Jesus, toward the close of His ministry, preached that the Kingdom was not nigh.
PROPOSITION 58. Jesus, toward the close of His ministry, preached that the Kingdom was not nigh.
If, indeed, the covenanted Davidic Kingdom is offered, and that tender is rejected through unwillingness to repent, then it follows, from the foreknowledge lodged in Jesus, that it is reasonable to expect some such procedure. The statement in the Proposition is abundantly confirmed. Just so soon as the representatives of the nation met in council and conspired to put Jesus to death, then, released from the first part of His mission, His style of preaching also changed. Instead of proclaiming that the Kingdom was nigh to the nation, He now directly intimates and declares that it was not nigh. Matt. 21:43, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” is already conclusive (as will be shown hereafter), confirmed as it is by other passages.
Obs. 1. The importance of this point, so much overlooked by commentators and theologians, will justify additional proof. Thus e.g. take the parable of the marriage of the King’s son, Matt. 22:1–14, given just after (Matt. 21:43), He declared that the Kingdom should be taken from them, and we have: (1) The Jewish nation bidden but refusing the invitation (showing the sincerity of the offer, etc.); (2) if the invitation had been accepted, the marriage would have taken place; but the invited guests refusing, it was postponed until other guests were furnished; (3) the marriage (i.e. the enthronement to the Kingdom, comp. Prop. 169), the wedding (i.e. the inauguration blessings and privileges, the Kingdom being likened to a feast, Prop. 169), were no longer nigh to these invited ones; (4) the marriage, the time when the guests are scrutinized, is (as commentators inform us correctly) at the Sec. Advent of this King, hence postponed until that period. Again: the parable of the Great Supper, Luke 14:15–24, has also reference to this fact. It was suggested by the saying, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God,” i.e. in this Theocratic-Davidic Kingdom, for such was the meaning attached to the phrase. Jesus, in reply, expressively shows how this Kingdom was received. The persons (Jews) specially invited to this “great supper” (i.e. to the blessings of this Kingdom) rejected the invitation, for “they all with one consent began to make excuse,” and other guests are to be invited, urged to come and enjoy it, whilst “none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper,” i.e. it was no longer nigh to those invited. The calling of other guests now (still going on) takes the place of the first invitation—a new exigency and preparation being evolved—and the supper, until these guests are obtained (Prop. 65) is postponed to the Sec. Advent (Prop. 169).[*]
Note. The critical student may perhaps ask what Gospel do we follow in its chronological order. Our preference is Matthew (so Ebrard, Gosp. His., as Calvin, Bengel, etc.), where Jesus declares His rejection shortly after the sending forth of the disciples to preach. But we can (with Wieseler and others) take Luke, or even any of the others (as we shall show in Prop. 187), with the same result. For this postponement of the Kingdom, so constantly ignored by Christian Apologists, is a most powerful factor in the criticism, both of the Gospel writings and the Gospel History. It conclusively proves that the great object of the writers, in all of them, was to show—(1) That Jesus was the Messiah; (2) why the Messianic Kingdom was delayed; when and through whom it shall be established. The idea of a postponement (even contained in the references to a future coming of Himself in glory, and which caused the question of the disciples in Matt. 24:3 respecting His future coming), must have singularly impressed the disciples, owing to their utter inability to reconcile it with His death. Without comment, they give us a complete history of the facts as they existed, and do not conceal the perplexity in which they were involved, owing to their having allied to the First Advent promises which are only to be realized at the Second.
