Biblical history is divided by God into dispensations, defined periods or ages to which God has allotted distinctive administrative principles
J N Darby is sometimes referred to as the father of dispensational theology. Whilst the thought was not new, and it is clear from scripture, there was in his time (and still is) a lot on muddled thinking amongst believers. Many teach that we are part of a steady continuum, with for example the church replacing Israel, and that Christ’s kingdom is present, and that the interpretation of periods is purely spiritual or figurative – sometimes called ‘covenant theology’.
In view of this, A Day of Small Things is presenting a short outline of what we mean by the term ‘dispensation’, and where we fit in now.
J N Darby’s teaching, and also that of many servants of the Lord, has been based on the understanding that Biblical history is divided by God into dispensations, defined periods or ages to which God has allotted distinctive administrative principles. Dispensationalists’ presuppositions start with the harmony of history as focusing on the glory of God and put God at its centre – as opposed to a central focus on humanity and their need for salvation[*].
The Word ‘Dispensation’
The word, οἰκονομία/oikonomia/Strong 3622— (Eph. 1:10), and translated “dispensation” there — is a compound word “house” and “law – the rules or administration, of a household, as in our word “economy. In the phrase, “dispensational truth,” it looks at the world as a great household, in which God is dispensing, or administering, according to rule of His own establishing, and in whose order He has from time to time introduced certain changes, the understanding of which is consequently needful, both to the intelligent interpretation of His word and to intelligent action under Him[†]
List of Dispensations
There are several lists of dispensations, and to my knowledge, Darby did not produce a formal list, but the classic view lists the following, each associated with a covenant between God and man[‡]:
Innocence– Adam under probation prior to the Fall. Ends with expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Some refer to this period as the Adamic period or the dispensation of the Adamic covenant or Adamic law. (Gen 1:28)
Conscience– From the Fall to the Great Flood. Ends with the worldwide deluge. (Gen 3:7)
Human Government– After the Great Flood, humanity responsible to enact the death penalty. Ends with the dispersion at the Tower of Babel. Some use the term Noahide law in reference to this period of dispensation. (Gen 8:15)
Promise – From Abraham to Moses. Ends with the refusal to enter Canaan and the 40 years of unbelief in the wilderness. Some use the terms Abrahamic law or Abrahamic covenant in reference to this period of dispensation. (Gen 12:1)
Law– From Moses to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Ends with the scattering of Israel in AD70. Some use the term Mosaic law in reference to this period of dispensation. (Ex 19:1)
Grace– From the cross to the rapture of the church. The rapture is followed by the wrath of God comprising the Great Tribulation. Some use the term Age of Grace or the Church Age for this dispensation. (Acts 2:1)
Millennial Kingdom– The 1000 year reign of Christ on earth centred in Jerusalem. Ends with God’s judgment on the final rebellion. (Rev 20:4)
Branch of Theology Darby’s Probable Position
Hermeneutics – concerning the Biblical text Qualified-literal – Passages are literal, figurative or symbolic, and recognised as such. Also, that which relates to Israel and the law (OT) is distinct from that which applies to the church and grace (NT).
Soteriology – concerning salvation Classic evangelical – God-given faith in the blood. Without the atoning work of Christ, man must bear the guilt of his sin and remain at a distance from God without knowledge of Him or of His love. More Calvinist than Arminian but claiming neither
Should there be an Introduction to a Little Basic Theology?
At a discussion about ‘A Day of Small Things’ with a few friends, the suggestion was made that there should be an introduction to a little basic theology. This is a subject many like myself have steered clear of, even regarding the term as a dirty word, and for very good reason.
– We read the scriptures, we have bible readings and other occasions, and we pray with a view to ‘knowing God’ and in an assembly setting it can be said that we are ‘taught of God’ and guided by the Holy Spirit.
– On the other hand, theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. (Wikipedia) – Trying to mentally encompass the inscrutable God is futile, even profane!
However, there are times when we desire to help fellow Christians who have been subjected to a different system of teaching. It is then useful to understand lines of thought, which we might feel are not fully in accord with, or a misinterpretation of scripture, even when they are held by seriously devout godly believers.
So recently I have been seeking to produce a short guide to some of the theological terms that we might encounter – not to make theologians of us, wasting time on ‘foolish and unlearned questions (2 Tim 2:23)’. But it is useful to know what is meant, for example, by the difference between Calvinism (and its five points) and Arminianism, pre-, post- and a-millennial eschatology etc. Through this we can see how we might relate to those from Baptist (Calvinist), Wesleyan/Methodist/Pentecostal (Arminian), and other backgrounds, and to be able to bring in what is positive in a meek way without giving offence. We are exhorted: ‘In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth’ (2 Tim 2:25) – a scripture which follows the instruction as to separating from iniquity.
Love is of God, and every one that loves has been begotten of God, and knows God. He that loves not has not known God; for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 Darby)
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent(John 17:3)
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil 3:10)
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth(2 Tim 3:7)
Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Eccl 12:12)
A Call for Help
I am no theologian – I studied economics and statistics, not theology. So I would like to invite several to review my draft when I have done my bit. There are two or three persons I have already contacted, but if you feel you could help please let me know.
John Nelson Darby
Meanwhile, for a start, here is what might be written about Darby theology
Branch of Theology
Darby’s Probable Position
Hermeneutics – concerning the Biblical text
Qualified-literal – Passages are literal, figurative or symbolic, and recognised as such. Also, that which relates to Israel and the law (OT) is distinct from that which applies to the church and grace (NT).
Soteriology – concerning salvation
Classic evangelical – God-given faith in the blood. Without the atoning work of Christ, man must bear the guilt of his sin and remain at a distance from God without knowledge of Him or of His love. More Calvinist than Arminian but claiming neither
Eschatology – concerning prophecy
‘The Father of Premillennial Dispensationalism’ – The pre-tribulation secret rapture with the Church returning with Christ at the start of the millennium
Ecclesiology – concerning the church and church form
The true church is heavenly, unified and perfect – publicly it is in ruins – the call is to depart from iniquity and gather to the Lord’s name – without form, organisation or ordained leadership.
Christology – concerning the Person of Christ
None! – How can the blessed Object of our worship be studied academically?
This is no substitute for:
Reading, remembering the Holy Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:15)
Knowing that your sins are forgiven and rejoicing in the Saviour (see 1 John 2:12)
Awaiting our Lord’s return with a heart aglow (see 2 Peter 1:19)
Enjoying a wonderful relationship with one another, with he Lord’s presence when two or three are gathered to His Name (see Matt 18:20)
Worshipping our great ‘God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13 Darby and others)
The next event for us is the rapture. It could be at any time – today even – and applies only to the church. Because of that, there is no reference to it in the Old Testament. In scripture, the in Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα/harpagēsometha/Strong 726 in 1Thess 4:17. Is translated ‘caught up’. The word ‘rapture’ is a noun with the same meaning.
