Tested Truth (!)
By Charles H. Welch
In the following pages, A and B discuss various subjects, the
standpoint of B representing that of the Alphabetical Analysis.
‘I am satisfied with the words of Christ’
Two Christians were standing, with open Bibles, discussing some theme
(apparently of great interest), and as the subject of their discussion may
possibly be of general interest, let us draw a little nearer so that we may
get the benefit of their remarks. We will call them for the sake of
clearness A and B.
A -- I am satisfied with the words of Christ.
B -- Friend, believe me, we are one in that blessed fact, for He is the truth, His words are spirit and life, He came to reveal the Father, and the heart of every believer still says, ‘Show us the Father and it sufficeth us’. We are both satisfied with the words of Christ.
A -- You interrupted me, I was going to say that I am satisfied with the words of Christ and do not need the opinions of Paul or any other man.
B -- By the ‘words of Christ’, then, I understand you to mean the four Gospels, and by the opinions of Paul I take it that you mean the epistles written by that servant of God. Let me just ask you a question. Am I right in assuming that the words of Christ with which you are satisfied are those of the four Gospels?
A -- Certainly.
B -- I see. You have not therefore any words of Christ written by Himself?
A -- Of course not!
B -- What words of Christ you have therefore were written by other men, and not by Himself?
A -- They were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
B -- Pardon me if I appear too persistent, but supposing I were to take your line and say, ‘I do not want the opinions of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, I want the actual words of Christ Himself’, what would you say?
A -- I should say that in these four Gospels we have the words of Christ, written by these men as they were guided and inspired by the Spirit of truth. Look at this passage in John 14:26:
Here you see my warrant for believing that, although the record may have been made by Matthew or Luke, yet the record is inspired, and in these Gospels I have the words of Christ which are enough for me.
B -- I am glad that we both agree on this next point, namely, the full
inspiration of the four Gospels, but do you not see that if Matthew could be
inspired to write the Gospel that bears his name, Peter, John, James, Jude
and Paul could equally have been inspired to record the words of Christ
spoken since His Resurrection? Your reference to John 14:26 was most apt and
it reminds me of another statement in chapter 16. Let us turn to verses 12 -
Now notice one or two important features of this passage.
A -- This passage in John 16 does certainly seem to speak of a revelation subsequent to and equally inspired with the four Gospels, and I must look into the matter afresh, lest a mistaken zeal for the supremacy of Christ should rob me of that truth which after all He Himself says ‘shall glorify Me’.
A -- I have been thinking very much about John 16:12 -14 and your remarks upon it, but I still feel that the words actually spoken by Christ Himself must come to the true believer with greater force than those spoken by fallible men like ourselves, even though inspired for the time.
B -- I honour your desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, but I think a little attention to one feature of His ministry will help you to see the subject of the inspiration of both the Gospels and the Epistles in a clearer light. If Christ spoke His own words, and taught His own doctrine, then we should possibly feel that His words were of greater weight and authority than those of Peter and of Paul in the Epistles.
A -- But did He not speak as one having authority, and not as the Scribes? What do you mean by ‘speaking His own words’?
B -- Do not let us misunderstand one another, let us rather ‘open the book’.
A -- I suppose you are going to turn to the Epistles?
B -- No, we will turn once again to the Gospel according to John. First let us notice John 14:24:
Here is a distinct statement which should be enough for any who are ‘satisfied with the words of Christ’. Look again, this time at 12:49,50:
This is added testimony to the same effect. One more verse will suffice us here, viz. John 7:16:
It is clear from these words of our Lord that what He taught and spoke was what He had Himself been taught (8:28) and commanded to speak.
A -- Do I understand by this that you deny the Deity of Christ?
B -- By no means. That the Word ‘was God’ this same Gospel declares, and that I believe with all my heart. But the Lord humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant. As the ‘sent one’ He did not speak His own message, but the words of Him that sent Him.
A -- Well, accepting this, I do not see your intention. If every utterance of the Lord’s was actually the Word of God, that seems all the more reason why I should abide by them.
B -- Abide by them by all means, but do not forget that the point is that the authority for Christ’s teaching is the Father that sent Him. Now let us look at the Epistles. Turn to 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
You see by this statement that Paul, Silas and Timothy, acting in their capacity as ‘sent ones’, claimed the self -same authority for their words as did Christ Himself. In 1 Peter 1:25 we read:
In 2 Peter 1:20,21 Peter speaks of the inspiration of Scripture, and in
2 Peter 3:16 he links Paul’s Epistles with ‘the other Scriptures’. In 1
Peter 1:11 Peter, speaking of the Old Testament prophets, says that they
spake by ‘The Spirit of Christ’. Paul in Romans 15, after having spoken in
verse 8 of the Lord’s earthly ministry, goes on to say of himself, ‘That I
should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles’ (verse 16). In 2
Timothy 1:8 Paul says to Timothy, ‘Be not thou therefore ashamed of the
testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner’. Does it not therefore appear
to you that the following facts emerge clearly from these quotations?
A -- This is certainly a most important aspect of the subject and one that has never struck me before. It would appear from what you have pointed out that whether it be the words of Christ recorded in the Gospels, or the words of those sent by Him recorded in the Epistles, we are to see that both go back to God Himself, the ‘Sender’, for their authority. This, coupled with the words of John 15:26, ‘When the Comforter is come, whom I Will Send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth’, and John 16:13,14 ‘He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you’, certainly makes me feel the need to reconsider my attitude to the Epistles.
B -- Dear friend, if you just regard both Gospels and Epistles as being of equal authority and of equal inspiration, you will have the key to much blessing and light. Remember 2 Timothy 3:16.
A -- What is that?
B -- Well, you search and see for yourself, and ponder it well till we meet next time.
A -- I am afraid I am not clear as to the real results of our conversation on the equal authority and inspiration of both the Gospels and Epistles.
B -- What is your particular trouble?
A -- Well, seeing that I had agreed that the Epistles were of equal authority with the Gospels, I felt that I must obey them all, and practise them all, but this I find to be impossible.
B -- Why?
A -- They do not speak alike. For instance, just one or two features at random -- there are so many that I am bewildered. The Sermon on the Mount says, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’, yet Ephesians 1:3 tells me that I am blessed in ‘heavenly places’. Mark 16:17 says that ‘these signs shall follow’ the preaching of the gospel, yet I find Paul saddened because Epaphroditus was sick; why did he not heal him as he did others? Then this made me say, ‘Why have we not all the miraculous gifts which the church at Corinth had?’
Then I find during the period of the Acts of the Apostles that there were two baptisms, one in water and one in spirit, whereas in Ephesians 4:5 I find that ‘there is one baptism’. Which one is it? and why only one? Then I used to believe that the church was the Bride, Peter speaks of the redeemed as being a holy nation and a royal priesthood, while Paul in Ephesians and Colossians says the church is the Body.
