2014 September/ October
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Knowing this first, that in the last of the days scoffers will come … saying, ‘Where is the promise of his presence?’ ” (2 Peter 3:3-4, Emphatic Diaglott).
One of the crucial features of God’s plan of salvation for mankind is that Christ returns to gather his church and establish his earthly kingdom. This earthly kingdom will fulfill God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Yet, as the apostle Peter prophesied in 2 Peter 3:3-4, much of the Christian world has lost sight of our Lord’s promised return.
Purpose of Our Lord’s Return
Our Lord returns to accomplish the great work of Restitution, lifting the human family out of sin and death and back into harmony with God (Acts 3:20-23). To accomplish this, Jesus returns to do three things:
(1) complete his associate rulers, the church,
(2) prepare the earth for his kingdom and
(3) establish his kingdom.
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus returns to complete his bride, the spiritual seed of the Abrahamic promise. These are the 144,000 who stand on Mt. Zion with the Father’s name written in their foreheads (Revelation 14:1). Together with our Lord, they will form the great Melchizedek priesthood that brings man back into harmony with God (Hebrews 5:6; Revelation 20:6).
To complete the church, Jesus returns to feed the last members of his church, those watching for his return, with the word of truth. “He shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them” harvest truth (Luke 12:37). Jesus feeds them with the doctrines of God’s plan of salvation that were originally taught to the early church but lost sight of during the Dark Ages.
These truths include:
(1) Jesus gave his earthly life as a ransom for Adam,
(2) man is a living soul,
(3) there is no burning hell, and
(4) man’s hope for future life is in the promise of a resurrection.
The harvest truth creates a separation between the true church begun by the Lord and the apostles through sowing the word of truth and the false church created later during the Gospel Age by Satan’s sowing of error. The true church and false church were to grow together only until the harvest when they would be divided as described by Jesus in the parable of the wheat (true church) and the tares (false church) (Matthew 13:30,41-43). This separation is also shown when Jesus is described as using a sharp sickle to harvest the true church (Revelation 14:14-16) and take them to their heavenly reward while casting the false church into the winepress of God’s wrath (Revelation 14:18-20). In completing his church, Jesus judges his followers (the true church), rewarding them according to their faithfulness as shown in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:19-30). Jesus receives the faithful followers unto himself, so that where he is (in heaven), they may be also (John 14:2-3).
Preparing the Earth
Second, Jesus returns to prepare the world for his earthly kingdom. He binds Satan for a thousand years so that Satan will not deceive the nations during Christ’s earthly kingdom (Revelation 20:1-3). He dashes the nations into pieces (Psalm 2:8) and causes the ecclesiastical heavens (false church systems) to pass away, the elements to melt, and the earth to be burned up; so that the new heavens and a new earth (his kingdom) may be established (2 Peter 3:10,13). Jesus does all of this so that he can create the appropriate environment for teaching mankind righteousness.
Establishing His Earthly Kingdom
Finally, Jesus returns to establish his earthly kingdom and bring the promised restoration of everything that mankind lost through Adam’s sin. Jesus’ kingdom will reign over all mankind and lead them up the way of holiness, back to mental, moral, and physical perfection and harmony with God. In his kingdom, Jesus will call mankind from the grave (John 5:28-29), heal all of their diseases (Isaiah 33:24), teach them righteousness (Isaiah 26:9), and lead them up the way of holiness and back into harmony with God (Isaiah 35:5-10). He will take out their stony heart and give them a heart of flesh, where he can write God’s law and inspire them to become obedient to the Father’s will and commandments (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27). Then he will judge the human family according to God’s Law as to their worthiness for everlasting life or death, separating them as sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus returns to complete God’s plan and fulfill all of the promises God has made concerning man’s salvation and recovery from sin.
Our Lord’s Presence
The New Testament uses a number of different Greek words to describe our Lord’s return. One of them, parousia (Strong’s G3952), actually means being near or presence. Often, when a Scripture describes the “coming” of the Lord, the actual Greek word is parousia and the passage is describing an event taking place after our Lord has returned. Examples include Matthew 24:3,27,37,39; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8,9; James 5:7,8; and 2 Peter 3:4,12.
