A New Day
Beyond dispute the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to a future golden age. They spoke of a coming age of plenty, of contentment, of security and of peace; of an age when war and instruments of war would be things of the past. They declared that the day would come when all these blessings would follow the fulfilment of a deeper need, when under the reign of a righteous king the people of the earth would all recognize and honour God; when the whole world would live in obedience to God's will and the fulness of divine blessing would be poured upon all.
The Bible's plan for the solution of the world's trouble differs from all human schemes. The latter are based on human conceptions and depend for their fulfilment upon human wisdom and power. Hence their constant failure. Often the remedy applied has created problems greater than the evils it was designed to remove. Noble indeed were the watchwords of the French Revolution -- liberty, equality, fraternity: but one cannot forget the Reign of Terror which that Revolution produced. Human schemes in the very nature of the case can only be experimental with no guarantee that the ideals underlying them will ever be realized. In the actual experience of history scheme has superseded scheme in the effort to find solutions for human problems, but the goal ever recedes.
The Bible plan is not an experiment, nor a development of human efforts. It rests on the impregnable rock of God's declared will. God has provided an immortal righteous ruler -- the Lord Jesus Christ -- for the whole world, with immortal associates who will administer divine laws for His glory and for the blessing of mankind. The plan is sure: for God has "appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:31). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact of history well authenticated by "many infallible proofs". That fact is God's pledge that He will rule the world through Jesus. The king has been already prepared by trial, by obedience, and by exaltation. The day for him to reign is "appointed" there is a "set time" when it will come to pass; as the Psalmist said, "Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, the set time, is come" (Psa. 102:13). When this set time comes "the nations shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory" (verses 15, 16).
A Set Time
Not only do the Scriptures declare that the time is "set" and "appointed"; they also indicate by what "signs" the time can be recognized as at hand. There were "signs" revealed in the Old Testament of Christ's first advent. Daniel had predicted the time when he would appear; Micah, the place of his birth; other prophets had foretold the works he would perform. There was thus a state of expectancy among men at the time of his birth and during his ministry which doubtless contributed to the popular acclamation which accompanied his teaching and his miracles. So too there are "signs of the times" connected with his second advent, and these will now be briefly reviewed.
A World Preparing
There is a trend in modern changes which points to the need for greater unification in the direction of affairs of men and nations. By modern means of transport all parts of the world have been brought nearer together. By present methods of communication, events in one part of the earth are at once known everywhere, with possible repercussions throughout the world. During the whole of man's history and until recent times, the means of travel have remained the same; on land men moved from place to place by vehicles drawn by beasts, or on foot; on sea, by ships driven by oar, or sail, generally keeping near the coast. Then the adventurous voyaging of about four hundred years ago led to the opening up of the lands which had been outside the stream of civilization, and the final stages of world discovery were reached. During the nineteenth century the development of steam power changed the pace and comfort of land travel: and by it ocean transport became independent of winds and current. But the increased "running to and fro" which is such a marked feature of the present century followed the development of the internal combustion engine and the discovery of oil for use as power. This last development provided power for the heavier than air machine which made flight possible. It had long been recognized that conquest of the air waited for an engine and fuel that would not impose too great a load and yet be capable of producing the necessary power. The oil powered engine solved the problem, and the designing of aircraft for carrying heavier loads for greater distances and at greater speeds proceeded apace. The demand for oil, as a consequence, has had a marked influence on political developments. Still newer forms of craft and motive power are constantly being produced.
Another marked development during this same period has been the increase in the facilities for the diffusion of knowledge. In ages past, apart from the spoken word, information was disseminated by the written word. The use of movable type led to the development of printing; today huge rotary presses turn out millions of newspapers daily, and there are continually new developments in the art of printing. The growth of electrical knowledge brought the telegraph, the telephone, the radio and television. Men now know more of each other than ever before. These changes were foretold: in the book of Daniel it is recorded that at the time of the end "knowledge shall be increased" and "many shall run to and fro" (Dan. 12:4).
With these changes there has grown up a great interdependence of all parts of the world. The application of power to industry has led to the exploration of the earth for raw materials, and exploitation for world markets of the millions living simple backward lives. Rivalry followed for possession of the lands which supply essential products; concessions were sought by the commercial nations for the development of mining for minerals and drilling for oil where these exist. These become a fruitful source of discontent and dispute, of commercial maneuvers and political anxiety, and of recent years Asian and African peoples have risen to throw off the foreign yoke and assert their independence. Newer countries with larger areas for food production have become increasingly the food suppliers of the older countries, and the nations have become economically interdependent. These modern developments make clearly evident that the world is being prepared for one control; they also declare the need for that control.