Then again I used to believe that we ought to keep the sabbath day, yet I find in Colossians 2:16, ‘Let no man judge you with regard to the sabbath day’, and in Galatians 4:10,11, ‘Ye observe days ... I am afraid of you’. Matthew 19:16-20 (the very words of Christ Himself mark you) teaches that eternal life may be had by keeping the ten commandments, yet Galatians 3:21 teaches that life cannot come by works, but only by faith.
B -- What is the solution, do you think? Shall we conclude that the four Gospels are truth and the Epistles untrue?
A -- No, for we have seen that John 16:12 -14 looks forward to the Epistles (see pp. 43,44), and that the Epistles are inspired equally with the Gospels (see p. 47).
B -- The solution then must be found in some other feature. Let us look once more at John 16:12 -14. It is evident that in the Epistles we must expect something deeper and more advanced than we find in the Gospels, for the Lord said, ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’. It is also evident that whatever the difference may be, it will not take away, but rather add to, the glory of Christ, for concerning that added revelation the Lord said of the Spirit, ‘He shall glorify Me’.
A -- But what puzzles me is, how can both Gospels and Epistles be true when they say such opposite things?
B -- The answer is fairly simple. It is a matter of recognizing different dispensations.
A -- What do you mean by dispensations?
B -- Let us find our answer in John’s Gospel again. This time turn to chapter 1:17,18:
In these verses two dispensations are referred to, the one of law, the other of grace. The one revealing God as Law -giver and King, the other as Father. You yourself have already recognized the difference between these two dispensations, for being a Christian you do not feel called upon to put into practice all that Moses taught under the law, even though you believe the law to be as fully inspired as the Gospels and Epistles. The same principle obtains between the various parts of the New Testament.
It is a fruitful cause of much error and confusion to fail to see that the dispensational dealings of God with Israel during the time of the Lord’s earthly ministry differ from His dealings with both Israel and the Gentiles since Christ ascended into heaven.
A -- Do you mean to say that Christ came to Israel, and did not come to set up his Church?
B -- We must not leave our real subjects for details, but I will just say that in Matthew 15:24 the words of Christ Himself will answer you:
Let us settle one thing at a time. There are evidently different dispensational dealings revealed in the Scriptures, and when once these differences are duly observed difficulties vanish and truth becomes clear. I leave you with another verse taken from 2 Timothy. This time it is 2 Timothy 2:15:
A -- I should be glad if you would give me a little indication of the results of ‘rightly dividing the Word of truth’, for I rather fear it simply means cutting the Bible to pieces with no advantage when it is done.
B -- Let me draw your attention to some instances of a wrong division before looking at the other side.
The translators of the A.V. attempted to divide the subject matter, and gave notes at the heading of the chapters. Over Isaiah 19 they say, ‘God’s heavy judgment upon Jerusalem’, but over chapter 30, they say, ‘God’s mercies towards His Church’. Or again, over Isaiah 59 they write, ‘The sins of the Jews’, but over 60 ‘The glory of the Church’. When it is a case of judgment the literal meaning is retained, but when it is a case of blessing ‘the Church’ is intruded. We will not waste time tabulating error however; let us seek the ‘Word of truth’.
We have already seen that all Scripture is inspired, but that all Scripture does not speak (1) to the same people, (2) at the same time, and (3) with the same message. All Scripture is For us, but all Scripture is not About us. To discover that part of Scripture which is For us, About us, and To us we must ‘rightly divide the Word of truth’. The people addressed in the Bible are divided into three companies, ‘The Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church of God’ (1 Cor. 10:32). Whenever you open your Bible therefore, seek at once to discover which of these three classes is addressed.
A -- How can I do this? It seems that I should have to conduct a very careful inquiry involving much time and ability. Cannot I take the Bible at its face value to mean just what it says?
B -- If only you would, your difficulties would vanish. I would say to you, ‘Read the envelope before you read the letter’.
A -- Explain your meaning.
B -- Well, look at the envelope of Isaiah’s prophecy (chapter 1, verse 1) and tell me whether it is addressed to Jew, Gentile or Church.
A -- (Turns to the passage) It says that it is concerning ‘Judah and Jerusalem’.
B -- Well, that answers the question for you there easily enough. Accept it as ‘meaning just what it says’. Now look at the ‘envelope’ of James’s epistle.
A -- (Turning to the epistle) It is addressed to ‘The twelve tribes which are scattered abroad’.
B -- Again you have your answer, and you will find that somewhere in every book of the Bible, there will be these identifying marks, enabling you to ‘rightly divide’ the Word as belonging either to Jew, Gentile or Church of God.
A -- Is there any other important way in which the Word should be ‘rightly divided’?
B -- Yes. Time periods enter in very largely. For example, Matthew 10:5,6 says:
If this passage is not to be divided at all, as some would affirm, there never should have been a single Gentile saved, or even evangelized. Further, if we do not rightly divide the Word, we shall have Christ contradicting Himself, saying in chapter 10 ‘Go not’, and in 28 ‘Go Ye’.
Again, we must keep distinct the various callings that are indicated in the Word. The Kingdom must not be confounded with the Church. The Kingdom is yet to come, for the prayer is ‘Thy Kingdom come’, and it relates to the earth as under the power and pattern of heaven, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. The Church is an elect company called out from the world during the present time. Christ is never called the ‘King’ of the Church. Then again, the various ‘gospels’ need carefully dividing.
A -- Surely you do not mean me to understand that there is more than one gospel?
B -- No, I do not, not in the sense that you mean. There is but one gospel and one way of salvation, nevertheless, there are ‘gospels’ in the Scriptures that are not all alike. For example, ‘The gospel of the Kingdom’ is defined for us in Mark 1:15:
The twelve apostles went out and preached this gospel (Matt. 10), yet Peter reveals that he did not know at the time that the Lord Jesus was to die and rise again (16:21 -23). Surely the ‘gospel of the grace of God’ could not be preached without Christ’s death and resurrection being either expressed or acknowledged! In Revelation 14:6 we have the ‘everlasting gospel’. Read its terms for yourself. There is no reference to redemption or to Christ, just ‘Fear God the Creator’. This again is no gospel for the present time.
Then again we read in some Scriptures of a ‘mystery’, which had been hidden by God, and revealed at a definite period (see Eph. 3 and Col. 1). We must be careful not to read into earlier Scriptures therefore the truth revealed in later ones. This applies to the epistles of Paul as a whole. While all his epistles are necessary for the Church, we shall find upon examination that his ministry needs rightly dividing, and that not only is it as a whole distinct and independent, but that within itself it divides into two distinct sections. But I think you have had enough for the time being. Just open your Bible and make a few tests. Consider
A -- I should like to know a little more fully what you meant by saying that while Paul’s epistles as a whole are distinct from the rest of Scripture, yet they themselves need rightly dividing.
B -- I am glad this important matter has arrested your attention, and will do all I can to make the position clear.
We must look at the subject first to see that Paul’s ministry is something quite distinct from that of any other apostle, and then, having that ministry before us, realize that it is divided into two clear sections. This is not merely interesting -- it is vital to the full understanding of God’s purpose and our place therein.
First of all, Paul was not one of the twelve.