Matthew 24th Chapter
Matthew 24 provides one of the best descriptions of the progressive nature of our Lord’s presence. It begins with a question by his disciples in Matthew 24:3: “Tell us, when these things will be? And what will be the sign of thy presence (Greek: parousia) and of the consummation of the age?” (Emphatic Diaglott). Jesus’ response in Matthew 27:24 gives us a nice description of the entire period of our Lord’s presence. “For as the lightning emerges from the east, and shines to the west, so will be the presence of the son of man” (Emphatic Diaglott). “Lightning” is translated from the Greek word astrape (Strong’s G796) which can mean glare or shining as well as lightning. Lightning does not typically travel from the east to the west. However, there is a bright shining that does—the rising of the sun. Our Lord described his presence as the rising of the sun—being gradually revealed first to his church, the watchers, and then the rest of mankind. This interpretation is consistent with other verses associating our Lord’s return with the dawning of a new day (2 Peter 1:19; Malachi 4:2).
Invisible Presence Confirmed by the Days of Noah
The invisible presence of our Lord, initially hidden from the world, is confirmed by our Lord in Matthew 24:37-39, where he compared his presence to the days of Noah. Just as the world in Noah’s day was ignorant of the flood that was about to descend upon them, the present evil world will be ignorant of our Lord’s presence until after the associated time of trouble comes upon them.
Our Lord’s Coming is Secret — Like a Thief
In Matthew 24:42-43, our Lord told the disciples: “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (NASB). Neither the church nor the head of the house, Satan, knew in advance the date of our Lord’s second advent. Paul confirms in 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6 that the day of the Lord comes secretly, like a thief in the night. Our Lord’s presence would take the world unawares. While the world would be saying, “Peace and safety,” they would experience sudden destruction, in spasms like birth pangs, because our Lord had already returned. These spasms of trouble would continue until there was the birth of Christ’s kingdom—the new heavens and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
Signs of Our Lord’s Presence
However, Jesus’ followers are not in darkness that his return should come upon them unawares. They would be awake and recognize our Lord’s presence because of the signs of his presence. We believe our Lord is present because the signs of his presence, found in Matthew 24 and Daniel 12, have begun to be fulfilled.
In Matthew 24:3, the apostles asked our Lord what would be the sign of his presence and the consummation of the age. In verses 15- 28 our Lord describes conditions present at the end of the Gospel age, when he returns. One of these conditions is a time of great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world. Unless this trouble was cut short, no flesh would be saved (verses 21-22). Daniel connected this trouble to our Lord’s presence in Daniel 12:1. “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (NASB). When Michael (our Lord), stands up (returns and takes charge), this great trouble would occur.
Since 1874, we have seen this trouble beginning with the problems of the so-called Christian church systems, the conflict between capital and labor, and the growing conflicts between and preparations for war by the nations. These troubles escalated in 1914 with the ending of Gentile Times and led to World War I (1914-1918). That was followed by the Great Depression (1929-1939), World War II (1939-1945), and the Cold War (1946-1989). The on-going Middle East conflicts will eventually lead man into one last world-wide conflict, Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:6-8). All of these conflicts reveal that our Lord is present and is now proceeding to “dash them [nations] in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9).
Sign of the Son of Man
In Matthew 24:30-34, our Lord gives additional proof of his presence.
“And the sign of the son of man will then appear in heaven; and then all the tribes of the land will lament; and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, with great majesty and power. And he will send his messengers with a loud sounding trumpet, and they will assemble his chosen from the four winds—from one extremity of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable from the fig tree. When its branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Thus, also, when you shall see all these things, know, that he is nigh at the doors” (Emphatic Diaglott).
These verses give four evidences of Jesus’ presence that will be recognized by the faith- ful, watching people of God:
(1) Sign of son of man in the ecclesiastical heavens,
(2) Sending angels with the great sound of a trumpet,
(3) Gathering the elect from the four winds,
(4) Fig tree putting forth leaves. All four elements must be present to confirm the presence of our returned Lord (Matthew 24:33).