We should ask why is the rapture so little understood, or even accepted amongst many sincere Christians? This scripture in 1 Thess 14:13-18 is very clear:
A few weeks ago I was talking to some of my younger Christian friends regarding the various things which had happened and were yet to happen. They had little problem with the history – creation, the fall, the flood, the Exodus, Moses receiving the law, David, the captivity, the birth of Christ, His death and resurrection, Pentecost etc., but they had real problems with what is to come. I thought therefore in this and a few coming letters to look at these future events so that we might be sure where we are in relation to them.
The next event for us is the rapture. It could be at any time – today even – and applies only to the church. Because of that, there is no reference to it in the Old Testament. In scripture, the in Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα/harpagēsometha/Strong 726 in 1Thess 4:17. Is translated ‘caught up’. The word ‘rapture’ is a noun with the same meaning.
We should ask why is the rapture so little understood, or even accepted amongst many sincere Christians? This scripture in 1 Thess 14:13-18 is very clear: ‘But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them [Darby – are in no way to anticipate those] which are asleep. For 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words’. Look at a few phrases ‘the dead in Christ shall rise first’ – that encompasses all those who have been ransomed by His blood from creation onwards. Whether we who are alive now will be taken before the rapture, none of us knows. Paul referred to ‘we, the living’, as if he thought it would be within his lifetime. Of course we know it was not, but he was looking forward to the Lord’s coming – we should be too.
Paul also says, ‘we shall ever be with the Lord’ (v.17), and ‘them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him’. Now when Jesus comes (the public second coming, often referred to in scripture as ‘the appearing’) the dead in Christ will be with Him – and so will be those lovers of the Lord who were alive at the rapture. Also, ‘When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory’ (Col 3:4). Clearly, we could not come with Him, if we were still on the earth.
The church is heavenly entity: she belongs to Christ in heaven, and her hope and glory is Christ Himself. She looks forward to and His return to take up His rights. Therefore the church has nothing to do with the course of events of the earth. This makes its rapture and return with Christ so simple and clear, as we see from Col 3:4, ‘When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’ 
1 Cor 15:51-52 is another scripture which describes the rapture: ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. ’ From this we can deduce that there will be a rallying trumpet, the whole event will be very quick, and our bodies will be changed. The latter is also referred to in Rom 8:23 ‘waiting for the adoption, [to wit], the redemption of our body’.
When the Lord was discoursing with his disciples immediately prior to the crucifixion, He tells them that a place was being prepared for the saints to be with Him, where He is. ‘I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.’ (John 14:2-3).
The rapture will be sudden
No one knows when the rapture will be
The rapture will be private
At the rapture there will be a voice (or trumpet sound) which only Christians will hear
At the rapture the Lord will not come quite to the earth – just to the air
The rapture will affect people, whether raptured or left here: the world carries on
At the rapture bodies will be changed
The question often arises as to what the effect of the saints being taken will be. Suddenly millions of people will just vanish! Hal Lindsey, who awakened many Christians to the rapture in the 1970’s in a popular book ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’, said that there would be confusion. I doubt it. Christians who are ‘not of the world’ will not be missed. Writing about future events in his second epistle to the Thessalonians Paul said, ‘God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie’ (2 Thess 2:11). The Antichrist will conjure up a satisfactory credible explanation which will be accepted universally.
The Rapture and the Appearing
We must not confuse the second coming with the rapture. At the rapture the Lord comes to the atmosphere immediately above the earth. At the appearing He comes to the earth. Here are some differences between the rapture and the appearing:
Something else many Christians do not realise is the fact there will be two resurrections. The Old Testament did not distinguish between the two. John made the distinction very clear. When the Lord was here, He said ‘all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation’ (John 5:28-29). Also in Revelation, ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power’ (Rev 20:6). The second death is to the Great White Throne – the resurrection of the dead for judgment.
The first resurrection (the resurrection of the just) is primarily at the rapture. J N Darby says that it will be the consummation of our happiness. Having given life to our souls, He will give life to our glorified bodies.
Satan is the author of this confusion. He does not want Christians to burn with anticipation of the Lord’s immediate coming. He certainly does not want us saying ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (Rev 22:20).
Dear Christian friends, may we keep near Him, and be assured as to the immediacy of His return.
This article looks back over what Darby wrote in the light of various things that have happened in the world since then. For example:
The break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of many independent states in the Middle East
The first and second World Wars
The Treaty of Rome and the European Union
NATO and allies
The United Nations and other treaty organisations
The rise and fall of the Russian (Soviet) Empire and its resurgent ambitions
Former Warsaw Pact nations aligning themselves with the West, joining NATO and the European Union
Colonial independence from Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands etc
Post WW2 political and later economic migration
Formation of the State of Israel and territorial disputes
The growing significance of Islam, and the hostility between the Sunni and Shi’ite divisions
Islamic jihad terrorist organisations such as ‘Islamic State’, al Qaeda and Boko Haram
The wealth of the Arabs etc. due to oil
Increased material wealth and generally reduced poverty
The dominance of the United States
Improvements in health care
Legalisation and even promotion of unorthodox/immoral lifestyles
Modern communications, radio, TV and the internet
The green movement
The large migration of Eastern people to Europe, America and elsewhere, bringing the influence of religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
I will treat the various areas of the world, citing Darby’s analysis and opinion and possible deductions in describing his Prophetic Map. I have also noted a couple of things I do not understand. Doubtless this could be a topic for discussion.
I might add that this does not involve the church. However we Christians should be intelligent as to events in the world, and also know what will happen here after the rapture of the church . Of course we will not be here!
Europe, the ‘Western World’ and the Antichrist
Europeans are primarily descendants of Japheth, Gomer (hence Germany also known as Cimmerians – from which Cimbri – Celts), and Magog (Scythians/Russians), and Madai (Medes), and Javan (Greece) , and Tubal (Tiblisi? i.e. the Caucuses), and Meshech Moschi – Armenians), and Tiras (probably Goths/Scandinavians) see Genesis 10:2-3 (and Elicott’s Ethnological Table. However, with so much migration over the millennia, clear demarcations are impossible.