A -- How do you prove that?
B -- In Matthew 10:2 -4 the names of the twelve are given, and Paul is not among the number.
A -- No, but I have been given to understand that when Judas fell and left the number, Paul was divinely chosen to take his place, the appointment of Matthias (Acts 1) being a hasty attempt on the part of the apostles, and done erroneously.
B -- There are a good many of the actions of the apostles which certain
teachers today call ‘apostolic mistakes’, but which are not so called in the
Scriptures. Look at the state of affairs at the time of the appointing of
A -- Would not the apostle Paul have filled that place?
B -- No, there was one qualification which Paul did not possess.
A -- What was that?
B -- He had never been associated with Christ and the eleven from the beginning.
A -- But was that essential?
B -- Listen to Peter:
This limited the number of possible candidates to two, and as the Lord had done many times during Israel’s history, He did again; He used the lot to convey His choice.
Then came Pentecost.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5 -8 gives the names of several witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, viz. Cephas, the twelve, five hundred brethren, James, all the apostles, and last of all Paul himself. This enumeration places Paul outside the twelve.
A -- Do you mean then that there is another order of apostleship outside that of the twelve?
B -- Look at Ephesians 4:8-11:
‘When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men ... And He gave some, apostles’.
The ‘twelve’ were appointed while Christ was on earth, but here is an order of apostles appointed ‘When He Ascended’.
A -- What is there distinctive about Paul’s apostleship then?
B -- Let the apostle himself tell us:
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. And therefore, while all Scripture is profitable, yet, before we concern ourselves too much with the sin of Israel, or the great tribulation and other equally important themes, it is incumbent upon us to give due place to the message of the risen Christ, which He has sent to us through Paul the apostle to the Gentiles.
Remember it is not Paul and Paul’s ideas that we want. It is still Christ Who speaks, the difference being that in the Gospels He speaks on earth, while in the Epistles He speaks from heaven. The human instruments of the earthly ministry were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The human instruments of the heavenly ministry are Peter, Paul, James, John, Jude, and of these Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles.
A -- I can certainly appreciate better your strong emphasis upon the claims of Paul, and now I see that in his epistles it is not Paul’s opinion I have but still the words of Christ, I feel that I have possibly neglected a most important part of Holy Scripture.
B -- We will not go further just now. Give the epistles of Paul a careful reading, and when we meet again you will be the better able to enter into the question of Paul’s twofold ministry.
A -- When you were speaking of the ministry of the apostle Paul on the last occasion, I wanted to ask some further questions as to the appointment of Matthias.
B -- I shall be glad if I can help in any way, what is your difficulty?
A -- Well, there are quite a number of great and good men, leaders in their several spheres, who believe that Peter made a mistake in Acts 1 as to the appointing of Matthias, and that he should have waited for the call and commission of Paul. In this you differ, and you will pardon me so saying, you have no such authority as those to whom I refer.
B -- As to the personal side it stands as follows. Certain great and good men, leaders in different sects of Christendom (and therefore practically charging each other with error on sectarian points) charge other, equally great and good men, leaders in a divinely constituted unity, with intruding the reasonings of the flesh into the purposes of God. You will see therefore that we may omit all reference to the character of those for or against, and turn afresh to the Word to ‘search and see’. In Acts 1:15,16, we read:
A -- How are we sure that Peter was using this Psalm aright?
B -- There are two reasons.
(1) In John 13, at the last supper just before Judas betrayed the Lord, Christ said:
This clearly proves that Psalm 41 speaks of Judas, and moreover this passage very solemnly declares that the disciples were forewarned, and were shown the awful responsibility of receiving ‘whomsoever’ the Lord saw fit to send. This solemn utterance was only separated from Acts 1 by a few weeks.
(2) The second reason is found in Luke 24:44:
A -- These are, certainly, weighty arguments in favour of your interpretation.
B -- I have not finished yet. After making this statement concerning Himself, Luke 24:45 -48 continues:
You will see that not only did these men have an opened Bible during that wonderful forty days (Acts 1:3), but they had an opened understandingalso. When Peter said ‘This Scripture must needs have been fulfilled’, he was echoing the words of Luke 24:26 and 46, where ‘must needs’ is translated ‘ought’, and ‘behoved’.
A -- I begin to realize what a great responsibility rests upon those men, who, so many centuries after the event, with so much tradition between themselves and the beginning, have so lightly presumed to be the critics of Peter, James and John.
B -- So you may. Yet there is more. These same correctors of the apostles tell us that Peter limited God to the two men Joseph and Matthias. Now let us see whether this is so. Peter’s words are:
A -- What was Peter’s authority for making this stipulation?
B -- The Lord’s own words in John 15:26,27:
This is confirmed by Luke’s statement in Luke 1:2.
A -- This stipulation would rule out the apostle Paul then!
B -- Yes, and it testifies against all those who seek to place Paul among the twelve, for his knowledge of Christ did not commence until after the resurrection. Let us briefly indicate one or two further points in favour of Peter’s action.
Scripture declares of Matthias, ‘He was numbered with the eleven’ (Acts 1:26). Our ‘great and good’ friends declare he was not. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:5, ‘He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve’. So Paul himself believed that Matthias was one of the ‘twelve’. Our friends must therefore set about correcting Paul also. Then, further, when Matthias had been appointed, nothing further is recorded until the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Do these great and good leaders dare to teach that the Spirit of God also needed a little of their correction! for exactly the same words ‘with the eleven’ occur after as before Pentecost (Acts 2:14).
These inspired men suffered persecution and even death for their testimony, yet never once is there the slightest indication that they had made a mistake. Shall Peter be allowed to strike Ananias and Sapphira dead for ‘lying to the Holy Ghost’, and shall Peter himself perpetuate a fraud, remain unrepentant and indifferent to his colossal blunder, and not come forward at the appointment of Saul of Tarsus to make amends? One passage of Scripture sums up the attitude of mind of all those who by reason of their undispensational views are continually finding fault with the apostles and their ministry:
A -- Will you help me to understand what you mean by the ‘Twofold ministry of Paul’?
B -- Yes, most willingly, for the due appreciation of Paul’s later ministry is an entrance into great blessing. You are already acquainted with the conversion and commission of Paul as given in Acts 9, and so we will pass on to the critical moment in his ministry as given in Acts 20:17-38. Paul addresses the elders of the church at Ephesus in a strange way:
A -- It sounds very much like a farewell sermon.
B -- That is exactly what it is, for the apostle says:
A -- What had happened to make the apostle so confident about this?
B -- Listen:
A -- Does Paul mean that the bonds and afflictions were an essential part of the ministry he desired to finish?
B -- Yes. The passage before us points in that direction, and other passages confirm it. Turn to Acts 26, where the apostle makes his statement before Agrippa. After speaking of the appearance of the Lord to him on the road to Damascus, Paul says that the Lord answered him:
Here is a twofold ministry. The one, a testimony of the things which he had seen (see 22:14,15), the other, a testimony of those things which the Lord promised He would at some future date reveal to the apostle.
