Coming Troubles and the Second Advent
The subject of this lecture is one that has no charm for the generality of mankind. Men do not like to think of coming judgment. It is not congenial to their tastes. The expectation of them, still more the enunciation of them, is regarded as indicative of a low-born and vulgar fanaticism. Refinement is supposed to be shown by the more popular idea that the world will gradually hush into millennial tranquillity without disturbance to the present order.
It is possible to give a perfectly reasonable hypothesis of this state of public sentiment. But it is not particularly worth the time necessary. It will be a better plan to show that a belief in coming troubles, as the precursors of Christ’s approaching manifestation on earth in power and great glory, is the inevitable consequence of practical faith in the Bible as the revealed will of God. Any imputation therefore, arising from such a belief, is against the Bible, and not against the subject of the belief; for there is a marked difference between gratuitous fancy, and intelligent conviction arising from credence accorded to authority.
In former lectures, we have seen that it is the purpose of God to send Jesus Christ to the earth again for the purpose of destroying all kingdoms that exist, and setting up a kingdom of His own that will be universal and never ending. Our attention is now directed to the circumstances attendant upon this prodigious change in the world’s history. Will the change from the kingdom of men to the kingdom of God be instantaneous, or the slow result of a universal process? Will Christ steal upon the earth in a time of peace, and quietly destroy the powers of the earth, with their armies, in a single night, as in the case of the Assyrians in the days of old? Or, will he be manifested when wars are rife, and trouble abroad? The testimony is very explicit on this point:—
At that time, “there shall be a time of trouble, SUCH AS NEVER WAS SINCE THERE WAS A NATION EVEN TO THAT SAME TIME” (Dan. 12:1).
“Upon the earth (shall be) distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth” (Luke 21:25, 26).
“Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth. And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day, from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth” (Jer. 25:32, 33).
These testimonies answer the question. They show that the change which will introduce the kingdom of God on earth will be accompanied by troubles on a scale without parallel in history; that the whole world will be involved in political difficulties, and suffer from the many evils incident to such a condition. But we shall find that another element of trouble will characterise the times of the second advent—that God Himself will operate in visible judgment upon the nations of the earth—that natural perplexities will be supplemented by miraculous retributions. The testimonies to this effect are numerous and emphatic; and as the entire argument hinges upon them, they deserve the most thoughtful consideration. We read in Jeremiah 25:30, 31:—
“Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, The Lord shall roar from on high, and utter his voice from his holy habitation; he shall mightily roar upon his habitation. He shall give a shout as they that tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the Lord hath a CONTROVERSY with the nations; he WILL PLEAD WITH all flesh, he will give them that are wicked to the sword.”
Here is a direct pleading with “all flesh,” on the part of the Almighty, and the extirpation of the wicked from among men. History supplies no record of such an awful transaction. The time of its accomplishment will appear from the next testimony:
“Behold the name of the Lord COMETH FROM FAR, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy; his lips are full of INDIGNATION, and his tongue as a devouring fire; and his breath as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity” (Isa. 30:27, 28).
Who is “the name of the Lord” personified in this quotation from Isaiah? We hear the answer when we listen to him who said, “I am come in my Father’s name” (John 5:43), and of whom it is written, “There is NONE OTHER NAME under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved”; viz., Jesus the Christ, the anointed God-with-us—the Word made flesh—a name of God provided for the investiture of the naked sons of men. The prophecy represents him as “coming FROM FAR.” What is the meaning of this? We find it explained in Christ’s parable to his disciples, which is recorded in Luke 19:12–27—“A certain nobleman went into a FAR COUNTRY to receive for himself a kingdom, and to RETURN.” Hence, Jesus (the nobleman), returning from heaven (the far country), is “The name of the Lord coming from far.”
Now in what character is he revealed, according to the prophecy? “His lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire.” Or take Paul’s representation: “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire TAKING VENGEANCE on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”; which is in agreement with the statement in Isaiah 11:4: “He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth: and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” Finally, we contemplate the picture symbolically elaborated in Rev. 19:11–16:—
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth. judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns: and he had a NAME WRITTEN that no man knew but he himself; and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and his NAME is called the WORD OF GOD. And their armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean; and out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture, and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Having seen that “the name of the Lord coming from far, burning with his anger,” answers to the approaching advent of Christ to take vengeance, it will be profitable to cite other testimonies to show that this doctrine of coming judgment is the uniform teaching of the Spirit in the word, and not a mere inference from some isolated expressions. We read in Isaiah 66:15, 16:—
“Behold the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots, like a whirlwind, to render HIS ANGER with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh; and THE SLAIN OF THE LORD SHALL BE MANY.”