Darby believed that France, not the USA, would become the dominant Western power. At the time France was in turmoil: Napoleon, whose objective had been European integration, had been defeated, and there was continued unrest up to the establishment of the Second Republic in 1848. France would not have been considered a potential leader of Europe at ay time during JND’s adult life, it being in trouble again in the 1870’s after the Franco-Prussian war.
In drawing up his Prophetic Map, Darby foresaw European unity – at least as nation states working together, and that is what we have. At the time of writing Britain had just elected to withdraw from the European Union. Nevertheless, it will remain in the larger political/military grouping of NATO and probably the European Economic Area. However, it will not be in a position to lead Europe. Indeed, in Darby’s paper England is described as a minor irritant – this must have been perceptive considering the world dominant position of the British Empire in the 1800’s.
Germany, whilst the largest economy, has never led, still being held back by the WW2 legacy. Hitler, another prefigurement of the Antichrist had thankfully been defeated. Darby referred to Austria. Of course this country’s influence has become minor since the fall of the Hapsburgs, and even more so since Hitler (an Austrian) annexed the country to Germany. It would remain part of the West European nations. He was also critical of Poland and to date the role of this populous nation has been limited to its part in the downfall of the Soviet system, and to providing the Pope in office at the time.
Roman Catholicism will be the dominant religion, especially as so-called Protestant churches veer towards Rome. Elsewhere Darby made it clear that this would be increasingly so despite the strength of atheistic secularism. The large influx of Muslims, and those of Eastern religions will in time make way for the unified false Babylon religion. Already, in the UK, Muslims represent about 10% of the religiously active population, with Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists making 5%. There is even a trend to pre-Christian paganism.
Biblically the sphere of operations is the area covered by the Roman Empire and some extensions in Europe, Asia and Africa. Outgoings of Europe in the rest of the world – USA, Canada, Australia, Latin America etc., are not part of the sphere or provide leadership, but can be regarded as part of the expanded Roman Empire in Revelation.
Did Darby foresee the modern advances in technology and its impact? He saw the improvement in communications and was not ignorant of scientific thought. What is clear from his writings is that he relates a lot to the influence of the East, embraced by the West.
So it is not impossible that France will be the dominant Western force, supporting Darby’s prediction that the Antichrist would come from that country, despite all that has happened in the last 200 years. Who knows?
Russia and the King of the North
Darby was quite specific as to this area, drawing on Ezekiel and Daniel in particular.
On the European side we have Russia, referred to in prophecy as Rosh and Meshech (Moscow?) and Tubal. He thought that Russia would come to dominate Turkey-in-Asia, but I believe that if it does, it will control the whole country. Istanbul is as much Turkey as Ankara. This is not impossible. Whilst Turkey has been a member of NATO for decades, and would like to join the European Union, there are areas of tension with NATO and strong resistance to its joining the EU. Like Russia it does not really have democratic government. Having lost the Eastern European countries to the EU after the fall of communism, there is little doubt that Russia would like to extend its sphere of influence. Russia’s influence and control would then extend from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.
The other area that Darby thought that Russia would dominate (though not control) is that of Persia (Iran) and Media the Japhetic children of Medai . [Darby said that that Persia was a subservient Hamitic people, but their language does not bear this out. Probably he was referring to what we now know as the Iraqis who speak Arabic, but would have been, like the Canaanites, descended from Ham – Sosthenes]. Darby’s map shows this area extending eastwards as far as the Indus River, and therefore embracing a lot of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and south to include Syria and Lebanon. Although those countries are mostly Sunni, Iran would like to control all the Muslim regions in that part of the world.
Significantly Darby hardly mentions Islam – just four passing references to the religion or to Mohammed. Any review must take account of the increased profile of this religion, its divisions and the violent actions in its name. He never referred to the two opposing Sunni and Shi’ite divisions of that religion. The Shi’ite religion, with its observance of shrines and icons is probably more compatible with Orthodox Christendom, so there is a natural fit here. The Assyrians are referred to a lot – basically the same people.
Finally, in this group are the descendants of Nimrod, the hunter. These Hamites led to the Huns and the Magyars, now occupying Hungary and much of the Balkans. Russia would have to wrest these countries from the EU and stop Serbia and the Ukraine from joining.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the King of the South
The area ‘between the two rivers’ (i.e. the Euphrates and the Nile) is occupied by descendants of Shem and Ham. Ishmael (Arabs) and Hamites – from Cush, Phut and Mizraim (Egypt and North Africa) are generally stricter, puritanical Sunni Muslims rivalling the Shi’ites to the north. Doubtless due to financial relationships with the West, Darby’s words could be fulfilled, ‘Eastern descendants of Ham, just as the western or southern descendants of Ham will be at the steps of Antichrist or the mature apostate body, for they will be judged as Antichrist, Gog and Magog, for coming against the Jews.’ (See original paper).
All this is very interesting, but has no direct bearing on the church. But as Darby says, ‘There is not a more important chapter in Scripture as to the providence of God than Genesis 10. The Noahic and Abrahamic earth under Providence leaves the will of man to act. All the powers of the world will be brought together as they have acted within the limits of God’s known providence, and formed the subject of Scriptural statement as to kingdoms, i.e., powers in the world previous to the interposition and restoration of the four great kingdoms with the power of Ezekiel [especially ch. 38], acting as described in Joel [chs. 2 and 3]; and of other types. The Gog and Magog of Revelation includes all and runs over the whole extent of the inhabited earth, not the powers of the earth as in the formative system, for then the system is formed and it is re-action, in God’s wisdom and permission, of judgment on those not truly of it, as I am led to believe.’
How does the New Testament distinguish between the earthly hopes and promises to Israel, and the heavenly hopes of the church? It is absolutely impossible to set aside the promises to Israel – the church odes not replace them [as modern ‘replacement theology’ and would suggest*]. God had made promises to His people which cannot be undone – ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance’ (Rom 11:29). In speaking of Israel, ‘Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers’ (Rom 15:8). His rejection and death did not set the promises aside. Israel is now in unbelief, but after the rapture of the church, there will be a pious godly remnant owning Christ and owned by Him.
The Birth of Christ
In the beginning of Luke, Christ’s birth is announced to Israel. The angel told Zacharias that many of Israel should turn to the Lord their God, a people prepared for Him (see Luke 1:16-17). This is a people prepared for the Lord before He comes (not sovereign grace meeting sinners in their need, as it is with us). Mary was told that Jesus (Jehovah the Saviour) should be called the Son of the Highest, and that He would be given the throne of His Father (see Luke 1:32). The song of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-79) is wholly composed of the divinely-given celebration of God’s having visited and redeemed His people, and raised up a horn of salvation for them in the house of His servant David (see v.69). The Jewish shepherds received the announcement of His birth.
