HAVING now briefly followed out the eschatological teaching of the Old Testament, the Apocalyptic literature, and the Gospels, and having illustrated each by quotations, we shall in the present chapter compare the Gospel presentation of the facts with the earlier teaching, and attempt to point out some of the main differences between the two; while in the next and concluding chapter we shall seek to account for what is, in spite of certain very pointed differences, the substantial identity in many particulars of the Eschatology of all three classes of literature.
The first thing that naturally suggests itself
for consideration is the Personality of Him Who occupies the central position in the Eschatological Drama. In the Old Testament it is, as a rule, Jehovah Himself Who appears, sometimes as Judge of the Israelite nation (Amos v. 17), sometimes as Judge of all flesh (Isaiah lxvi. 15, 16), and at other times as the champion of His Chosen People (Isaiah lxv. 17-19). But this is not always so; in some of the most striking Messianic passages of the Old Testament the Central Personality alternates between Jehovah and His Anointed. The classical example of this is to be seen by comparing the following passages together, Isaiah H. 2-4; iv. 2-6; ix. 5, 6; xi. 1-5; these four passages constitute what is in most respects the essence of the Old Testament Messianic teaching. In the first (ii. 2-4) Jehovah Himself is described as the Messianic Ruler; He is to be the universal Judge over all peoples. The Messianic Ruler is therefore divine, and His subjects are to include all nations. In the second passage (iv. 2-6) Jehovah is again represented as the Messianic Ruler on earth, but the method of His appearing is not of the same literal character as described in the earlier passage; it is indicated by the Shekhinah; His subjects
are now restricted to those of the Children of Israel who have passed through a purifying process. In this passage, too, a new element enters into the circle of ideas, namely, the "Branch of Jehovah," forming the point of attachment for the idea of the "shoot," or "twig," of Jesse (Isaiah xi. 1, 10), and thus bringing in the connection of the house of David with the Messianic Ruler. In the third passage (ix. 5-6; 6-7 in the English Bible) it is a divine-human ruler--the Immanuel-conception in vii. 14 forming the link--who is to sit upon the throne of David; his subjects are to be the Children of Israel only. And in the fourth passage (xi. 1-5) a purely human ruler is presented, upon whom, however, the Spirit of Jehovah is manifest in a unique manner; he is a descendant of Jesse, and therefore presumably (though this is not explicitly stated) his subjects are restricted to the Children of Israel. 1 It seems, therefore, incontrovertible that, if one is to take these passages as they stand, in their natural meaning, and without reading into them thoughts and ideas which belong to later ages, one is forced to the conclusion that, at
first, the prophet believed in the actual, visible presence of Jehovah Himself on earth when the "last times," which are to follow after the "signs," draw near; later on it is taught that Jehovah delegates this office to another. Other Old Testament writers also exhibit a similar uncertainty as to the Personality Who is to be the central figure in the "last times"; one of the latest passages in the Old Testament presents this idea of uncertainty, Mal. iii. 1: Behold I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me--that is clear enough, referring as it does to the forerunner; but in the latter part of the verse we read: And the Lord, whom ye shall seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold he cometh, saith the Lord of Hosts; the plain sense of the word requires one to differentiate between the "Lord" and the "messenger of the covenant"; and this differentiation seems natural when one remembers that uncertainty as to who the central figure in the Eschatological Drama is to be is characteristic of those Old Testament writers who deal with the subject. It is the same in the Apocalyptic writings, as will have been noticed in the passages which have been quoted in a previous chapter. Now when we
come to the Gospel teaching we find no traces of any uncertainty in this matter; it is Christ, and Christ only, Who is the Central Figure in the "last times." Then, again, while in the earlier teaching it is always Jehovah who is to be the Judge--an office which is never committed to the Messiah of pre-Christian times, 1--and the Messiah is always a human being, 2 in the Gospel teaching Christ is the Judge, 3 and He is also the Messiah; thus the Divine Judge and the human Messiah are found to be centred in the Person of Christ. This is the testimony which Christ bears of Himself: But when the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all the nations; and he shall separate them one from another . . . (Matt. xxv. 31-33); and on the other hand: The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark x. 45). This point of
contrast between the antecedents of the Gospel teaching and this teaching itself is clearly of the highest importance; for it shows, on the one hand, that the earlier teaching was in some sense inadequate, but on the other hand, that it witnessed to a great truth. That the Christ's witness here concerning Himself implies that of His dual nature, the divine and the human, is sufficiently clear not to need further emphasis.