Again, Psalm 1, 3–6:—
“Our God shall come and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me, those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness; for God is judge himself.”
Further, in Mal. 4:1, 2:—
“Behold the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, all that do wickedly, SHALL BE STUBBLE; and the day that cometh shall BURN THEM UP, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings.”
To a similar purport, Jer. 30:23, 24:—
“Behold the whirlwind of the Lord shall go forth with fury—a continuing whirlwind; it shall fall with pain upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of the Lord shall not return until he hath done it, and until he hath performed the intents of his heart; IN THE LATTER DAYS YE SHALL CONSIDER IT.”
Again, Psalm 21:9:—
“Thou shalt make them (his enemies) as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger; the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath; and the fire shall devour them.”
“Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” (Psa. 11:6).
“And I will send a fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the Isles: and they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 39:6).
“And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried. They shall be dung upon the ground” (Jer. 25:33).
Surveying these testimonies as a whole, we find that they reveal two separate stages in the “coming troubles.” First, there is “distress of nations”—“evil going forth from nation to nation”—and “men’s hearts failing them for fear,” etc.—which may be designated as the natural stage; and second, a divine manifeststation in the person of the Son of Man (who is “the name of the Lord”) accompanied by sweeping judgments of fire and sword which will destroy large masses of mankind: which may be considered as the supernatural. The former precedes the latter. Hence, as the first indication of the approach of the end, we must look for times of trouble and commotion on the earth.
When natural trouble has advanced to a certain point, the Lord Jesus will be revealed, no longer as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,”—“a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” but as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, treading the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God,”—taking vengeance on this unbelieving generation. The vengeance in relation to mankind as a whole will be destruction to the majority, and discipline to the remnant. Multitudes will perish by war and pestilence; multitudes more will fall victims to the fire which will descend, after the manner of the judgments upon Sodom and Gomorrah; and the flames that consumed the military companies that went to bring Elijah from the top of the mount. “The slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth.”
The earth’s population will be greatly thinned; its reprobate elements expurgated, leaving a residue composed of the meek and submissive, and well-disposed of mankind, who will constitute the willing subjects of Messiah’s kingdom, referred to in Isaiah 2:3; Jeremiah 3:17; Micah 4:2; and Zechariah 14:16, as the nations which shall go up “to the house of the God of Jacob,” at Jerusalem, to learn of His ways, and walk in His paths, walking no more after the imagination of their evil hearts.
But this result will not be at once developed. The subjugation of the world is a matter of time. When Christ comes, the powers will league themselves against him. This is evident from Rev. 19:19: “I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.” This is after his descent from heaven (see verse 11). It may be thought incredible that nations should be so infatuated as to attempt to oppose the movements of omnipotence. The answer is, that what has been may be again. The Egyptians did not succumb before the unmistakable evidence of divine working, but madly pursued Israel after they left Egypt, and came to perdition in the Red Sea. It is not at all improbable that the powers on the Continent may look upon Christ as some new Mahomet—some fanatical caliph bent upon the project of universal conquest. Under this impression they will combine to put him down; but their misguided efforts will recoil upon their own heads to their destruction:—
“The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters, but God shall rebuke them: and they shall flee afar off; and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind; and like thistledown before the whirlwind. Behold at eventide trouble; and before the morning HE IS NOT” (Isa. 17:13, 14).
“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” (Psa. 2:4, 5).
“The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen; he shall fill the places with dead bodies. He shall wound the heads over many countries” (Psa. 110:5, 6).
“It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. They shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison (viz. the grave: Zech. 9:11); and confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously” (Isa. 24:21–23).
“The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall be thunder upon them (then the sequel). The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed (or Christ)” (I Sam. 2:10).
