« הקודםהמשך »
vent find support and confirmation in the Sacred Scriptures? This is the subject of our present inquiry.
But before presenting the testimony of Scripture in support of the New Church view of this subject, it may be proper
and useful to notice two or three of the modes of interpreting this prophecy, which have been most prevalent in the church, and most generally acknowledged as true. I shall only examine them very briefly, but perhaps at sufficient length to establish in the minds of sincere and reflecting men, at least a strong probability of their unsoundness.
The opinion in respect to those chapters in the Evangelists wherein the Lord's second coming is foretold, which was formerly most prevalent in the church, is, that they are to have a literal fulfilment, according to our common English version, in the destruction of this material world and the personal appearing of the Lord upon the natural clouds. But every one must see that this theory is embarrassed with insuperable difficulties. For in the first place we observe that the whole of this prophecy was uttered in reply to the question, put by the disciples to our Lord, concerning the time when the stones and the buildings of the temple at Jerusalem should be thrown down. And it would therefore be doing great violence to the sacred text, as well as to enlightened reason, to maintain that a prophecy was intended to have a literal fulfilment, and yet that fulfilment not to take place in the destruction of the very things of which they were speaking, viz., Jerusalem and its temple; but that it would have place in the des. truction of this material universe, of which they were not speaking.
Besides, we read in each of the chapters containing the prophecy, that “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled”; a declaration, which, if understood in its strictly literal sense, like the rest of the chapter, i. e., as referring to the generation of men then living, and not to the generation of false or Jewish principles of religion existing in the minds of men,must prove one of three things; either that a complete literal fulfilment of this prophecy was never intended ;
or if so, that it was to take place during the life-time of the men then living upon the earth; or that the prediction, in some respects at least, was false. But that the Lord could utter falsehood, or predict what would not come to pass, is an insupposable case. And we know that the prophecy was not all literally accomplished within the life-time of those then upon earth. The conclusion therefore is inevitable, that the Lord never intended a complete literal fulfilment of the prophecy, but a spiritual fulfilment. In its spiritual sense only, shall we find the prophecy entirely true.
Another theory in regard to this whole passage, and one which perhaps is favored by far the greatest majority of learned theologians in the prevailing church at the present day, is this: that the destruction of Jerusalem is referred to in the former part of each of the chapters which contain the prophecy, (Matt. xxiv. Mark xiii. Luke xxi.); but that the latter part of these chapters refers to the destruction of the material universe.
Now it does seem strange that thinking men shonld pretend to maintain such a theory as this; for its absurdity is so palpable as to seem hardly worthy of a remark. For if the destruction of all material things which it supposes to be referred to in the latter part of these chapters, should immediately take place, there would then have elapsed between the announcement of the prediction and its fulfilment, almost two thousand years; a period, which, if really intervening, we should suppose would have been indicated by some pretty distinct sign. But what is the sign which the Divine Prophet has given us of this chronological chasm? Not the slightest. On the contrary the prophecy flows on from beginning to end, in an uninterrupted and most closely connected series. At the very point where the chasm, according to our learned commentators, is supposed to occur, we find words indicating the closest connection in point of time. In Mat. the supposed gulf is leaped with the words “ Immediately after the tribulation of those days," &c.; in Mark with these : “But in those days after that tribulation,” &c.; and in Luke this supposed prediction of the consummation of
the material world is so intimately connected with what
goes before in the same chapter, that one would think even a child of common understanding could not fail to perceive that one and the same event must be referred to throughout. The hiatus, according to the theory we are considering, occurs there between the two following verses : v. 24. “ And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Hiatus.) v. 25. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars ; and upon
the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring." Who does not see that the particle and, with which verse 25th commences, is of such a binding nature as utterly to preclude the idea of there being any such hiatus between these two verses as this theory supposes : or of two such widely different events being here predicted, as the overthrow of Jerusalem and the destruction of the material universe ?*
There is yet another theory in regard to these chapters, which appears to be making progress among biblical critics in the Old Church at the present day, and which therefore deserves attention. This theory limits the prophecy under consideration to the overthrow of the Jewish capital, and the downfall of Judaism. It maintains that the outward calamities which befell the Jews at the time of, and prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, are foretold in this prophecy, and nothing more. Consequently, when Jerusalem was destroyed some thirty or forty years after the prediction, it was then fulfilled in the sense in which the Lord intended it. This is the way that those who call themselves Unitarians and Universalists commonly interpret this passage. And although this theory also is encumbered with great difficulties, as we shall see upon examination, yet it must be confessed that, if there were no internal sense to the Word, it would be far more ra
* For a more particular and elaborate examination of this theory and some of its modifications, the reader is referred to an able work on the Plenary Inspiration of the Scriptures,” by Rev. S. Noble-Lect. iv 216–226.
tional than any other. I am not therefore surprised that reflecting men should settle down upon this interpretation until their minds are illumined by the light of the New Jerusalem, I think it is the most reasonable one that unaided human intelligence has yet been able to discover. But let us examine it briefly.
And first I remark with respect to this theory, that it is one of comparatively modern date. It was not the view of the early Christians upon this subject, nor has it been the generally received interpretation of the first Christian Church. There has been in that Church a general expectation of another advent of the Lord, in some manner and at some future time; which expectation has been based chiefly upon this prophecy in the Evangelists. Though men have differed much in regard to the probable time and manner of his coming, they have generally been agreed respecting the certainty of the event itself.
Now it was remarked in our last lecture, that one of the acknowledged canons in biblical criticism, is, that the precise manner in which a prophecy is to be fulfilled, cannot be known until after its fulfilment. And I would here add, that it is a principle equally true, and I believe equally admitted, that the meaning of a prophecy can be understood after its fulfilment. It was not known beforehand exactly how the prophecies relating to the Lord's first advent were to be fulfilled ; but after their fulfilment, then their meaning could be understood. If, therefore, the prophecy concerning the Lord's second coming had found its complete fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, it is reasonable to conclude that this would have been generally so perceived and understood in the Church. At any rate we should think that it would have been so understood and taught by some of the Apostles, and would have found many advocates among biblical expounders in all ages of the Church ; which is not the fact. On the contrary, there has been a general, though undefined and somewhat vague expectation in the Church, of a second advent yet future. Again: in the Apocalypse, (i. 7.) the Lord's second
coming is foretold in these words, “Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they that pierced Him.” And again in the last chapter and last verse but one of the same book, it is written, “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly; Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” But this book of the Revelation, in the opinion of good biblical critics, was not written until twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet we find in it the repeated prophetic announcement of another advent of the Lord in some form or other; which we should not expect, and certainly should not find, if that event had already taken place twenty years previous. Moreover it is worthy of remark, that, in the first chapter of the Revelation, it is said, “ Behold he cometh with clouds”; and in the sixth chapter of the same book, where the coming of “ the great day” is mentioned, it is written, “ And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” Here the language is so similar to that found in the prophecy under consideration, as to leave no doubt that it refers to the same event.
Besides, if we carefully examine the prophecy itself, we shall find in it insurmountable objections to the theory we are considering. In Matthew, xxiv. 9, for example, immediately after what the Lord tells the disciples “are but the beginnings of sorrows,” He says that they shall be killed ; and afterwards, He speaks of their flight, and of the things which they would be called to witness and suffer, as if they would still be living.
Again : in Mark, xiii. 10, it is said that “the gospel must first be published among all the nations ;” and the parallel passage in Matthew is substantially the same. But we know that this was not literally fulfilled prior to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem ; though it may be said to have been fulfilled according to the Jews' understanding of all the nations.
But we find it further said in the same chapter, that