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James S. Russell

 

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The Parousia

 

 

The Parousia by James Stuart Russell
(1878)

The Parousia

A CAREFUL LOOK AT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCTRINE OF THE LORD'S SECOND COMING

James Stuart Russell

Originally digitized by Todd Dennis beginning in 1996

THE PAROUSIA IN THE FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

 

Commentators are much divided on the questions, When, where, by whom, and to whom, this epistle was written. There is no evidence on the subject except that which may be found in the epistle itself, and this gives ample scope for difference in opinion. Lange, who doubts the authenticity of the epistle, says that it ‘has quite the air of having been composed before the destruction of Jerusalem;’ and Lücke, who maintains its authenticity, is also of the opinion ‘that it may gave been written shortly before that event.’ We think any candid mind will be satisfied, after a careful study of the internal evidence, first, that the epistle is a genuine production of St. John; and, secondly, that it was written on the very eve of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is impossible to overlook the fact, which everywhere meets us in the epistle, that the writer believes himself on the verge of a solemn crisis, for the arrival of which he urges his readers to be prepared. This is in harmony with all the apostolic epistles, and proves incontestably that their authors all alike shared in the belief of the near approach of the great consummation.

 

THE WORLD PASSING AWAY: THE LAST HOUR COME.

1 John ii. 17, 18.---‘And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof. . . . Little children, it is the last time’ [hour].

We have frequently in the course of this investigation had occasion to remark how the New Testament writers speak of ‘the end’ as fast approaching. We have also seen what that expression refers to. Not to the close of human history, nor the final dissolution of the material creation; but the close of the Jewish aeon or dispensation, and the abolition and removal of the order of things instituted and ordained by divine wisdom under that economy. This great consummation is often spoken of in language which might seem to imply the total destruction of the visible creation. Notably this is the case in the Second Epistle of St. Peter; and the same might also be said of our Lord’s prophetic language in Matt. xxiv. 24.

We find the same symbolic form of speech in the passage now before us: ‘the world passeth away’.  To the apprehension of the apostle it was already ‘passing away;’ the very expression used by St. Paul in 1 Cor. vii. 31, with reference to the same event [paragei gar to schma tou kosmou toutou] ‘the fashion of this world is passing away.’

The impression of the Apostle John of the nearness of ‘the end’ seems, if possible, more vivid than of the other apostles. Perhaps when he wrote he stood still nearer to the crisis than they. In this view it is worthy of notice that there is a marked gradation in the language of the different epistles. The last times become the last days, and now the last days become the last hour [escath wra esti]. The period of expectation and delay was now over, and the decisive moment was at hand.

 

THE ANTICHRIST COME, A PROOF OF ITS BEING THE LAST HOUR.

1 John ii. 18.---‘And as ye have heard that [the] antichrist cometh, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last hour’ [wra].

In this passage for the first time ‘the dreaded name’ of antichrist rises before us. This fact of itself is sufficient to prove the comparatively late date of the epistle. That which appears in the epistles of St. Paul as a shadowy abstraction has now taken a concrete shape, and appears embodied as a person,---‘the antichrist.’

It is certainly remarkable, considering the place which this name has filled in theological and ecclesiastical literature, how very small a space it occupies in the New Testament. Except in the epistles of St. John, the name antichrist never occurs in the apostolic writings. But though the name is absent, the thing is not unknown. St. John evidently speaks of ‘the antichrist’ as an idea familiar to his readers,---a power whose coming was anticipated, and whose presence was an indication that ‘the last hour’ had come. ‘Ye have heard that the antichrist cometh; even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour.’

We expect, then, to find traces of this expectation---predictions of the coming antichrist---in other parts of the New Testament. And we are not disappointed. It is natural to look, in the first place, to our Lord’s eschatological discourse on the Mount of Olives for some intimation of this coming danger and the time of its appearance. We find notices in that discourse of ‘false christs and false prophets’ (Matt. xxiv. 5, 11, 24), and we are ready to conclude that these must mean the same evil power designated by St. John the antichrist. The resemblance of the name favours this supposition; and the period of their appearance,---on the eve of the final catastrophe, seems to increase the probability almost to certainty.

