We have now shown by the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself that at His coming again (of which no premonitory sign will be given) there will be an immediate separation of those who have obeyed the gospel from those who have refused its proffered mercy; that the former will enter at once into everlasting glory and blessing and the latter into eternal wrath and judgment.
The Teaching of Paul
Reference has already been made to the passage in Romans 2:1-16, which states that they who in this day of salvation despise the riches of God’s goodness, refusing to repent, are even now treasuring up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath; and that just as in this era of grace, the gospel is to the Jew first (1:16), even so in that day of judgment, the tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil will also be to the Jew first. And the reason is given, namely, that there is no respect of persons with God (2:9–11). This Scripture alone, if there were none other, would suffice to overthrow completely the doctrine of a special salvation for the natural descendants of Jacob after the day of grace shall have ended, and the day of judgment shall have begun.
Romans 11:1–32. We have already given consideration to this chapter of Romans; and we have seen that it is part of a passage (Chapters 9–11) in which the apostle expounds the course of God’s dealings with the Jews, in whom he had the deepest and most loving interest, seeing that they were his own Kinsmen according to the flesh (9:3). It contains a strong intimation that it lay in the purpose of God at, some time in the then future, to extend special mercy to the Jews (11:24, 26, 31). The time of this promised visitation is indicated in a general way by the words, That blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in (11:26). But it is plainly declared that the promised mercy will take the form, not of a special national salvation after this day of grace shall have ended, but of the incorporating of individual Jews (natural branches) into the very same olive tree (the Israel of God, whose root is Christ and whose fatness is the Holy Spirit (cf. Galatians 3:14) into which believing Gentiles are now being incorporated. It follows therefore, and other Scriptures (such as those heretofore cited) shut us up to the same conclusion, that the promised visitation of the Jews in mercy must take place ere this present day of grace comes to an end.
In a word, whatever mercy (11:31–32) may be in store for the natural Jews, will come to them in this day of grace, and as individuals, not in the Day of Judgment, and as a nation.
The teaching of the apostle Paul on the subject of our present inquiry is found mainly in his two Epistles to the Thessalonians, to which we shall now refer.
1 Thessalonians 4:18–5:9: The first part of this well known passage speaks of the descending of the Lord from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, whereupon 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. This is the only sort of salvation that the apostle here (or elsewhere) describes as taking place at the coming of the Lord; and it is expressly limited to those who are already in Christ. Moreover, the apostle goes on to speak of the times and seasons of these great events saying that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. And how will it then fare with those who are not found in Christ? He tells us they will be assuring themselves of good things ahead by saying, Peace and Safety (just as were those who lived and despised God’s warnings in the days of Noah, and in the days of Lot), but that sudden destruction shall fall upon them, and they shall not escape. Verse 9 declares that the alternatives presented to all men are salvation and wrath. And so say all the Scriptures.
1 Thessalonians 1:5–10: We have already pointed out the close agreement (extending even to similarity of words) between this passage and that in Matthew 25, in which our Lord Himself declares what will happen at His coming again. It describes the day that was foreseen by Daniel when The kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High (Daniel 7:27); (the day) when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels And the plain declaration is that He will come In flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.
Moreover, it is here declared that this sweeping judgment, embracing all who know not God and obey not the Gospel, will be at the very time He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (2 Thessalonians 1:7–10). By this passage again we are assured that at our Lord’s second coming all them that believe will be made sharers of His own glory, and all others will be punished, by banishment away from His presence, to a place of destruction that shall be everlasting.
It has been already noted, and should be kept in mind, that the unconverted Jews have ever been foremost among the despisers of God’s mercy, even in the preceding dispensation, and that they have been most conspicuously the rejecters of Jesus Christ and His gospel. For, by trampling upon the law of God, they brought upon themselves and their children all its curses and judgments. Moreover, from the very beginning they have had the Holy Scriptures which testify of Christ; they have heard every Sabbath day the voices of the prophets, which spake beforehand of His coming, and of all He was to do and suffer; they were the first to whom the risen Christ sent the glad tidings of free salvation through His chosen witnesses, who preached the gospel unto them with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; and even in these last days special efforts for their salvation have been made through societies organized and maintained for that sole purpose.