But these persons were not typical of those of Israel – they were they believing, pious ‘remnant’. Later, Anna and others were looking for redemption in Jerusalem: they evidently knew one another. Simeon saw in ‘light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel’. (Luke 2:32). It is therefore absolutely clear that this remnant, a people prepared for Jehovah, awaiting earthly deliverance.
The Gentiles come later in Luke.
Christ’s Rejection by Israel
Matthew’s gospel reveals the way in which Christ was presented to the Jews and rejected by them. Following His rejection, God’s plans for the remnant were interrupted in order to accomplish something brighter and more blessed [viz. the church, the time of the Spirit, grace and the Christian dispensation*]. But to suppose that God had invalidated His thoughts as to Israel, would be to subvert divine testimonies and undermine God’s faithfulness and testimony.
The old was still in the mind of God to be fulfilled at the appropriate time. Like the prophets, Matthew, passed over the intervening church period. He introduced Christ as the accomplishment of prophecy and promise, giving His genealogy and showing how prophecy was being fulfilled – see Matt 1:22, 2:5 & 2:15. ‘The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus’ (Rev 19:10). The church does not have any part in this, already being with Christ.
In the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7) the ‘ye’ refers to the remnant, not the self-righteous Jews – [nor does it directly refer to Christians*]. They were to expect persecution and a consequent reward in heaven. Those who were obedient to His teaching were like the man building his house on the rock see (Matt 7:24). On the other hand, unbelieving Israel would be cast into prison till the uttermost farthing was paid (Matt 5:26).
In Matt 10, Christ sends out the twelve. They were not to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They were to declare the kingdom of heaven to be at hand, and to enquire who was worthy, that is to seek the righteous remnant (not poor sinners). Although they were to speak peace everywhere, the peace would rest only on the sons of peace. They were to shake the dust off of their feet before those hostile Jews who did not receive them. Verse 18 goes beyond the Lord’s lifetime and the church period. The faithful would be brought before the Gentiles (enemies), and be hated of all men for Christ’s name sake. This ministry was to Israel and would not be completed till the Son of man came.
In Matt 23 the disciples and the people are on Jewish ground. They were to be subject to the teachers who had set themselves in Moses seat, even if those teachers had rejected the ‘prophets, and wise men, and scribes’ (v. 34). Their forebears had stoned the prophets, and killed those sent; but still Jerusalem would never listen. Often would Jesus (Jehovah) have gathered Jerusalem’s children together, but now the desolate city would not see her Lord until she repented, saying, ‘Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (v. 39).
In Matt 24 His disciples ask about the judgment and the end of the age (not the ‘world’). This again is in line with Jewish thought. The temple would be destroyed, which of course happened in AD70, but the Lord spoke of what would happen at the end. False Christs would come, saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and some would be deceived, even perhaps the elect. Many troubles would arise: there would be the abomination of desolation of which Daniel spoke, and those who were in Judea would flee to the mountains. But before His coming, the gospel of the kingdom would be sent to all the Gentiles. Finally, the Messiah would return and associate Himself with the godly remnant in Judea and Jerusalem. What language could be plainer?
The whole scene is Jewish, not Christian. Indeed, it has no direct application whatever to true Christians, because when the Lord comes, they would already have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The Lord will come publicly as Judge, whereas when He comes to rapture His saints, it will be secretly in perfect grace. A Christian who has been beguiled by thoughts of going through the tribulation, must have renounced Christian hopes or have never understood them.
On the cross the Lord interceded saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). After the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter says, ‘And now, brethren, I know that ye did it in ignorance, as also your rulers… Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from [the] presence of the Lord, and he may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you, whom heaven indeed must receive till [the] times of [the] restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began’ (Acts 3:17-19 Darby). Repentance was called for, but few repented. Stephen witnessed to the Jews always resisting the Holy Spirit. Finally, the most active resister of the Spirit, Saul, was converted. When the Jews counted themselves unworthy of eternal life, he, now Paul, turned to the Gentiles and the doctrine of the church is revealed to him.
As far as we can see, Peter did not teach the doctrine of the church. Christians remained strictly attached to Judaism, zealous of the law; priests were obedient to the faith and some even continued to be priests. Peter never even taught Jesus to be the Son of God, even though it had been revealed to him: his doctrine was, ‘Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36).
Now God introduces the sovereign fullness of His grace, a doctrine entirely unknown in the Old Testament. Paul speaks of the mystery, Jews and Gentiles forming one body, and says ‘The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest and by prophetic scriptures [not ‘the scriptures of the prophets’], according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith’ (Rom 16:25-26 Darby). The Father had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Son of the living God (not merely the Christ). Following that, Christ could then speak of the church, for it was to be founded on that confession. But it was still a future thing – ‘on this rock I will build my church’ (Matt 16:18). In Christ’s death He gathered together into one the children of God; in His resurrection He was declared Son of God with power; in His departure the Comforter came.
Christ’s death and resurrection laid the great foundation for all our blessings, in particular the church. When the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came down the church (or the assembly), was formed, and the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved (see Acts 2:47). Those who previously formed the remnant, became the nucleus of it. It was a newly instituted body, formed in unity by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, and united to the Head, Christ in heaven. However, His promises to Israel remained sure.
Only Paul speaks of the assembly (or church). Also Paul is the only apostle who speaks of the rapture of the saints taking place before the appearing of Christ. This ministry changed everything: we now have a heavenly gathering on earth. Paul’s free ministry, distinct from that of the twelve, had already been started by Stephen. He saw a heavenly Christ, a Man in glory, and was put to death. This was individual.
Now Saul, the chief persecutor, when drawing near to Damascus, was arrested by the same Man whom Stephen saw. From the glory He said, ‘‘Why persecutest thou me?’ … I am Jesus whom thou persecutest’ (Acts 9:4-5). Lord’s told him that He, Himself was being persecuted, although the objects of that persecution were the Christians. From this we infer that the Lord’s body was here, identified with its glorified Head in heaven. This became the starting-point for Paul’s ministry as to the church. Jew and Gentile were all one; they were all one in Him. He taught, ‘God hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church [assembly], which is his body, the fulness of him who filleth all in all.’ (Eph 1:22-23).