There is, however, a formidable objection to this conclusion, viz. that the false christs and false prophets alluded to by our Lord seem to be mere Jewish impostors, trading on the credulity of their ignorant dupes, or fanatical enthusiasts, the spawn of that hot-bed of religious and political frenzy which Jerusalem became in here last days. We find the actual men vividly portrayed in the passages of Josephus, and we cannot recognise in them the features of the antichrist as drawn by St. John. They were the product of Judaism in its corruption, and not of Christianity. But the antichrist of St. John is manifestly of Christian origin. This is certain from the testimony of the apostle himself: ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us,’ etc. (ver. 19). This proves that the antichristian opponents of the Gospel must at some time have made a profession of Christianity, and afterwards have become apostates from the faith.

It cannot indeed be said to be impossible that the false christs and false prophets of the last days of Jerusalem could have been apostates from Christianity; but there is no evidence to show this either in the prophecy of our Lord or in the history of the time.

On the other hand, in the apostolic notices of the predicted apostasy this feature of its origin is distinctly marked. We have already seen how St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John all agree in their description of ‘the falling away’ of the last days. (See Conspectus of passages relating to the Apostasy, p. 251). Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that the apostates of the two former apostles are identical with the antichrist of the last. They are alike in character, in origin, and in the time of their appearing. They are the bitter enemies of the Gospel; they are apostates from the faith; they belong to the last days. These are marks of identity too numerous and striking to be accidental; and we are therefore justified in concluding that the antichrist of St. John is identical with the apostasy predicted by St. Paul and St. Peter.

 

ANTICHRIST NOT A PERSON, BUT A PRINCIPLE.

1 John ii. 18.---‘Even now are there many antichrists.’

In the opinion of some commentators the name ‘the antichrist’ is supposed to designate a particular individual, the incarnation and embodiment of enmity to the Lord Jesus Christ; and as no such person has hitherto appeared in history, they have concluded that his manifestation is still future, but that the personal antichrist may be expected immediately before the ‘end of the world.’ This seems to have been the opinion of Dr. Alford, who says:---

‘According to this view we still look for the man of sin, in the fulness of the prophetic sense, to appear, and that immediately before the coming of the Lord.’

There is here, however, a strange confounding of things which are entirely different,---‘the man of sin’ and ‘the apostasy;’ the former undoubtedly a person, as we have already seen; the latter a principle, or heresy, manifesting itself in a multitude of persons. It is impossible, with this declaration of St. John before us,---‘Even now are there many antichrists,’---to regard the antichrist as a single individual. It is true that in every individual who held the antichristian error, antichrist might be said to be personified; but this is a very different thing from saying that the error is incarnate and embodied in one particular persona as its head and representative. The expression ‘many antichrists’ proves that the name is not the exclusive designation of any individual.

But the most common and popular interpretation is that which makes the name antichrist refer to the Papacy. From the time of the Reformation this has been the favourite hypothesis of Protestant commentators; nor is it difficult to understand why it should have been so. There is a strong family likeness among all systems of superstition and corrupt religion; and no doubt much of the Papal system may be designated antichristian; but it is a very different thing to say that the antichrist of St. John is intended to describe the pope or the Papal system. Alford decidedly rejects this hypothesis:---

‘It cannot be disguised,’ he remarks, in treating of this very point, ‘that in several important particulars the prophetic requirements are very far from being fulfilled. I will only mention two,---one subjective, the other objective. In the characteristic of 2 Thess. ii. 4 ("who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God," etc.) the pope does not, and never did, fulfil the prophecy. Allowing all the striking coincidences with the latter part of the verse which have been so abundantly adduced, it never can be shown that he fulfils the former part---nay, so far is he from it, that the abject adoration of and submission to legomenoi qeoi and sebasmata (all that is called God and that is worshipped) has ever been one of his most notable peculiarities. The second objection, of an external and historical character, is even more decisive. If the Papacy be antichrist, then has the manifestation been made, and endured now for nearly 1500 years, and yet that day of the Lord is not come which, by the terms of our prophecy, such manifestation is immediately to precede.

But the language of the apostle himself is decisive against such an application of the name antichrist. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how such an interpretation could have taken root in the face of his own express declarations. The antichrist of St. John is not a person, nor a succession of persons, but a doctrine, or heresy, clearly noted and described. More than this, it is declared to be already existing and manifested in the apostle’s own days: ‘Even NOW are there many antichrists;’ ‘this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world’ (1 John vi. 18; iv. 3). This ought to be decisive for all who bow to the authority of the Word of God. The hypothesis of an antichrist embodied in an individual still to come has not basis in Scripture; it is a fiction of the imagination, and not a doctrine of the Word of God.

