Great Texts of the Bible
The Second Advent
Behold he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen.—Revelation 1:7.
No one can study the New Testament without feeling that the thought of Christ’s Return was everywhere present and powerful in the first age. In the Gospels and in the Apocalypse, in the Acts and in the Epistles, the same hope is the subject of promise, of exhortation, of vision. It would perhaps be impossible to find any other special doctrine of Christianity which is not only affirmed, but affirmed in the same language, by St. Paul and St. James, by St. Peter and St. John. The Return of Christ to judgment was the subject on which St. Peter spoke when the Jewish multitude were astonished at the first apostolic miracle; it was the subject on which St. Paul spoke when he first passed over into Macedonia and his enemies accused him of preaching “another king than Cæsar.” It seems to rise uppermost in the minds of the Apostles when they are themselves most deeply moved and when they wish to move others most deeply. It is, as they declare it, the sufficient motive for patience in affliction and the end of expectation in the presence of triumphant evil. And more than this: the hope of Christ’s Return was not only universal in the first age; it was instant. From Jerusalem and Corinth the same voice came that “the time was at hand,” even as when the Baptist heralded Christ’s ministry. The dawn of an endless day was held to be already breaking after a weary night; and while St. Paul reproved the error of those at Thessalonica who neglected the certain duties of life that they might, as they fancied, watch better the spread of the heavenly glory, he confirmed the truth which they had misinterpreted. With us it is far otherwise. A few enthusiasts from time to time bring the thought of Christ’s Return into prominence, but for the most part it has little influence upon our hearts and minds. We acknowledge generally, in a vague manner, that we shall severally render an account of our doings, but we do not look beyond this either in hope or in fear to any manifestation of judgment in the world.
One of Dr. Bonar’s reminiscences of the people at Jedburgh was a story of a half-witted man whom he used to visit. This poor man had found Christ and had learned to rejoice in the thought of His return to earth. He went to Edinburgh on a visit, and came home much dissatisfied with the ministers. When asked why, he said, “Oh, they a’ flee (fly) wi’ ae (one) wing!” They preached Christ’s First, but not His Second, Coming.1 [Note: Reminiscences of Andrew A. Bonar, 4.]
1. The Lord shall come! This is the burden of this last book of Scripture. It was the burden of the Old Testament; for Enoch’s prophecy runs through all its books,—“Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints.” It is the burden of the New Testament; for both the Master and His Apostles give out the same solemn utterance,—“Behold he cometh;” and the Church in the early ages took up the subject as of profoundest and most pressing interest, “looking for that blessed hope.” In that coming, the manifestation of Christ, all things, our actions and ourselves, shall be seen as they are, seen by ourselves and seen by others. Then the whole course of life, the life of creation, of humanity, of men, will be laid open, and that vision will be a judgment beyond controversy and beyond appeal.
Dr. Bonar was absorbed from first to last in the faith and hope of the Second Advent. Wherever we open the New Testament, we find it thrilling to the heat and joy of that manifestation and coming of the Lord when we shall see Him as He is. Edward Irving, with all his errors, did one thing. He revived for his generation the Parousia as the definite hope of the Church which witnesses to the Lord’s death till He come. Dr. Nansen has recently told us what science has to say about the end of the world. He tells that the end will take place after millions of years, when the sun has been cooled. Life will then have to cope with greater and greater difficulties of existence, until it finally and entirely disappears. The possibilities of existence will become gradually less and less favourable for the complicated and highly developed animals, whilst the simple low organisms will probably be those that will live longest until even they disappear. But the faith of the Church is that the Christ who once offered Himself in our nature as the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, satisfaction, and oblation for the sins of the whole world will come again. The Christ who comes will be the Christ who departed, and His coming will be in like manner as the disciples saw Him go, visible, corporeal, local. We, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. I venture to think it a great weakness of our teaching that so little is said about the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour. Meanwhile, if He returns not in our lifetime, we know that we are dying people, all of us; that there are before us death, judgment, and eternity. So let us offer the prayer:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that great day;
O wash me in Thy precious blood,
And take my sins away.1 [Note: W. R. Nicoll, in Memories of Dr. Horatius Bonar, 109.]
