Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
OUR LORD’S RETURN
BY C. T. RUSSELL
Pastor Brooklyn and London Tabernacles
"If I go I will come again."
THAT our Lord intended his disciples to understand that for some purpose, in some manner, and at some time, He would come again is, we presume, admitted and believed by all familiar with the Scriptures, for, when He said, "If I go, I will come again" (
He certainly referred to a second personal coming.
Quite a number think that when sinners are converted that forms a part of the coming of Christ, and that so he will continue coming until all the world is converted. Then, say they, he will have fully come.
These evidently forget the testimony of the Scriptures on the subject, which declare the reverse of their expectation; that at the time of our Lord’s second coming the world will be far from converted to God; that "In the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God" (
); that "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." (
.) They forget the Master’s special warning to his "little flock": "Take heed to yourselves lest that day come upon you unawares, for as a snare shall it come on all them (not taking heed) that dwell on the face of the whole earth." (
.) Again, we may rest assured that when it is said, "All kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him," when they see him coming (
), no reference is made to the conversion of sinners. Do all men wail because of the conversion of sinners? On the contrary, if this passage refers, as almost all admit, to Christ’s presence on earth, it teaches that all on earth will not love his appearing, as they certainly would do if all were converted.
Some expect an actual coming and presence of the Lord, but set the time of the event a long way off, claiming that through the efforts of the Church in its present condition the world must be converted, and thus the Millennial Age be introduced. They claim that when the world has been converted, and Satan bound, and the knowledge of the Lord caused to fill the whole earth, and when the nations learn war no more, then the work of the Church in her present condition will be ended; and that when she has accomplished this great and difficult task the Lord will come to wind up earthly affairs, reward believers and condemn sinners.
Some Scriptures, taken disconnectedly, seem to favor this view; but when God’s Word and plan are viewed as a whole these will all be found to favor the opposite view, viz., that Christ comes before the conversion of the world, and reigns for the purpose of converting the world; that the Church is now being tried, and that the reward promised the overcomers is that after being glorified they shall share with the Lord Jesus in that reign, which is God’s appointed means of blessing the world and causing the knowledge of the Lord to come to every creature. Such are the Lord’s special promises: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne....And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
The Apostle (
) tells us that the main object of the Gospel in
OV223 the present age is "to take out a people" for Christ’s name—the overcoming Church, which, at his second advent will be united to him and receive his name. The witnessing to the world during this age is a secondary object.
My Plans are Not as Your Plans.
A further examination of God’s revealed plans will give a broader view of the object of both the first and second advents; and we should remember that both events stand related as parts of one plan. The specific work of the first advent was to die for men; and that of the second is to restore, and bless, and liberate the redeemed. Having given his life a ransom for all, our Savior ascended to present that sacrifice to the Father, thus making reconciliation for man’s iniquity. He tarries and permits "the prince of this world" to continue the rule of evil, until after the selection of "The Bride, the Lamb’s Wife," who to be accounted worthy of such honor, must overcome the influence of the present evil world. Then the work of giving to the world of mankind the great blessings secured to them by his sacrifice will be due to commence, and He will come forth to bless all the families of the earth.—
True, the restoring and blessing could have commenced at once, when the ransom price was paid by the Redeemer, and then the coming of Messiah would have been but one event, the reign and blessing beginning at once, as the Apostles at first expected. (
). But God had provided "some better thing for us"—the Christian Church (
); hence it is in our interest that the reign of Christ is separated from the sufferings of the Head by these eighteen centuries.
This period between the first and second advents, between the giving of the ransom for all and the blessing of all, is for the trial and selection of the Church, which is the Body of Christ; otherwise there would have been only the one advent, and the work which will be done during the period of His second presence, in the Millennium, would have followed the resurrection of Jesus. Or, instead of saying that the work of the second advent would have followed at once the work of the first, let us say, rather, that had Jehovah not purposed the selection of the "little flock," "the Body of Christ," the first advent would not have taken place when it did, but would have occurred at the time of the second advent, and there would have been but one. For God has evidently designed the permission of evil for six thousand years, as well as that the cleansing and restitution of all shall be accomplished during the seventh thousand.
