand, with some interpreters, by this shaking the mere breaking down of Judaism before the Gospel, or of anything else which shall be fulfilled during the Christian economy, short of its glorious end and accomplishment.’
At the same time he admits that---
‘The period which shall elapse [before this shaking takes place] shall be but one, not admitting of being broken into many; and that one but short.’
But if so, surely the catastrophe must have been an immediate one; for, on the supposition that it belongs to the distant future, the interval must necessarily be very long, and divisible into many periods, as years, decades, centuries, and even millenniums.Heb. xiii. 14.---‘For here have we no continuing city, but we seek for that which is coming.’
Alford well says:---
‘This verse comes with a solemn tone on the reader, considering how short a time the m e n o u s a p o l i z [abiding city] did actually remain, and how soon the destruction of Jerusalem put an end to the Jewish polity, which was supposed to be so enduring.’
This is unexceptionable, and we may say, ‘O si sic omnia!’ The commentator sees clearly in this instance the relation of the writer’s language to the actual circumstances of the Hebrews. This principle would have been a safe guide in other instances in which he seems to us to have entirely missed the point of the argument. The Christians to whom the epistle was written were come to the closing scene of the Jewish polity; the final catastrophe was just at hand. They heard the call, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her plagues.’ Jerusalem, the holy city, with her sacred temple, her towers and palaces, her walls and bulwarks, was no longer ‘a continuing city;’ it was on the eve of being ‘shaken and removed.’ But the Hebrew saint could see through his tears another Jerusalem, the city of the living God; an enduring and heavenly home, drawing very near, and ‘coming down,’ as it were ‘from heaven.’ This was the coming city [t h n m e l l o u s a n = the city soon to come] to which the writer alludes, and which he believed they were just about to receive. (Heb. xxi. 28.)
The more important question remains,---What was the object of our Lord’s descent into Hades? It can hardly be doubted that it was a gracious one. The apostle says, ‘He preached [e k h r u x e n ] to the spirits in prison,’---and what could He preach but glad tidings? This fact gives a new and larger significance to the terms of our Lord’s commission: ‘He hat sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound’ (Isa. lxi. 1). The hypothesis of Bishop Horsley and others that those spirits in prison were in fact saints, or at least penitents, awaiting the period of their full salvation, scarcely requires refutation. If any thing is clear on the face of the question, it is that they were the spirits of those who had perished for their disobedience, and in their disobedience. As Bishop Ellicott remarks, a p e i q h s a s i n means, not ‘who were disobedien,’ but ‘inasmuch as they were disobedient.’
But it may be said, Why should the disobedient antediluvians have been selected as the objects of a gracious mission? Were there no other lost souls in Hades, and why should these find grace beyond others? Bishop Horsley owns this to be a difficulty, and the greatest by which his interpretation is embarrassed. Alford finds a reason, if we rightly apprehend him, in the manner of their death. ‘The reason of mentioning here these sinners above other sinners, appears to be their connection with the type of baptism which follows;’ but surely this is to ascribe an efficacy to that institution beyond the boldest theories of baptismal regeneration. We venture to suggest that the true reason lies in the nature of that great judicial act which took place at the deluge. That was the close of an age or aeon, and ended in a catastrophe, as the aeon then in progress was just about to terminate. The two cases were analogous. As the deluge was the close and consummation of a former aeon, or world-period, so the destruction of Jerusalem and the abrogation of the Jewish economy were about to close the existing world-period or aeon. What more natural on the eve of such a catastrophe as the apostle anticipated, than to advert to the catastrophe of a former aeon? What more pertinent than to note the fact that the ‘coming salvation’ had a retrospective effect upon those bygone ages? It is not difficult to see the connection of the ideas in the apostle’s train of thought. The deluge was the s u n t e l e i a t o u a i w n o z of Noah’s time; another s u n t e l e i a was just at hand. The ‘old world, that then was,’ perished in the baptismal waters of the flood; the ‘world which now is’---the Mosaic order, the Jewish polity and people---was about to be submerged in a baptism of fire (Mal. iv. 1; Matt. iii. 11, 12; 1 Cor. iii. 13; 2 Thess. i. 7-10). Was it not appropriate to show that the redemptive work of Christ joined, and indeed covered, both these aeons, and looked backward on the past as well as forward to the future?