2. No truth, therefore, ought to be more frequently proclaimed, next to the first coming of the Lord, than His second coming; and we cannot thoroughly set forth all the ends and bearings of the first advent if we forget the second. At the Lord’s Supper, there is no discerning the Lord’s body unless we discern His first coming; there is no drinking His cup to its fulness, unless we also hear Him say, “Until I come.” We must look forward, as well as backward. We must look to Him on the cross and on the throne. We must vividly realize that He who has once come is coming yet again, or else our testimony will be marred and one-sided. The great advent may be near, or it may be far off. It may come while things remain as they are, or not till after great changes. But, come when it may, it will come surely. Of that our Lord has warned us. We know not, and we are not to know, when; but come it will. Those who are then living will see it; and those who are in the graves will awake to see it. We know not of which number we shall be. But this we do know, that see Him we shall, and that either to our unspeakable joy or to our shame and terror and despair.
These were the days of warm and even bitter discussion relative to “The Lord’s Second Coming.” Pre-millennialists and post-millennialists could scarcely come together for prophetical Bible study without sharp controversy on the subject. Since Dr. Pierson’s views had undergone a change, through his interviews with George Müller and his later Bible studies, he held the decided and unyielding conviction that Christians must be ready and looking for the return of the Lord at any moment. He was not prepared, nor did he think it right, to prophesy as to dates, “since,” he said, “the only date given for the Lord’s return is ‘In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.’ ” He believed that the world was to be “evangelized” but not necessarily converted before the Lord should come.1 [Note: Arthur T. Pierson: A Biography, by his Son, 185.]
3. The text speaks of Christ’s coming “with the clouds”—an expression suggestive of glory and power. Of all natural objects that awaken the sense of awe none can rival for power, mountains, clouds, and sea. But clouds combine, in a measure, the resources of sea and mountains; smoothed out at dawn or sunset, twisted into strange contortions by the storm, they rival the solemnity of mountains in their vast proportions, and imitate in their changeful movements the beating of the waves. Black as forces of evil, bright with the smile of opening day, floating on the surface of an azure heaven, or piled in giant waves above the mountains with a look of doom—everywhere they give the sense of thinly veiled depths of mystery yet to be revealed, and of the wrath and power of God against sin.
Each common cloud in this our cloudy climate may serve to remind us of the cloud of the Ascension, and of the clouds of the second Advent. Also of that great cloud of witnesses who already compass us about, who one day will hear our doom pronounced; who perhaps will then for the moment become as nothing to us when we stand face to face with Christ our Judge: “At the brightness of His presence His clouds removed.”2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 20.]
Every one knows the history of Raphael’s “Madonna di San Sisto,” at Dresden. Its background is composed of clouds. For many years the picture, begrimed with dirt, remained uncleaned, and the background of clouds looked dark and threatening; when the picture was cleaned and carefully examined, it was discovered that the supposed clouds were not dark atmospheric clouds but multitudes of angel faces luminously massed together. It is ever thus. His clouds are ministering spirits, angel faces; the heavy masses of Earth’s dust, which look so dark and unangelic, are His veil; in them He comes, seeking the heart, striving to eradicate selfishness, to quench passion, to melt obstinacy, to wean from earthly things.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce, New (?) Theology, 243.]
“Every eye shall see him.”
1. When Christ came before, He came to an obscure quarter of the world, and if all of that land had assembled to see Him, the number would have been but moderate; but, in fact, only Mary and Joseph were present, with perhaps one or two attendants; and the shepherds came to look, and the wise men brought their gifts; and that was all. Few were the eyes that saw Him then. But when He comes again “every eye shall see him,” as every man sees the sun each day. Jesus said to the high priest, “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Caiaphas will see Him, and the scribes and elders—those who mocked Him, and smote Him, and spit upon Him; the people who cried “Crucify him!… not this man, but Barabbas”; Pilate, who, against his conscience, condemned Him; the penitent thief, and the impenitent; all the penitent and all the impenitent; those who have crucified Him afresh by their sins, and those who have served and glorified Him; all who have ever lived, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the old and the young; all shall see Him, at one and the same moment, all together; the eyes of the blind shall be opened to see Him, all that are in the graves shall see Him, and all who lie in the depths of the sea.