The changes broadly outlined have contributed to particular developments which were foretold in prophecies in the Bible concerning the end of the present age -- developments which students of these prophecies expected would come. To perceive the significance of the changes of the last hundred years, it is necessary first to consider one or two broad features of prophecy concerning the succession of world empires.
An Outline of History
Jesus, referring to the prophecy of Daniel, added the counsel, "Whoso readeth let him understand" (Mark 13:14). Daniel lived at the time when the kingdom of God -- the kingdom of Israel -- was overthrown. He was contemporary with Ezekiel, through whom God's message came to the last king of Israel "Thou profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown this shall not be the same; exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is: and I will give it him" (Ezek. 21:25-27). As a young man of the royal line, Daniel was carried captive to Babylon to serve in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. Very soon he came to the notice of the king in a remarkable way. This king had rebuilt much of Babylon; he had extended his dominions and he naturally wondered what would happen to his kingdom in the future. The king had a dream, divinely controlled, but in his waking hours he could not recall it. The magicians of his court were unable to tell the king what he had dreamed. God, however, revealed both the dream and its meaning to Daniel, who sought the king's presence. Daniel declared to the king that he could not of his own power tell the dream, but there was a "God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days" (Dan. 2:28). He also asserted that there was a divine overruling of history: "God removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (verse 21), as well as revealing the "deep and secret things" (verse 22).
In his dream Nebuchadnezzar saw a great image of different metals. The head was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron and the feet part of iron and part of clay. As he gazed the king saw a stone, cut out of the mountain without hands, hurtle through the air and fall on the feet of the image, which tottered and fell, breaking into fragments. The stone then ground the fragments into dust, which was scattered by the wind. The stone itself increased in size and filled the whole earth.
We are all familiar with political cartoons and know how much can be represented thereby to those who understand the symbolism used. This dream might he compared to a moving cartoon of political changes that were to come to pass. Daniel gave the explanation: "Thou, O king, art a king of kings; for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:37-44).
Observe now the precision of the interpretation. There were to be four dominions increasing in strength as they succeeded one another. The fourth dominion was to be divided; and there had to be no fifth comparable kingdom until the kingdom of God should be established. That divine kingdom would destroy all human dominions, becoming the one authority in all the earth.
This dream marks a new style of prediction concerning the kingdoms of men. Earlier prophets had foretold in much detail the end of many of the nations that surrounded Israel, but now, when the kingdom of God had been overturned, prophecy reveals in broad outline the course of history reaching from the days of Babylon's ascendancy until the kingdom of God is re-established under the Messiah. This method of prophetic revelation could not have been employed previously, for it fills in the period of time which intervenes between the past and future phases of God's Kingdom. In all the developments in God's revelation, as we have already noticed, the change in method occurs at the appropriate time.
Have there been four great dominions since the prophecy of Daniel was made known? Many Bibles are provided with maps, and in these the answer may be found. There in succession is shown the sequence of empires. The Babylonian was followed by the Medo-Persian. Daniel himself; as a very old man, witnessed the fulfilment of the first change from gold to silver seventy years after he had interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Later Greek succeeded the Medo-Persian.
Finally came the Roman -- a strong iron power which eventually was broken up by the Gothic tribes. No comparable rule succeeded it and Europe has remained divided. History followed the course outlined by the prophecy.
The End of Papal Domination
In the seventh chapter of Daniel a dream of the prophet Daniel is recorded covering the same subject as the dream of Nebuchadnezzar but with greater detail. Whereas a pagan king saw the kingdoms of the world as an image -- an object of worship -- the symbolism of savage beasts is employed in the revelation to the prophet. Four beasts were to arise, each beast corresponding to one of the metals. On the head of the fourth beast first ten horns grew up, then an eleventh, before which three horns fell.
This eleventh horn particularly attracted the attention of the prophet; and several items of information about it are given in the dream and its interpretation. We notice that it came up after the ten; it subdued three; it had eyes and mouth which the others had not; it spoke blasphemies; it persecuted God's saints; it lasted for a "time, times and a half", or, three and a half "times".
Protestant expositors of prophecy have with marked unanimity shown that the history of the Papacy corresponds to these particulars. The Papacy arose as a political power after the Roman Empire had been divided: three states became the Papal patrimony; the Papacy has proclaimed doctrines which are opposed to the true teaching of the Scriptures; it has made arrogant claims; it has persecuted those it calls heretics; and it has lasted as a political power the length of time forecast. Three and a half times are 1260 days (a Biblical "time" being 360 days), and in other prophecies of similar character the prophecy is expressed on the scale of a day for a year. Fixing the ascendancy of the Papacy at the time when the Pope was declared Head of the Churches by the Emperor Phocas, expositors declared long before it happened, that the loss of temporal power might be expected from 1866 to 1870. In the latter year, the climax of Papal pretensions was reached by the proclamation of the doctrine of Papal infallibility -- and the Pope lost his temporal power. [It has now been restored on a modest scale.]