A -- I see this plainly enough, but I fail to see what difference it can make to us.
B -- Well, turn to Acts 28:17 -31. There the chief of the Jews came to Paul’s lodging and for a whole day the apostle testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, but they would not accept the testimony. ‘One word’ said the apostle, is fulfilled in you, that word being Isaiah 6:10, when blindness settled down upon the people of Israel.
All through the Acts Israel are still a people before God. Miracles are everywhere the accompaniment and confirmation of the apostles’ witness, but at this point Israel pass off the scene and miracles cease. ‘The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles’ (28:28). A new dispensation begins, and Paul the prisoner becomes the vessel through whom hitherto unrevealed blessings to the Gentiles are for the first time made known.
A -- How do you prove that?
B -- There is a set of epistles known by some as ‘The Prison Epistles’, because in them the apostle alludes to his bonds or imprisonment.
A -- What are the names of these epistles?
B -- They are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and 2 Timothy. There the references to the prison are vitally connected with the apostle’s new ministry, as can be seen by turning to Ephesians:
Here is a prisoner, ‘for you Gentiles’. Here is a dispensation, ‘the grace of God which is given me to you -ward’. Here is a mystery, revealed for the first time. For the ‘mystery of the gospel’ the apostle was an ‘ambassador in bonds’ (Eph. 6:19,20). This new dispensation of the Mystery was for the church which is His Body (Col. 1:24 -26). This second ministry of the apostle fulfilled his ardent desires expressed in Acts 20:24:
A -- I have been warned by some to avoid both you and your teaching because you do not, as did the early church, ‘continue stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine’ (Acts 2:42).
B -- This is certainly a serious charge, but it strikes me as being somewhat biased, for these very same teachers who are now so zealous for the ‘apostles’ doctrine’ did not spare these same apostles over the appointment of Matthias.
A -- That is so, but possibly this is the exception that proves the rule.
B -- Let us ‘search and see’. After forty days’ instruction from the risen Christ, with special emphasis upon the teaching of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms concerning the Lord Himself, and moreover with the inspired statement that these same apostles Understood these same Scriptures (Luke 24:45), the ‘apostles’ doctrine’ is expressed in the question which was the outcome of such teaching and such understanding:
This restoration of the kingdom to Israel we accept as an integral part of the ‘apostles’ doctrine’: those who have the temerity to warn you as to our attitude, have also the audacity to teach that this question, in spite of its context, is the result of Jewish prejudice, and that the apostles should, instead, have been found asking about the church!
A -- But may it not be that after the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost the scales would fall from their eyes?
B -- Yes, it may, but the question for us is, Did they alter their doctrine, and announce teaching concerning the church?
A -- Yes, I believe they did, for it is universally accepted that the church began at Pentecost.
B -- I will not quarrel with your word ‘universally’, but would rather direct you to the attitude of Paul when opposed by sheer numbers (2 Tim. 1:12-15). As to the change of doctrine which takes place in Acts 2, that I believe is a tradition foisted upon an undiscerning people. Let us ‘search and see’.
In Acts 2, Peter declares that ‘Pentecost’ is the fulfilment of that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, and he has no reason, by any supposed change of doctrine, to hesitate in quoting the words:
A -- Perhaps Peter felt that he ought not to break off in the middle of a quotation.
B -- Not so. The same Spirit who had just endued Peter anointed also the Lord, and at the opening of His ministry He did stop half -way through a quotation because of dispensational reasons. See Isaiah 61:1-4, and note Luke 4:18 -20. Peter expected the restoration of the kingdom, and Joel was rightly interpreted. The kingdom is connected with the great and notable day of the Lord, but the church is not. Here again is another item of the apostles’ doctrine which I believe, but which your friends do not.
Yet further, Peter declares the resurrection of Christ to be with the object that He should sit upon the throne of His father David (Acts 2:30-33), whereas tradition would once more substitute the church.
A -- This one feature however is not all that the apostles taught.
B -- No, but it is the foundation of all that follows. For example, Is it ‘church truth’ to teach baptism for the remission of sins? Yet this is a part of the apostles’ doctrine. Your friends, who are so zealous for the truth, do they possess the Holy Spirit as did these believers in Acts 2? Do they, further, sell their possessions and have all things common? Would they, if it were still possible, continue stedfastly not only in the apostles’ doctrine but also in the temple (Acts 2:46), even though the epistle to the Hebrews has since been given?
Tell me wherein do these friends of yours agree with the doctrine of the apostles? Is it too harsh to say that they hold a creed of what they imagine the apostles taught, or what they think they ought to have taught? Dear friend, ‘prove all things’, ‘search and see’, say in the language of the Psalmist
A -- I believe that it might be true to say that, whilst outwardly the church of the One Body did not begin at Pentecost, potentially it did.
B -- To give a concrete illustration, you would say that the fact that there were no Gentiles in the assembly on the day of Pentecost was more by accident than of purpose.
A -- I can hardly say that, for there were multitudes of Gentiles addressed by the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
B -- Is that so? I was under the impression that none but Israelites were spoken to.
A -- You have many times told me to ‘search and see’, so I suggest you take a dose of your own prescription.
B -- Most readily. I have nothing to lose but error, and nothing to gain but truth by so doing. Where do you propose we start?
A -- At Acts 2:5-11, for there we read:
Surely Parthians, dwellers in Egypt, strangers of Rome, indicate Gentiles!
B -- Not so fast. In verse 5, which you read, we have stated that there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. Therefore the long geographical list that follows gives the country of origin of these Jews, who had come up to Jerusalem to keep the feast of Pentecost according to the law. ‘Strangers of Rome’ is literally ‘sojourning Romans’, and they were all either ‘Jews or proselytes’. Further, do you notice how the apostle Peter addresses these so -called ‘Gentiles’ of yours?
These were the dispersion, Israelites who had been born in foreign lands, many of them Roman citizens as was Saul of Tarsus, some of them proselytes, but none of them Gentiles.
A -- Well supposing that is so, does it follow that the saints gathered at Pentecost would not have had the greatest joy in receiving a believing Gentile into their company?
B -- Such is the tradition, but Acts 10 will give us the truth:
Look at the man’s credentials. He was devout, he feared God, his household did the same, he gave alms, he prayed to God continually. Now tell me, would that man have been received by the assembly on the day of Pentecost?
A -- Most assuredly he would.
B -- Well, how do you account for Peter’s attitude toward him?
By his own confession Peter would not have hesitated to have classed Cornelius the devout, with the swine and the creeping things which he saw in the net. Is That the Unity of the Spirit!
A -- What do you intend me to understand then, that Peter had been wrong all along?
B -- By no means. Peter was right all along. He had no idea such as that ‘the church began at Pentecost’, and he therefore prosecuted the commission given to him to urge his own people Israel to repentance. The thought of such an association with a Gentile as is implied in the idea of the church was totally foreign to the ‘apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship’. It is your friends who have departed from the apostles’ doctrine, and have made Scripture void by their traditions.