Obs. 2. But we have more explicit announcements. Thus, Luke 19:41–44, in which is found: (1) Jesus weeping over the city; (2) the things which belonged unto their peace, being rejected, were hid from them; (3) the evil results of their unbelief, in being given over to their enemies and continuing under ther power; (4) this great evil brought upon them because they appreciated not the offer made, because “thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” Here, instead of a Kingdom, is presented a direful threatening of fearful incoming evils. Again: in Matt. 23:37, 38, We have: (1) the rejection of His message, evinced by the treatment of those sent; (2) Christ’s earnest desire that they might receive it; (3) but “they would not,” indicating a voluntary rejection; (4) then “the house left desolate,” no restoration being granted; (5) and Christ’s withdrawal from them for a time; (6) so that, instead of a Kingdom coming then to them, dispersion and the destruction of the city is determined, owing to their unrepentant state.[*]
Note. It was in view of this rejection of the Messiah, this refusal to repent, that the sign of Jonah was specified by Jesus in Matt. 12:38–41. Persons have sought for an analogy between the sign of Jonah to that generation and that of the Son of man. Much that is unsatisfactory (by believers, who refer it to death and the resurrection, forgetting that Jonah was alive, etc.) and witless (by unbelievers, who ridicule it as a standing joke) has been said and written. Many confess their utter inability to see where the analogy is to be found. Thus e.g. a writer in The Spectator (and Littell’s Liv. Age) for 1872 (Art. “Fred. Deu. Maurice”), after stating that Maurice “admitted that he could not understand the analogy between Jonah’s three days’ burial in the fish and our Lord’s three days’ burial,” adds: “He (Maurice) would not admit that he believed the Evangelist to have made a mistake, and to have attributed a fanciful analogy of his own to his Master.” Maurice, professing himself unable to explain, was correct in rejecting the notion of “a fanciful analogy” concocted by Matthew. The preaching of this Kingdom on condition of repentance, and the refusal to repent, explains and enforces the analogy. The simplicity of the analogy has caused it to be overlooked. To realize its force we must place ourselves on Jewish ground in the position of the Scribes and Pharisees who demanded a sign. The Kingdom was offered; a sign was required, by those unwilling to repent, against (v. 41, 42) all reasonable evidence already afforded. Jesus virtually and emphatically tells them that the only sign which they deserved is the sign of unbelief. Jonah was three days and nights in the fish’s belly, owing to unbelief, so Jesus, for the same period, was in the grave because of Jewish unbelief. The one was evidence of unbelief, the other also, so that the declaration is equivalent to saying that the nation would not repent but be the means of Christ’s death. This is confirmed by what immediately follows.
Obs. 3. The evidence on this point is strong and cumulative, and there are given even clearer exhibitions than the preceding. In Luke 21:31 is something decisive, when apprehended in the light of the immediate context. After describing the destruction of the temple (v. 6, 20), the days of vengeance (v. 22, 23), the captivity and dispersion of the nation (v. 24), the treading down of Jerusalem “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (v. 24), the Advent of the Son of Man (v. 27), the approach of our redemption (v. 28), the signs of a coming deliverance (v. 28, 29, 30), the Saviour adds: “So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” At the beginning of His ministry, it was relatively nigh (as we have shown); the offer was simply conditioned by repentance; and being left to their choice, no long interval, as here intimated, must take place before it is nigh to them. Now, however, since His death was actually contemplated by the representatives of the nation, the offer is withdrawn, and the postponement of the Kingdom, its not being nigh to them, is directly stated by an enumeration of certain events which are previously to take place before it is nigh again. Let the reader examine these events, and he will find that not one of them occurred between the delivery of the prediction and the death of Christ; hence the Kingdom was not yet come. But more: none of them took place between their utterance and the day of Pentecost; hence the Kingdom was not established. This, in which all are agreed as to the non-occurrence of the events, is all that is needed thus far in our argument.[*]