Students of prophecy have long recognized that this period was exactly half of the period of "Gentile times", the "seven times" during which Gentiles would rule over God's land. The full seven times, or 2520 years commencing with the conquest of the Jews by the Babylonians at the close of the seventh century B.C., brings us to the present century. It is not possible to do more than touch on this subject here. This, however, may be stated: the time periods mentioned in the book of Daniel have been found in modern times, to be accurate time cycles measured by the combined movements of the earth and the moon in relation to the sun. These solar-lunar cycles were apparently not known in ancient times, and a powerful argument for the divine origin of Daniel's prophecy may be developed from the inclusion in the prophecy of these periods, especially when considered in connection with a series of very remarkable fulfillments. It must suffice here to draw attention to the fact that chronological prophecy shows we are in the closing epoch of the Gentile times.
Jesus said that Jerusalem should be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles should be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). That word "until" shows that an end will come to Gentile rule in Palestine. The end of these "Gentile times" results in the restoration of the nation of Israel to their land, and the coming of their promised king.
From their understanding of the clear teaching of the Bible that the Jews will return to the land from which they were scattered (see chapter five), students of prophecy have naturally enquired whether the return preceded or followed the second advent, also whether there were to be any preliminary changes in Jewish affairs before the Messiah appeared. The answer of Scripture is plain. Two developments in connection with the Jews before Christ returns are predicted: first, a growth of organization among the scattered people preparatory to their full national regeneration; and second, a partial restoration of the Jews to the land of Palestine. In Part II of this chapter extracts are given from a book Elpis Israel (The Hope of Israel) written by a student of prophecy a century ago, which show how clearly this development was understood, and expected. Reference is necessary to the Scriptures upon which the expectation was based.
The prophet Ezekiel foretells in four successive chapters the following developments among the Jewish people and in the land to which they have to return. Chapter 36: God who scattered Israel among the nations (verse 19) will gather them and bring them into their own land (verse 24). Their old waywardness will be purged away by their recognition that their Messiah is also the Saviour (verses 26, 27). The restoration will not be for any merit of the nation, but because of God's own promise and purpose which He had spoken (verse 32). The land will then be fruitful, surpassing its former fertility -- men will say, "The land that was desolate is become like the Garden of Eden" (verse 35). Chapter 37: In a dream the prophet sees the resurrection of a people. A valley full of dry bones was shown him to represent the state of the nation scattered, hopeless and nationally dead. After being asked if they can live, the prophet is informed how God -- and He alone -- can make them live. He sees a movement, bone coming to bone: flesh forms upon the frames, and then the breath of life enters, and the scattered bones become a reorganized people. The explanation of the vision given to the prophet was that "the whole house of Israel", after being long buried among the nations, will be brought out of their graves and restored to the land of Israel. This explanation was further emphasized by the prophet receiving instructions to take two sticks, one for the two tribes which in the past formed the Kingdom of Judah, and the other for the ten tribes, the one-time Kingdom of Israel, and put the two sticks together in his hands. To this action the explanation was given: "Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all . . . Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall he an everlasting covenant with them and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore " (verses 21, 22, 26).
The gradualness of the process of this symbolic resurrection must have some counterpart in the political fulfilment. The meaning is clear: the dismembered nation must go through a process of gradual organization, part coming to part, before they are ready for a full organized national life.
Precisely such changes have taken place in modern times. In 1896 Dr. Herzl, an Austrian Jewish journalist, published a pamphlet entitled A Jewish State. He was moved to write it because of the plight of the Jews persecuted or living on sufferance among other nations without any organization of their own. The effect upon Jewry of the publication of this pamphlet was momentous. A conference was held at Basle in 1897 and "Zionism" was born. Two aims in particular, as the result of the conference, took shape. The first was the awakening among the scattered Jews of a national consciousness, and second, the restoration of Jews to Palestine as their national home. Since that time the movement of Zionism has grown apace: funds have been raised, and the representatives of Zionism have been recognized as giving voice to an awakened national hope. Land has been purchased in Palestine and many Jewish settlements established. These are now matters of common knowledge and owing to the differences that exist between Jewish and Arab aspirations, the problem of Palestine has become acute, and affects the whole world. Chapters 38 and 39 describe an invasion of the Holy Land. The invader is identified; and also the protector of the Jews. We notice at this point the reference in the prophecy to the state of the land and the regathered people, when this invasion takes place. The prophecy concerns the tatter days (verse 8); Israel, gathered out of the nations to the mountains of Israel, dwell in unwalled colonies with cattle and goods (verse 12).
