“Though it [the vision] tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3, all citations from the NASB).
The First Advent
How the Apostles longed for the setting up of the Kingdom of Israel. They had been with Jesus as he travelled through the land preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Some of his followers had even requested positions in the Kingdom (Matthew 20). There the mother of James and John asked Jesus to “Command that in your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on your right and one on your left” (Matthew 20:21).
Those who knew of Daniel’s prophesy in chapter 9 were able to calculate the time of the Messiah’s expected arrival. They were familiar with the words of Isaiah “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
They even knew in which city he would be born. Herod the king was told by the priests that Messiah would be born “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet” (Matthew 2:3-5).
The Jews at Christ’s first advent looked for Messiah to deliver them from the Roman yoke and give them temporal power and wealth through restoring the Kingdom of Israel. Thus the common people welcomed Jesus. “When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, [they] took the branches of the palm trees … and began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel’ ” (John 12:12-13).
They had read the scriptures but did not understand that God’s plan was to recover all mankind. Jesus rode into Jerusalem not as conquering king but as a lamb slain before the foundation of the world. As the people were selecting the lambs for Passover, Jesus was presenting himself “as of a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19). They had overlooked the prophecy of Isaiah 53 foretelling the suffering and sacrifice that the Messiah had to experience during his first advent.
The Apostles were with Jesus when he was betrayed. They learned of the indignity he suffered in his trial before the Sanhedrin, the false accusations, the scourging, and finally his death on the cross. The apostles were witnesses to his resurrection. The two on the road to Emmaus1 were enlightened by none other than the risen Lord that what had happened was foretold in the scriptures. As Christ was about to ascend to his Father in heaven, the apostles asked “Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Act 1:6).
Oh, how human the disciples were. They naturally desired to have the Kingdom come immediately. They could see the human woe around them and the servitude of Jews under the Roman yoke. They longed for the promised King to set them free. They knew the vision and did not want it to tarry. Had they known there would be a nearly two thousand year wait, would their faith have sufficed to carry them through the Narrow Way? A well-known hymn states the Heavenly Father’s desire that His children not be concerned for what lies ahead: “I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils mine eyes.”2
Our Lord’s Return
Eighteen hundred years later, there was a similar situation. Students of the Bible began to understand the prophecies that had been hidden, many from the time of the prophet Daniel. “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time” (Daniel 12:9). The 19th century had come and the light was beginning to dawn. The meaning of the 1260, 1290 days and the 1335 days was becoming clearer.
Students such as Bro. William Miller and Bro. Nelson Barbour were expecting a visible and dramatic return of Christ. Miller expected him to return in 1843. Barbour looked to 18733 and then revised it to 1874.4 With the disappointment of the visible return of Christ, Barbour concluded in his journal, The Herald of the Morning” (1875) that Christ had returned invisibly, the harvest would run until the spring 1878, that 1881 would see the return of the Jews to Palestine, and 1914 would see the installation of God’s kingdom on earth.
Many were skeptical of the return of the Lord, as Br. William Miller wrote, “To my astonishment, I found very few who listened with any interest. Occasionally, one would see the force of the evidence, but the great majority passed it by as an idle tale.”5
(1) Possibly Cleopas and Peter (see R2800).
(2) Hymns of Dawn 110 “He Knows.”
(3) William Miller (1842), Evidences for the Coming of Christ about the Year 1843. N. H. Barbour (1871), The Midnight Cry.
(4) The Midnight Cry and Herald of the Morning, March 1874.
(5) William Miller (1845), William Miller’s Apology and Defence, page 15.
The Apostle Peter had issued a prophetic warning for this time. “In the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’ ” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Pastor Russell became associated with Bro. Barbour in 1876 and in 1877 they jointly issued the book Three Worlds and the Harvest of this World which reiterated Barbour’s early teachings. They later split over differences involving Christ’s ransom sacrifice, and Pastor Russell began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower in July, 1879.
Pastor Russell wrote in the 1902 edition of The Time is at Hand of seven things that he believed would happen in 1914.
(1) God’s kingdom would take full control of earth “on the ruins of present institutions.”
(2) Christ would be present as earth’s new ruler.
(3) The last of the “royal priesthood, the body of Christ” would be glorified with Christ.
(4) Jerusalem would no longer “be trodden down by the Gentiles.”
