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Objections Against The Common Ixterpretat10n8 Of Christ's Prophecy.
HAVING endeavored to give a rational and consistent interpretation of the whole of the latter division of our Lord's prophetic discourse ; I shall, in order to furnish the reader with a yet farther presumption of its truth, briefly allege some objections, which have forcibly struck my own mind, and appear completely to overthrow the two other hypothesis; one of which would explain it of the end of the world and the final judgment; whilst the other would confine it to the period, when the capital of Judea was captured and destroyed. Of these two interpretations, the first has obtained the greatest number of advocates'; and with that I shall begin.
It is to the false translation of T» Mums, as signifying the world, that its prevalence may in a great degree be attributed'. This translation has the patronage of archbishop Tillotson. After our Lord's disciples had inquired, when shall these things be, i. e. when shall the temple be destroyed, to this inquiry, 'they subjoined,' says the archbishop, 'another; and what shall be the sign of thy coming? that is, to judgment, and of the end of the world? which, in all probability, was added to the former, because they supposed that the one was presently to follow the other1.' 'The disciples,' says Matt. Henry in a more positive tone, 'had confounded'the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world, which was built upon a mistake, as if the temple must needs stand as long as the world stands.' It is true, they were mistaken*. But this is an error, from which, I am convinced, they steered-perfectly clear. 'They must,' as Dr. Macknight observes, 'certainly have known,
1 See Cressenei's Dem. of the Prot. Appl. of the Apoc. p. 81
2 Serin. 96. 3 See p. 531, 532,
that Solomon's building had been destroyed by the Babylonians, though erected by the appointment of God, and dignified with the Schechinah, or visible symbol of the Divine presence. If so, they could hardly think that a temple so much inferior, both in the greatness of its privileges, and the beauty of its fabric, was not to perish, unless in the desolation of the world. In the second place, according to this interpretation of the prophecy, Jesus hath declared, with the greatest solemnity, a thing which no person could be ignorant of. For who did not know, that with the world Herod's temple, and all other buildings, should crumble into pieces?'
'If,' says Mr. Nisbett, 'our translation is admitted to be right, the disciples not only introdute a question, which has no connexion with the occasion which gave rise to it, but which was directly opposed to their well-known sentiments. So far were thev from conceiving the end of the world to be at hand, in the strict and literal sense of the expression, that they became the followers of Jesus from a firm persuasion, that he was the Messiah, who shduld reign gloriously over them4.' And it may be added, that the apostles could not have forgotten, what the repeated prophetic declarations of Daniel necessarily imply, that the kingdom of Christ to be established on earth, should be of very long duration5.
Jerusalem, says the holy founder of our religion (Luk. xxi. 24), shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the tiroes of the Gentiles be fulfilled; and, two or three verses farther, when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your deliverance draweth nigh. That the first of these passages relates to the restoration of the Jews, is plain; and that the second has a reference to the same event, there can be little room to doubt. To suppose that all the latter part of our Lord's prophecy respects the dissolution of the world, is to suppose, that he
4 Illustr. of Passages in the Epist. of the New Test. S;c. p. 15.
5 See Dan. II. 44. viL 14, 18, 27.
has solemnly foretold the future deliverance of the Jews, and that this solemn declaration shall never be fulfilled. Such is the dilemma, to which the advocates of this opinion are reduced.
Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled, is the affirmation of Christ, as given in our common version. It is on the sense, he reannexed to ym», and on the literal interpretation of other of his words, that an artful, and seemingly formidable, objection against the truth of our Lord's predictions has been founded. The quotation that follows is from a writer, who approaches the believer with the mask of a friend, at the same time that he breathes the most determined hostility against the religion of Jesus, and seizes every opportunity of sjlently aiming a blow against the evidences of its divine original. 'Those who understood in their literal sense the discourses of Christ himself' were,' says Mr. Gibbon,' ObLiged to expect the second and glorious coming of the son of man in the clouds, before that generation was totallv extinguished, which had beheld his humble condition upon earth, and which might still be witness to the calamities of the Jews under Vespasian or Hadrian. The revolution of seventeen centuries has instructed us not to press too closely the mysterious language of prophecy and revelation; but as long as, for wise purposes, this error was permitted to subsist in the church, it was productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of Christians6.' But the lapse of time, I conceive, furnishes a very different lesson. It instructs us, not that the figurative language of prophecy has been pressed too closely, but that it has not been pressed close enough.