Before God took up the children of Israel as a nation, the saints of God walked in individual faith. Afterwards, they were individual members of a nation owned as God’s people. It was a unity in the flesh: the Spirit had nothing to do with it, and it excluded the Gentiles. After the death and exaltation of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God through faith, and consequently were made one by the Holy Spirit. This was the body of Christ, the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for ‘church’ or ‘assembly’, ἐκκλησίᾳ/ekklēsia, means ‘a calling out’. We see it in ‘The Lord added daily to the assembly’ (Acts 2:27 Darby). ‘He set some in the assembly; firstly, apostles; secondly, prophets’ (1 Cor 12:18 Darby). It is called out to participate in the sufferings of Christ, later for Him to present it to Himself as His bride, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing (See Eph 5:27). The word ἐκκλησίᾳ/ekklēsia is also applied to the particular assemblies of Christians in different places, because they formed the assembly of God in that place. No other meaning is possible.
The Hope of the Church
The church is heavenly in its calling, and belongs to Christ in heaven. It forms no part of the course of events of the earth. This makes its rapture so simple and clear as we see from Col 3:4, ‘When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’ The church’s hope and glory is Christ Himself. He is our life; our life is hid with Him; He is our righteousness; the glory given to Him He has given us; we are members of His body; we are of His flesh and of His bones. We suffer with Him now, but will reign with Him in a future day, conformed to His image.
The church has nothing to do on earth with Christ’s appearing or second coming. She is already spoken of as sitting with Him in heavenly places (see Eph 1:20), so she belongs elsewhere – she has only yet to be brought there bodily. Her immediate outlook is her being taken physically to where He is. ‘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’ (1 Thess 4:6).
This being the case, a person who maintains that he does not go to be with Christ until His appearing, is denying the proper hope and relationship of the church. Ignorance is one thing, but denial is another. Grasping the fact of our being with Him at the rapture, not the appearing, changes all our spiritual thoughts and affections. Our hope is not even to be in glory with Him, wonderful as that is, but it is being with Him. ‘I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also’ (John 14:3), ‘So shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thess 4:17).
There are several ways in which the return of Christ are presented in Scripture:
The general fact: Christ will come again, and we will be with Him. The saints of our dispensation ‘have been made to our God kings and priests; and they shall reign over the earth’ (Rev 5:10 Darby).
The world, evil and in confusion, will ripen into rebellion. The believer knows and believes that at Christ’s appearing and His kingdom, God will judge the the quick and the dead. It will be an earthly kingdom and an earthly judgment.
The saints of our dispensation will have, through grace, a special association with Christ. They will have met Him in the air. They will also have been before the judgment-seat of Christ, giving an account of themselves to God, but this part of their privilege, not punitive, for they will already be like Jesus. He will introduce them into His Father’s house, placing them in the heavenly seat of government with Himself. This is the rapture of the saints, and it precedes the appearing.
Before the appearing certain events must have occurred. The world will have become completely apostate, and the man of sin will have been revealed. The church will already have gone, not being of the world, but risen with Christ. On the other hand, the rapture does not depend on any earthly event. The Christian’s hope is therefore not a prophetic subject at all. No one knows when the rapture will take place.
The saints leave the world and worldly religion by going out to meet the Bridegroom. The cry ‘Behold the Bridegroom cometh!’ (Matt 25:6)’ went out at midnight, but it could have been at any time. We know that the Bridegroom did tarry, and the sense of His coming was lost. It is the loss of the expectation of immediacy of the Lord’s coming that lays behind the public church’s departure from simplicity, and its fall into clerical authority and worldliness. It lost its spiritual authority. In Matthew 24, what leads the wicked servant into mischief is not the denial of the Lord’s coming, but the loss of the sense and present expectation of it. The Christian is constantly waiting for the Lord to come.
When therefore is the Christian to expect the Lord? – Always.
An example of those who were awaiting the Lord’s return were the newly-converted Thessalonians. They might not have had much light, but their expectation was a divine witness to the world. They were not waiting for any events – just waiting. They saw themselves to amongst those who would be alive and remain at the coming of the Lord (see 1 Thess 4:15). We need to be like that.
We know that the Thessalonians were distressed about those who had perished for Jesus’ sake, that they would not be here to enjoy His coming. They were also troubled by false teachers alleging that that day of the Lord was already present. Paul corrected this error, by showing that the dead would be raised, and then the living go up to meet Christ with them. He explained that it was an absolute moral absurdity for the Lord’s people to go though the judgment, since they would already be in heaven along with the Judge. This confirmed their expectation, enlivening their faith, and brightening their hope, despite the persecution. The terrible persecution was but a pledge from a righteous God that they would have rest and glory, not trouble, when the kingdom came. The Thessalonians’ minds were therefore re-established, and all was clear and peace.
In Rev 12:10-12, it is said, ‘And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!’ This is not the rapture, because that will have taken place earlier. This is in the subsequent seven years. 3½ years before the close (that is the last half-week of Daniel), Satan, the accuser, is cast out of heaven. Now begins the great wrath of Satan for those living upon the earth. For one class persecution and death had now ceased; for another it was just going to begin.
As regards our passing through the tribulation (a question which often arises on this matter) the scripture makes it very simple. How do we know that there will be a tribulation? Scripture tells us. But equally it makes it clear that the the Jews will in it, and the church not:
‘I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth’ (Rev 3:10).
‘These [clearly after the rapture] are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev 7:14).
‘It is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he [a faithful one of Israel] shall be saved out of it’ (Jer 3:7).
‘There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation [Israel] even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book’ (Dan 12:1).
The time of temptation, referred to above, shall come to try them who dwell on the earth. This is more general; it is not the great tribulation of Jeremiah, Daniel, and Matthew, which is exclusively Jewish. Although the Lord is addressing Philadelphia, one of the churches, He says that they would be kept out of it.
Israel and the Appearing
In the epistle to the Romans, specifically chapter 11, we have the general doctrine as to the remnant in Israel. An elect believing remnant will be grafted into their own olive tree and become one nation – ‘all Israel.’ That could not be the Christian assembly, even with Jewish believers – they had never been broken out of the Jewish olive tree.
In that future day, Israel will be blessed on earth. ‘He shall come to be glorified in his saints [not to receive them up to Himself], and to be admired in all them that believe’ (2 Thess 1:10). The remnant of Israel will be blessed in spite of the tribulation. They form a separate class from unbelieving Israel and the church. They come in after the sealing of the 144,000 – the elect of the twelve tribes of Israel (see Rev 7:4), experiencing God’s protection, nourishment, refreshment and comfort. Their position is totally different from ours.