Before the Zionist movement began there was a trickle of immigration to Palestine, and a few colonies were founded, largely through the beneficence of wealthy Jews. But with the turn of the present century the trickle grew into a small stream; young Jews, moved only by a passion for Jewish nationhood, and without faith in their Scriptures, were attracted to the pioneer work. Marshes were drained, forests planted and the land reclaimed for agriculture. There were setbacks in the first Great War but a more rapid development followed with British acceptance of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Then the suspicions of the Arabs and their fears of the more active and aggressively up-to-date Jewish immigrants led to opposition to Jewish immigration. The outcome was British withdrawal and the formation in 1948 of an independent State of Israel in a part of the land of Palestine. Restoration of the land has proceeded vigorously, modern science and engineering being freely applied to drain swamps, irrigate deserts and make barren soil fertile. Chemical riches are being won from the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert. A port has been opened at Elath on the Gulf of Akaba for trade with East Africa and Asiatic countries. Israel is supplying knowledge, skill and training to those who have to develop the newly independent African states. There can he no doubt that the last sixty years have seen the developments that the prophecy foretold. After centuries of desolation, the land is reviving and the people of the land are returning to it.
Britain and Palestine
The protector of the Jews at the crisis which is the theme of chapters 38 and 39 (also of many other prophecies of both Old and New Testaments) is thus described: "Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?" (38:13). Sheba and Dedan are in Arabia: Tarshish in Ezekiel's days was associated with India and with a far western source of tin and other metals. The prophecy describes the defender as a mercantile power; it has "young lions". The words "the merchants of Tarshish with all the young lions" point to the great maritime powers of the English-speaking world on both sides of the North Atlantic, along with the associated countries of the Commonwealth spread abroad in the oceans, with whom communication is by sea and air. Observe the accuracy of the language. Fifty years ago the power of declaring war was in the hands of Britain as the Mother Country. Changes in the status of the dominions under the Statute of Westminster (1931) gave them the right to declare war at their own discretion. Since the Second World War the countries of the Commonwealth have both grown in number and increased in independence. The prophet depicts the united declaration of a community of peoples each with independent choice mustered under the lion symbol. Again we refer to Part II for the expectation of students based on this prophecy while we here briefly indicate the way the fulfilment has come about.
For centuries Palestine was a Turkish province but the Bible predicted that her power would decline, preparatory to the restoration of the Jews and the great gathering of the nations to Armageddon, and the war of the great day of God Almighty, when Christ would come as a thief (Rev. 16:14, 15). The prophet Isaiah represented the impending Assyrian invasion of Palestine in his day as an overflow of the Euphrates (Isa. 8:7). The reverse figure in Rev. 16:12 points to the decline of the power through whose territory the Euphrates runs at the time of the fulfilment of the prophecy. Expositors understood this prediction as referring to the decline of Turkey, long before that Turkish decline set in, and even placed on record their inability to understand how so unlikely a prophecy would be fulfilled. Yet just as a river in flood gradually shrinks at the edges, and slowly recedes, so the Ottoman power gradually lost the outer provinces of its dominions; the important land of Palestine passed from Turkish rule after the first world war. The power that was once so vast, embracing the Near East and Northern Africa, became limited to Anatolia, with a foothold across the Straits in Constantinople. It became a nation state instead of a military empire.
Force of circumstances compelled Britain in 1882 to enter into the occupation of Egypt; the step was taken reluctantly, but God had long ago decreed it. Britain was increasingly drawn towards the land of Israel to fulfil her appointed role as protector of the Jew. But other nations had interests in the Near East. For many years before the first world-war, Britain watched anxiously the southward movements of Russia, who felt that her manifest destiny would bring her to Constantinople. The Russian revolution appeared to bring a change of policy, but from the second world war Russia has emerged stronger than ever and is pursuing a course which corresponds to the old Tsarist tradition. The importance of this Russian expansion as a sign of the nearness of the crisis when human governments will be transferred to the strong hand of Jesus Christ, is to be found in the opening verses of Ezekiel 38. The R.V. reads, "And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold I am against thee, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal". The names point to territories within the Soviet Union, the word rendered to the A.V. "chief prince" is here treated as a proper name Rush, which many believe points to Russia. The invader comes from the north parts in relation to Palestine. Gomer and Togarmah (verse 6) may he traced to Southern Russia and Asia Minor the indications of Russian interest in Persia and the other places named are well known.