Note. But in this passage and context we have more than this: two things may well call for consideration. (1) Let the reader reflect upon the Jewish idea of “the Coming One” and “the world to come,” etc., and then notice that the questions of the disciples respecting His coming and the end of this age imply the notion of the introduction of the Messianic Kingdom. The reply indicates no such introduction, but a continued series of events, long continued (for this passage and Matt. 24 and 25 and Mark 13 contain an epitomized history of this dispensation down to the Sec. Advent), before the Kingdom again comes nigh. (2) Next, consider the events enumerated, and the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred thirty or forty years afterward; the captivity and dispersion of the Jews, the domination of the Gentiles over the city during the times of the Gentiles, etc., are mentioned, all of which are still in the course of fulfilment, and consequently (as we advocate) the Kingdom (which could only again be nigh “when these things come to pass”) is still in the future. Comp. some excellent remarks by Philo, Basilicus (Judge Jones, of Philadelphia) in Essays on the Coming of the Kingdom of God (Literalist, vol. 3, p. 32). Jones says: “If it should be said that by ‘these things’ we must understand some of these things, the answer is, that would be adding to Scripture, not expounding it; besides, it would not remove the difficulty, because we have no evidence that any of these things came to pass before the commencement of the present dispensation. If it should be said (as it sometimes is) that all these predictions relate to the destruction of Jerusalem, the difficulty remains, for certainly the present dispensation commenced long before that event. Not only had the Gospel been promulgated throughout the Roman Empire, but almost the whole of the New Test. was written before that event, and several of the apostles, among whom were James, Peter, and Paul, had suffered martyrdom. If it be said that (v. 34 proves) these things must have been fulfilled within the life time of the men then living, the answer is, that this verse must be interpreted so as to be consistent with the facts of the case.” After mentioning the facts, he adds: “Besides, the Word translated generation signifies race in this place, as may be easily proved, and it was so understood by Jerome, who must be allowed to be a competent judge of the meaning of the Latin word generatio.”
With this opinion agree Clarke and numerous other commentators, who read v. 34: “This nation shall not pass (i.e. be rooted out, etc.) till all these things be fulfilled.” The idea being that the fulfilment is linked with the destiny of the nation, and that therefore, notwithstanding their scattering and dreadful persecutions, it would be preserved. As this verse is frequently employed against us, it will be well, in view of the frequent use made of the chapter containing it, to add some particulars to those given under another heading. To indicate the varieties of meanings attached to the passage, making it in full agreement with our views, we give the following: Jerome applies it either to the human race or particularly to the Jewish; Calovius, Mede, Dorner, Stier, Nast, Alford, Faber, etc., to the Jewish nation; Wordsworth, etc., to the literal Israel (as a race) and to the Spiritual Israel (as the same); Origen, Chrysostom, Paulus, Lange, etc., to the believers (as a race), as indicated in v. 33. Other interpretations are given, as e.g. that (so Elliott, Barbour, Lord, etc.) it refers to the future generation then living, making it parallel with Luke 21:31, 32, “when ye shall see;” Luke 17:34, “this night,” etc. Some (as Byrant, etc.) think the key is found in vs. 33 of the preceding ch., in “this generation of vipers,” indicative of a continued unbelief. The reverse of this is given by others (as Rutter, etc.), who make it “the generation of the righteous,” referring to the perpetuity of the faithful or of the church; or (as Lange), “the generation of Christians, as a generation of those who wait for Christ never pass away.” (Lange’s view is a revival of De Syra’s.) Piscator, Erasmus, etc. render generation by œtas or age. Brookes (Maranatha, p. 68) refers to quotations, showing that the word translated “fulfilled” is often used to denote the beginning of an event without expressing its completion, so that it would read, it retaining the limited idea of generation: “This generation shall not pass till all these things (the predicted desolations of Israel, terminating with His Sec. Coming) begin to be fulfilled.” (This is the opinion of Luther, Cunningham, Bush, Van Oosterzee, Ebrard, and others.) Bickersteth and others refer the verse simply as including the overthrow of the temple and Jerusalem. The meaning of the words “generation” and “fulfilled,” as given in Lexicons, in Commentaries, and in other renderings, make such interpretations justifiable. Hodge (Sys. Div., vol. 3, p. 799) says: “There is high authority for making ‘generation’ refer to Israel as a people or race;” the same is true of others. We cannot admit the limited notion of generation without allowing (unless we adopt the idea of “age” or “beginning to be fulfilled”) the claims of Rationalistic criticism, which asserts, truthfully, that these predictions were not fulfilled within the bounds of an ordinary generation. (Comp. Alford, Lange, Stier, Nast, etc.; Brookes’s Maranatha, p. 67; Cumming’s Great Tribulation, pp. 157, 159; Proph. Times, vol. 6, p. 76 and p. 205; Seiss’s Last Times, Ap.; Literalist, vol. 3, p. 160; Lord’s Lit. and Theol. Journal, July, 1854, p. 161, etc.