“Great tribulation” is one of the signs of Jesus’ presence.
Sign of the Son of Man in Heaven
Br. Charles Russell suggested “the sign appearing in the heavens signifies that the beginning of Christ’s judgments will fall upon the ecclesiastical systems of our day.”(1) He described some of these judgments taking place in his day as:
- The inconsistency “between her claimed standard of doctrine, the Bible, and her conflicting and in many respects absurd, creeds.”
- “A marked lack of that piety and godliness which she professes.”
- “Failure to accomplish what she has claimed to be her mission; viz., to convert the world to Christianity.”4
These judgments proceed and foreshadow the coming destruction of the symbolic heavens or Babylon (Christendom) described by Peter as “the heavens will pass away with a roar” (2 Peter 3:10).
Great Sound of the Trumpet
The great sound of a trumpet—the message of harvest truth—is being proclaimed by the earthly messengers of our Lord. This is the same trumpet carried by our Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The message includes the call to “Come out of her my people” (Revelation 18:4). The Lord’s people are to leave the false or apostate church, now that its true nature has been revealed, and associate with others of the true church, the true mountain of God (Matthew 24:16). They do not form a new denomination but are separated as wheat from the tares. This message was issued by our returned Lord, the angel who came down from heaven with great power, enlightening the earth with his glory (Revelation 18:1).
We have heard this message primarily through the ministry of Br. Charles Russell. This message is the divine plan of the ages based on our Lord’s ransom sacrifice for Adam. It is the message we preach today. We have been called by this message and have now become messengers, blowing the harvest trumpet that others might hear and respond.
Gathering the Elect
The gathering of the elect describes the harvest of the church at the end of the Gospel Age. It is shown in the separation of the wheat (true church) from the tares (false church) (Matthew 13:30) and the good fishes from the unsuitable fishes (Matthew 13:47-50). Today, every individual ecclesia of Bible Students is an evidence of this work. Before 1874, they did not exist. After 1874, a tremendous separation occurred with tens of thousands of Christians coming out of false church systems and forming separate, autonomous congregations similar to those in the days of the early church.
Putting Forth of the Leaves
The putting forth of leaves by the fig-tree would indicate favor had begun to return to Israel and the curse upon them was ended (Matthew 24:32). The fig tree is used in Scripture as a picture of the Jewish nation. Our Lord used the fig tree in Matthew 21:19-21 to picture Israel’s lack of fruit at his first advent. Our Lord also described Israel as a fig tree in his parable of Luke 13:6-9. Today, Israel is a nation again. The gathering process began with the 1878 Berlin Congress of Nations which allowed Jews to purchase land in Palestine and immigrate there. It continued with the fishers of the Zionist movement launched by Theodore Herzl with the first Zionist conference in 1896 (Jeremiah 16:16). It continued with Britain’s protectorate over Palestine and its Balfour accord that encouraged a homeland for the Jews. It culminated with the holocaust which led to an accelerated exodus of Jews to Palestine and led to the establishment of the Jewish nation in 1948.
Because all four elements of Matthew 24: 30-34 have occurred, we have the evidence that our Lord has returned as he promised.
- “The Sign of the Son of Man in Heaven,”Sermon Book, page 421.
- Battle of Armageddon, page 164.
- The Battle of Armageddon, pages 166, 167.
- The Battle of Armageddon, page 167.
Faithful and Wise Servant
In Matthew 24:45-47 our Lord gave an- other sign of his presence: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (NIV).
The “faithful and wise” servant watching for our Lord’s return and then dedicating his life to providing harvest truth to the brethren was Charles T. Russell. He brought together the basic components of the divine plan of the ages we have today. He wrote the vision of the divine plan of salvation down as the prophet Habak- kuk prophesied (Habakkuk 2:2-3). He wrote “Studies in the Scriptures,” The Watchtower magazine, articles for the Overland Monthly, The Photo Drama of Creation, newspaper ser- mons, and numerous pamphlets and tracts. In all of this he manifested the spirit of Christ, from which we see that he was the servant de- scribed by Jesus.
