OUR SAVIOUR, the Lord Jesus Christ, is coming. We are about to be gathered together unto Him. On all sides signs abound which fill our hearts with high hope and ardent expectation. The apostasy of "the church," the federation of the nations, the restoration of Israel to the land of promise - all unite in urging us to be brief in our business, for our time is short.
As we are about to enter upon a somewhat protracted study of the great crisis to which the world is rushing, the thought intrudes, and it will not away: "What time is there for lengthy expositions? Will He not come before we are well begun? And do not His saints need, sorely need, the knowledge that this book imparts as soon as possible?" So, in due regard to the blessed hope, we will prelude our exposition of this prophecy with a brief outline of things to come. No attempt will be made to prove any of the positions taken. This will be done in the later lessons. This plan will also serve to help the reader view the succeeding expositions from the writer's standpoint and not from his own or the thousands of varied viewpoints held by the readers of this book.
To simplify our vision of the future we will walk round our subject, as it were, and view it from various angles. How does the future look to God and His Christ? To the saints, among whom we find ourselves? To mankind at large, familiar with bitter strife? To the world of spirits, which is seeking to intrude into human affairs at every turn? To the Jew, who, for nearly two thousand years without a land or government, who finds himself today in practical possession of his ancient patrimony?
For all of these the on-rushing future is filled with big events. The crisis of all history lies just before us. The climax of the eons is at hand. All creation is about to stage and witness the greatest act in the tragedy of human existence. But let us always remember that it is only a crisis. The pangs, though sharp, are short. It is not the end. It is but the introduction to God's grand purpose to bless all His creatures. The far future is filled with overflowing bliss as long drawn out as the period of His indignation will be brief.
God should always be first in all our thoughts. The future, both near and far, affects Him much more than any of His creatures. We absolutely cannot grasp the meaning of events unless we view them from the vantage of His great purpose to become All in all His creatures and so understand the plans He has proposed to carry out His primeval purpose.
Let us never lose sight, then, of God's grand goal, which He will gain through the mediatorial kingdom and priest-blood of His Anointed, Christ Jesus our Lord. Every vision, every trumpet, every bowl, every woe, heralds the fact that Christ is to be crowned the great Priest-King, that so He may bring back God's lost creation to the Father. Christ has died and by His suffering He has acquired the right to reign. Men crucified Him and still refuse to own His sovereignty. Yet before very long the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for the eons of the eons. Amen!
However much the world may war, God is still at peace with the race. Grace, unmixed and undiluted, reigns. Conciliation is still the substance of the gospel. Men may contend with one another but they cannot fight with heaven. It takes two to engage in strife and God refuses to be drawn into any conflict. He fulfills His Own injunction to his people: "Bless those who are persecuting you: bless and curse not" (Rom.12:14).
But soon - how soon we cannot tell - high heaven's indignation will no longer be restrained. The day of vengeance and fury will take the place of peace. God will withdraw His ambassadors, and declare war upon this rebellions world. And what is the controversy about? What has mankind done to merit the awful terrors of the day of wrath?
We will never understand their crime until we judge it in God's presence. Men have not merely forgotten God but they have lost all consciousness of His existence. They shut Him out of all their thoughts. They will attempt to stamp His very Name out of the world He has created. They will mobilize all the armies of the earth against the feeble few who still acknowledge Him.
O what a mass of men there are today who are Christian in name but atheists in life and experience! To them God is but an avenue of gain, a badge of respectability. If it pays they will repudiate Him in a moment and join whatever seems to their advantage.
The consciousness of God is my most precious possession. It supports me in my trials and tempers my success. It changes life from a desperate gamble to an exultant assurance that I cannot miss His goal. I would not trade it for all the mines of golden California. All the pearls of the Pacific could not purchase it from me. And he who would read this book aright should cultivate the consciousness of God. It will put spirit and life into the dullest lines. It will put us in tune with the heart of the great Revealer so that we can pierce the surface and enjoy the depths of wisdom and power, grace and love, which underlie the most dreadful calamities the world will ever be called upon to endure.
If God reverses His attitude toward mankind in that impending era of judgment, what part can we, His saints, have in those times of terror? We are not only saved by grace but for grace, for such is the force of the original tongue in the apostle's letter to the Ephesians (Eph.2:5). The Roman letter gives us further assurance. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Rom.5:8,9). We may suffer from the wrath of man, but when God deals out indignation, He cannot visit it upon those whom He Himself has justified. The Thessalonians likewise waited for God's Son from heaven, their deliverer from the wrath to come (1 Thess.1:10). Speaking of those who will be snared in the strong delusion of the end time, Paul assures the Thessalonians that God had chosen them for salvation . . . to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:13,14). More pointedly still, referring to the sudden destruction of the day of the Lord, Paul insists that God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we are watchful or drowsy we should live together with Him (1 Thess.5:9,10).