Obs. 4. Luke 19:11–27 forcibly demonstrates our Proposition. Jesus uttered this parable “because they thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear.” In His reply there is no intimation (as is unjustly inferred, comp. Prop. 110) that the Jews were mistaken in their idea of the Kingdom, and that, if modern notions are correct, the Kingdom had already come and was established. If this had been so, then the answer of Jesus would be cruelly irrelevant; but with the proper conception of the Kingdom it is finely consistent and forcibly expressed. For there is (as there could not be) no declaration that they were wrong in believing that the Kingdom which they expected, the Messianic, was still in the future. They were only mistaken in the opinion, carefully announced, “that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear.” Now the parable is given to correct this belief in the immediate setting up of the Kingdom, to indicate that it would not soon appear, but only after an undefined period of time had elapsed. For He represents Himself as a nobleman, who, having a right to the Kingdom, goes “into a far country to receive” (to have His title confirmed) “for Himself a Kingdom, and to return.” During His absence His servants “occupy till I come.” Then after an interval of time, not definitely stated, the period having come to enter upon His reign, having received the Kingdom, He returns, judgment follows, and those who rejected Him (saying, “we will not have this man to reign over us”) are destroyed. Here we have: (1) the Jews thought that the Kingdom would now appear; (2) but it was not nigh, for (a) He would leave, (b) they had refused His proffered reign, (c) those, however, who were devoted to Him should “occupy” until He returned, (d) during His absence there was no Kingdom, being gone to receive the power to reign; (3) He would return and then manifest His acquired power (Prop. 83) in the establishment of His Kingdom. Thus we have the absence, and then “the appearing and Kingdom” of Christ.[*]
Note. This parable first seriously directed the attention of Greswell (Work on Parables, vol. 4, p. 419–514) to the Millenary dispensation, and confirmed his faith in the Primitive Church view of the Kingdom to be set up at Christ’s return. He justly remarked that it was impossible to explain it “satisfactorily and consistently upon any other principle than that of a reference to the Millenary dispensation,” etc. This is corroborated by the contradictory statements of commentators and others, who spiritualize this Kingdom, and have it existing either under Christ’s ministry or at His ascension. Thus e.g. Barnes, loci, after having repeatedly told us that the Kingdom had already come, that multitudes pressed into it, etc., flatly contradicts his former bold inferences by saying that “the reign of the Messiah should immediately commence, He spake the parable to correct that expectation.” But how reconcile it with his own statements? Thus: “By the nobleman is undoubtedly represented the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ; by His going into a far country is denoted His going to heaven, to the right hand of the Father, before He should fully set up the Kingdom and establish His reign among men.” Lisco (On the Parables, p. 398) correctly observes “that this Kingdom should be immediately, without any further delay, set up, against which the intimation in the parable is directed, that it should necessarily be a long time before the return of the nobleman,” but vitiates the force of it by putting into the parable what it does not, even by implication, teach, viz: “He (Jesus) will give full manifestation of it (the Kingdom) from heaven.” Numerous illustrations of this character could be given, but these will suffice to show how men, under a false theory of the Kingdom, labor to reconcile this parable with a spiritualistic conception by introducing that which, on its face and intent, it utterly repudiates. Attention might be called to other passages, especially Luke 17:20–37 (see Prop. 110), but as these will be brought up in connection with other Propositions, this proof must, for the present, content us. For, taking these together, and observing their uniform testimony, they already suffice to establish our Proposition.