(5) “Israel’s blindness will begin to be turned away.”
(6) The great “time of trouble” would reach its culmination of worldwide anarchy.
(7) God’s Kingdom would “smite and crush the Gentile image and fully consume the power of these kings.”
Many things were happening in the world at the time which gave credence to these expectations. Inventions came on line that eased the burden of labor. Travel expanded with the building of railways across the land and steamships plied between continents. Empires were formed, alliances and inter-country wars were waged in the 40 years leading up to World War I. It was during this time that Zionism began with the prospect that the Jews could once again return to the Promised Land.
Though It Tarries
“The vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).
To many, the vision given to Habakkuk by God appears to tarry longer than expected. Habakkuk was told to write it down. It could not just be spoken from one person to the next because of the long time that it would take for the vision to be fulfilled. Though to some it may appear to tarry, yet in God’s time it is coming quickly and will not be delayed. Its fulfillment will be at the exact time prescribed by God.
The Apostle Peter understood the difference between man’s concept of time and God’s reckoning of time when he wrote, “Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Christ’s followers would be eager for the fulfillment of all their Heavenly Father’s promises and Peter encouraged them to wait for their fulfillment with these words: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Habakkuk describes a class that would not exercise the faith needed to believe in God’s plan. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). This is a warning to the proud, who rely on their own strength and not on the Lord’s. To them the vision tarries and they doubt God’s authority to bring it about in a timely manner. The Apostle Paul gives insight into Habakkuk’s words when he states, “You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:36-38).
Christians need to search their hearts, to have faith in God’s plans and to study His word. This will guide them in doing God’s will. When the years 1914 and 1915 passed without all of the expectations being fulfilled, the faith of many was deeply challenged. But Pastor Russell saw that many positive things resulted from the apparent tarrying of the vision when he wrote the forward to the 1916 edition of The Time is at Hand:
“All over the world people knew of the expectations of Bible Students in respect to the year AD 1914; and when so stupendous a war as the present one broke loose, when the winds of strife began to blow with such fury and destruction, thousands remembered what they had heard and read respecting the end of the Gentile Times. …
“The author acknowledges that in this book he presents the thought that the Lord’s saints might expect to be with Him in glory at the ending of the Gentile Times. This was a natural mistake to fall into, but the Lord overruled it for the blessing of His people. The thought that the Church would all be gathered to glory before October, 1914, certainly did have a very stimulating and sanctifying effect upon thousands, all of whom accordingly can praise the Lord — even for the mistake. Many, indeed, can express themselves as being thankful to the Lord that the culmination of the Church’s hopes was not reached at the time we expected; and that we, as the Lord’s people, have further opportunities of perfecting holiness and of being participators with our Master in the further presentation of His Message to His people.”6
Because one hundred years have passed and brethren are still on this side of the veil, what should our attitude be? The scriptures give us the answers.
Stimulate One Another to Good Deeds
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25). We must take every opportunity to meet together and encourage one another, especially at this end of the age.
Still in the School of Christ
The Apostle Peter reminds us not to lose our focus. “Be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (2 Peter 1:10-11). Admonishing us along the same lines, the apostle Paul says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There is still work to be done in each of us. We should be grateful that the door to the high calling is still open and that we can continue to grow in the school of Christ.
Watch and Pray
We have to continually be alert for the various signs mentioned by our Lord, as recorded in Luke chapter 21 and Matthew chapter 24. It could be said that we have before us the script of what will happen at the end of the age. But our Heavenly Father, as director of the events, knows the precise details of when and how it will be carried out. We are assured that it will culminate in the total collapse of this present evil world and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. The disappointment that was felt by many when 1914 did not see the completion of the church can now be viewed through the eyes of opportunity. The door remains ajar for the last feet members to prove faithful. As each member enters beyond the veil, a grand and glorious work begins; the honor of co-laboring with the Lord in accomplishing the work of bringing life to this dying world. What a privilege lies before us, and what a cause for deep conviction. Meanwhile we can continue to broadcast the truth concerning the ransom, restitution, and the plan of God, so that others can see the light and praise God for it.
Let us always pray for guidance and strength through the holy Spirit and not minimize the importance of understanding God’s word, especially as the vision comes closer to its fulfillment.We’ve been watching, we’ve been waiting, For the bright, prophetic day; When the shadows, weary shadows, From the world shall roll away.