Not very differently speaks a doctor of the church, whose concession will probably be regarded as rather extraordi, nary, when it is considered that it proceeded from the pulpit of one of our universities. Our Saviour, says Dr. Thomas Edwards, in the xxivth ch. of Matthew,' decisively
6 Decl. and Fall of the Roman Emp. vol . H. p. 301.
Vol. II. A a
foretells, that the generation then existing should not be totally extinguished, till it had witnessed his second and glorious appearance in the clouds of heaven. Yet the records of history do not authorise us to believe, that this prediction was accomplished at the destruction of Jerusalem7.'
And after professedly investigating the import of various passages relevant to this subject, and noticing the specious, and, as he conceives, unanswerable objection of Mr. Gibbon; he terminates his enquiry with declaring, that ' it becomes the antagonist of our historian most earnestly to consider, whether the real interests- of Christianity would not be more essentially promoted by conceding the objection to his adversary, than by vainly attempting to remove itV But happily the attempt is not vain. The interpretation of our Lord's prophecy, which has been given in the present work, completely wrests from the hands of the infidel this powerful objection, against the truth of Christianity, and the veracity of Jesus as a prophet.
What our Lord says (Mark xiii. 27), and then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven, will be explained in a future chapter; and I will here only observe, that this passage, which has been triumphantly urged as pointing to the day of judgment, and which, at the first sight, certainly does afford more countenance to that idea than any other verse in the whole of the discourse, is in truth inapplicable to that event. For, at that awful period, not the elect only, but all men whatsoever, will, it may be expected, be summoned before the tribunal of Christ.
Another portion also of the prophecy, which has been thought most favorable to the hypothesis I am considering, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of
7 Sermon on the Predictions of the Apostles concerning the End of the World, preached before the University of Cambridge, 1790, p. 19. 8-P. 3* ,
heaven, will, if traced to its source, be found altogether adverse to it. For the expression was borrowed by our Lord from the viith ch. of Daniel9, where it unquestionably relates not to the dissolution of the world, but to the commencement of the millennium. It might have been expected, that this circumstance would, of itself, have furnished the commentators with a clue, capable of guiding them in their researches, and that it would have led them to fix on the true period, to which our Lord's prophecy pointed.
The interpretation that follows from Matthew Henry is totally repugnant to reason and probability. In the 24th and 25th verses of the xiiith ch. of Mark, Christ 'foretells the final dissolution of the present frame and fabric of the world: even of that part of it which seems least liable to change, even the upper part; the sun^shallbe darkened, and the moon shall no more give her light; for they shall be quite out-shone by the glory of the Son of man, Isa- xxiv. 23. The stars of heaven, that from the beginning had kept their place, and regular motion, shall fall as leaves in autumn; and the powers that are in heaven, the heavenly bodies, the fixed stars, shall be shakenTM.' They are such interpretations as this, and that other which is cited from
9 We may, says Mede, take 'this for a sure ground, that this expression of the Son of man's coming in the clouds of heaven, so often inculcated in the New Testament, is taken from and hath reference to the prophecy of Daniel, being no where else found in the Old Testament. As our Saviour also calls himself so frequently the Son of man, because Daniel so called him,—and that we might look for the accomplishment of what is there prophesied of in him. It was not in vain, that when our Saviour quoted the prophecy of Daniel, he added, he that readeth him, let him understand? p. 934. See a similar observation of Dr. Sykes mentioned in Vol. II. p. 163.
10 Dr. Pococke, in his Commentary on a similar passage in Joel, ch. iii. v. 15, where it is said, the sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining, says, 'Jerom thinks the words so to sound, as if those heavenly bodies, notable to behold the sorrows of that day of God's judgments spoken of, and the cruel torments inflicted on them that shall then perish, should even out of fear to themselves withdraw their presence. He seems to refer it to the dreadful day of the last judgment.' That it cannot point to that day is plain from the temporal blessings, which are promised, in the subsequent verses, to the children of Israel.