Men dread another war yet it will come. It cannot be localized; prophecy speaks of "all nations" being involved (Zech. 14:2; Rev. 16:14; Joel 3:2). The sequel in prophecy to the developments which have been described is a war preparation beyond any previous contemplation of man (Rev. 16:14). Then follows the seventh (and last) vial of God's wrath "into the air" (Rev. 16:20, 21). There is to day a dread literality about this phrase and others in its context. In 1945 the devastated cities of Europe and Japan testified to the effect of "wrath" "in the air"; and today the development of nuclear weapons has far outstripped anything even then foreseen. In the language of this vial "the mountains have fled away", and "islands are not found" for old defences of mountain ranges and seas have lost their value. What the extent of the destruction will be in another war men dare not contemplate. The world is overshadowed with fear at the terrible powers in men's hands. Yet only too surely the world moves on to its predestined end. But the seventh vial is the last plague: it brings the end of human rule and folly, and beyond it is the Kingdom that Christ will establish.
World wars and global wars would have seemed a madman's dream a century ago. Men were confident that the conquests of nature and human invention would bring prosperity and peace to all. Alas, for human hopes! While men have been cherishing vain hopes, the word of God has been shedding the light of prophecy on the futility of men's aspirations for peace and security, and the predictions of the Scriptures are being fulfilled. The last great crisis is at hand. It will be the day of the Lord's judgment: but after the destruction of the present order, Christ, who will have returned to the earth, will take control and build a new world.
It might be thought that in view of the plain testimony of prophecy men would take heed to the warnings of the Scriptures. The Bible, however, reveals that the day of Christ's return will be a day of moral laxity (Matt 24); of a decline in those moral standards which make life wholesome (2 Tim. 3:1-6). In spite of the evidence of fulfilling prophecy, men even deny the promise of Christ's coming, and so doing themselves fulfil prophecy. Peter declared that scoffers "in the last days" would say: "Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Peter 3:4). How accurate a prediction! For today men wilfully ignorant of past judgments scoff at the idea of divine intervention., even at the time when the portents of future judgment are fully evident.
The prospects before the world are dark. Jesus said that at the crisis of this age men's hearts would "fail them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21:26). Sober statesmen with good reason view the future with gravest misgiving; but the Scriptures tell of the coming of the day beyond the night of terror and of storm. "The Sun of righteousness shall arise withi healing in his wings" (Mal. 4:2). The Lord will come and take the nations for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession" (Psalm 2:8).
The days of opportunity are drawing to a close. The God of the Bible still invites men to come to Him (Isa. 55:5, 6). You are urged to read the Scriptures, put to the test of the Bible the teaching outlined in this book; and finding "the Truth" which Jesus said would make free, walk in faith and obedience, waiting for the coming of the Son of God.
It is sometimes alleged that Christians in every age have expected the return of Jesus Christ in their own day and that therefore any present expectation of his immediate return is as liable to be as mistaken as those earlier hopes. This statement, however, is only partially true; there have been periods when some have entertained great expectations of Christ's return during their own lifetime, but there have never been wanting students of prophecy who have as definitely pointed out that the signs of his coming were not then present. In the days of Constantine, when persecution and the fear of persecution passed away for the Christian, many spoke of the changed position of the church in regard to the State as a coming of Christ's kingdom. Obviously it was clear that Christ personally had not returned.
About the year A.D. 1000 there was widespread belief that the time had come for Jesus to return, and for the end of the world, but this was a consequence of the teaching of Augustine that the church was the kingdom of God, that it was established at Pentecost, and that the millennial reign of Christ was the duration for a thousand years of the church as God's kingdom, at the end of which time the final consummation of all things and the destruction of the world would come. We have seen, however, that Augustine's idea of the Church as the Kingdom of God was wrong, and the expectations based upon it were therefore without foundation and were not realized.
That the first century believers expected Christ's return immediately is a view widely held. The New Testament gives evidence that some Christians fell into this error in Paul's day; to correct such misguided enthusiasm the Apostle wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians. He said that they must not be misled by any teachers, or even by a letter as from himself, that the day of Christ was at hand. Before that day would come there had to be a falling away from Christian teaching and the development upon earth of an organized system of religion which, while nominally Christian, would introduce and maintain doctrines contrary to Christian teaching. Quotations in previous sections of this book have indicated the way in which these changes came to pass.
That there would be a long period of time between the first and second advents becomes evident when the book of Revelation is seen to be a chronological prophecy, like the prophecies of the book of Daniel. The last book of the Bible might be regarded, in fact, as a continuation and elaboration of the book of Daniel. Under a series of symbols -- seals, trumpets, vials -- the successive developments of human history are revealed -- the overthrow of paganism, the corruption of the Christian church, the rise of the papacy, the judgments by the followers of Mahomet upon idol worshipper -- until, in chapter 16, we come to the events of the last one hundred and fifty years. A long line of expositors of this prophecy of Revelation have shown its bearing upon events of their own day and have thus witnessed to the gradual fulfilment through the centuries.