In the Old Testament and Apocalyptic writings the "last times" by no means always or necessarily imply the end of all things. Although when the "last times" are to come about is never definitely stated, they are always represented as a process upon which shall follow the inauguration of the new Age; but the scene of this new Age and the conditions under which it will be lived do not differ, excepting in one particular, very greatly from the conditions under which men have lived hitherto. The one particular is the happiness of that Age, and all that this involves; but it is not by any means always regarded as of unending duration; it will be lived on this
earth, under very happy conditions, but under natural conditions. On the other hand, a development of belief took place; with a doctrine of the Resurrection, together with the conceptions expressed by the terms Gehenna, Paradise, Heaven, came the preparation for more spiritual ideas, and belief in a future life. This teaching, which thus connects the "last times" and the succeeding Messianic Kingdom with this earth, and here gradually develops a belief in the existence of the life to come, after the Resurrection and therefore in a sphere other than earthly--this teaching corresponds in some particulars with that of the Gospel; but the latter presents some marked points of contrast. According to the teaching of our Lord the Kingdom which He came to found came into being at His first Advent, and could therefore be spoken of as already present, The Kingdom of Heaven is within you (Luke xvii. 21; cf. Matt. vii. 13; xi. 12; xii. 25), and also as belonging to the future, There be some of them that stand here, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Kingdom of God (Luke ix. 27; cf. Matt. vi. 6; viii. 11; Mark ix. 11; Luke xiii. 15); similarly we are to learn from this that the Kingdom is wholly spiritual, it is not a question as to whether it
belongs to this world or to the world to come, because it stands outside of such considerations. The great differentiation which men make between this world and the next cannot come into consideration, in the same way, with God Who is spirit (cf. John iv. 24), for the kingdom has reference solely to the spiritual part of man's nature, and his spiritual attitude towards it as now present is the condition of his belonging to it hereafter: Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein (Mark x. 15).
The chief point of contrast, therefore, so far, between the Gospel teaching and that which went before is that, according to the former, the Messianic Era, i.e., the Kingdom of God, is established without the "signs" that precede the "last times," and without the various other elements which belong to the Eschatological Drama according to the presentment of the earlier literature (the only exception to this is that the forerunner appears in the Gospel as well as in the earlier teaching). These elements are presented in the Gospels in connection with Christ's Second Advent. But, according to the Gospel teaching, the Second Advent is really only to be the consummation of the Kingdom which the Messiah founded
while on earth; this only serves to emphasise the truth that the "Kingdom to come" is only the continuation and more complete fulness and realisation of what has already been inaugurated on earth. The earlier teaching, as a rule, makes the establishment of the Kingdom and its consummation one and the same thing, or, at all events, very closely connected; but even here there is not always uniformity of teaching; for sometimes the sequence of events is: the "signs" which precede the end, the establishment of the Kingdom, the Resurrection and Judgement (sometimes these last two are interchanged); at other times the establishment and consummation of the Kingdom come last, and the Kingdom endures for ever. This uncertainty, in one respect, is reflected in the Gospel teaching, at least in so far as the time of the Second Advent is concerned; for it cannot be denied that the Second Advent (the technical term for this in the Gospels, and in the New Testament generally, is Parousia) is sometimes represented as about to take place within the present generation (see, e.g., Matt. x. 23; xvi. 28; xxiv. 34; Mark viii. 28; ix. 1; Luke ix. 27), at other times it is implied that it will not be until some future,
probably distant, date; this is certainly what must naturally be concluded from those passages which say that before the end comes the Gospel must be preached to all nations (e.g., Mark xiii. 10; cf. Matt. xxviii. 19, 20). 'The difficulty is enhanced by the fact that the end of the world is sometimes identified with the destruction of Jerusalem. The full solution of these difficulties may perhaps be brought about by differentiating the various sources from which our Gospels in their present form have been compiled; but this is a precarious task, and one which cannot be touched upon here. It may legitimately be pointed out that according to our Lord's own testimony the time of His Second Advent was known only to the Father: But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son (the words "neither the Son" are omitted by some important authorities, but see Mark xiii. 32), but the Father only (Matt. xxiv. 36).