Also, let Zeph. 3:8, and Haggai 2:6, 22, be consulted, as well as other Scriptures, which may be found on search. Thus the attempt on the part of the “constituted” powers to resist the new-risen Eastern monarch, will result in their utter discomfiture. Their audacity will meet with terrible retribution. The entire system of human government which they represent will be shivered to atoms, and the invincible autocracy of the Greater than Solomon will be asserted and universally established.
This, however, will not be accomplished in an instant. God could annihilate the power of the enemy in a moment, and at once clear the ground for the erection of His own power in the earth; but there would then be no scope for the intended punishment of this wicked world, and no depth in the moral effect upon “the remnant.” God could at once have destroyed the Egyptians and liberated the captive Israelites; but then the lesson which was intended to be wrought for all time would not have been graven sufficiently deep; the Jews would have carried away but an indistinct idea of the greatness and omnipotence of Jehovah; and the historical name of God, which is one of the buttresses of our faith, would have been ill-remembered. The divine workings are always characterised by comprehensiveness of aim, and it is only ignorance of the purpose that engenders contempt for the means. In the collision, then, which will take place at the end, between the powers of this world and Christ, the man whom God hath appointed to judge the world in righteousness, man will be allowed to go his utmost length, and to put forth his power in the vain attempt to vanquish unsuspected omnipotence. This will give time for the moral operation of the judgments which will be brought to bear in their suppression:—
“WHEN thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa. 26:9).
“All nations shall come and worship before thee; FOR THY JUDGMENTS ARE MADE MANIFEST” (Rev. 15:4).
Many laborious campaigns will probably take place before complete subjugation is effected. The governments of the earth will struggle with desperation to preserve the human regime from threatened annihilation. They will fight to the last, and will hope till expiring hope goes out in the complete triumph of the Lamb, “who shall overcome them.” During the interval which will thus be occupied, a righteous and submissive people will be developed by means of the judgment manifested who will be glad to hail the inauguration of the new government, which will be universally established upon the ruins of “the kingdoms of this world.”
What will be the position of Christ’s own people at this crisis, those who now and in all ages “look for his appearing,” being “like unto men that wait for their Lord”? It is clear that they are not left among the nations during this dreadful time of trouble; they are with “the Lamb,” as is evident from Rev. 17:14: “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for He is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” Who are “they that are WITH HIM”? The answer appears in the next testimony: “The Lord my God shall come, and all THE SAINTS with thee” (Zech. 14:5).
The saints co-operate with Christ in executing the judgments written. This honour is in reserve for them all. It will be their privilege “to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have ALL HIS SAINTS” (Psalm 149:7–9). This “honour” will be sustained at the time contemplated in the words of Daniel, chap. 7:22: “JUDGMENT was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” Paul reminds the Corinthians of this approaching elevation of the saints to the judgment-seat: “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life”? (I Cor. 6:2, 3). It is also seen by John in vision, as recorded in Rev. 20:4: “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.”
Thus it is obvious that in the closing judgment-scenes of this dispensation, the saints will be associated with the Lord Jesus in destroying the political, ecclesiastical, and social systems which aggregately constitute “this present evil world.” This is a work of devastation for which the mere religious sentimentalists of the age would be unfit. It will involve much destruction of life, after the wholesale example of the flood, and develop a time of trouble, such as never has been witnessed since there was a nation on earth—“a day of darkness and gloominess—a day of clouds and thick darkness—the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Widespread will be the desolations produced; bloody and scathing the judgments ministered at the hands of Jesus and the saints. “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled; and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day; for the day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.… They shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth” (Isa. 2:11, 12, 19).
It must be obvious, then, that before this judgment period commences, the saints will be removed from the spheres which they occupy in the world; otherwise they would not be with Christ, and would be involved in the general troubles, which is contrary to the words in which they are addressed in Isaiah 26:20, 21:—
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast; for, behold; the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth, also, shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.”
The mode of this “entering into the chamber, and shutting the door” to hide, is made apparent in the New Testament; first, by reference to Matt. 25:10, where we read “They that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut”: and second, by reference to Rev. 19:7, 8, where we find that this marriage is the reunion between Christ and his people at his coming. This is further manifest from the teaching of Paul in I Thess. 4:16–17:—
“The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then, WE WHICH ARE ALIVE AND REMAIN, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; AND SO SHALL WE EVER BE WITH THE LORD.”