Included in the events foretold in chapter 16 is the second advent of Jesus Christ (see verse 15). The proof that we are living in "the last days " when Christ will come is cumulative and consists of a reasonable interpretation of many prophecies together with a consideration of recent events which have fulfilled those prophecies.
The Jews Today
First of all the reader is asked to recall the references in chapter 5 which showed that the perpetuation of the Jewish race, although scattered among the nations and persecuted, was assured by God's promise and required by His purpose. This survival of the Jew led Mark Twain to pen the following words:
"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one per cent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of: but he is heard of; has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself; and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" -- (Harper's Magazine, Sept., 1899).
Milman in his History of the Jews also comments on the fact of Jewish survival as a "most curious problem". He writes: "Massacred by thousands, yet springing up again from their undying stock, the Jews appear at all times and in all regions. Their perpetuity, their national immortality, is at once the most curious problem to the political inquirer; to the religious man a subject of profound and awful admiration".
History since 1933 has given a new poignancy to these words. The most dreadful of all attempts at extermination, with the murder of six million of their people, led to multitudes flocking back to the Land and brought about the birth of the State of Israel.
Development in the Land of Palestine
The Jewish people were scattered as the Bible foretold would be the case and, again as the Bible prophecy required, the land, so fertile in the past, became a desolation while the Jews were in exile. How completely the prediction of desolation has been fulfilled may be seen from the following extracts from books written by Englishmen about the middle of the last century at which time there was a marked revival of interest among British people concerning the Holy Land. Thus Col. Conder, who surveyed the land for the Palestine Exploration Fund, speaks in Tent Work in Palestine of Judæa as "this ruined land". Of Galilee, at one time one of the most fertile and populous districts of the land of Israel, he says, "The ruins are so thickly spread over hilt and valley that in some parts there are as many as three ancient sites to two square miles". Dean Stanley, in Sinai and Palestine, also mentions "the countless ruins of Palestine", and draws attention to the "peculiarity of the present aspect of Palestine, which though not, properly speaking, a physical feature, is so closely connected both with its outward imagery and with its general situation that it cannot be omitted. Above all other countries in the world it is a land of ruins. It is not that the particular ruins are on a scale equal to those of Greece or Italy, still less to those of Egypt. But there is no country in which they are so numerous, none in which they bear so large a proportion to the villages and towns still in existence. In Judæa it is hardly an exaggeration to say that whilst for miles and miles there is no appearance of present life or habitation, except the occasional goat-herd on the hill-side, or gathering of women at the wells, there is yet hardly a hill-top of the many within sight which is not covered by the vestiges of some fortress or city of former ages."
J. L. Porter, who dwelt in Palestine, also wrote of the region near the Sea of Galilee: "The Angel of destruction has been there. From that commanding height, through the clear Syrian atmosphere, I was able to distinguish, by the aid of my glass, every spot in that wide region celebrated in sacred history or hallowed by sacred association . . . Not a city, not a village, not a house, not a sign of settled habitation was there except the few huts of Magdala, and the shattered houses of Tiberias. A mournful and solitary silence reigned triumphant. Desolation keeps unbroken Sabbath in Galilee now" (Giant Cities of Bashan).
About the middle of last century, then, desolation reigned in the land of Palestine; but we must add another remarkable fact -- of the few inhabitants who dwelt in the land, no Jews were engaged in agriculture. The Church of Scotland about 1840 sent out a mission of enquiry to the Jews, which published a Report of their investigations on the state of the Jews throughout Europe and the Near East. The Report was published in 1842, and the writers, commenting on the poverty of the Jews in Palestine, numbering possibly 10,000, state: "None of them are agriculturists -- not a single Jew cultivates the soil of his fathers". How complete had become this divorce of the people from the land is also evident from the remark of James Neil, M.A., a student of Bible prophecy, who expected a Jewish restoration to Palestine and regarded the beginning of this restoration as actually proceeding. How small a beginning is clear from his words: "I made careful enquiries, when residing in Jerusalem in the year 1837, and have reason to believe there were at that time no less than thirty European Jews and others farming lands in Palestine". If thirty Jews working on the land marked a change it is evident that the Jew at that time had little real connection with the land. But students of prophecy knew Jewish restoration would come, even when there was no evidence before their eyes. This is clearly so from a sentence from E. B. Elliott's Horae Apocalypticæ. Reviewing the signs of the nearness of Christ's coming, he states: "At the same time signs are still wanting even as I revise this a fifth time in 1861 -- especially the non-gathering as yet of the Jews to Palestine and the predicted troubles consequent."