How can it be supposed then that this passage and other Scriptures which speak plainly to the same effect, have no application to those who are of Israel after the flesh? And what responsibility do we incur, if we preach a doctrine so contrary to that of Christ and His apostles, especially if thereby any should be encouraged to continue in unbelief, trusting the delusive hope of national salvation in the approaching day of wrath? This passage is most assuredly decisive of the question we are considering; for it declares, in language that is unmistakably plain, what will happen at the end of this gospel era to them that have not obeyed the gospel; and certainly, of all the people in the world, the Jews are most conspicuously those who have not obeyed the gospel.
2 Thessalonians 2:2–12: There are difficulties of a minor character in regard to certain details of this passage; but with respect to the subject of our present inquiry it speaks with a certainty and clearness that leave nothing to be desired. For it plainly declares that, at the Lord’s appearing in glory, that man of sin, the son of perdition … that Wicked one (the antichrist) shall be consumed by the spirit (or breath) of His mouth, and destroyed by the effulgence of His presence (literally the epiphany of His parousia); and further that they who would not receive the love of the truth, whereby they might have been saved, will have been given over by God Himself to strong delusion, that they should believe the lie (the original has the definite article); to this end, namely (let the words be carefully observed): That they all might be damned, who believed not the truth (the gospel), but had pleasure in unrighteousness. This agrees perfectly with Christ’s own words concerning the flood, and took them all away. It absolutely excludes the possibility of the salvation after His coming of any who have rejected the gospel previously.
2 Peter 8:1–10: The apostle Peter speaks plainly in this passage concerning the scoffers of the last days who deride the warnings of judgment to come; and he declares that the day of wrath will come suddenly, when the earth and the works therein shall be burned up. Moreover, what he says about the reason for God’s long delay (verse 9) precludes the idea of there being any opportunity for repentance after that day begins. This important passage will be considered more in detail in a subsequent chapter.
Revelation 6:12–17: This vision clearly depicts the great day of the wrath of the Lamb. It has no place in it for the salvation of any racial or other group. Moreover, the captains of industry, the magnates and other great ones of the earth are under no illusions whatever as to the doom that is about to overwhelm them.
Revelation 19:11–21: This passage describes a vision of the things that are to happen at the second coming of Christ. John says: And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. The vision shows what Christ will do from the moment He issues forth from the opened heaven down to the complete overthrow of all His enemies, the casting of the beast and the false prophet into the lake of fire, the binding of Satan in the bottomless pit, and the setting up of the thrones of His everlasting Kingdom. He comes to judge and make war. And in keeping with this purpose, His eyes are as a flame of fire and out of His mouth goeth a sharp two-edged sword, that with it He should smite the nations.
John sees also an angel standing in the sun, who cries with a loud voice to all the fowls of the air, saying, Come and gather yourselves to the great supper of God, that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men. There is nothing here (and it would be here if anywhere) concerning any group of people whom Christ converts and saves after His coming.
The separation is complete from the moment of His appearing; and the children of men are either in the armies of heaven which followed Him upon white horses clothed in fine linen white and clean, or they are in that other company which includes the beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army. For there are no neutrals in that war. Those that are not for Him are against Him. And the end of those who are not with Him is described in these words: And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of His mouth; and all the fowls were filled with their flesh (verse 21).
The two edged sword is the symbol of the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). So we have here a description in symbolic language of the fulfillment of Christ’s own prophecy: And if any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken (the sword of His mouth) the same shall judge him in the last day (John 12:47–48).
For His word is to them that hear it either a word of eternal life, or a word of eternal judgment. It either saves or damns. The fowls of the air represent, according to the Lord’s explanation of the para- ble of the sower, the wicked spirits, the agents of the evil one. This vision, and others described in Revelation, absolutely excludes the possibility of salvation after the beginning of the day of wrath for any who have previously rejected the gospel.
It is appropriate also to remark that there is a noticeable and significant absence, throughout the entire Apocalypse, of all reference to the earthly Zion and earthly Jerusalem. The only holy mountain and city that have part and place in those future scenes of blessedness are that Mount Zion to which we have been brought, and the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God, and which is attended by an innumerable company of angels (Hebrews 11:10; 12:22–23).