Before quitting this subject it may be well to quote some opinions of Biblical critics in reference to it.
Steiger, who treats the whole passage in a most candid and scholarly manner, says,---
‘The plain and literal sense of the words in this verse (19), viewed in connection with the following one, compels us to adopt the opinion that Christ manifested Himself to the unbelieving dead.’ ‘We must admit that the discourse here is of a proclamation of the Gospel among those who had died in unbelief, but we know not whether it found an entrance into many or few.’ ‘The expression e n f u l a k h (which the Syriac renders by Sheol; the fathers use it as synonymous with Hades) shows that the discourse can only be respecting unbelievers.’ ‘He who lay under death, entered into the empire of the dead as a conqueror, proclaiming freedom to its imprisoned subjects.’
Dean Alford’s opinion is very decided:---
‘From all, then, that has been said, it will be gathered that, with the great majority of commentators, ancient and modern, I understand these words to say that our Lord, in His disembodied state, did go to the place of detention of departed spirits, and did there announce His work of redemption, preach salvation, in fact, to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God when the judgment of the flood was hanging over them. Why these rather than others are mentioned---whether merely as a sample of like gracious work on others, or for some special reason unimaginable by us,---we cannot say.’
To the question, Who were the dead to whom the Gospel is said to have been preached? some think it a sufficient answer to reply, They are those, now dead, who were alive in the flesh when the Gospel was preached unto them. This would be an easy solution if it were permissible so to construe the words of the apostle; but it is a fatal objection to this explanation that it makes the apostle state a very simple and obvious fact in an unaccountably obscure and ambiguous way. The words themselves reject such an explanation. Alford does not speak too strongly when he says,---
‘If kai nekroiz euhggelisqh may mean "the gospel was preached to some during their lifetime who are now dead," exegesis has no longer any fixed rule, and Scripture may be made to prove anything.’
Others suppose that by the ‘dead’ in ver. 6 are to be understood the spiritually dead; but to this there are two insurmountable objections: first, this does not discriminate a particular class, for all men are spiritually dead when the Gospel is first preached to them; and, secondly, it gives to the word nekroi [the dead] in ver. 6 a different meaning from the same word in ver. 5---‘the living and the dead.’ According to this interpretation, the word ‘dead’ is used in a literal sense in ver. 5, and in an ethical sense in ver. 6. But, as Alford justly says,---
‘All interpretations mus be false which do not give nekroiz in ver. 6 the same meaning as nekrouz in ver. 5, i.e. that of dead men, literally and simply so called; men who have died, and are in their graves.’
1 Pet. v. 1.---‘The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory about to be revealed.’
1 Pet. v. 4.---‘And when the chief Shepherd is manifested, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory.’
Everything in this chapter is indicative of the nearness of the consummation. This is the motive to every duty, to fidelity, to humility, to vigilance, to endurance. The glory is soon to be revealed [thz melloushz apokaluptesqai doxhz]; the unfading crown is to be received by the faithful undershepherds when the chief Shepherd is manifested; the sufferings of the persecuted church are to continue only ‘a little while’ (ver. 10). All is suggestive of a great and happy consummation which is on the very eve of arriving. Would the apostle speak of an expected crown of glory as a motive to present faithfulness if it were contingent on an uncertain and possibly far distant event? Yet if the chief Shepherd has not yet been manifested, the crown of glory has not yet been received. It is quite clear that to the apostle’s view the revelation of the glory, the manifestation of the chief Shepherd, the reception of the unfading crown, the end of suffering, were all in the immediate future. If he was mistaken in this, is he trustworthy in anything?
On this passage (ver. 11) Alford observes:---
‘It would not be clear from this passage alone whether St. Peter regarded the coming of the Lord as likely to occur in the life of these his readers or not; but as interpreted by the analogy of his other expressions on the same subject, it would appear that he did.’
Doubtless he did; and so did St. Paul, and St. James, and St. John, and all the apostolic church; and they believed it on the highest authority, the word of their divine Master and Lord.
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