A National Revival
During the greater part of last century the Jews continued to be almost unorganized. The real beginning of their organization, as we have before mentioned, followed the publication of Dr. Herzl's pamphlet on The Jewish State. But so far back as 1883 Dr. S. H. Kellogg in a book on The Jews drew attention to Ezekiel's prophecy of the valley of dry bones, chapter 37. The following paragraph occurs: "In the prophecy of Ezekiel we have, in the vision of the valley of dry bones and its interpretation, a very full account of the final restoration and conversion of Israel. According to the representations of that vision, the restoration is to take place in successive and perfectly distinct stages. Thus, the prophet saw that before the giving of life to the dry bones which symbolized the house of Israel, before even the clothing of them with flesh and sinews and skin, there was, first of all, 'a noise and a shaking, and bone came to bone, each bone to his fellow'. That is, he saw, in the first place, a preliminary organization, the necessary antecedent of all that followed. If this feature of the vision means anything, it would seem that it can mean nothing else than this -- that a tendency to external organization in the scattered nation was to he looked for, antecedent and preparatory to their actual reinstatement in their land, and their conversion to God by the power of the Spirit of life. Something of this kind, therefore, according to the prophet, was apparently to be expected as one of the initial stages of the restoration process". Jewish history since 1897 has fulfilled this expectation. The changes in the last hundred years in Palestine and among the Jewish people are outstanding "signs" that Christ's return is near. The "land that was desolate" is becoming a cultivated land again; the people who dwelt there in former days who have been exiled by divine decree, are returning even as the Word of God says they would. They became a people demanding a national home where the awakened national consciousness could find expression, and now they rejoice in a state of their own such as they had not had for nearly two thousand years.
Students of the prophetic periods of the Bible have also recognized that a long time had to elapse from the days of the apostles to the "set time to favour Zion". Thus Robert Fleming, a London clergyman, published a book in 1701 entitled Apocalyptic Key in which he suggested that the decline of the Ottoman power would come between the years 1848 and 1900, and Jewish restoration would follow. Bishop Newton, half a century after Fleming, expected the eclipse of Turkey about the end of the nineteenth century, and the regathering of Israel to follow. Mede, early in the seventeenth century, published his conviction in a book on the Apocalypse that the symbol of the drying up of the Euphrates (Rev. 16:12) which immediately precedes Christ's advent, indicated the decline of the Turkish Empire. Mede associated with the decline of the Ottoman Empire events by which "the Pope shall not indeed utterly perish, but from henceforth he shall be despoiled of his glory and splendour"; at the same time he expected "the Jews shall possess the Holy Land again"; coincident with these events he expected an "horrible and unheard of preparation for war". The events of the last hundred years are eloquent witness to the accuracy of Mede's expectations which he based on Bible prophecy. Turkey is but a shadow of what she was in Mede's day; the Pope lost his temporal power; the Jews are returning to Palestine; and at the same time we have witnessed new and more horrible methods of warfare than ever before in history.
The power of the Papacy to persecute those she called "heretics" was expected by many expositors to end in 1866. Fleming in 1701 wrote as follows: "For I do suppose, that seeing the Pope received the title of Supreme Bishop no sooner than A.D. 606, he cannot be supposed to have any Vial poured upon his seat immediately . . . until the year 1848, which is the date of the 1260 years in the prophetical account, when they are reckoned from A.D. 606". In solar reckoning 1260 years ends in 1866, which saw the beginning of a series of events which culminated in the Pope losing his temporal power in 1870.
On this time period of the Papacy Sir William Whitla in the "Introductory Study" to his re-issue in 1922 of Sir Isaac Newton's Daniel and the Apocalypse (Newton died In 1727) has the following: "Let us return to the consideration of the specific time allotted to the reign and duration of the little horn of the fourth Roman beast. In the twenty-fifth verse Daniel is told that the times and the law which he shall think to change shall be given into his hands until a time and times, and half a time. What does this mysterious form of expression mean? It is obvious that it represents some definite period of time, purposely veiled by God so that it should not be understood or measured by the people living on the earth at the period when the vision was vouchsafed to Daniel. We may even speculate upon the improbability of the prophet himself having any conception of its meaning, though he is told in the same words again by the angel in the last chapter of his book. To the Jews it must have been inscrutable for at least 600 years after it was written. It is the most interesting and important pronouncement of any epoch in the Bible except the 'seventy weeks' mentioned in Daniel's Messianic prophecy. Its concealed meaning is revealed by St. John in the book of Revelation. In the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, the woman, after the birth of her man-child, fled into the wilderness from the great dragon, and she is nourished there for 1,260 days (which are of course to be interpreted, in the words of symbolic prophecy, as 1,260 years). In a subsequent verse of the chapter this same identical period of sojourn in the wilderness is given in Daniel's words exactly 'time, and times, and half a time'. We have here the key which opens the lock that had remained closed for nearly six centuries. The word 'time' is to be taken as signifying a period of one year, times as signifying two years, and half a time as half a year; added together, we get three and a half years. That these three and a half years are years of days is proven by the first measure of the period given as 1,260 days, which is the exact number of days contained in three and a half luni-solar or prophetic years."