“And every eye shall see him”—All impelled in one direction, all looking in one direction. Even a very small crowd doing the same thing at the same instant has a thrilling, awful power; as once when I saw the chorus of a numerous orchestra turn over their music-sheets at the same moment, it brought before me the Day of Judgment.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 20.]
Earth must fade away from our eyes, and we must anticipate that great and solemn truth, which we shall not fully understand till we stand before God in judgment, that to us there are but two beings in the whole world, God and ourselves. The sympathy of others, the pleasant voice, the glad eye, the smiling countenance, the thrilling heart, which at present are our very life, all will be away from us, when Christ comes in judgment. Every one will have to think of himself. Every eye shall see Him; every heart will be full of Him. He will speak to every one; and every one will be rendering to Him his own account.1 [Note: J. H. Newman.]
2. There is consolation in the thought—“Every eye shall see him.” It is a glorious promise, for, whether in this life or in the life to come, the law is eternal, that only the sanctified can see the Holy One, only “the pure in heart shall see God,”—yet “every eye shall see him.” It is the infinite thirst of every awakened soul, the supreme consummation awaiting the noblest spirits who have passed through earth’s education. Every inarticulate upward straining of the spirit that we have been unable to interpret has been the inner eye feeling for Him. Some can interpret it. Faraday, when asked by Acland his conception of after-death consciousness, cried out, “I shall see Him, and that will be enough for me.” Augustine cried out, “O let me see Thee; and if to see Thee is to die, let me die that I may see Thee.”
I remember a man born blind who loved our Lord most intensely, and he was wont to glory in this, that his eyes had been reserved for his Lord. Said he, “The first whom I shall ever see will be the Son of man in His glory.”2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
“Every eye shall see him.” Every eye; the eye of every living man, whoever he is. None will be able to prevent it. The voice of the trumpet, the brightness of the flame, shall direct all eyes to Him, shall fix all eyes upon Him. Be it ever so busy an eye, or ever so vain an eye, whatever employment, whatever amusement it had the moment before, will then no longer be able to employ it, or to amuse it. The eye will be lifted up to Christ, and will no more look down upon money, upon books, upon land, upon houses, upon gardens. Alas! these things will then all pass away in a moment; and not the eyes of the living alone, but also all the eyes that have ever beheld the sun, though but for a moment; the eyes of all the sleeping dead will be awakened and opened. The eyes of saints and sinners of former generations. Your eyes and mine. O awful thought! Blessed Jesus! May we not see Thee as through tears; may we not then tremble at the sight!1 [Note: Philip Doddridge.]
“And they which pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him.”
1. With what different feelings shall men see Christ on the last great day! Some rejoicing, others mourning: some with hallelujahs, others with cries of despair. “All tribes of the earth shall mourn over him.” Some of every generation and every tribe; so many, that it is said “all.” Yet not every individual. Of every generation and tribe, some will see Him with joy. This was the hope with which He cheered His disciples, sorrowing at His going: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3); “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:22). And this was the comfort the angels gave to those who saw Him ascend out of their sight: “This same Jesus … shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” To them, as to all His disciples, the Lord’s return was and is an object, not of dread, but of joyful hope.
This same great coming, then, which “every eye shall see,” is an object of dread to some, of joy unspeakable to others. When they see the Lord appear, some will wail in terror and despair, others will rejoice “with joy unspeakable, and full of glory”; and even now, while some “love his appearing,” others are terrified at the thought. Whence arises this vast difference? From the vast difference in their present state with regard to Him who will come. As men (those at least to whom the gospel has come) feel towards Christ Himself, so do they feel with regard to His coming, and so will they feel when they see Him appear. They who love Him love to think of His appearing, and will rejoice to see Him; they who love Him not, and have no saving faith in Him, now fear to think of His coming, and will then call on the rocks to cover them.