We should not confuse the companies or the happenings. The scripture is as plain as can be. Anybody who confounds the day of Christ with His coming to receive the church does not understand the day we in, nor His coming, nor the church. Confounding the day of the Lord and His coming to receive the church, is a subversion of the whole nature of the relationship between both Christ and the church, and Christ and the world. It is far more than a mistake in terms. The denial of the rapture brings the church down to an earthly position, destroying its whole character.
Isaiah gives us we the Jewish remnant in the latter day. Christ’s personal service on the earth when He first came bore on and spoke of remnant. The blessing is earthly, Jewish, and millennial. Christ, the great Prophet on the earth, to whom Israel was to hearken, the minister of the circumcision, was rejected. The Gentiles are introduced to prove God’s patience with Israel.
Isaiah gives us we the Jewish remnant in the latter day. Christ’s personal service on the earth when He first came bore on and spoke of remnant. The blessing is earthly, Jewish, and millennial. Christ, the great Prophet on the earth, to whom Israel was to hearken, the minister of the circumcision, was rejected. The Gentiles are introduced to prove God’s patience with Israel.
God will not destroy all Israel: those who forsake Him and are judged. Those who hated God’s servants, who trembled at Jehovah’s word, are cast them out.
Meanwhile His servants sing for joy of heart. They are righteous, so when Christ appears, He gives them the earthly blessing, they inherit the mountains, enjoying peace like a river (Isa 66:12).
The prophecy does not relate to the church.
Numerous Old Testament scriptures refer prophetically to the Jewish remnant. The Spirit of Christ enters into their thoughts, feelings, hopes and even fears. Prophetic scripture place this remnant in time before the Lord’s appearing. Those of the remnant will be waiting for that appearing.
At the present time, the church has a special and peculiar character and relationship with Christ. It was formed into one body by the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven. The remnant is totally distinct from the church. The Lord will have raptured His church when the spirit of God works sovereignly in righteous, godly Jews. These will recognise their Messiah, rest on His sacrifice for their salvation, and testify to the glory of Christ amid terrible persecution. But they will have a totally different relationship to Him compared with that of the church.
Unfortunately, many Christians deny the existence of the Jewish remnant. This is a serious error because it connects the Spirit of Christ with the ungodly and unconverted proud, self-righteousness Jews. It is hard to allege that the Lord should connect the breathings of Christ’s Spirit, and the piety flowing from it, with this self-righteousness. Really, those who deny the secret rapture of the saints before Christ’s appearing, and, consequently, the existence of a Jewish remnant, are doing just that.
There are four points on which have the clear testimony of Scripture:
The true church of God is being formed at the present time.
The church will be raptured at the end of this time.
There will be a distinct suffering Jewish remnant after this.
Then Christ will appear and the Millennium will commence.
Here are some scriptures which support the truth as to the Jewish remnant. It will come to light after the Lord’s coming, delivered and blessed by the Him on the earth. However, this remnant will have neither the church’s heavenly blessings nor the church’s hope.
Firstly as to the Jews:
‘And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God’ (Zech 13:8-9).
Then as regards the ten tribes of Israel,
‘And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face . . . . And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezek 20:33-38)
‘Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand’ (Ezek 37:19).
‘And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, … shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God’ (Isa 10:20-21).
‘Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him’ (Mal 3:16-17).
The last word in the Old Testament:
‘For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea and 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; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth [land] with a curse.’ (Malachi 4).
Here is a vital matter for Christians. The error is promulgated is that this is a Christian rather than a Jewish remnant. But it is clear that the blessings of the remnant are earthly, not heavenly. Satan’s work is to deny a distinct Jewish remnant, having Jewish faith, Jewish hopes, and resting on Jewish promises. It reduces the church to the level of these; and denies and loses the value and power of our spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, and the union of Christ’s with Him. Those Christians who hold this have been deceived by the enemy, though they may be unaware of it.
But Scripture shows us that this honoured and glorified remnant is blessed by the Lord, for they have been waiting on Him, and that He recognises those of it as Israel. Some scriptures speak of the intervention of God to deliver or gather Israel, blessing the nation. Other passages refer explicitly to the despised remnant and its state prior to God’s intervention in power. Thus article focusses on the latter. This truth rests not just on a few casual texts, but on the consistent teaching throughout Scripture.
We need to understand the chronology. The prophets refer to ‘the day,’ or ‘that day,’ with without any supposed interruption or interval (i.e. of the church period). The godly people looked forward to Christ, who is viewed as the great Prophet of Israel: by His Spirit alone the prophets prophesied. The prophetic witness is continued in connection with a waiting remnant during His life, and afterwards. However, He warned His disciples as to the pending destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70), and the consequent judgment of the nation. This judgment broke all connection of God’s testimony with the nation, and left the exclusively heavenly church (principally Gentile) the only acknowledged witness until the rapture.
Although the scripture in Malachi above can be applied to to Christ and John the Baptist (Elijah), this passage has a Jewish character and application and refers to the days following the rapture. The godly Jewish remnant, who fear Jehovah’s name, is contrasted with the wicked. Like the godly in Israel in the prophet’s time, they speak often one to another His. They triumph judicially over their wicked oppressors, and and God will spare them in that day.
The Remnant in Isaiah
We have already seen that the Old Testament scriptures relate directly to Israel and God’s government of the world, but they may be applied to the church, and to God’s sovereign grace. This grace must be in Christ, for He is the centre of all God’s ways – the Messiah of the Jews and the King that is to reign in righteousness. The kingdom was not set up, but the King was there. Although John the Baptist having preached about its imminence. But the kingdom will not be established on the earth until the King returns from heaven.
In the gospels we see Christ’s relationship with Israel. We have God’s dealings in grace, but the refusal of God’s grace exposed the state of the nation. As a result God separates the remnant, and judges Israel as a nation. After sending the prophets to seek fruit, the Lord of the vineyard said, ‘I have yet one Son: it may be they will reverence my Son when they see Him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others.’ (Luke 20:13-16). We know the result: judgment came upon the nation but a remnant clung to Him through grace. It is important to see, though, that this remnant is future. The disciples were Jews, but they did not form part of the remnant.
Let us examine the testimony of Isaiah as to the remnant. The prophet (i.e., the Spirit of Christ), says as to state of Judah: ‘Why should ye be stricken any more? . . . Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and made like unto Gomorra.’ (Isa 1:5, 9). According to the prophet, the nation must be restored and purified by judgment (see ch. 1:27). There will be just a remnant left (10% according to ch. 6:13), full of glory and holiness and protected by Christ (see ch. 4:2-6), with with Jerusalem on earth as its centre.