Obs. 5. It is worthy of notice, that Christ only openly predicted His sufferings and death toward the close of His ministry, Matt. 20:17–20; John 12:32–34, etc. This was designedly done, and accords with our position. The Kingdom was offered according to the promise made to the Fathers. Being a minister of the circumcision to confirm the promises, this tender, embracing the most precious of the promises, was necessarily included. When He was rejected, and efforts were made to destroy Him, then He was free to unfold what God had farther purposed in view of, and to overrule, this rejection.[*]
Note. The critical student will also notice another peculiarity, viz.: that before it was fully determined by the chief men of the nation to kill Jesus, He was far more free in communicating in private than in His public discourses. Judge Jones (“Philo-Basilicus,” Essays, Literalist, vol. 3, p. 62–64) has noticed this, and assigns some excellent reasons for His observing such a distinction. The main one has already been given by us. To strangers, as to the woman of Samaria, the Centurion, Zacchæus, He revealed from the first more concerning the future purposes of God pertaining to the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, than He did to His own disciples before the conspiracy of the Jews, thus evincing both His Divine foreknowledge and His wonderful tact in keeping His disciples in the most favorable position and mental condition to preach the offer of the Kingdom. This entire procedure, as related in the Gospels, is one of those unintentional but most forcible evidences of divine inspiration. A narration which so carefully preserves the most delicate arrangements, without any violation of propriety and character in the actors of a complicated drama like this, can only be accounted for on the basis already assumed, Prop. 5. The sincerity of Jesus is evidenced (Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:42, etc.), the covenanted relationship of the nation is preserved, the fact of its failure to repent is so represented that the foreknowledge of God is vindicated, the contingency of the offer on repentance (Rom. 9:31–33, and 10:8, 10, 21, and 11:7, 23, etc.) is made manifest, the Purpose of God is made in consideration (Gal. 3:8; Acts 2:23, etc.) of all the foreseen circumstances as they actually arose, the faithfulness of God (Rom. 3:3, 4) is preserved, the necessity (to raise seed unto Abraham) of calling and engrafting the Gentiles is shown—these and various other features involved are all so clearly and distinctly given, without any conflict or antagonism, that they stamp the book containing them as the Word of God. The principles and interests involved, although pertaining to the highest and noblest known to man, are carefully guarded with incomparable simplicity.
Obs. 6. This change of preaching in Jesus has been noticed by Renan and others, and they wrongfully attribute it to a change of plan respecting the Kingdom, forced upon Him by attending circumstances. That is, seeing that He could not secure the throne and Kingdom over the Jewish nation, He concluded to erect a more spiritual Kingdom. Such an opinion cannot be legitimately inferred, and it overlooks the most positive proof that Christ, instead of altering His view of the Kingdom, His rightful claim to it, His intention to restore the Theocratic-Davidic throne, only postponed its execution until the lapse of a determined period of time. Renan and his class totally ignore the abundance of Scripture assigning the reasons for postponement, just as if they had no existence.[*]
Note. Such a mode of procedure, a revival of Porphyry’s (Art. on, M’Clint. and Strong’s Cyclop.), unjust to the Word and discreditable to honest reasoning, which forbids the Scriptures to testify in its own behalf, is becoming very prevalent. The position of Jesus, in view of the foreknown rejection of the Kingdom, was peculiar. To Him the progress of events, the history of the future was fully known; hence down to the very moment of His proposed arrest by the representatives of the Jewish nation, His language, impelled by regard due to His mission, respecting the Kingdom is guarded, and if we desire to appreciate it, to attain to a correct apprehension of it, we must keep in mind the nature of that Kingdom, as covenanted and predicted, its offer to the nation, its rejection by those who had the controlling influence, its postponement until a Seed—the elect, chosen ones—of Abraham is gathered out, and its final re-establishment at the Sec. Advent. Then the attitude and words of Jesus stand out with new propriety and force. This, and this alone, will render radiant with hope many a passage which otherwise would remain dark.