A -- Why then should Peter have made the change in Acts 10?
B -- Because in Acts 9 the apostle Paul had been called and appointed as the messenger of the risen Christ to the Gentiles, thereby introducing a change of dispensation. This was followed by the warning vision to Peter and by the confession:
a pointless remark if the church began at Pentecost.
A -- In talking over the question of membership of the One Body with other believers, one of them suggested the possibility of two dispensations running together at the same time. This I said was absurd, but thought I would ask you about it.
B -- What makes you think it absurd?
A -- Well, you might as well say that April and May can run together as to say that two dispensations can run at the same time.
B -- I wonder whether your difficulty arises out of the meaning of the word ‘dispensation’. Do you take the word to indicate a period of time?
A -- Yes, just the same as an age.
B -- That is where you are mistaken. Even an age indicates something more than a period of time, although the time sense is strong, but a dispensation is much further removed from a time sense than an age. Turn to Luke 16 and let us consider the first occurrence of the word in the New Testament.
A -- (Reading the first few verses). I see something here about a rich man and a steward, and the necessity to render an account of his stewardship, but I have not come across the word ‘dispensation’ yet.
B -- The word translated ‘stewardship’ is exactly the same as that rendered ‘dispensation’ in 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2,9 (R.V.); Colossians 1:25, and can be rendered in all cases by the word ‘administration’. The Greek word is oikonomia, and appears in English as economy, which in its primary sense refers to administration either in politics or in domestic affairs.
Turn now to Galatians 2:7,9. There you have Peter and Paul. The leaders at Jerusalem recognized that Paul had been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, and that Peter had been entrusted with the gospel of the circumcision, and that one was right in going to the heathen and the other equally right in limiting himself to the circumcision. So that it appears in this case that two stewardships connected with two sets of good news, addressed to two divisions of the human race, were in operation at one and the same time.
A -- If that is the meaning of the word dispensation, then I must admit the possibility.
B -- When God gave the law of Sinai to Israel, that nation was under the dispensation of law. The nations of the earth were under the dispensation of conscience and creation; that is another illustration of the same principle. (See Rom. 1:18 to 2:29; Acts 17:25 -28; 14:16,17).
A -- If I admit the possibility of two dispensations running together, I shall have to reconsider another item about which I have expressed myself rather strongly.
B -- What is that, if I may ask?
A -- It is a question of the membership of the church of the One Body, but I think I will leave that for another time.
B -- By all means, only let your love for truth outweigh any feeling you may have in the matter. Better to confess error a thousand times than through foolish pride entertain untruth to one’s own spiritual hurt.
A -- Thanks for your help. The greatest difficulty we seem to have is the necessity to unlearn.
A -- I believe you teach that the church of the One Body did not come into being until after Acts 28?
B -- To be exact, I believe that the church of the One Body did not come into being until after the all -day conference recorded in Acts 28:23 - 28, but during the two whole years of Paul’s detention at Rome, when the three ‘in prison epistles’ were written.
A -- Does that mean that membership of this church depends upon Paul’s imprisonment? or upon the acceptance of some particular truth? If that is what you teach I certainly cannot bring myself to believe it.
B -- If you turn to the opening chapter of Ephesians you will find that every single member of the One Body is an elected person, having been ‘chosen in Christ before the foundation (or preferably "overthrow") of the world’.
So that in the first instance membership of this company depends neither upon Paul’s imprisonment nor upon the acceptance of the truth, but solely upon the purpose and will of God. Further, I think you must make a distinction between salvation and position.
A -- Just what do you mean by that?
B -- The basis of salvation for the church of the One Body was laid before Acts 28, and is found in the epistle to the Romans, particularly in chapters 5 to 8, but although all believers both pre - and post -Acts are saved with the same salvation, it does not follow that they are all destined for the same position. During Paul’s earlier ministry the position of the Gentile believer could be expressed by the words, ‘Blessed with faithful Abraham’. After Acts 28 the name of Abraham never occurs in Paul’s writings. The believer after that, as a member of the One Body, while still saved with the same salvation as Abraham (Rom. 4; Gal. 3), is chosen to a different destiny which can only be expressed by the words, ‘With Christ in the heavenly places, far above all principality’, etc.
Then, further, we have no warrant to teach that every believer at the present day is necessarily a member of the church of the One Body. The great bulk of Christians are ignorant of the revelation of the Mystery. They do not believe the truth for which the apostle suffered, they do not entertain its hope, they do not endure anything for its doctrine. In all dispensations it has been true, ‘faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’.
A -- Yet this seems to make acceptance of the truth the basis of membership.
B -- Scripture says, ‘It pleased God through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe’, and at the same time says, ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed’. You might just as well bring your objections against these Scriptures as against the teaching concerning the One Body. Every member of this church will hear and believe the truth, yet every member is, nevertheless, as much ‘ordained’ to that membership as were those who were ‘ordained to eternal life’.
A -- You mean, then, that seeing it is within the bounds of possibility that two dispensations may run together at the same time, it also is a possibility that all Christians are not necessarily members of one elect company and that there are ‘kingdom’ believers today as well as ‘church’ believers, and that the church of the One Body may be termed ‘An election within an election’.
B -- Yes, and further, instead of adopting the attitude that Christians who do not see with us in these things must necessarily be wrong, we believe that our responsibility ends with the presentation of the truth, and that according to whether the one who hears has been chosen to membership of the One Body or not, so will his response be.
A -- That explanation accounts for the very obvious difference that I found between your attitude toward differing believers and their attitude toward you. The spirit of condemnation and bitterness would certainly not be so manifest if all Christians saw the truth from that standpoint. I do not pretend to accept your teaching yet, but I do most certainly appreciate the spirit that it produces.
B -- Think the subject over, and let us talk it over again.
A -- I believe you teach that the sphere of blessing peculiar to the church of the One Body, viz., ‘heavenly places’, is something distinct.
B -- Yes, that is so. I believe we can truthfully say that it is ‘far above all’.
A -- Well, I have been told by those who know, that precisely the same Greek word that is used in Ephesians 1:3 is used in Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians and Hebrews, and therefore that you have been carried away by zeal that is not according to knowledge in teaching that the heavenly places of Ephesians indicate a position distinct from, and superior to, that of the church as revealed in the Gospels or Hebrews.
B -- We will not be too much concerned about the opinions of those ‘who know’, for Galatians 2 reveals that such at times have to be set aside. We are, however, concerned about the truth, and therefore we will ‘search and see’.
A -- The word is, I believe, epouranios.
B -- Yes, it is a compound word made up of epi, meaning over, above, or upon, and ouranos, meaning heaven.
A -- It is used in Matthew 18:35 in the phrase, ‘My heavenly Father’ (though some texts read ouranios) and in John 3:12 of ‘heavenly things’. In 1 Corinthians 15:40,48 and 49 it is used five times, where Paul speaks of ‘celestial bodies’ and their glory, and of some who are ‘heavenly’ and who shall ‘bear the image of the heavenly’.