Isaiah 7and 8 unfold this more fully in connection with Emmanuel. Assyria will overrun Judah and there will be a confederacy of nations against it. Israel’s enemies are set aside, but they are not to lean on human sources of strength. A sign was given: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (ch. 7:14). The Lord of hosts would be in the sanctuary. The Lord of hosts separates the remnant, being a stone of stumbling to the nation. The period of the church is passed over.
The prophecy that follows from ch. 9 onwards takes up the general history of Israel in the prophet’s time, its chastisements and hardness of heart. The Assyrian becomes the instrument of God’s anger, but Israel is encouraged not to be afraid of him, for His indignation would soon cease when the Assyrian is destroyed. This has its parallel with the remnant. Israel will suffer under the Antichrist. But the word is to to be kept at peace, with a mind stayed on the Lord, until the indignation be overpast. (Se ch. 26:3, 20). They say, ‘Lo! this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation‘ (ch 25:9) Things will be turned: ‘In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people’ (Isa 28:5). God weighs the path of the just (see ch. 26:7). These chapters is show the character and glory of the remnant before judgment is executed on the nation.
In Chapter 33 we have the last day of trouble righteous remnant in Zion. Its security is announced on the ground that they walk righteously. ‘Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you’ (Ch. 35:3, 4). The feeble remnant is encouraged while waiting for the Lord. When He comes with vengeance, the ransomed of the Lord come to Zion with song. It is a Jewish deliverance.
That part of Isaiah which extends from chapter 40 to the end has quite another character: God reasons with His people. In ch. 40-48 we have the general restoration of the nation and the futility of the Babylonish idols. Cyrus is introduced by name, and Christ takes the place of Israel as servant; He is the true vine
In chapter 49 we have the remnant, the preserved of Israel (see v.6), ‘they fear the Lord, and listen to the voice of his servant’. On the other hand, God had laboured in vain for Israel. In chapter 51:1, they know and follow after righteousness, and have the law in their heart. At first the the comfort of Zion has not yet come, nor has His arm put on strength. But later this happens, and the redeemed of the Lord return to Zion. The whole chapter follows the the appeals of Jehovah to the righteous remnant, and their deliverance by Him.
Afterwards, in ch. 52, the exalted servant is introduced, and the Lord bares His arm in the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth see the salvation of the God of Israel. The remnant recognises that the despised and rejected Christ had been bruised for their iniquities (see ch. 53). Then comes the full blessedness of Jerusalem: her Maker is her husband (ch. 54:5). In ch. 57, some of the righteous perish like the Righteous One, but the wicked never have peace. In ch. 58 we see the spirit in which the godly Jew should walk; being part of suffering remnant, in the midst of an ungodly nation. Jehovah comes in in righteousness in ch. 60. Ch. 61 is remarkable in that the Lord quotes from the this scripture in Luke 4, applying it to Himself, but stops before the part which speaks of the day of vengeance. Yet in the future time, the day of vengeance comes ‘to comfort them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified’ (ch 61:3).
Through these prophecies we understand the doctrine of a Jewish remnant. The remnant is owned by Jehovah, piously and confidently waiting for Him to deliver them. This is not a matter of speculation, nor of the interpretation of some difficult or obscure text, but the clear, consistent testimony of the Spirit of God. This remnant is directly connected with the earth, at the time of Christ’s return presence on the earth, though meanwhile, for other purposes, the Lord may hide His face from the house of Jacob.
The Present Hope of the Church – Summary by Sosthenes
J N Darby gave a series of eleven significant lectures in Geneva in 1840 on the Hope of the Church (L’attente actuelle de l’église). These established his reputation as a leading interpreter of biblical prophecy, and the basis of dispensational and premillennial and pre-trib teaching. His doctrine is still being propagated (in various forms) at such places as Dallas Theological Seminary and by authors and preachers such as Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.
JND said as to them “In going through the more general features of prophecy, we shall examine these three great subjects: the church; the nations; and the Jew”. God made Himself known as Jehovah to the Jews. The prophets showed God’s character as Jehovah. Jesus is presented as the Messiah, the centre of God’s promises and blessings to the Jewish nation. To the Church, God presents Himself as ‘Father’ and Jesus as the ‘Son of God’. We are His brethren – children of God and members of His family. He, the Firstborn, is the expression of all the glory of the Father.
In the dispensation of the fulness of times, when God will gather together all things in Christ, that name under which He has been celebrated by Melchisedec (a type of the royal Priest), God will be known as “the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:19)
“…We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1.
Every Christian should not only be sure of his salvation in Christ, but also know its results. He should not only know he is in the Father’s house with all its privileges but be happy there too. In prophecy, God treats us as His friends, and reveals the things He is occupied with. As our hearts are associated with Him, they realise His love and confidence and are coloured by the expectation of what is to come. With this holy knowledge we are strangers and pilgrims here.
We need to distinguish between that which applies to the Jews, relating to the earth, and that which applies to the Church. Being free of human objects, cares and distractions we can be dependent on the One who knows the end from the beginning.
Whilst prophecy proves the divine source of the Bible, that is not its main purpose. Prophecy belongs to the Church now and the Jewish remnant in a future day, as a light or torch before things take place. God tells us the truth; Satan does not. Do we doubt God? Surely we do not need witnesses to persuade us that God is telling the truth.
Satan has deceived many by introducing the thought that partially fulfilled prophecies, were in fact complete. Most, if not all prophecy is to be fulfilled after the end of this dispensation. Then it will be too late to be convinced as to the truth. Those left behind will experience terrible judgment. But as I read God’s word, I am restful. I am enlightened as I cleave to Him instead of my own understanding. As things unfold I see the purposes of the Most High, opening up His character – His faithfulness, justice, long-suffering. But He will certainly judge proud iniquity and execute vengeance on these who corrupt the earth, in order for His government to be established in peace and blessing.
The judgment of God will come upon the nations; the church is informed of this; and, thanks to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, understands it, believes it, and escapes the things which are coming.
The Sceptic as to Prophecy
The sceptic views prophecy as merely speculative, vague and uninfluential, the imaginations and vainglory of proud hearts. The sceptic’s own thoughts are the most speculative. How Satan deceives! But prophecy reveals God’s thoughts as to things to come. And the Christian rejoices that “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14). And God will show how.
Communion with God as to Prophecy
Through communion, which is eternal, God comforts and sanctifies us to prevent our hopes being vague. Thank God “we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:16-21)
he Book of Revelation presents the return of the Holy Spirit’s witness to God’s relationship with the earth. At first we have the church, as an earthly witness, but then the saints of the heavenly calling are seen only in heaven. It sets the stage for the return of God’s First-Begotten to the world. Then we have a prophetic view of God’s judgments, the book introducing the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself to execute judgment and to set up the kingdom which shall never be removed. He is accompanied by the heavenly saints.