We might sum up the evidence of these quotations so far given, as follows:
We wish now to draw attention particularly to the following extracts from the book Elpis Israel written in the year 1849 in which it is pointed out that there would be a partial restoration of the Jews in unbelief of the Messiah; that the Jews would return to the land as agriculturists; that Britain would be responsible for the land at the time of their regathering, involving the transfer of Palestine from Turkey, and that Britain would occupy Egypt. In these extracts is foreseen a course of events of which there was no indication at all at the time they were penned:
"There is, then, a partial and primary restoration of Jews before the manifestation, which is to serve as the nucleus, or basis, of future operations in the restoration of the rest of the tribes after he has appeared in the kingdom. The pre-adventual colonization of Palestine will be on purely political principles; and the Jewish colonists will return in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus, and of the truth as it is in him. They will emigrate thither as agriculturists and traders, in the hope of ultimately establishing their commonwealth . . . under the efficient protection of the British power. And this their expectation will not be deceived; for, before Gogue (Russia) invades their country, it is described by the prophet, as 'a land of unwalled villages, whose inhabitants are at rest, and dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates; and possessed of silver and gold, cattle and goods, dwelling in the midst of the land'. Now any person acquainted with the present (i.e., 1849) insecure condition of Palestine under the Ottoman dominion must be satisfied from the testimony, that some other power friendly to Israel must then have become paramount over the land, which is able to guarantee protection to them . . .
"But to what part of the world shall we look for a power whose interests will make it willing as it is able, to plant the ensign of civilization upon the mountains of Israel? The reader will, doubtless, anticipate my reply from what has gone before. I know not whether the men, who at present contrive the foreign policy of Britain, entertain the idea of assuming the sovereignty of the Holy Land, and of promoting its colonization by the Jews; their present intentions, however, are of no importance one way or the other, because they will be compelled, by events soon to happen, to do what, under existing circumstances, heaven and earth combined could not move them to attempt. The present decisions of 'statesmen' are destitute of stability. A shooting star in the political firmament is sufficient to disturb all the forces of their system; and to stultify all the theories of their political astronomy. The finger of God has indicated a course to be pursued by Britain which cannot be evaded, and which her counsellors will not only be willing, but eager to adopt when the crisis comes upon them.
"The decree has long since gone forth which calls upon the Lion of Tarshish to protect the Jews.
"When this is accomplished to the required extent it becomes a notable sign of the times.
"As I have said elsewhere, the Lion-power will not interest itself in behalf of the subjects of God's kingdom, from pure generosity, piety towards God, or love of Israel; but upon the principles which actuate all the governments of the world -- upon those, namely, of the lust of dominion, self-preservation, and self-aggrandisement. God, who rules the world, and marks out the bounds of habitation for the nations will make Britain a gainer by the transaction. He will bring her rulers to see the desirableness of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba, which they will be induced, by the force of circumstances, probably to take possession of . . .
"The possession, or ascendancy of Britain in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba, will naturally lead to the colonization of Palestine by the Jews."
It cannot be mere coincidence that Britain did in fact come to occupy Egypt and the Sudan (which includes a large part of the ancient Ethiopia), and that high policy in the first world war made it in her interest to issue the Balfour Declaration promising a "national home" for the Jews, and for thirty years after to foster its development. It is hard to imagine how utterly unlikely such events were from any human point of view when Elpis Israel was written in the mid-nineteenth century. Though Britain has now withdrawn from all these countries -- and it must be admitted that this was not foreseen by the author of Elpis Israel -- the historical facts remain: these things, foreseen only by students of Bible prophecy, did happen, and Britain's part in opening up the Land to the Jews is an abiding fact, witnessed by the existence of the State and having its continuing effects today. And the concern of the English-speaking world with the Middle East is far from being at an end.
When all the facts surveyed in this section are taken into account an impartial mind must reach the conclusion that they present irrefutable evidence that the greatest crisis in human affairs is at hand. The end of Gentile times has come and the new era of the Kingdom of God is about to dawn.