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THE APOSTLES EVIDENTLY EXPECTED, THAT THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST, WITH ITS ASSOCIATE EVENTS, WOULD TAKE PLACE BEFORE THE DEATH OF SOME WHO WERE THEN LIVING.
This expectation appears, —
I. In passages directly asserting or implying that some of the Apostles, or of those whom they addressed, would survive until these events.
1 Cor. xv. 50, “ Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (51) Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. (52) 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. (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
1 Thess. iv. 13, “ 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. (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (15) 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 (precede] them which are asleep. (16) 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: (17) 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. (18) Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”
That the sleep spoken of in these passages is the sleep of death, no one, I presume, will question. The word in the original for sleep or be asleep is Koluaouai, which is used in the New Testament only four times in the sense of literal sleep, but fourteen times to denote the sleep of death. Its use in these two passages is also determined by the unequivocal expression “the dead.” Some, however, suppose that the word “we” is here used very loosely, and that the Apostle merely meant to say that there would be some Christians alive, and so changed without death, at the time of Christ's Second Coming. But to this view there are obviously strong, if not insuperable, objections.
1. It is at variance with the natural interpretation of the passages. If a pastor, in addressing his people either from the pulpit or by letter, should use such expressions as “ We shall not all die," " We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,” &c., would he not be understood, of course, as believing in the speedy coming of Christ ? And had the Corinthians or Thessalonians any reason for understanding the Apostle differently?
2. It greatly diminishes the force and significance of these passages.
3. It does not consist with the emphasis belonging to we in those clauses in which it has been printed above
in small capitals. In these clauses the pronoun is expressed in the original ; so that, according to a familiar law of the Greek language, it must be emphatic and used in marked contradistinction. The form of expression in 1 Thess. iv. 15, 17, is peculiarly strong : quels of S@vres oi nepedectTÓWevoi, we who are living, who are surviving.
4. This view makes the Apostle's consolation to the Thessalonians little more than mere mockery. They are sorrowing for their departed friends. He attempts to comfort them, by saying, “We who are living, who are surviving till the coming of the Lord, shall not precede (for this is the old meaning of prevent, derived from the Latin prævenio, to come before), or have any advantage in point of time over those that are asleep.” What an extraordinary mode of consolation, to say the least, if the Apostle, and those whom he was addressing, supposed that they might all lie in their graves beside their friends thousands of years before the coming of Christ! But, if they were looking for the speedy appearance, triumph, and reign of their Saviour upon the earth, while some were fearing that their friends who had died too soon would not be present to take part at once, if at all, in the glories and joys of these events, then how natural, appropriate, and forcible does every word of the Apostle become !
The following passage may perhaps be cited in further illustration.
1 Thess. v. 9, “ For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, (10) Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (11) Wherefore, comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
This change without death, taught by the Apostle, this being new clothed without having been first unclothed, is evidently what is referred to as an object of aspiration in v. 4 of the following sublime passage.
2 Cor. v. 1, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2) For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven : (3) If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. (4) For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. (5) Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.”
The question may perhaps arise in some minds, what were the particular expectations of the first Christians in respect to their own death before the coming of Christ, or their change without death at his coming. The following materials for a reply are furnished by the Scriptures.
1. There was no doubt that Peter would suffer martyrdom. This had been predicted by his Divine Master, and was anticipated by the Apostle himself.
John xxi. 17, “ He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (18) Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest : but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither
thou wouldest not. (19) This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.”
2 Pet. i. 13, “ Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; (14) Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. (15) Moreover, I will endeavour that ye may be able, after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance.”
2. There was an expectation that John would survive until the coming of Christ. See p. 34.
3. St. Paul speaks of the Apostles in general as being “ delivered unto death,” but with the assurance of being raised again, and joined with the other saints, at the coming of Christ.
2 Cor. iv. 11, “ For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (12) So then death worketh in us, but life in you. (13) We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; (14) Knowing, that he which raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.”
An examination of Paul's particular expectations in respect to himself would require more room than should be given here to a point of so little importance to our discussion.
4. In regard to private Christians, the language of the Apostles in numerous passages clearly implies that they were for the most part to remain alive until the Second Advent. Examples in point are elsewhere so abundantly quoted, that it seems needless to insert them here.