The Book of Revelation presents the return of the Holy Spirit’s witness to God’s relationship with the earth. At first we have the church, as an earthly witness, but then the saints of the heavenly calling are seen only in heaven. It sets the stage for the return of God’s First-Begotten to the world. Then we have a prophetic view of God’s judgments, the book introducing the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself to execute judgment and to set up the kingdom which shall never be removed. He is accompanied by the heavenly saints.
At the beginning and end, we have the thoughts and feelings of the saints:
The first refers to the cross, and its bearing on the saints, looking back at their own part in that which laid the foundation of Christ’s title. This brought judgment on the world.
At the end we have the saints’ own portion with Christ Himself. They look forward to His glory. Meanwhile they are conscious of it and its present fruit.
Ch. 1 presents God as supreme and eternal. We have the Holy Spirit in His attributes of divine administration, and Christ in His glory as connected with the earth. He is coming. He calls John’s attention to His glory on earth, not in service but in judgment. He walks in the midst of the candlesticks, the place of light in the world, judging the state of the churches. We find a divine person, the Son of man having subordinate representative authority in His hand: the stars and the angels of the churches. These are the things that were seen.
Next we have ‘the things that are’. We get:
Ephesus – departure from first love.
Smyrna – persecution
Pergamos – the world its dwelling-place
Thyatira and Sardis – false teachers seducing the saints; their corruption settled there, and the saints thus to wait for Christ’s coming, who is given to them in His own heavenly unseen associations, and the visible kingdom too.
Philadelphia – a little power
Laodicea – spued out of His mouth
In the four first churches it is a question of personal fidelity od that church to Christ. Christ is walking amidst the candlesticks. In the last three, the stars are not said to be in His hand; they all refer with warnings or promises to the coming of the Lord.
The vision then switches to heaven. The world’s judgment flows from there, and the saints are viewed as enthroned and crowned there. God’s throne of judgment is set up in heaven, and the ministers of His government proclaim His glory, while the saints worship.
Ch. 4-5: The Lamb appears; His glory is celebrated. Heaven owns His title to open the book of God’s ways, and the angels stand around the inner circle of those connected with the throne (24 elders, 4 living creatures). The elders give their reasons for worship. The Lamb now opens the book.
Ch. 6: The providential history of God’s dealings in the Western Roman earth is presented. We see the martyrs who cry for judgment. There is a universal subversion of the subsisting powers, so that men are alarmed as if the day of the Lord were come.
Ch. 7: The remnant of Israel is marked out for preservation; the multitude of the Gentiles to be spared are owned.
Ch. 8: The first four trumpets are the specific judgments on earthly prosperity and the power of the Western Roman Empire.
Ch. 9-11: The next two judgments are on the men of the East. Then we get a parenthesis: the great Western beast. A testimony is given, which comes to a close before the end of the period of the second woe. At last we have the seventh trumpet, which closes the whole scene.
Ch. 12: A new vision of special dealings is now opened, more connected with the religious condition of men. The Jewish people are seen, as heaven sees them, in the counsels and purposes of God. So a Son is to be born, Christ, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron. The whole church is united to Him. But this is taken to heaven and God’s throne, out of the way of the dragon. The woman – the Jewish people in the latter day in distress – flees from three and a half years’ persecution into the wilderness. There is war in heaven. Satan is cast down, having great rage, knowing that his time is short. His career in heaven is ended. He can no longer accuse the saints on the earth, but he persecutes the Jews. They flee, so he turns to persecute the witnesses amongst them.
Ch. 13: Next, we see the earthly agents: the beast, with seven heads and ten horns, who receives his power from Satan for 1260 days. He blasphemes what is heavenly, and persecutes the saints. Then a second beast, in the prophetic and royal character of a messiah, exercises his power, making the world worship him. He does miracles, and gives breath to the image which he has caused to be made.
Ch. 14: We now have the remnant who suffer like Christ. We also have the testimony, judgments and warnings of God. Finally, we have the judgment of the earth, and the destruction of the wicked by the Son of man.
Ch. 15: Another great sign follows, not necessarily at the same time or immediately after it. It reaches down to the the throne of the beast. The saints, who pass through the time of tribulation, are viewed as at rest. The sea of glass is mingled with fire.
Ch. 16: The vials are poured out. They are on the earth, and particularly strike the beast’s kingdom, and those who dwell in it. Then all the kings of the earth gather themselves together. The smiting does not correct them, but galls their pride. Finally, the last judgment of God is executed even on Babylon, the beast remaining to be defeated by the Lamb.
Ch. 17-18: We have a description of what the woman is: how she rides the horned beast, corrupting all nations. The Lamb overcomes both of them. Babylon is Rome.
Ch. 19: After Babylon is judged, the marriage of the Lamb takes place. He comes forth out of His heavenly seclusion, as King of kings and Lord of lords, to be revealed in the earth. As he comes out as the word of God in judgment, the saints, witnessed in righteousness in the fruit of their works, accompany Him. The beast and the false prophet (the second beast), are taken and cast to their final doom, their royal character having disappeared. The rest are slain. This is the judgment of power and war.
Note that the rapture of the church belongs to the church revelation, so it could not come into the Book of Revelation. However, we see the saints in heaven.
Ch. 20: Then Satan is bound, and shut up in the abyss for a thousand years. Sessional judgment follows. All the heavenly saints are on thrones, for this is royal judgment, and judgment is given to them – this is the first resurrection. After that we have the second resurrection, in which the dead are to be judged and condemned.
Ch. 21:1-8: Heaven and earth flee away; death and hades give up all. God is all in all in a new heavens and new earth.
Ch. 21:9-22:5: The Spirit returns to give a description of the heavenly Jerusalem during the millennium (as He had of Babylon and its relationship to the earth).
Ch. 22:6-21: After warnings to those who are in the time of the book, Christ comes forward Himself as the One who had given the revelation. This draws out in the bride, with whom is the Spirit, to express the desire of His coming. Expressed is her position – towards Christ, towards those who hear the word, and towards sinner. John seals the book with his own desires those of the church, ‘Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.’
The re-introduction of God’s government into this world in Christ, in this book, and the discovery of the heavenly position of the church, is full of interest and doctrine. Meanwhile judgment of the world and its course, is confided to the church which closes the book both historically and doctrinally, the church herself being above the world.
This closes the canon of scripture.
Originally by JND. Lightly edited by Sosthenes, October 2014