Thus seen, the coming of Jesus, as the sacrifice and ransom for sinners, was just long enough in advance of the blessing and restoring time to allow for the selection of his "little flock" of "joint heirs." This will account to some for the apparent delay on God’s part in giving the blessings promised, and provided for, in the ransom. The blessings will come in due time as at first planned; though for a glorious purpose, the price was laid down longer beforehand than men would have expected. Bide with patience: they will come.
Different Classes of "Elect.
Those who claim that Jehovah has been trying for six thousand years to convert the world, and failing all the time, must find it difficult to reconcile such views with the Bible assurance that all God’s purposes shall be accomplished, and that His Word shall not return unto Him void, but shall prosper in the thing whereto it was sent. (
.) The fact that the world has not yet been converted, and that the knowledge of the Lord has not yet filled the earth, is a proof that it has not yet been sent on that mission.
Glancing backward, we notice the
OV224 selection, or election, of Abraham and certain of his offspring as the channels through which the promised Seed, the blesser of all the families of the earth, shall come. (
We note also the selection of Israel from among all nations, as the one in whom, typically, God illustrated how the great work for the world should be accomplished—their deliverance from Egypt, their Canaan, their Covenant, their laws, their sacrifices for sins, for the blotting out of guilt and for the sprinkling of the people, and their priesthood for the accomplishment of all this, being a miniature and typical representation of the real priesthood and sacrifices for the purifying of the world of mankind. God, speaking to Israel, said: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." (
.) This people alone was recognized until Christ came; yes, and afterwards, for his ministry was confined to them, and He would not permit His disciples to go to others—saying, as he sent them out, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not." Why so, Lord? Because, he explains, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (
#Mt 10:5,6; 15:24
All His time was devoted to them until His death, and there was done His first work for the world, the first display of His free and all-abounding grace, which in "due time" shall indeed be a blessing to all. When the called-out company (called to be sons of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord—who have made their calling and election sure) is complete, then this feature of the plan of God for the world’s salvation will be only beginning.
Not until it is selected, developed, and exalted to power will
bruise the serpent’s head. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." (
The Gospel Age makes ready the chaste virgin, the faithful Church, for the coming Bridegroom. And in the end of the age, when she is made "ready" (
), the Bridegroom comes, and they that are ready go in with him to the marriage—the second Adam and the second Eve become one, and then the glorious work of restitution begins. In the next dispensation the Church will be no longer the espoused virgin, but the Bride; and then shall "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!
And let him that heareth say, Come! And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."—
The Gospel Age, so far from closing the Church’s mission, is only a necessary preparation for the great future work. For this promised and coming blessing "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God." (
.) And it is a blessed fact that free grace in fullest measure, not merely for the living, but for those who have died as well, is provided in our Father’s plan as the blessed opportunity of the coming age.
Pre-Millennarians Come Short
Those who can see something of the blessings due at the second advent, and who appreciate in some measure the fact that the Lord comes to bestow the grand blessing secured by his death, fail to see this last proposition; viz., that those in their graves have as much interest in that glorious reign of Messiah as those who at that time will be less completely under the bondage of corruption—death. But as surely as Jesus died for all, they all must have the blessings and opportunities which he purchased with his own precious blood. Hence we should expect blessings in the Millennial Age upon all those in their graves as well as upon those not in them; and of this we will find abundant proof as we look further into the Lord’s testimony on the subject. It is because of God’s plan for their release that those in the tomb are called "prisoners of hope." What is, and is to be, their condition?
OV225 Did God make no provision for these, whose condition and circumstances He must have foreseen? Or did He, from the foundation of the world make a wretched and merciless provision for their hopeless, eternal torment, as many of His children claim?
Or has He yet in store in the heights and depths, and lengths and breadths of His plan, an opportunity for all to come to the knowledge of that only Name, and, by becoming obedient to the conditions, to enjoy everlasting life? We read that "God is love," and "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish." (
Would it not seem that if God loved the world so much He might have made provision, not only that believers might be saved, but also that all might hear in order to believe?
Again, when we read, "That was the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (
), our observation says, Not so; every man has not been enlightened; we cannot see that our Lord has lighted more than a few of earth’s billions.
Even in this comparatively enlightened day, millions of heathen give no evidence of such enlightenment; neither did the Sodomites, nor multitudes of others in past ages.
Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death "for every man." (
.) But if He tasted death for the entire race of over twenty billions and from any cause that sacrifice becomes efficacious to only one billion, was not the redemption comparatively a failure? And in that case, is not the Apostle’s statement too broad? When again we read, "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (
), and looking about us, see that it is only to a "little flock" that it has been good tidings, and not to all people, we would be compelled to wonder whether the angels had not overstated the goodness and breadth of their message, and overrated the importance of the work to be accomplished by the Messiah whom they announced.
Another statement is, "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all." (
.) A ransom for all?
Then why should not all the ransomed have some benefit from Christ’s death? Why should not all come to a knowledge of the truth, that they may believe?
Plan of the Ages—The God-Given Key.
Without the key, how dark, how inconsistent, these statements appear; but when we find the key to God’s plan, these texts all declare with one voice, "God is love!" This key is found in the latter part of the text last quoted—"Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." God has a due time for every thing. He could have testified it to these in their past lifetime; but since he did not it proves that their due time must be future. For those who will be of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and share the Kingdom honors, the present is the "due time" to hear; and whosoever now has an ear to hear, let him hear and heed, and he will be blessed accordingly. Though Jesus gave our ransom before we were born, it was not our "due time" to hear of it for long years afterward, and only the appreciation of it brought responsibility; and this, only to the extent of our ability and appreciation. The same principle applies to all; in God’s due time it will be testified to all, and all will then have opportunity to believe and to be blessed by it.
The prevailing opinion is that death ends all probation; but there is no Scripture which so teaches. Since God does not purpose to save men on account of ignorance, but "will have all men to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (
); and since the masses of mankind have died in ignorance; and since "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave" (
OV226 therefore God has prepared for the awakening of the dead, in order to knowledge, faith and salvation. Hence His plan is, that "as all in Adam die, even so shall all in Christ be made alive, but each one in his own order"—the Gospel Church, the Bride, the Body of Christ, first; afterward, during the Millennial Age, all who shall become His during that thousand years of His presence (mistranslated coming), the Lord’s due time for all to know him, from the least to the greatest.—
Thus we see that all these hitherto difficult texts are explained by the statement—"to be testified in due time." In due time, that true Light shall lighten every man that has come into the world. In due time, it shall be "good tidings of great joy to all people."
And in no other way can these Scriptures be used without wresting. Paul carries out this line of argument with emphasis in
. He reasons that, as all men were condemned to death because of Adam’s transgression, so, also, Christ’s righteousness, and obedience even unto death, have become a ground of justification; and that as all lost life in the first Adam, so all, aside from personal demerit, may receive life by accepting the second Adam.
Peter tells us that this restitution is spoken of by the mouth of all the holy prophets. (
They all teach it. Ezekiel says of the valley of dry bones, "These bones are the whole house of Israel." And God says to Israel, "Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I...shall put my Spirit in you, and I shall place you in your own land; then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord."—
. To this, Paul’s words agree (
) —"Blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles (the elect company, the Bride of Christ) be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved," or brought back from their cast-off condition; for "God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew." (
.) They were cast off from his favor while the Bride of Christ was being selected, but will be reinstated when the work is accomplished. (
.) The prophecies are full of statements of how God will plant them again, and they shall be no more plucked up. "Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel. ...I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, for they shall return unto me with their whole heart." (
#Jer 24:5-7; 31:28; 32:40-42; 33:6-16
.) These cannot refer merely to restorations from former captivities in Babylon, Syria, etc., for they have since been plucked up.
Though many of the prophecies and promises of future blessings seem to apply to Israel only, it must be remembered that they were a typical people, and hence the promises made to them, while sometimes having a special application to themselves, generally have also a wider application to the whole world of mankind which that nation typified. While Israel as a nation was typical of the whole world, its priesthood was typical of the elect "little flock," the Head and Body of Christ, the "Royal Priesthood;" and the sacrifices, cleansings and atonement made for Israel typified the "better sacrifices," fuller cleansings and real atonement "for the sins of the whole world," of which they are a part.
A Crucial Test—The Sodomites
And not only so, but God mentions by name other nations and promises their restoration. As a forcible illustration, we mention the Sodomites.
OV227 Surely, if we shall find the restitution of the Sodomites clearly taught, we may feel satisfied of the truth of this glorious doctrine of restitution for all mankind, spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets. And why should not the Sodomites have an opportunity to reach perfection, and everlasting life as well as Israel, or as any of us?
True, they were not righteous, but neither was Israel, nor we who now hear the Gospel.