“All kindreds of the earth shall wail” is the reading of the Authorized Version. I cannot put into English the full meaning of that most expressive word, “wail.” Sound it at length, and it conveys its own meaning. It is as when men wring their hands and burst out into a loud cry; or as when Eastern women, in their anguish, rend their garments, and lift up their voices with the most mournful notes. “All kindreds of the earth shall wail;” wail as a mother laments over her dead child; wail as a man might wail who found himself hopelessly imprisoned and doomed to die. Such will be the hopeless grief of all the kindreds of the earth at the sight of Christ in the clouds: if they remain impenitent, they shall not be able to be silent; they shall not be able to repress or conceal their anguish.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
2. “They which pierced him” are by no means a few. Who have pierced Christ? The Roman soldier who thrust his spear into the Messiah’s side is not the only one. They that once professed to love Christ and have gone back to the world; they that speak against the Christ whom once they professed to love; they whose inconsistent lives have brought dishonour upon the sacred name of Jesus; they who refused His love, stifled their consciences, and rejected His rebukes; they who scorn the love and mercy offered by the Saviour—all these may be said to have pierced Him.
The words “they which pierced him” are taken from Zechariah 12:10. Both here and in John 19:37 the New Testament writer does not adopt, as usual, the Septuagint reading, which runs, “because they have mocked me” but “whom they have pierced.” This, as Alford remarks, is almost a demonstration of the common authorship of the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel. This and John 19:37 are the only places in the New Testament where this prophecy is alluded to.2 [Note: M. F. Sadler, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, 7.]
Ah, Lord, we all have pierced Thee: wilt Thou be
Wroth with us all to slay us all?
Nay, Lord, be this thing far from Thee and me:
By whom should we arise, for we are small,
By whom if not by Thee?
Lord, if of us who pierced Thee Thou spare one,
Spare yet one more to love Thy Face,
And yet another of poor souls undone,
Another, and another—God of grace,
Let mercy overrun.3 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poetical Works, 137.]
“Even so, Amen.”
1. “This same Jesus shall come.” These words of the angel to the disciples after the Ascension are words of comfort to those who believe. He “who loved me, and gave himself for me,” is He who will come in glory; the same Jesus as went about doing good, and died to redeem us by His blood; as full of grace and love as ever, unchangeably the same. It is our Saviour who will come with clouds, and whose coming the Apostle hails in the closing words of the text, “Even so, Amen.” The first of these words is Greek, “Yes”; the second Hebrew, “So be it”; both together form the fullest expression that could be given of the certainty and truth of what is stated, and the deep longing of heart for the fulfilment of the prediction. Here are all St. John’s innermost desires summed up and spoken out. What earnestness, what vehemence, what longing, are expressed in this double Amen! It is the amen of faith, and hope, and joy. It is the amen of a weary, heart-broken exile. It is the amen of a saint left on earth long behind his fellow-saints, and sighing for the promised rest when the great Rest-giver comes. It is the Church’s amen; her vehement desire for the day of meeting.
“Even so, Amen.”—“Amen” alone closed the doxology (Revelation 1:6), but here where judgment is the theme, St. John doubles his assent. A lesson of adhesion to the revealed Will of God, be that Will what it may: a foreshadowing of the perfected will and mind of all saints at the separating right and left of the final division: an example of the conformity we must now pray and strive after: “Even so, Amen.”1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 23.]
The little word Amen means, truly, verily, certainly; and it is a word of firm, heartfelt faith: as if thou saidst, “O God and Father, those things for which I have prayed I doubt not; they are surely true and will come to pass, not because I have prayed for them, but because Thou hast commanded me to ask for them, and hast surely promised; and I am convinced that Thou art indeed God, and canst not lie. And, therefore, not because of the worthiness of my prayer, but because of the certainty of Thy promise, I do firmly believe it, and I have no doubt that an Amen will come out of it, and it will be an Amen.”1 [Note: Luther, Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer.]
2. Thus the Book of Revelation calls the Church to fix her eyes more intently upon her true hope. For what is that hope? Is it not the hope of the revelation of her Lord in the glory that belongs to Him? No hope springs so eternal in the Christian breast. It was that of the early Church, as she believed that He whom she had loved while He was on earth would return to perfect the happiness of His redeemed. It ought not less to be our hope now. “Watching for it, waiting for it, being patient unto it, groaning without it, looking for it, hasting unto it, loving it—these are the phrases which Scripture uses concerning the day of God.” And surely it may well use them; for what in comparison with the prospect of such a day is every other anticipation of the future?