This is referred to in II Thess. 2:1, as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.” The first event that takes place, then, after the return of the Lord from heaven, is the “gathering together” of all His saints to him, including the dead of past ages, who shall have been raised for the purpose. This gathering together is to judgment. Paul says: “We (brethren) must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10); and the parables which Christ spake on earth, illustrative of his then approaching departure to heaven, and his subsequent return, have this characteristic: “And it came to pass that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money.” (Luke 19:15).
From all this, it appears, that on his return, his dead servants will be raised, and his living servants gathered with them from every part of the earth where they may be scattered, to be arraigned before him, that he may “take account of them” (Matt. 18:23). He will approve of some, and reject others: the latter will be sentenced to share in the judgments which will descend upon the apocalyptic “beast and his armies,” or sin, as politically and ecclesiastically incorporate in the powers that will “make war with the Lamb” and his army; the former will be admitted to the marriage ceremony, in which they will be confessed, “before the Father and all the holy angels” (Matt. 10:32; Rev. 3:5), and will thenceforward “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” (Rev. 14:4), and co-operate with him in the infliction upon the nations of that “judgment written” which was treated of in the earlier part of the lecture.
All this takes place before divine judgments commence, but not before that “distress of nations with perplexity,” which is the preliminary symptom of the approaching “time of trouble, such as never was.” That state of political embarrassment will, probably, prevail for a considerable time before the saints are called away to the reckoning, and men will only consider it a repetition of commotions that have many times recurred in the course of history. They will only look to its proximate cause. They will never suspect that a divine hand is guiding the development of events, or that “the judge is nigh, even at the door.” They will never dream that the world is on the verge of the most awful crisis that has ever occurred in its history—that divine indignation, long restrained, is about to visit the world in destroying judgments that will break up the entire system of human society, as politically, ecclesiastically, and socially organised.
But like the little hand-cloud presaging the coming storm, the saints will be removed at a particular juncture of affairs without previous intimation. In all probability, the event will be so inconspicuous as to attract little attention. All that the world in general will know of it will be that a few obscure individuals, holding “fanatical” doctrines, have mysteriously disappeared; few will ever seriously suppose that there is anything supernatural in the occurrence. Theories of the phenomenon will be ready to hand, and the incident will be forgotten—at least by the majority. Some who happened to know that this expected removal was part of the doctrine of these fanatical people, may be unable to quell a certain feeling of uneasiness which will trouble their breasts; but the world at large will be unaffected, and will move on to the destruction that awaits it at the revelation of Jesus with all his saints.
For the sake of clearness, it will be well to summarise the events already spoken of, in their chronological order:—
1st.—“Upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity,” arising from the complication of international politics, described as “evil going forth from nation to nation,” and producing a failing of heart among men (Luke 21:26; Jeremiah 25:32).
2nd.—The coming of Christ as a thief (Rev. 16:15), after the development of certain events to be spoken of hereafter.
3rd.—Resurrection of “the dead in Christ.”
4th.—The gathering of the saints to Christ from all parts of the earth, including the living and those who have been dead.
5th.—The judgment of His servants, comprising the rejection of the unworthy; and acceptance of the “good and faithful”; the sending away of the former into the territory of the nations on whom judgment will descend, and the uniting of the latter as “the bride made ready,” in glorious marriage, to the long absent but then arrived bridegroom.
6th.—War between the “powers that be,” and the Lamb, who shall overcome them.
7th.—Heavy judgments inflicted on the nations by Jesus and the saints, producing great slaughter over all the earth, and resulting in the complete abolition of the existing order of things, and in the teaching of righteousness to men.
8th.—Setting up of the kingdom of God, which will last for a thousand years, and then undergo a change in its constitution, adapting it to the necessities of the eternal ages beyond.
This is a general outline of the events which will occur at “the end,” in connection with the establishment of the kingdom of God. It is deficient, however, in one important respect; it does not embrace those events which constitute the occasion of the Messiah’s thief-like advent, and takes no note of the political signs which are revealed in Scripture as the premonitory indications of the near approach of the end. These, with the question of how near the world probably lies to the great crisis, will be dealt with in the next lecture.