"There is none righteous; no, not one," aside from the imputed righteousness of Christ, who died for all. Our Lord’s own words tell us that although God rained down fire from heaven and destroyed them all because of their wickedness, yet the Sodomites were not so great sinners in his sight as were the Jews, who had more knowledge. (
Unto the Jews of Capernaum He said: "If the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."—
Thus our Lord teaches that the Sodomites did not have a full opportunity; and he guarantees them such opportunity when he adds (v. 24), "But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee."
The character of the day of judgment and its work is shown elsewhere. (See Vol. I., "Scripture Studies," "The Divine Plan of the Ages.") Here we merely call attention to the fact that it will be a tolerable time for Capernaum, and yet more tolerable for Sodom; because, though neither had yet had full knowledge, nor all blessings designed to come through the "Seed," yet Capernaum had sinned against more light.
And if Capernaum and all Israel are to be remembered and blessed under the "New Covenant," why should not the Sodomites also be blessed among "all the families of the earth?" They assuredly will be. Let it be remembered that since God "rained down fire from heaven and destroyed them all" many centuries before Jesus’ day, when their restoration is spoken of, it implies their awakening, their coming from the tomb.
In "due time" they will be awakened from death and brought to a knowledge of the truth, and thus blessed together with all the families of the earth, by the promised "Seed." They will then be on trial for everlasting life.
With this thought, and with no other, can we understand the dealings of the God of love with those Amalekites and other nations whom he not only permitted, but commanded Israel to destroy, saying, "Go smite Amalek and utterly destroy all they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (
.) This apparently reckless destruction of life seems irreconcilable with the character of love attributed to God, and with the teachings of Jesus, "Love your enemies," etc., until we come to recognize the systematic order of God’s plan, the "due time" for the accomplishment of every feature of it, and the fact that every member of the human race has a place in it.
We can now see that those Amalekites, Sodomites and others were set forth as examples of God’s just indignation, and of his determination to destroy finally and utterly evil-doers, examples which will be of service not only to others, but also to themselves, when their day of judgment or trial comes.
Some, who are willing enough to accept of God’s mercy through Christ in the forgiveness of their own trespasses and weaknesses under greater light and knowledge, cannot conceive of the same favor being applicable under the New Covenant to others; though they seem to admit the Apostle’s statement that Jesus Christ, by the favor of God, tasted death for every man. Some of these suggest that the Lord must, in this prophecy, be speaking ironically to the Jews, implying that he would just as willingly bring back the Sodomites as them, but had no intention of restoring
OV228 either. But let us see how the succeeding verses agree with this idea. (
.) The Lord says, "Nevertheless I will remember my Covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then thou shalt remember thy ways and be ashamed when thou shalt receive thy sisters....And I will establish my Covenant with thee and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God."
All Israel Shall Be Saved.
To this Paul adds his testimony, saying, "And so all Israel (living and dead) shall be saved (recovered from blindness), as it is written, ‘There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is my Covenant unto them when I shall take away their sins....They are beloved for the fathers’ sakes; because the gracious gifts and callings of God are not things to be repented of."—
How different is this glorious plan of God for the selection of a few now, in order to be the blessing of the many hereafter, from the distortions of these truths, as represented by the two opposing views—Calvinism and Arminianism! The former both denies the Bible doctrine of free grace, and miserably distorts the glorious doctrine of election; the latter denies the doctrine of election, and fail to comprehend the blessed fulness of God’s free grace.
The day of trouble will end in due time, when he who spake to the raging Sea of Galilee will likewise, with authority, command the raging sea of human passion, saying, "Peace! Be still! When the Prince of Peace shall "stand up" in authority, a great calm will be the result. Then the raging, clashing elements shall recognize the authority of "Jehovah’s Anointed," "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together;" and in the reign of the Christ thus begun "shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
"My purposes are broken off; even the thoughts of my heart."
MY purposes are broken off, So be it, blessed Lord; With wisdom and with wondrous Love Thy purposes are stored.
The thoughts of my poor heart give place To Thy great plan for me; In all Thy ways my soul can trace Thy mercy rich and free.
My purposes are broken off, Dear Lord, ‘tis better so; For higher are Thy ways than mine, Who to the end dost know .I praise Thee still though broken off My purposes may be; For in Thy glory I shall know Thy will was best for me.