We may exult, then, in the confidence that we shall never know the terrible trials of His own who are called upon to live in those dreadful days. Instead we will enjoy the ecstatic bliss which follows our assembling unto Him (2 Thess.2:1). Then we shall be ever with the Lord (1 Thess.4:17) and, like Him, forever freed from sin and suffering. We will be forever with our Lord. As the body of Christ, we will be with Him and for Him, carrying out His will. Yet we have no hint that we shall be the agents in the judgment scenes portrayed in the Apocalypse. That is left to messengers whose spirit is not ours. We cannot find that God is going to display or dispense His wrath through us. Rather are we distinctly told that, in the eons to come God will show the transcendent riches of His grace by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:7).
So that, in entering this study of God's strange work let us be clear that, in spirit, in sphere and in object, it is not for us or of us. Our place is to dispense grace among the celestials, not wrath among the terrestrials.
But the world, alas! if they will not have Christ they must needs have antichrist. If they refuse the light of the world, they will follow the false beacon of Satan. The world wants peace and rest and satisfaction - without Christ. They will get war and turmoil and destruction with the false Christ.
We look for a federation of the western nations, eventually dominated by ten military powers, embracing Christendom. This will be formed with the avowed purpose of bringing peace to the distracted earth. Instead, however, it only leads to war and bloodshed unknown in previous world conflicts. It will be the West against the East, the Occident against the Orient. The West will win and weld the whole world into a universal empire, the first the nations have known since the days of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus and Alexander. Whatever may be the forms of government which are fused into this great world power, the time comes when a man, the man of destiny, seizes the scepter imperial and demands not only the allegiance of mankind but their worship as well.
During the rise of this world empire the earth will be deluged in blood, and, as it is today, the sword will be followed by famine and famine by pestilence. These are but "providential judgments," for the hand of God is hidden. But after that the very earth shudders as it never did before at the horrors which it is called upon to witness. The very elements will rise against the God-dishonoring race to blot them out. Heaven above and earth beneath will open to discharge their agents of destruction upon the ungodly. At last men realize that there is a God behind all these strokes and they cry to the rocks to fall upon them and hide them from His face.
But still they persevere in their mad endeavors to force God from the earth. They mobilize an army from every land to exterminate His remaining witnesses and range their line along the valley of Jehoshaphat. And when all seems to have been accomplished and God has no place left on earth to plant His feet, His Christ descends on Olivet and with a breath destroys the armies of the nations. Thus ends mankind's wild rebellion against their rightful Suzerain.
Not mankind alone, but the spirit world as well, finds the crisis of its career in the era which we are approaching. They seem to have some intimation of impending events for they are far more active in the affairs of mankind than for many centuries. Not only is spiritism and other "New Age" phenomenon, which seeks to bridge the gulf between them and mankind, greatly on the increase, but the great leaders of human thought and government are holding themselves open to the suggestions which come from the spirit world, but of which they do not know the source.
Second only to the distorted vision of God usually entertained, is the grotesque caricature of Satan which commonly passes as Bible truth. We shall have much to say of Satan's activities in the time of the end, when he changes his tactics to conform with his desperate position. But what is he like today? Has he horns and hoofs and a horrid shape? Far from it! He appears as a messenger of light (2 Cor.11:14). His followers are not black imps or degenerate sots. They are ministers of righteousness. Satan has been most successful in deceiving mankind as to his methods. He can make but little progress with tools which are repulsive. He has made marvelous strides with attractive, upright Apostles who preach righteousness and decency and reformation.
Where is Satan? Is he in the hell of Protestantism? He is not there and never was and never will be. His eonian doom is in the lake of fire, but, until the judgment era we are about to study, his chief residence is heaven. Indeed, the great event of this crisis is the ejection of Satan and his cohorts out of the celestial realms and their consequent riot of rage upon the earth. He heads the great rebellion of mankind against God by raising the murdered head of the great world empire from the dead and delegating all his authority to him. Thus the spirit world joins its forces with mankind to defeat and drive Him from the earth.
