The Coming of the Son of Man (1)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
The subject of our Lord’s second advent occupies very many passages of Scripture. Before embarking on this study, it is important that we understand something of the nature and purpose of biblical prophecy; prophecy, that is, in the sense of foretelling future events.
God has revealed coming events for at least three reasons:
First, that when the events happen, people of the day will be able to recognize them and to act in accordance with the instructions He has given; see for example, Matt. 24. 15-16.
Second, that when the events happen, they will provide confirmation that God both knows the end from the beginning and infallibly fulfills His purposes. See, for example, Isaiah 41. 22-24; 44. 7; 46. 9-11; Ezekiel 2. 5; 17. 21; 33. 33; John 13. 19; 14. 29; 16. 4. Meanwhile, biblical prophecy serves to inspire us with confidence that He does indeed know the future and that He has clearly defined purposes which, notwithstanding all opposition and appearances to the contrary, will surely ‘come to pass‘. We are assured of the certainty of His triumph.
Third, that in advance of the fulfilment, God’s people can learn practical lessons which fashion and mould their attitudes and behaviour towards present day events and tendencies. In other words, that the true character of principles at work in the present can be identified by reference to the fully developed versions of the future, and our attitude to the principles now at work be determined accordingly. See, for example, Rev. 1. 3; 18. 4-5.
The point is that Bible prophecies are not given primarily to enable us to map out a precise and detailed programme of future events. Nor, indeed, have we any hope of doing so with any great certainty.
When considering a subject such as the second advent, we face three main problems. Take the following illustration. Imagine that we are confronted for the first time with a large number of jigsaw pieces on a board. The jigsaw pieces are scattered randomly and there is no picture available to guide us as to how they fit together - if they do at all. Our three problems are as follows:
- We cannot be sure that all the pieces on the board belong to the same jigsaw. In the context of the second advent, there is the danger that, because of our ignorance, we will try to fit in passages of Scripture which do not have anything to do with the subject. The verses in question may relate to some other future event or even, particularly in the case of passages in the Old Testament, to events which have already taken place.
- We cannot be sure that the pieces on the board are sufficient to complete the whole jigsaw. For all we know, many pieces (even important pieces) may be missing. In the context of the second advent, this is almost certainly so. Many of the difficulties which we have in piecing together the various biblical passages would no doubt disappear if we only possessed all the facts. But we don’t; only the events themselves will reveal many of the connecting links between the pieces which we do have.
- Always assuming that the pieces on the board do fit together, we cannot be absolutely sure how or where. In the context of the second advent, we have no alternative but, having sought the Lord’s help, to attempt to construct a likely sequence of events on the basis of those passages which appear to be relevant.
We can be consoled by the knowledge that both the Old Testament prophets and the Jewish saints in the period leading up to our Lord’s first advent were in at least as difficult, if not a more difficult, situation. After all, they had jigsaw pieces on their board which related to both advents - and had no way of knowing that there would be two separate advents; cf. 1 Pet. 1. 11-12.
We wonder how we would have fared had we been confronted with prophecies which clearly indicated that, when He came, Christ would: enter Jerusalem on the foal of an ass, be born of a virgin, bring light to Galilee of the Gentiles, have His hands and feet pierced, be consumed with zeal for God’s house, come out of Bethlehem, be sold for 30 pieces of silver, be called out of Egypt, be brought as a lamb to the slaughter, preach the acceptable year of the Lord (and the day of God’s vengeance!), see no corruption in death, be called a Nazarene, etc., etc., – not to speak of passages which we now know still await fulfilment; such as coming with blood-sprinkled garments from Edom, sitting as King on God’s holy hill of Zion, slaying the wicked with the breath of His lips, splitting the mount of Olives, coming with the clouds of heaven, etc., etc.
The mind reels. But we have the benefit of hindsight. The fulfilment of those prophecies which related to the Lord’s first advent, as recorded for us in the New Testament, has made plain all the details of that advent. We know how the various pieces fitted together so wonderfully. And one day the Lord’s second advent will equally be history. Then, and only then, will all be clear.
To repeat, ‘in the context of the second advent, we have no alternative but, having sought the Lord’s help, to attempt to construct a likely sequence of events on the basis of those passages which appear to be relevant’. The later articles in this series represent one such attempt.
Whereas the general shape of events seems clear enough to me, many of the details do not. I am aware that many godly and well-read students of biblical prophecy would disagree over not a few details in these articles. I make no pretence of being right and simply submit the outline in the forthcoming articles as one possible construction.