The Disciples’ Question in Acts 1
Acts 1:6–8: Here we have the record of our Lord’s last words to His disciples before His ascension. The disciples had at last nerved themselves to ask Him plainly and directly concerning that which was ever uppermost in their Jewish minds; saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel? His reply (I quote from Bagster’s Interlinear) was: It is not yours to know times or seasons which the Father placed in His own authority; but ye will receive power, the Holy Ghost having come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses to Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
It is quite possible to read into these words the idea that there was to be, in some then future times or seasons, a restoration of earthly dominion to Israel. In fact the writer himself having accepted these modern Jewish fables (which have become so astonishingly popular of late) held to that idea until he could no longer close his eyes to the fact that, by placing that interpretation upon the passage, he was making it contradict the plain teaching of the entire New Testament.
On the other hand it is not difficult to assign to the words of our Lord, quoted above, a meaning that accords perfectly with the Scriptures we have been examining; and this, of course, is what we are bound to do. A careful consideration and quiet pondering of those words lead to the conclusion that here, as on many other occasions, our Lord simply ignored what was in the minds of His disciples (for His thoughts were not their thoughts, neither were their ways His ways). He might well have administered to them on this occasion the same rebuke He had administered to Peter, when that disciple spoke to Him under the influence of the same Jewish expectation; to whom He said, Thou art an offense to Me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men (Matthew 16:23).
But the course He now took was to disregard entirely the thought of their hearts, and simply to impress upon them the fact that their all-engrossing occupation was to be that of bearing testimony to His resurrection from the dead. It was to be their supreme business to proclaim that mighty truth of the gospel to the whole world; and for the accomplishment of that great mission, power would be given them through the coming upon them, in a few days, of the Holy Spirit from heaven.
Moreover, a new order of things was then at hand; for Christ was not henceforth to teach them in Person and directly, but indirectly, through the Holy, Spirit, Who, as He had already told them, should guide them into all truth (John 16:13). And it is a striking fact that after they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit they never again spoke of that sort of a kingdom (Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25; 28:31;
Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; 15:50; Colossians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; Revelation 1:19; etc.).
It is clear from the wording of the disciples’ question that they had no doubt in their minds that the kingdom was to be restored to Israel, the only thing to be settled with them being whether the time of its restoration was then at hand; also there is good reason to believe that their conception of the nature of the expected kingdom did not differ materially from that of their fellow Israelites. There has been discussion in print recently as to whether the question the disciples put to their risen Lord was “an intelligent question”; and it has been argued in behalf of modern dispensationalism that the question was an “intelligent” one, and that it would follow from the Lord’s reply that the kingdom was to be restored to Israel at some time then future.
I agree that the question was intelligent; and indeed deem it a most natural and almost inevitable, question for them to ask; for they, in common with all their compatriots, groaning under the tyranny of Rome’s iron yoke, were eagerly awaiting the emancipation of the Jewish people and the reestablishment of the earthly kingdom of Israel. Moreover, they had heard their Master say, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32); and at a later time they had heard Him say to the chief priests and elders at Jerusalem, Therefore I say unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:43).
And finally, during those forty days when He had appeared to them from time to time, He had been speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. Hence the question was “intelligent” enough.
But it is needful to remember that there were certain things concerning the kingdom which He was not ready to make known to them, because they were not as yet ready to receive them; things they were to learn later on through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Lord had said to them on the night of His betrayal, I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:12–13).
Especially the truth as to Israel’s relation to the kingdom was a thing they could not “bear” until baptized by the Spirit; for to natural Jews that truth is unbearable. Also they had yet to learn that the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).
Accordingly they were given to know, through subsequent revelations of the Holy Spirit, that the promised kingdom was of spiritual character, and that the nation to which it was to be given was — not Israel after the flesh, but — the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16; Romans 2:28–29).
Furthermore, the question involved times and seasons which the Father had put in His own power.
It is the Father who bestows the kingdom (Luke 12:13); and it is the Father who determines the times and seasons, as it is written, When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son (Galatians 4:4). Now that little flock, to which the Father was pleased to give the kingdom, was indeed Israel; but the mystery concerning the true Israel, the flock for which the good Shepherd gave His life, had not as yet been made known to them, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:1–6).