The enlightened saint who knows his place and privilege in the present economy is strong for peace with all mankind. His warfare is not with flesh and blood, but with the wicked spirits in the celestial spheres. Most of us have been trained to regard the earth as the scene of our warfare and heaven as the scene of our rest. The opposite is the truth. Our entrance by faith into our allotment in the heavenly realms is opposed at every turn by the powers of darkness. So successful have they been that few, indeed, of the saints ever come near enough to their possessions to know that Satan and his hosts have usurped them.
We war in heaven now, but when our Lord takes us there in fact, as we now are there in faith, then it is high time that the fight be fought to a finish. I cannot say that we engage in that battle. But we may be sure of this that Michael and his angels will force Satan from his place celestial down to the sphere of earth. Cramped in such narrow quarters, knowing that his time is short, Satan will work havoc for three years and a half through his representative, who is called the antichrist. Indeed it is very hard to separate the spirit from this nether world, so close will be the affinity between them. And this will not be merely allowed by God but will be urged on by His decree. Through Satan He sends them a strong deception that they should believe the lie. Why does He do this? Is there not a great lesson for mankind in this terrible delusion? God wants mankind to acknowledge the supremacy of His Spirit. He wants them to be filled with it and to obey it. He does not want mankind to follow its own will. So He stages this terrible ordeal to prove once for all that mankind cannot follow its own will. They have refused His beneficent entreaties. They think they are free to follow their own ways. But they find to their sorrow that the world of spirit is their master; they are slaves. They cannot serve themselves. Those who do not bow to God must perforce worship His adversary, Satan.
To those living on the earth in those dreadful days nothing will seem clearer than that mankind has, at last, broken the shackles which have bound it. But to anointed eyes they appear twice enslaved, for Satan bends their will to accomplish his.
In those days there will be but one feeble flicker of faith left upon the earth. And where will that be? Among the faithful few of Abraham's seed who still cling to the God of their fathers. Today the Jew is an unbeliever. The moment he believes in Christ he is no longer a Jew. His destiny is changed from earth to heaven. But in that day one hundred and forty-four thousand of the sons of Israel will be faithful followers of the Nazarene; an innumerable multitude will seal their faith with their blood and in spite of the opposition of the whole world, a feeble few refuse to bow to the image of the wild beast. How it softens our hearts towards the unrepentant nation to know that such a glorious record is theirs in the sorest affliction which even they shall ever endure!
But alas! not all are faithful. The greed for gold will prove too much for multitudes of the apostate nation.
Let us give a brief forecast of their history in the days to come. At the beginning of this century one who dared suggest that they would return to the land of their fathers was a visionary and a dreamer. But God's decree that they should once more inhabit the land He gave to the patriarchs has indeed been fulfilled.
Few events have such an important bearing on the study of this prophecy. In it we find the Jews located once more in the east. Not only are they found in the land, but in the adjacent countries of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. Jerusalem and Babylon are the two great cities of the future. One is the haven of the faithful the other is the seat of apostasy. The riches of the world will be gathered in these two cities. Babylon will be burdened with gold and every form of material wealth. The Jews of Babylon will lay the whole world under tribute. They will enjoy every blessing that earth affords.
But Jerusalem will have the monopoly of heavenly wealth - the true riches. Faith toward God is greater treasure than the earth will ever be able to afford. Babylon will be able to gratify its cravings for a few brief years and suffer a terrible end. Jerusalem suffers for a brief era and enters into a thousand years of bliss, which proves but the portal to still rarer and more lasting joy on the new earth. Babylon sinks into the sea. Jerusalem rises to the mountain top, jeweled and radiant with the light of God.
The Jew, Yahweh's ancient people Israel, will come into their own when Christ, their Messiah, is in His proper place on the throne of David and as the Son of Man, claiming the sovereignty of the whole earth. The time of the end is, in a very real sense the conflict between Israel and the nations. The nations will be defeated. Israel emerges from the struggle at the head of all earthly rule. For a thousand years they occupy the place of kings and priests, to rule mankind for Yahweh and to offer up their worship to God.
Their reign as priest-kings lasts for the millennium. Then priesthood vanishes with the day of Yahweh and all nations have access to Elohim on the new earth in the day of God. Yet even in that day the beloved nation in their magnificent capital, Jerusalem, hold sway over the other nations as the vice-gerents of the Messiah. Here we have the ideal of human government, for it solves its problems so successfully that at the conclusion of the day of God, all government vanishes. There is no evil to suppress - no need of any regulations when all are in perfect accord with God. Then the people of destiny, called the eonian nation, having fully performed their appointed functions, priesthood and rule, lose their eonian dignities in the august equality of the consummation.
