CHAPTER 8 - Unfulfilled Prophecy - Demonic Influences

 

No intelligent student of these Scriptures can fail to recognise that, in the age to which they point, there will be spiritual forces in operation such as earth has never experienced in the past, and from which the present age has been singularly free. For, as compared with both past and future, this Christian age is marked by altogether peculiar characteristics.

First, "the grace of God, salvation-bringing to all men, has been manifested," and the Lord Jesus is exalted, not only as Prince, but as Saviour. Therefore is it that the Divine throne is now a throne, not of judgment, but of grace. And this again explains the mystery of a silent heaven. For "the kindness and love-toward-man of our Saviour God has been manifested." He has spoken His last word of mercy, and when again He breaks the silence it will be in wrath. But until the Lord Jesus passes from the throne of grace to the throne of judgment all direct punitive action against human sin is deferred. Before the dawning of the "day of vengeance" "the acceptable year of the Lord" must run its predestined course.

And secondly, the Holy Spirit is now dwelling upon earth. " The promise of the Father" was not merely that believers in Christ should have the Spirit's guidance and help, for that was the portion of the people of God in every age, but that, when the Lord Jesus returned to heaven, He would send the Holy Spirit to take His place on earth, a promise that was fulfilled at Pentecost. So really is He present with us that the greeting from heaven, with which certain of the Epistles open, is only from "the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." And during His presence with His people upon earth the powers of hell are definitely restrained. But, when the people of the heavenly election are called from earth to their heavenly home, at the Coming of the Lord, that restraint will cease, "the Man of Sin" will be revealed, and the powers of hell will be permitted to operate in ways and to an extent unprecedented in the past. Another element which tends to a misreading of these prophecies is a want not only of sympathy, but of acquaintance, with the promises and hopes of Israel. As believers of this dispensation "our citizenship is in heaven," whereas Israel's citizenship is earthly. The true Israelite, therefore, in the coming age will not be looking for the Lord to call him away to heaven, but for "the coming of the Son of Man" to "restore again the kingdom to Israel, " and inaugurate the promised rule of the heavens upon earth. The Lord Jesus was "born King of the Jews." And when He began His Ministry by proclaiming that "the kingdom of Heaven is at hand," that "gospel of the kingdom" did not mean that God was about to rule in heaven, but that, in fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, Divine government was about to be established upon earth.

And this explains the attitude and conduct of the Jewish leaders toward the Lord Jesus. They argued that, if He was indeed the Messiah, He was the promised "Son of David," who would put an end to Gentile supremacy and restore the Davidic covenant, which had been in abeyance ever since the imperial sceptre was entrusted to the King of Babylon.

(So deep and widespread is ignorance of all this that those of us who are advanced in years remember when the belief prevailed, even among spiritual men "of light and leading," that the Kingdom of Heaven would be established, as of course, by the preaching of the Gospel. If such a belief has survived the apoatasy of the last half-century, surely this hideous world war will avail to quench it. Human nature being what it is, there can be no reign of peace on earth without stern and righteous government.)

The Messiah they were looking for would be a conquering hero, who would deliver them from their enemies and revive the glories of the greatest of their kings. And such the future Antichrist will be; not merely a false Messiah in the religious sense, but a mighty Kaiser. The Apocalyptic visions already quoted clearly indicate that he will be a man of transcendent natural qualities. "All the world wondered after the Beast . . . and they worshipped the Beast, saying, Who is like unto the Beast? Who is able to make war with him? " The mingling of Kaisership with Deity is as old as classic Paganism; and it is not altogether unknown in later times. But it will be no mere theory in the case of the Man of prophecy. A great statesman, an orator (v. 5), and a brilliant general - here is the "superman "whom nations will honour, and armies will follow with enthusiasm. And when we take account of the fact that, added to this, he will be endowed with the superhuman powers of Satan, we can understand the words of Christ, that none but the elect of God will refuse to render him Divine homage. In these visions the word "beast" signifies primarily an empire or kingdom, and then it is used to symbolise an individual. The Beast of Revelation 13. is clearly identical with the fourth Beast of Daniel 7 - the last great Gentile world-power. But in the Apocalypse it appears at a later stage of its development. Three periods of its history are marked in Daniel. In the first it has ten horns. In the second it has eleven, for a little horn comes up among the ten. In the third it has but eight, for three of the ten have been torn away by the eleventh. Up to this point Daniel's vision represents the beast merely as the fourth kingdom upon earth," but here it turns away to describe the action of "the little horn."