 

MARKS OF THE ANTICHRIST.

1 John ii. 19.---‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.’

1 John ii. 22.---‘Who is a [the] liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is [the] antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.’

1 John iv. 1.---‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.’

1 John iv. 3.---‘Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come: and even now already is it in the world.’

2 John, ver. 7.---‘Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is [the] deceiver and [the] antichrist.’

Here we may be said to have a full-length portrait of the antichrist, or, as we should rather say, the antichristian heresy or apostasy. From this description it distinctly appears,---

1.      That the antichrist was not an individual, or a person, but a principle, or heresy, manifesting itself in many individuals.

2.      That the antichrist or antichrists were apostates from the faith of Christ (ver. 19).

3.      That their characteristic error consisted in the denial of the Messiahship, the divinity, and incarnation of the Son of God.

4.      That the antichristian apostates described by St. John may possibly be the same as those denominated by our Lord 'false christs and false prophets’ (Matt. xxiv. 5, 11, 24), but certainly answer to those alluded to by St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. Jude.

5.      All the allusions to the antichristian apostasy connect its appearance with the ‘Parousia,’ and with ‘the last days’ or close of the aeon or Jewish dispensation. That is to say, it is regarded as near, and almost already present.

Doubtless, if we possessed fuller historical information concerning that period we should be better able to verify the predictions and allusions which we find in the New Testament; but we have quite enough of evidence to justify the conclusion that all came to pass according to the Scriptures. Whether the false prophets spoken of by Josephus as infesting the last agonies of the Jewish commonwealth are identical with the false prophets of our Lord’s prediction and the antichrist of St. John, it is not easy to determine. But the testimony of the apostle himself is decisive on the question of the antichrist. Here he is at the same time both prophet and historian, for he records the fact that ‘even now are there many antichrists;’ ‘many false prophets are gone out into the world.’

 

ANTICIPATION OF THE PAROUSIA.

1 John ii. 28.---‘And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.’

1 John iii. 2.---‘We know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’

1 John iv. 7.---‘That we may have boldness in the day of judgment.’

In these exhortations and counsels St. John is in perfect accord with the other apostles, whose constant admonitions to the Christian churches of their time urged the habitual expectation of the Parousia, and therefore fidelity and constancy in the midst of danger and suffering. The language of St. John proves,---

1.      That the apostolic Christians were exhorted to live in the constant expectation of the coming of the Lord.

2.      That this event was regarded by them as the time of the revelation of Christ in His glory, and the beatification of his faithful disciples.

3.      That the Parousia was also the period of ‘the day of judgment.’

 

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE OF ST. JUDE

Into the questions which relate to the genuineness and authenticity of this epistle it does not devolve upon us to enter. We have to consider it only in relation to the Parousia. Internal evidence shows that it belongs to ‘the last days.’ The faith and love of the early church had declined, and error, division, and corruption had come in like a flood, so that it became necessary for the apostle to exhort the brethren ‘earnestly to contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.’

As in 2 Peter ii., so we have in this brief epistle a photograph of the heresiarchs denominated by St. John ‘the antichrist’ and by St. Paul ‘the apostasy.’ The resemblance cannot be mistaken.

1.      They were apostates from the faith (ver. 4).

2.      Their error consists in the denial of God and of Christ.

3.      They are marked by the following characteristics:---

Ungodliness, Sensuality, Denial of God and of Christ, Animalism

Lawlessness and Insubordination, Hypocrisy, Murmuring, Boasting

Scoffing, Schismatical separation, Destitution of the Holy Spirit.

 

It is quite evident that this description, which tallies so closely with that of 2 Peter ii. must have been derived from the same common source. But the mournful fact stands forth plain and palpable, that a fearful degeneracy and corruption of morals had infected the social life of ‘the last days.’ It is most suggestive to compare the moral state of the chosen people in this closing period of their national history with that described in the words of the last of the Old Testament prophets. The nation was now in that very condition which is there declared to be ripe for judgment. The second Elijah had failed to turn the people to righteousness, and now the Lord, the Messenger of the covenant, was about to come suddenly to His temple; the great and dreadful day of the Lord was at hand; and God was about to smite the land with the curse. (Mal. iv. 5, 6.)

 

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