Much of the success of Israel's reign, both in the day of the Lord and in the day of God which succeeds it, flows from the fact that Satan is restrained. At the beginning of the thousand years he is bound, that he should deceive the nations no longer till the thousand years are complete. Then, once more he emerges and organizes his last great attempt to usurp the throne of Christ. He succeeds in enlisting immense hordes in his crusade against the holy city, but they are crushed by a single blow and Satan never again leads anyone astray. He has made his last stand and is finally defeated.
Satan is not the only evil spirit that urges men against God and His Anointed. The mobilization of the world's armies at Armageddon - there is no battle of Armageddon - is accomplished by the agency of evil spirits who the seer tells us had the appearance of frogs. Let us be glad that none of us stand at Armageddon for none of God's host will stand there and those who do will not "battle for the Lord" but against Him. When we hear that oft repeated name let us remember what it stands for and it will illuminate the political future like a searchlight.
At Armageddon armies from all over the world will be mobilized under one command. This shows us that, at last, the world is one. It reveals another fact, that the federation of the world is founded on force, not on mutual good will. And it uncovers the secret motive which has drawn mankind together - a common enemy. It is surprising what uncongenial souls will unite if they only have a mutual object of attack. Pilate and Herod became friends through their opposition to our Lord. And the federation of the world will be accomplished chiefly because all are agreed in uniting against God and the weak witness He still has upon the earth.
And let us allow the knowledge of these things to grip our hearts and control our course. Prophecy is the most practical politics possible. If you knew that the party in power was doomed to destruction after a brief tenure in office, would you support it? If you knew that its moral basis was unsound would you vote for it? So it is with the momentous movements in the world today.
What, then, shall our attitude be? The answer is given us in one word. We are ambassadors from the court of heaven. An ambassador may not meddle with the politics of the country to which he is sent. Even though he knows that there is hostility to his government, he must conciliate. He cannot espouse any political plan or oppose any purpose of the court to which he is accredited.
But, you say, if hostilities break out between heaven and earth are we to stand idly by? No. When that time comes God will withdraw His ambassadors before He issues His declaration of war.
Let us remember, then, that in the bulk of this book, God is waging a brief decisive war to recover a lost world. Before any part of this book can transpire we must be withdrawn. True, we will leave our baggage behind, and will take nothing along but the wealth we have converted into heaven's currency, but not one member of the body of Christ will remain on earth to endure the rod of His wrath.
God's honor is at stake. His righteousness is in the balance. Not one who is justified shall know the heat of His indignation.
But let us never imagine that, even for mankind, with whom He strives, is His wrath a mere exhibition of His anger, without any object but the display of His indignation. The whole tenor of this book is against it. Its pages record a crisis, not an end; it is a preparation, not a doom. The judgment races through the short space of seven years; the blessings last for many thousands.
There have been crises before this. The flood was such a crisis. Indeed it is often compared with these days. As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man (Luke 17:26). As the flood proved a blessing to the race, so will the apocalyptic judgments.
But the crisis here recorded is a much greater one than the flood. The flood was the transition from one eon to the next. So will be the transition to the new earth after the day of Yahweh. The flood led from one evil eon to another. The transition from this earth to the new will lead from one good eon to another, still better. But the crisis of this book carries us not only from an evil eon into a good one but is the grand pivotal era in which mankind is definitely transferred from the evil eon into the good. There are three evil eons and two good. From the creation to the disruption of the first of Genesis was one; from thence to the flood another; and hence through the present evil age to the period of this prophecy is a third. These are all evil. After these there are two. The coming eon is beneficent and the succeeding eon is benign. So the period we are about to ponder is the pivotal point of the eons. Behind it are the evil eons; after it follow the eons of the eons, freighted with fruits of God's affection for His creatures. These are foreshadowed in the closing scenes of this book.
If we peer past the scope of this prophecy into the great beyond which it fails to reach, we will find still further cause to admire God's wisdom in providing a plan to effect His purpose. Just beyond is the grand consummation in which God becomes what He never could become apart from the presence of evil and the consequent estrangement between Him and His creatures. Apart from this there never could be any final reconciliation, no outflow and interchange of affection between God and His creatures. But after all the sorrow and suffering, the trial and tribulation which comes only when God is absent, His creatures will welcome His presence and live in His love which assures them of eternal bliss. Then, and not till then, will God attain His goal, and become All in all.