And at this epoch it is that Revelation 7. opens. The first three stages of the history of "the fourth kingdom" are past, and another has been developed. It is no longer a confederacy of nations bound together by treaty, but of kings subordinate to a Kaiser whose greatness has won for him the supremacy. And this is the Prince of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks; the Antichrist of the New Testament; the man whom Satan will single out to administer his awful power on earth in days to come, the man to whom he will give his throne, his power and great authority - all that the Lord Jesus refused in the days of His humiliation. If Expositors are right in assuming that he is the prominent figure in the several visions of the prophet Daniel there seems to be no doubt that he will come to notice first as the ruler of some petty State within the territorial limits of the ancient Grecian Empire. He is called "a little horn, a symbol that well suits one who should arise from one of those petty principalities which once abounded in Greece. For "a little horn" indicates what he is, not as a man, but as a monarch. In his origin he will, of course, be merely human; and for a time he will be a patron of religion. But after the terrible crisis in his career, at which he sells himself to Satan, he becomes a relentless persecutor, and he ends by claiming divine honour.
This amazing change takes place at an epoch of supreme import in the course of the future age, namely, the middle of the seventieth week of Daniel. For it is an epoch signalised by the war in heaven between the Archangel and the Dragon; when Satan and his angels will be "cast out into the earth," and the Seer bewails mankind because the Devil is come down into their midst, "having great wrath because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. As the Coming Prince of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is identical with the Man of Sin of 2 Thessalonians 2, that Epistle claims notice here. Both the Epistles to that church indicate that a grievous persecution was then raging in Thessalonica, and the Christians had come to believe that the Tribulation of prophecy had begun, and "the day of the Lord was at hand "-" the great and terrible day of Jehovah." Having regard to the teaching of the First Epistle it may seem strange that such an error could prevail. But, owing to the persecution, the Christians, no doubt, could only meet furtively and in scattered groups; and their leaders being possibly in hiding, their knowledge of that Epistle depended probably on what they remembered of it from hearing it "read in church." Moreover, it would appear from chapter 2:2 and 3:17 that they had received a forged letter, as from the Apostle, cancelling or modifying the teaching of the First Epistle. And the Hebrew converts among them would have knowledge of such Scriptures as, e.g., Isaiah 13, Joel 2, and Malachi 4:5. And, with these in view, they inigbt easily glide into the error which the Second Epistle was designed to correct.

The Apostle's words, "I beseech you on behalf of the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (R.V. margin), show clearly that the error against which he was warning them was destructive of the truth he had taught them. They could not live looking for "that blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) if they were living in view of the awful terrors of the Tribulation and the day of the Lord. For these lines of truth are wholly separate. The one is the line of Messianic prophecy, leading up to the coming of Christ as Son of Man, in a future age, for the deliverance of His earthly people, and for the establishment of His earthly Kingdom. The other is not within the range of Messianic prophecy at all, but points to the fuiluiment of the hope of His heavenly people of this Christian dispensation. Following the words above quoted, the Apostle proceeds: "For it (the day of the Lord) will not come except the falling away (the apostasy) come first, and the Man of Sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped. So that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God."

These words claim careful attention. The so-called Protestant interpretation of them finds their fulfilment in the Pope's being carried into St. Peter's at Rome, and seated there somewhat higher than the "tabernacle of the host." If St. Peter's were thus divinely recognised as "the templeof God," those of us who reverence, and seek to obey, His Holy Word would promptly make a qualified submission to Rome, and repair at times to the appointed shrine! This Protestant interpretation thus undermines Protestantism altogether! And this is only a very low ground for rejecting it, for such trilling with and perverting of Scripture is deplorable and evil in the extreme. The Apostle's language points to the same crisis as the Lord's words respecting "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet." And it will be fulfilled when the Prince of Daniel ix. violates his treaty with the Jewish people, and desecrates the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.The Antichrist will set up his image upon the Temple, to be worshipped by all (see p. 89 ante.) And (on certain "high days," no doubt) he will personally sit enthroned within the Sanctuary, "setting himself forth as God." This twofold desecration is generally overlooked.
But is it credible that any Jew would acknowledge a Gentile as Messiah? Now first, we have no definite ground for assuming that the Man of prophecy may not be an Israelite. And secondly, are we to assume that "all power and signs and wonders of falsehood" would prove unequal to the task of forging a pedigree, and obtaining the acceptance of it by an apostate people? For the "elect" among them will repudiate him. And the language of Daniel ix. 27 is noteworthy; it is with the many that he will make the treaty, implying that a minority of the nation will stand aloof and refuse to be a party to it. And lastly, if to the apostates of Christendom "God will send strong delusion that they should believe the lie," is it strange that the apostates of Judaism should also be thus divinely given over to delusion? And, moreover, we are not dealing here with a human forecast, but with a Divine prophecy.