Signs of Daniel Chapter 12
The prophet Daniel gave us two additional signs of our Lord’s presence. “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4). An increase of knowledge and running to and fro provide an excellent description of the technological world we know today. Most of the inventions of modern life were created since 1874. Electricity, telephone, internal combustion engines, radio, television/ movies, refrigeration, automobiles, airplanes, nuclear power, space travel, computers, cell phones, and the Internet all confirm our Lord’s return. Today, man’s knowledge is exploding, doubling every 1½-2 years. “Running to and fro” due to modern transportation systems has likewise greatly increased.
More importantly, the “increase in knowledge” and “running to and fro” refers to the search for understanding the word of God, including Daniel’s prophecies. “They will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord” (Amos 8:12 NASB). While these efforts began before our Lord’s return, they helped provide the environment of Bible study together with Bible helps that allowed the Truth Movement to flourish once our Lord returned. They are an additional evidence our Lord has returned.
Chronology of Our Lord’s Return
While we can now see the signs of our Lord’s return more clearly than ever before, Br. Charles Russell did not have this advantage in the early 1870s. Instead, he used Scriptural time prophecies to calculate the time of our Lord’s return. He found in the Jubilee feature of the Mosaic Law a type of the Times of Restitution. Because the Jubilee year was determined by squaring the number of Sabbath years (Leviticus 25:8-10), he concluded that squaring the number of Jubilees would mark the beginning of the Times of Restitution. From the date of the last possible Jubilee observance before Israel’s Babylonian captivity, 50 Jubilee cycles of 50 years each pointed to October, 1874—which Br. Russell determined marked the beginning of the Times of Restitution. This date would similarly mark the beginning of our Lord’s second presence (Acts 3:19-21).5
Bro. Russell found this date supported by the prophecy of the Jewish double—equal periods of favor and punishment for natural Israel (Zechariah 9:12, Isaiah 40:2). Israel was favored for 1845 years from the death of Jacob in BC 1813 until they were cast off by Jesus in AD 33. An equal 1845 years of disfavor would conclude in 1878, and then favor should return.
Right on schedule, in 1878, the Berlin Congress of nations allowed the Jews to purchase land in Palestine and the first Jewish settlement named “Petach Tiqvah” was established—showing the completion of Israel’s “double.”6
Br. Russell concluded “placing the statements of Paul and Peter (Romans 11:27 and Acts 3:19-21) together, we learn that the time for the return of favor to Israel will be in the beginning of the Times of Restitution, at the second advent of our Lord.”7
In Daniel 12, Bro. Russell found time prophecies pointing to:
- Beginning of The Time of the End (Daniel 12:7, 1260 days).
- Purifying work begun among the holy people (Daniel 12:10-11, 1290 days).
- The time when Daniel’s prophecies would be understood (Daniel 12:12, 1335 days).
Concluding that all three prophetic periods began with the same date and the 1260 days were fulfilled in 1799 AD, he determined that the 1335 days would be fulfilled in 1874. Coupling this with the parable of the ten virgins, Br. Russell concluded that this full understanding would take place in conjunction with the arrival the divine plan of salvation through his subsequent ministry confirmed this conclusion. “It was at and since the ending of those 1335 prophetic, symbolic days that the precious views of the Lord’s presence, and the fact that we are even now living in the time of the ‘harvest’ of this Gospel age, and in the time of the setting up of Michael’s (Christ’s) Kingdom, came to be known.”9
The second presence of the Lord is one of the special gems of harvest truth. It now tells us to withdraw from sectarianism in all its forms. By understanding our Lord’s second presence, we can recognize what is happening today and lift up our heads, for our deliverance draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).
- The Time is at Hand, pages 209-233.
- The Time is at Hand, page 211.
- Thy Kingdom Come, pages 68-69, 83-88.
- Thy Kingdom Come, page 88.
- The Time is at Hand, pages 173-200.
- The Time is at Hand, pages 209-233.
- The Time is at Hand, page 211.
- The Kingdom Come, pages 68-69, 83-88.
- The Kingdom Come, page 88.