But if there is a certain similarity between the Gospel teaching and its antecedents in respect of the uncertainty of the actual time
of the end, the two show a marked contrast between the conceptions which they respectively present concerning the character of the Kingdom. This is mainly seen in comparing the materialistic ideas of the earlier teaching with the spiritual teaching in the Gospels. In the Old Testament, as well as in the Apocalyptic literature, the Messianic Kingdom is described as a time in which material prosperity will be at its height, and the peace, which is another characteristic of this Kingdom, will be achieved by the overthrow and subjugation of the enemies of the Israelites; all nations are to bow down before them and acknowledge them as their masters; the Kingdom is a kingdom of this world. This is also the case in the more developed teaching of Eth. Enoch, see, e.g., xxxviii. 4, 5: "And from that time those who possess the earth will no longer be powerful and exalted, and they will not be able to behold the face of the holy, for the light of the Lord of Spirits is seen on the face of the holy, and righteous and elect. Then will the kings and the mighty perish, and be given into the hand of the righteous and holy." But in the Gospel teaching everything that has to do with the Kingdom of God is of a spiritual character;
nothing could be in greater contrast to the earlier teaching than this. The Kingdom itself is described by Christ as not of this world (John xviii. 36), and therefore the happiness and peace of those who belong to it is of a spiritual kind. A trait which often occurs in the earlier literature is that in the time to come the righteous will look upon the wicked in their torments as though exulting over them; such an idea is, of course, wholly absent from the Gospel teaching, indeed it is a further point of contrast that the Gospels have far less to say about the judgement on the wicked than the earlier literature; the Gospel teaching is characterised by a much more pronounced note of hope; 1 nothing, for example, could be more striking than the words in the parable: Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor and the maimed and blind and lame. . . . And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and constrain them to come in . . .; the Kingdom is as far as possible all-embracing; it is only, as it were, upon compulsion that the invincibly wicked
have to be cast out of it; even the wicked are included among the subjects of the Kingdom in the hope that they may thereby be leavened, and it is only at the very end, when they have consistently repudiated the gift of eternal life, that hope for them ceases; see the parables of the draw-net (Matt. xiii. 47-49), and of the leaven (Matt. xiii. 33).
The point of contrast here centres, therefore, in the fact of the wish that the wicked, by becoming better, should continue for ever as members of the Kingdom. They are not regarded as naturally shut out; on the contrary, it is taken for granted that in the normal course they ought to be included among its members. 1 According to the Gospel teaching every single human being is of account; and this brings us to another point of contrast between the earlier teaching and that of the Gospel regarding the Kingdom; it is that the importance of the individual is recognised in the latter, and practically ignored in the former; instead of the blessedness of the Righteous in the Kingdom, it is the blessedness of the righteous one that is emphasised in the Gospel teaching, each individual receiving
recognition; and instead of the judgement on the Wicked, it is the judgement on each wicked man that is emphasised, each individual receiving judgement; this is a point of contrast which is of very great importance, and the significance of it cannot be overrated.
In summing up, therefore, the chief points of contrast between the Gospel teaching and that of its antecedents, we see, firstly, that there is no ambiguity as to the Personality of the Central Figure in the Eschatological Drama as presented in the Gospels; secondly, that the Gospel teaching is in every respect more spiritual than that of the earlier literature; thirdly, that the Gospel sounds a note of hope hitherto unknown; and fourthly, that in the Gospels the individual is raised to a place of importance which was not accorded him in earlier days. Besides this, it may also be added that much of the vagueness in the earlier literature is replaced by the more positive teaching of the Gospels, and the broad moral issues of the latter stand in marked contrast to a great deal of less important matter that figures in the antecedent teaching.
192:1 See for details concerning what is said here, The Evolution of the Messianic Idea, chaps. xiv., xv.
194:1 We are, of course, only referring to the Judge in the restricted eschatological sense.
194:2 It is true that the office of the Messiah, as ruler on earth, is sometimes, as we have seen, ascribed to Jehovah; but the Messiah Himself is always a human being in Old Testament teaching.
194:3 Sometimes, in some of the parables, it is God Himself Who is the Judge (see Matt. xviii. 32; xx. 8; xxii. 11; Luke xviii. 7).
201:1 It is true to say that the Apocalyptists were to a great extent driven by despair of better things on earth to frame their eschatological ideas; on the other hand, the basis of Gospel Eschatology is hope.
202:1 Cf. 1 Tim. ii. 4: Who willeth that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.