B -- It does my heart good to see this earnest search, and to listen to this presentation of the occurrences of the word. The concordance can be one of your greatest servants, but you must not think that a mere accumulation of texts of itself constitutes an argument. I should like to hear what you learn from these passages that makes the teaching advanced concerning the One Body to be untenable
A -- Well, you have very definitely taught two things, viz.:
Now seeing that the Hebrews were partakers of a heavenly calling, and looked for a heavenly Jerusalem, it seems as though your distinction falls to the ground.
B -- Let us see. My contention is that the heavenly places of Ephesians are unique; yours is that they are one and the same with those of Hebrews. Tell me, did those Hebrews, who had tasted of the heavenly gift and who were in danger of falling away, ascend up to heaven in order to taste it?
A -- Certainly not, they tasted the gift which had been sent down from heaven.
B -- Will the heavenly Jerusalem remain where it is now, in heaven?
A -- Well, now you mention it, I suppose not.
B -- We will have no suppositions; please read Revelation 21:10.
A -- (Reads). ‘He ... showed me ... the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God’.
B -- These two passages must therefore decide the ‘heavenly calling’ of Hebrews 3, and do not prove that such calling is the same as that of Ephesians.
A -- Why do you say then that the same word when used in Ephesians means ‘up in heaven’, whereas when it is used in Hebrews you are careful to draw attention to the fact that it refers to things that come down ‘out of heaven’?
B -- The reason is this. First the construction of the phrase ‘in heavenly places’ is peculiar to Ephesians. While epouranios occurs elsewhere, en tois epouraniois occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.
The ‘heavenly’ calling, gift, country, etc., of Hebrews gives us the character of the calling, gift, etc., but does not give its locality. Ephesians tells us that the character of its blessings are ‘spiritual’, not ‘heavenly’, and the sphere of its enjoyment is not ‘heavenly’, but ‘In heavenly places’. These heavenly places are definitely declared to be
These spiritual wickednesses are certainly not ‘heavenly’ in character, although for the time they occupy ‘heavenly places’.
I think you will see that you must not only collect Scripture references, but you must seek their meaning. Use the concordance by all means, but use it with understanding. None of the passages you have quoted makes the slightest difference to the teaching of Ephesians, for not one passage outside the five occurrences in Ephesians uses the word in the sense of locality, and as that was our contention you have spent your effort in beating the air.
A -- Will you explain Hebrews 9:23,24? Why is first ouranoi, then epourania, then ouranos used?
B -- ‘Things in the heavens’, Ta ... en tois ouranois, is but another way of expressing ‘heavenly things’, ta epourania. Heaven, ouranos, must be viewed as comprehending the whole. It is used of the over-arching expanse above the earth, even the atmosphere in which the ‘birds of heaven’ fly, and the ‘heaven of heavens’ which is the dwelling place of God. Think of these expressions as you do the word ‘church’. There are many different called - out companies that are composed under the generic word ‘church’.
Or again, think of the word kingdom. There are many kingdoms. You will think of other examples. Ouranos embraces the whole, from the atmosphere in which birds can fly to the position where principalities and angels cannot enter. Within this all -inclusive sphere are the epourania, and they too comprise spheres and positions that range from the highest pinnacle of exaltation to the gifts of the Spirit abused by men on earth. Did we but know all that there is to know about these things, we should doubtless realize the more the fitness of the expressions in Hebrews 9:23,24. As it is, however, the interchange of words does not alter in the slightest the teaching already given concerning the glorious calling of the church of the One Body.
A -- I believe you make a distinction between ‘the day of the Lord’ and ‘the day of God’?
B -- Yes, I believe such a distinction is found in the Word of truth which I am called upon to divide aright.
A -- But don’t you think you can carry the idea to excess, for surely, after all, the ‘Lord is God’, and you are probably straining the meaning of the Scriptures, as I fear you do in many other of your fine distinctions.
B -- Well, one thing at a time. What particular passage have you in mind?
A -- 2 Peter 3:10-12.
B -- Perhaps you will read it.
A -- (Reads).
Now surely you do not maintain that there will be two separate occasions when the heavens shall be dissolved in fire and the elements shall melt with a fervent heat?
B -- No, I have never taught such a thing. I certainly believe these two references deal with one and the same event.
A -- Well then, out of your own mouth you condemn yourself, for if these two passages refer to the same event, the day of the Lord and the day of God are the same, and your so -called ‘rightly dividing’ would be better called ‘hair splitting’.
B -- Had we better not be sure that we have understood the double reference first? Here is the Revised Version: perhaps if you had consulted that your criticism might have been spared. Please read the passage again.
A -- (Reads from the R.V.).
What difference is there? I see none, ‘melt’ is the same as ‘dissolve’, and only makes the two references the more alike.
B -- Well, I would much rather you discovered the difference for yourself. Many problems that unsettle the children of God are the result of inability to ‘read and see’ for themselves. Look again. I will help you so far as to ask a question. Does it say in the A.V. that this great fire takes place ‘in’ the day of the Lord and ‘in’ the day of God?
A -- (Reading from A.V.).
B -- Now read the same passages again in the R.V.:
A -- I see it. How sorry I am that I have spoken so rudely!
B -- Let that pass. You see the difference now? The fire that dissolves the elements and the heavens takes place In the day of the Lord as to time, and takes place By Reason Of the character and necessity of the day of God for which the day of the Lord is a preparation. The book of the Revelation is occupied largely with the day of the Lord, and in chapter 20 we have the lake of fire which destroys all things that offend, and ushers in the new heavens and new earth of chapter 21.
Just as an additional note, there is one further item wherein the record concerning the day of the Lord indicates a difference from that of the day of God. You will observe in the R.V. margin of 2 Peter 3:10 that the best manuscripts read ‘discovered’ instead of ‘burned up’. The actual burning takes place after the close of the millennium.
A -- I feel that a very weak point in this teaching is the lack of definite detail with reference to what you feel is the hope of the Church.
B -- What do you consider to be ‘definite detail’ in the teaching of those from whom you differ?
A -- Well there are those who believe 1 Thessalonians 4 sums up their hope, and there we find such details as:
Added to this we have in chapter 1:10 the fact that the hope of the Church was expressed in the words, ‘to wait for His Son from heaven’. In 2:19 we learn that the believer’s reward for faithful service is connected with this same coming, and in 3:13 and 5:23 that the goal before God is that our heart may be established unblameable in holiness before the Father at the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
B -- Yes, you certainly have a wealth of detail in the epistle as to the coming of the Lord, but perhaps I interrupt.
A -- I was going on to refer to Matthew 24. There the disciples ask, ‘What shall be the sign of thy coming?’ The Lord gives wondrous details dealing with:
Here again is detail and definition.
B -- And your objection to this particular teaching is ... ?
A -- That there is no detail, but everything is vague. We have been robbed of 1 Thessalonians 4 and have been given nothing in its place.