In a letter to Lady Kinloch he wrote: “The return of the Lord Jesus, and our being glorified together with Him (if so be that we suffer with Him), this true and lively hope seems to me like a star, which is not seen in the garish light of prosperity and a smooth course, but only in the stillness of sorrow, or at least of a chastened, crucified condition. I think this is one reason why the Church lost this hope, after the first ages of martyrdom, and why now-a-days it so often degenerates into a mere sentimental speculation,—a pious Zeitvertreib.”2 [Note: G. Carlyle, A Memoir of Adolph Saphir, 216.]
Writing to his sister Mrs. Julius Hare, he says: “The words of the Apostle, ‘Looking for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ have seemed to me the only words that gave me any glimpse into the future state, or into the use which we are to make of it, in urging ourselves and others to fight. I think the Millenarians are altogether right, and have done an infinite service to the Church, in fixing our minds upon these words, and so turning them away from the expectations of mere personal felicity apart from the establishment of Christ’s kingdom; from the notion of Heaven which makes us indifferent to the future condition of the earth. I think they have done good also, in urging the hope of Christ’s coming, as a duty upon the Church, and in denouncing the want of it as a sin.”3 [Note: Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, ii. 243.]
The whole Bible was to him bright with the promise of the Lord’s Return, and this expectation gave joy and hopefulness to his whole life. Sorrow and bereavement made him think of the glorious time when “death shall have become resurrection”; pain and suffering reminded him of the “new heavens and the new earth” yet to come. “Are you content,” he writes to a friend, “with the Lord’s gracious letter to you when you might rather be wearying for Himself? I know that ‘this same Jesus’ is as precious to you as to any of us, but when will you be ‘a man of Galilee, gazing up into heaven’?” To another friend he writes: “Are you loving Christ’s appearing and His kingdom? If not, He hath somewhat against thee.” … “Some Christians make a great mistake. They think that because Christ said it was expedient that He should go away, therefore it is expedient that He should stay away! He went away to present His finished work to the Father, but He must come back again.”
“I find the thought of Christ’s Coming,” he said, “very helpful in keeping me awake. Those who are waiting for His appearing will get a special blessing. Perhaps they will get nearer His Person. I sometimes hope it will be so, and that He will beckon me nearer to Him if I am waiting for Him; just as at a meeting, you often see one beckoned to come up to the platform nearer the speakers.”
At a meeting in Philadelphia in 1881, to bid him farewell, the chairman—the late George Stewart—closed his address by saying that “the Lord, the Righteous Judge, would give to His dear servant a crown of righteousness at the great day.” He sat down, and on rising to reply, Dr. Bonar said, “ ‘And not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing’ ”1 [Note: Reminiscences of Andrew A. Bonar, 148.]
The Second Advent
Banks (L. A.), John and his Friends, 189.
Bonar (H.), Light and Truth: The Revelation, 25.
Bourdillon (F.), Short Sermons, 201.
Davies (T.), Sermons and Expositions, i. 347.
Eadie (J.), in The Home Preacher, 737.
Eyton (R.), The Apostles’ Creed, 104.
Little (W. J. K.), The Mystery of the Passion, 181.
Milligan (W.), Lectures on the Apocalypse, 219.
Rossetti (C. G.), The Face of the Deep, 19.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxiii. (1887), No. 1989.
Temple (W.), Repton School Sermons, 198.
Westcott (B. F.), The Historic Faith, 85.
Wilberforce (B.), New (?) Theology, 236.
Christian World Pulpit, lxiv. 408 (E. H. Eland).
Church of England Magazine, lxxi. 368 (J. J. Cort).
Contemporary Pulpit, v. 257 (W. Thomson).
Literary Churchman, xxx. (1884) 510 (C. G. H. Baskcomb).
National Preacher, xxxii. 382 (S. B. Willis).