Obs. 7. The notion entertained by some, that only temporal blessings and rewards were offered to the Jews under the Levitical economy, is also shown (as before noticed), by the tender of this Kingdom and its postponement, to be erroneous. In the very nature of the case, temporal blessings are largely annexed to it (for did not the curse greatly deprive us of them, and if Redemption is completed, will it not restore them?); but besides these, there are special and inexpressible great spiritual ones connected with them. This, as we advance, will become more and more apparent. The Theocratic rule brings God Himself into national relationship as its earthly Ruler, and this relationship insures present and future blessings, both temporal and spiritual. If the reader will but reflect upon the Kingdom offered to them—the same still held in abeyance—upon the events requisite for its re-establishment (as e.g. the resurrection, the presence of God, etc.), upon the imagery used to represent its blessing (as e.g. a feast, marriage, etc.), that were included in the covenants to be ultimately realized by the elect, he will at once perceive that the Theocratic ordering necessarily embraces both the highest temporal and spiritual blessings to which Redemption, in its fullest, widest reach, extends. The earnests indicate it; the fruition, under the coming Messianic reign, realizes it.
Obs. 8. In view of this foreknown change in the preaching of Jesus resulting from a postponement of the Kingdom, Christ did not publicly assume in His personal ministry the title of “the Christ” until after His betrayal, Mark 14:62. After the death of John the Baptist, which already foreshadowed His own rejection and the nation’s refusal of the tender, of the Kingdom, He strictly charged His disciples to tell no man that He was “the Christ.” The intimations publicly given were inferential, and might, as He Himself asserted, be adduced from His works. New this, to many an unaccountable feature (owing to their making the phrase “the Christ” a doctrinal one instead of regarding it, as it is, His Kingly title, comp. Prop. 205), is in accord with our position; for knowing His rejection as “the Christ,” in that the nation refused to obey the condition annexed to the obtaining of the Kingdom, it would only have afforded the greater facilities to His enemies to accuse Him as a rebel, etc., to the Roman power.[*]
Note. One of the best writers on this point is Judge Jones, in his Notes on Scripture (as e.g. on Matt. 16:20 and 23:8, etc.), and in his Essays (Philo-Basilicus) attached to vol. 3 of the Literalist. The Judge, with his fine scholarship, theological learning, and eminent legal abilities, was well calculated to see and bring out points unnoticed by the large class of expositors. Among other things he notices the remarkable change in the phraseology as seen in Acts and the Epistles when compared with the Gospels, and justly argues that, as the name of Jesus, the title of Son of man, was designedly given at one period, and the titles of Christ and Messiah were kept in the background, so also after the death and ascension of Jesus the title of Christ is purposely more prominently exhibited. The former procedure is based on the fact of the offer and rejection of the Kingdom; the latter is founded on the fact that this same Jesus, dead, buried, and crucified, is nevertheless “the Christ,” and that the covenanted promises will yet be realized through Him. The very title implies faith and hope in the fulfilment of the covenants.
Obs. 9. Lee (An Inquiry into the Nature of Prophecy), Hatfield (Amer. Presby. Quart. Review, Nos. April and July, 1864), and others have asserted that the prophets predicted only one Advent (the First), and that a second personal Advent was unknown to them, or that they had “no distinct perception of a Sec. Advent, or any thought of such an event, is by no means certain,” etc. (comp. Shimeall’s I Will Come Again, Ap. Note D, p. 132). This falling back to the Jewish objection (Prop. 57, Obs. 4, note 1) is owing to an overlooking of the conditions that, in view of the foreknown future, were imposed upon prophecy.[*]
Note. This attitude of the prophets, in not more accurately discriminating (Prop. 34) in respect to the mission of Jesus at His First Advent in offering the Kingdom to the nation, is the very one required by the sincerity of the tender, the free agency of the nation, the rejection of the Kingdom, and its postponement. To have distinctively announced the two Advents, with the interval between, and with the results of each, would have materially interfered with the course of events. Yet now both the wonderful foreknowledge of God and the wisdom of the Almighty, in the prophetic announcements, are strikingly exhibited. Now it is no longer a matter of difficulty to discriminate; the fulfilments at the First Advent teach us what to apply to it and what to refer to the Second. Both Advents are plainly delineated—one of humiliation, suffering and death, and exaltation; the other, one of triumph, vengeance, dominion, and glory. The Primitive Church view gives us the key to this peculiar prophetic style, and this very delineation, now so perplexing to Jewish Rabbis and to unbelievers, is evidence, if we will receive it, of Divine inspiration.