B -- First as to 1 Thessalonians 4. It is not possible to rob any child of God of the teaching of Scripture. What has been done is to show that 1 Thessalonians 4 is not the hope of the church of the One Body. Each one must decide as to what is their calling. The writer cannot. Attention has certainly been drawn to one or two facts which should be weighed over by every seeker after truth. One is that the word ‘coming’, which is parousiain 1 Thessalonians 4:15 and Matthew 24 is never used of the Lord’s Coming in the prison epistles. We have also drawn attention to the fact that the archangel of 1 Thessalonians 4 is Michael, and this ‘prince’ stands for Israel. Also that when he stands up there will be a resurrection and an unprecedented tribulation, which links 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Matthew 24 and Daniel 12 together. The apostle Paul at the very end of Acts, after having written 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews and Romans, still declares that he was bound ‘for the hope of Israel’ (Acts 28:20).
As to the ‘vagueness’ of the teaching concerning the hope before the church of the One Body, there is no vagueness in Colossians 3:4 and Titus 2:13 as to Who constitutes the hope. In the one case He is described as ‘Christ Who is our life’, and in the other ‘Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’. Then there is no vagueness as to what we look for. The same two passages say:
Now turn if you will to Ephesians 1 and read verses 15 to 18.
A -- (Does so). What do you wish me to notice here?
B -- Does Paul teach the saints much detail here as to their hope?
A -- No, I cannot say he does.
B -- Does he teach them anything at all?
A -- Just what do you mean?
B -- Does he not rather say, I have come to the hour when my teachingends, and, when the Lord’s teaching must begin? Paul instead of going into details concerning the hope prays that these believers may themselves receive from God a spirit of wisdom and revelation ... that they may know what is the hope of His calling. Must not your charge of lack of detail be laid to the door of the apostle himself, nay, to the very inspired Word of God? Nevertheless, there is far more detail enshrined in this passage than may at first appear.
First, it is not quite certain whether Paul intends us to understand ‘the knowledge of Him’, Christ, or ‘the knowledge of it’, the Mystery, ‘the hope of His calling’, God, or ‘the hope of its calling’, the Mystery. Really there is no final distinction, for Christ sums up the mystery of God. The apostle by this passage reveals the key to full knowledge. It is this. As you grow in knowledge of the ascended Christ and the related Mystery, so you will understand the nature, sphere, character, glory and blessedness of your hope. Learn what Christ’s present position is as related to the One Body, and you learn where its hope is situated. You must also realize the essential difference between 1 Thessalonians 4 and Colossians 3:4, ‘in the air’ and ‘in glory’.
Do not go away with the false notion that those who seek to ‘live ... looking for the blessed hope’ feel that in exchanging the words ‘in the air’ for ‘in glory’ they have exchanged something real for something vague. Do not think that ‘to be manifested with Him in glory’ is less blessed than to be ‘for ever with the Lord’. The so -called ‘vagueness’ is entirely in harmony with the character of the Mystery. If you believe that you have any part or lot in the church of the One Body I cannot do more or better than commend you to pray the prayer of Ephesians 1:15 -23.
A -- I appreciate the fact that the word parousia, which is translated ‘coming’ many times in the New Testament, is confined to the earlier epistles of Paul, James, Peter, 1 John and Matthew, but I feel that there is a great deal of teaching to be gathered by noticing the different titles of the Lord that are associated with it.
B -- You think that possibly the titles will indicate that the parousiacoming may be the hope of the One Body as well?
A -- I do rather, for you will remember that in 1 Thessalonians 4 we do not read ‘the Son of Man shall descend from heaven with a shout’, but ‘the Lord’.
B -- Your suggestion is a valuable one, but whether your deductions are true must await investigation. Let us turn up the passages and see what we can learn.
A -- Let us start at Matthew 24. The occurrences are in verses 27,30,37 and 39, and the title used is ‘the Son of Man’. The next reference is 1 Corinthians 15:23. There the title is ‘Christ the firstfruits’. There are four occurrences in 1 Thessalonians, viz. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; and 5:23. Here the titles are ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ and ‘the Lord’. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 and 8 we have the same two titles again. James 5:7,8 give us the one title, ‘the Lord’, 2 Peter 1:16 ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’, and 3:4, looking back to verse 2, ‘the Lord and Saviour’.
1 John 2:28 reads ‘His coming’, and I cannot really see with what title the pronoun is connected.
B -- That is quite a commendable analysis of the subject. Shall we see what these titles teach us? I suppose you have no difficulty in fixing the Scriptural association of the title ‘Son of Man’?
A -- As far as I have gone with the subject it appears that Daniel 7:13,14 is the scene at the back of this title.
B -- Yes, let us read the verses:
Soon after uttering the prophecy of Matthew 24 the Lord, standing before the council, said:
A -- Is there not a reference to this in the Revelation?
B -- Yes, in chapter 14:
A -- I think I am quite clear over the prophetic usage of this title. The titles however that are used in the epistles are those that perplex me somewhat.
B -- Let us come to 1 Corinthians 15:23, ‘Christ the firstfruits’. In verse 20 we read, ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept’. This seems to give the clue to the title in verse 23. In all its other occurrences it pledges a harvest. Here in 1 Corinthians 15 the context speaks of Adam at the one extreme, and God all in all at the other. This scope of course overleaps all barriers and dispensational distinctions. The period with which this parousia is connected is fixed rather by verse 54, ‘When ... then ... ‘ while verse 52 associates it with ‘the last trump’.
A -- Yes, but the title that I am most concerned about is that used in 1 Thessalonians 4, ‘the Lord’. This seems to be so related to the church of the One Body, ‘one Lord’ coming so prominently in Ephesians 4.
B -- I think you will find that the title ‘Lord’ is a title that covers Gentile as well as Jew. For example: you remember the woman of Canaan who first approached Christ with the title ‘Son of David’? but when she realized the dispensational limitation of that title, she used the wider title ‘Lord’ (Matt. 15:21 -28). Again, when Peter was sent to Cornelius and perceived that the purpose of God’s grace went outside the confines of Israel, he said:
The use of this title in 1 Thessalonians 4 would not necessarily mean more than that Gentile believers were included, but could not of itself decide whether it included the church of the Mystery. I think you would discover more of the character of this parousia, and whether it included the hope of the One Body, by observing the setting of the occurrences as well as the titles used.
A -- I must confess that when I first noticed the use of the title ‘Lord’, I felt that I had found a weak place in your argument, but I realize that none of the titles after all do decide the question I raised. I will collect the various settings and perhaps we shall arrive at something more definite.
B -- Yes, do, and see that you pursue the truth for its own sake, and not for the purpose of finding a flaw in the argument of somebody else. That often prejudices the study.
A -- I have collected together various items that constitute the immediate contexts of the word parousia in its various occurrences and should be pleased for any help you can give me as to their effect upon our understanding of the Lord’s Coming.
B -- Will you go over the list first so that we may have the scope of the inquiry before us?