Also it is to be noted that the times of the Gentiles, which had a long course to run, had not yet begun; which is an additional reason why the Lord answered them as He did, thereby putting aside the subject of the bestowal of the kingdom, and fixing their minds upon the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would make the whole matter clear. Finally, seeing there is but one kingdom in God’s purpose, and but one Israel, the passage we are considering (Acts 1:1–6) cannot be interpreted in such manner as lend support to the nationalistic dreams of Israel after the flesh.
As to the “Tribulation Saints”
Another feature of the modern doctrine of Judaistic nationalism should receive brief attention. I refer to the idea of many modern dispensationalists that the supposed national conversion of the Jews is to take place not actually in the millennium itself, but at the interval between the coming of Christ for His saved people and His coming to the earth with them. Those who make the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21) a yet future event locate it in this interval, which they commonly refer to as “the tribulation period”, and they who are to be saved in that period (with a salvation much inferior to that now offered through the gospel) are termed “tribulation saints.” Hence, according to this view, the supposed conversion and restoration of the Jewish nation is to take place not in the millennium but, in a special “tribulation period”, which is to intervene between this present day of grace and the millennial day But all the above, and the many specific features that go with it, are purely the products of the human imagination. The length of the interval between the catching up of the saints to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and His appearing with them in glory (Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 19:11–14 etc.) is not indicated. There is nothing to show that it will be longer than a day, or part of a day. Indeed the interval itself is not referred to anywhere in the Scriptures. Its existence is entirely a matter of inference from 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17; it being obvious that there must needs be an interim of some length between the taking of the saved (living and raised) away from the earth, and their manifestation with Christ in His glorious appearing (Titus 2:13). But it is taking an unwarranted liberty with the word of prophecy to make that interval a period of many years, and to crowd it with events of transcendent importance; and specially so when it is expressly stated that the change of condition of the Lord’s people at that time will be effected in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52).
That there will be any gospel effort during that interval, or any salvation either of nations or of individuals, is purely a dream. And not only so, but the idea is negatived, first, by the silence of Scripture in regard thereto; second, by the testimony of the very passage from which the interval is inferred, 1 Thessalonians 4:16–5:9. For it is plainly declared in that Scripture that what cometh upon those who are not caught away to meet the Lord is — not salvation, or another opportunity to be saved, but — sudden destruction; which, according to 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9, is everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. The alternative which the passage presents is salvation or wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9); and concerning those who have riot obeyed the gospel it is plainly declared that they shall not escape.
The doctrine of another chance for any members of Adam’s race, and of a period, long or short, in which there will be preached another gospel, different from that preached by Paul and all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, 11), and particularly that of the conversion and restoration of the Jewish nation, cannot be maintained without setting aside the very passage upon which it is supposedly founded, and all other pertinent Scriptures besides.
Other Scriptures testify quite plainly against the idea of a special salvation for Jews after Christ shall have removed His people from the world. Thus Peter, speaking to a concourse of Jews at Jerusalem, whom he addressed as Ye men of Israel, recalled to their minds the prophecy of Moses of the coming of Christ as a Prophet like unto himself: concerning Whom Moses said: And it shall come to pass that every soul, which will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. This tells us — not that after Christ comes for His believing people the Jews will be saved in a body, but — that the first thing on the program of the second advent will be that all Jews who have not believed the gospel will be destroyed from among the people.
This is in exact agreement with what Christ had taught His Jewish auditors, namely, that at the end of the age the reapers should gather first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them! (Matthew 13:30).
This earliest of the utterances of Christ’s apostles concerning God’s future dealings with the Jews is in striking agreement with what Paul subsequently stated at greater length in Romans 11. Peter declares not that God would utterly destroy or cast off that people, but that those of them who would not believe in Jesus Christ were to be destroyed from among the people; which would leave only the believing Jews, corresponding to the few natural branches of Paul’s olive tree, that were not broken off.
This word of Peter plainly forbids the expectation of any salvation for Jews after the second coming of Christ.
This proclamation by Peter is in striking agreement with the Lord’s answer to the prayer of King Solomon, to whom He said (after promising a reward for fidelity), said, But if ye shall at all turn from following Me, ye or your children, and will not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them; then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which have hallowed for My Name, will I cast out of My sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people. No recovery is hinted at; and so it is with them to the present day.