A –– Scripture Reference + Immediate Context
B -- This is a fairly formidable list, and will occupy more time than we can give at one sitting. Let us however make a commencement with the references in Matthew 24:
‘These things’ have reference to the destruction of the temple buildings. ‘The end of the world’ would be better translated ‘the gathering point just before the end of the age’. This latter passage we may have to consider more carefully at another time. The immediate question is What shall be the sign of Thy coming? The very first thing the Lord does in answering this threefold question is to warn against deception:
A -- What do you think will be the character of their deception:
B -- These false christs will have false signs, ‘And shall show great signs’ (24).
A -- Wherein will the sign of the Lord’s Coming differ from the false signs?
B -- Principally in its magnitude:
This indicates the world -wide nature of this sign. The next passage fixes its date, and gives further details concerning the sign in the heavens.
A -- Pardon me, but are you one of those who believe in fixing dates for the Lord’s Coming?
B -- If you mean that any man can know ‘the day and the hour’, most certainly not, but if you mean whether the parousia will take place before or after the tribulation, yes, we can speak definitely:
This refers back to verse 21, which is the ‘great tribulation’ referred to in Daniel 12.
A -- How do you know that the great tribulation of Matthew 24 is the same as that of Daniel 12? It does not say so.
B -- Well tell me just exactly what it does say, and I will tell you just exactly what Daniel 12 says.
A -- ‘Such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be’ (Matt. 24:21).
B -- ‘Such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time’ (Dan. 12:1). Can you possibly have two separate tribulations answering to these descriptions?
A -- No, I see that they must refer to the same event.
B -- So then the sign of the Lord’s parousia is not seen till after the great tribulation of Daniel 12; and if that Coming is the hope of the church of which you are a member, that church must share the hope of Israel. The greatness of the sign is seen by its forerunners:
A -- Why do you say ‘tribes of the land’? I read ‘tribes of the earth’.
B -- The passage refers to Zechariah 12:12, where it speaks of the mourning of the families of Israel after they look upon Him Whom they have pierced. Revelation 1:7 refers to the same event. The Coming in the clouds of heaven refers to Daniel 7 where the Son of man is given dominion, glory and a kingdom that all people, nations and languages should serve Him. The references to the sun, moon and stars are taken from Isaiah:
A -- I notice that the ‘day of the Lord’ is mentioned several times. Also that it is cruel with wrath, and the day of fierce anger. In fact the whole context speaks of a day of judgment.
B -- Do you notice anything of importance?
A -- There is so much, what do you intend particularly?
B -- Do you see any mention of any particular city coming into judgment at the same time?
A -- Yes:
B -- Well, you see where this leads us. This parousia of the Lord is not only dated as taking place after the great tribulation, but as being connected with the Lord’s final judgment upon Babylon.
A -- But suppose ‘Babylon’ means Rome?
B -- Is Rome the glory of the Chaldees’ excellency? I commend to you the other passage quoted by the Lord in Matthew 24:29, viz. Isaiah 34:4, noting also verses 8 to 10.
A -- I will certainly look this passage up. I had no idea that the Coming of the Lord in Matthew 24 had so much to do with Old Testament prophecy and the people of Israel.
A -- Shall we resume our study of the contexts of the word parousia?
B -- Yes, let us notice the two remaining passages in Matthew 24, viz. verses 37 and 39.
A -- (Reads):
Verse 39 is much the same.
B -- You say that verse 39 is ‘much the same’, and you are right; but I just wonder whether you fully realize the point of these two verses. In what particular will the Coming of the Son of man be ‘as the days of Noah’?
A -- I suppose you mean that the believer like Noah will be saved in the hour of judgment.
B -- That is hardly the chief factor here. Look at verse 36:
but the Coming of the Son of Man shall be as the days of Noah, which came suddenly upon a world taken up with the affairs of everyday life:
so the feature that most prominently stands out here is the unexpectedness of the Coming.
You will remember that the conclusion of the parable of the ten virgins strikes the same note (see Matt. 25:13). If I may suggest a departure from the order of your list of references, it would be a fitting sequel to consider here 2 Peter 3:4.
A -- By all means, I do not consider that the order of the books as we have them is binding upon us.
B -- Perhaps you will read verse 3 as well.
A -- (Reads):
B -- What do you understand by the words ‘Where is the promise of His coming’?
A -- I understand them to mean that the scoffers were not mindful of the words spoken by the prophets and the Lord Himself, as verse 2 urges, and consequently did not know where to look for those Scriptures which referred to the parousia of the Lord.
B -- I hardly think you have caught the meaning. These scoffers certainly will be ignorant of Scripture, but Peter means to say that they will scoff at the idea that the parousia will ever be fulfilled, as though they said, ‘Where is the fulfilment of this much vaunted promise?’ Now notice the way in which the apostle deals with the implied failure of the Lord to keep His promise. Why does he go right back to the beginning of creation?
A -- Frankly I cannot see any connection.
B -- You will notice that the apostle is explicit. It is the beginning of creation.
A -- Yes, I see that.
B -- Where would you look for any reference to that?
A -- I should turn to Genesis 1, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.
B -- Well, the word ‘continue’ in 2 Peter 3:4 means ‘to continue right through without a break’. When you read on in Genesis 1, do you find that the creation of the first verse ‘continues right through’?
A -- No, I believe verse 2 speaks of an overthrow, and that God did not create the earth without form and void, but it became so.
B -- I see, you have grasped that much. You therefore can answer the question. The creation did not continue right through without a break? There was a Divine interruption.
A -- Yes, but what has that to do with the Second Coming of Christ?
B -- Why this. Just as these scoffers ridicule the teaching of Genesis 1:2, saying that there never was an ‘overthrow’, that God has never intervened in judgment, so they argue, He never will. You will find these same scoffers in Psalm 50:21:
You remember I left with you Isaiah 34 when we last met? Did you give it an examination?
A -- Yes, I did, and now that you mention it I remember that the condition called tohu and bohu (without form and void) of Genesis 1:2 is to be repeated, for it says:
B -- You answer your own question therefore as to the connection between Genesis 1:2 and the Coming of the Lord.
A -- Yes, but I had never seen it in that light before. I had not realized that there is to be a repetition of Genesis 1:2 at the Lord’s Coming.
B -- In 2 Peter 3:9 Peter returns to the charge of the scoffers:
Whatever the reason may be that causes the apparent delay, slackness is not that reason. For one thing Peter sees the longsuffering of the Lord waiting as it did in the days of Noah, and links the parousia with the day of the Lord (verse 10).
You will remember that Peter refers his readers to the writings of Paul for fuller exposition of the purpose of God in the long interval that exists between the First and the Second Coming. This is an inspired admission that Paul’s ministry occupies the interval that has become so prolonged by reason of Israel’s blindness. All the references to the parousia in Paul’s writings occur in those epistles written before Acts 28. After having written 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul can say that he was bound with a chain ‘for the hope of Israel’. There is one clear distinct character given to the parousia in all its occurrences, which severs it most completely from the hope of the one body. Had you continued, and brought into prominence the references in 2 Thessalonians as well as those in 1 Thessalonians you would have seen the close association this hope has with:
James, too, who uses the word parousia of the hope, addresses his epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel, and not to the church of the One Body.