Behold the Bridegroom
Go ye out to meet him.—Matthew 25:6.
Reprinted from a October 1954 Herald, by Edwin Allbon, England
We are living in tremendous days—days such as never have been since the creation of man upon this earth. These are days when men’s hearts are failing them for fear as they consider the great advances which have been made in scientific knowledge. Man’s knowledge has outpaced his moral development, and because he has not learned to control himself, and selfishness reigns supreme in the hearts of the vast majority, there is a fear of what is coming upon the world. The forces of destruction daily grow more powerful and terrible in the earth, and “might” is the god which men and nations are worshiping in the sure knowledge, however, that this god of “might” will at last prove to be a boomerang which will encompass the complete destruction of our civilization.
And yet it is our privilege to be living in this darkest hour of the world’s history. A comparatively few out of all earth’s millions have their eyes fixed upon the Word of God. Their trust and confidence is in its Author, and as they look out upon world events, they see the fulfillment of things recorded centuries ago—they see that all that is happening in the world today are the recorded steps of the Almighty God toward a consummation which will far surpass the Utopian dreams of men of every age and clime.
What Does The Lord’s Return Mean To You?
No real Bible student, no sincere lover of God, can fail to be intensely interested in the epoch-making events of today. The signposts of God’s Word has been pointing toward this very time in which we are now living, and if our hearts have been praying that age-old prayer: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Then there will be an eagerness and watchfulness on our part which is in striking contrast to the comfortable complacency of so many professing Christians.
O brethren, what does the Lord’s return mean to you? Can we think about it, can we talk about it, and not experience the emotions of those two travelers to Emmaus? Do not our hearts burn within us? If not, there is something wrong, and our interest in the subject is nothing more than academic. This event is the greatest happening of all time, and if we have fully appreciated its tremendous import, there will be a zeal, a warmth, a liveliness of spirit which can be likened only to those early days of Church history after the Pentecostal outpouring.
They Knew Not
There have been other crises in the history of the world, the first of which was the Flood, in which all but eight persons were destroyed. This brought about the passing away of a “world.” Men look back upon this now and realize how stupendous was the event, yet of those who were immediately affected, our Lord said: “In the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away” (Matt. 24:38,39). They knew not. It always has been so—the great majority of living people never seem able to appreciate the real significance of the events which are transpiring during their own lifetime, although they are able to look back on past events and see how the course of the world has been affected by the very happenings which were not understood at the time. It always has been so, and is so even today.
Consider the tremendous event of our Lord’s First Advent—an event which has had its effect upon every part of the civilized world, and beyond. That was the greatest crisis-period up to that time, and as we look back from this far distant time, we know that not only has it affected world history, but that every individual of the human family is vitally concerned in the First Advent of our Lord. Yet how did those who were then living view this great event? The coming of Jesus attracted very little attention from the world at large; just the faintest of ripples upon the waters of mankind—hardly noticed at all. And in the land of his birth, of those who should have known and understood its implications, almost all were either indifferent, or poured scorn upon his claims, and this in spite of the fact that all Israel was in expectation of the Messiah. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” There he was, for thirty-three and a half years in their midst—the One of whom all the Prophets had spoken—the One who was to change the world; yet they knew him not—they knew not the time of their visitation.—Luke 19:44.
So Shall Also The Presence Of The Son Of Man Be
And now, the greatest crisis of all time is upon the earth. Many see the troubles which are upon mankind; many realize that this is “a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation”—that does not need a very keen vision—and their hearts fail them for fear. There are others more highly favored—the professed people of God—who discern in these events a fulfillment of many prophecies in God’s Word which speak of the final overthrow of Satan’s empire preparatory to the establishment of God’s Kingdom of righteousness and peace. Fewer still see further than this—the indications of our Lord’s promised return and of the Church’s near deliverance and glorification. These see their calling to be associated with the great Messiah in the work of uplifting mankind in a ministry of reconciliation, bringing them gradually to perfection and harmony with God, their Creator.
But there is something else happening to which we do well to give heed. Hidden away in this great vortex of events in the earth there is something transpiring which even many enlightened Christians dismiss from their minds with a shrug as of comparatively small importance, as worthy only of a passing reference, as just an incident in the great panorama of world history. Yet what is now transpiring before our eyes are the first beginnings of the next important stage in the outworking of the Divine Plan of the Ages. Surely the hearts of those who have been so highly favored by God with a clearer understanding of his purposes should thrill to see that we are now passing out of one important stage of this wondrous Plan into a NEW ERA which is vital and essentialBEFORE the world of mankind can receive those blessings of life, health, and peace determined by God from the foundation of the world.
A New Development In God’s Plan
There seems to be a parallel between the end of the Jewish Age and the closing days of this Gospel Dispensation. Both are periods of transition during which there is a gradual merging into a new development in God’s dealings with mankind, and the great majority of those, during both periods, to whom have been “committed the oracles of God” have found it difficult to grasp the changing situation or to discern clearly all the implications of the times in which they live.
At the close of the Jewish Age the eyes of God’s people were fixed intently upon an earthly kingdom, and most of them were blind to the new development which concerned the spiritual aspect of God’s Kingdom. Even after the resurrection of our Lord, this earthly kingdom so filled the minds of the disciples that they asked of him: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6.). But the last words of the risen Lord just prior to his ascension indicated that their future work would not be confined to Israel, but would extend beyond Jerusalem, and all Judea, into Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. It was very hard for Peter and the other Apostles to grasp the changing situation. And now, at the end of this Gospel Age, during the days in which we are privileged to live, the eyes of God’s people are intently fixed upon the spiritual phase of the Kingdom, to such an extent that many do not clearly appreciate or eagerly grasp the fact that the earthly phase of that Kingdom is about to be inaugurated, and manifested to all the world. May we never forget that ours is a spiritual calling, and that our goal is to be associated with Christ in the spirit realm of the Kingdom; but also, let us not minimize the truly great beginnings of a new development in the outworking of God’s great Plan.
A Spiritual And An Earthly Seed
It is well to recall the clear teaching of Scripture that there is much yet to be done before any blessing can come to the nations of the earth. There is a seed to be developed and prepared, and that seed is not only to be as the stars of heaven, but also as the sand which is upon the seashore (Gen. 22:17); in other words, there is an earthly seed to be prepared as well as a spiritual, and until then the Gentile nations must remain unblessed. There so often seems to be a tendency to overlook that important fact. All Israel must first be saved—that is the clear teaching of Peter, the Apostle to “the circumcision,” and of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. One can not too often be reminded of the summary of Peter’s words recorded in Acts 15:14-17. Verse 14 reads: “Simeon hath declared how God at the first visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. There we have recorded God’s selection of the Church from among the Gentiles-a work which has occupied the whole period of this Gospel Age, and is now rapidly drawing to its close.
It is the same work to which Paul refers in his Epistle to the Romans, chapter 11, verses 17 and 24. There the Apostle speaks of the “natural branches” which were broken off from the root because of unbelief, while the Gentile believers, represented by the “wild olive tree” were grafted in. Paul, however, does not suggest that “the natural branches” have no further part in God’s purposes for mankind. No, he says that this cutting away of “the natural branches” was only for a limited period—until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. “For I would not, brethren, writes the Apostle, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery [or secret], lest ye be wise in your own conceit; that blindness [or hardness] in part is happened to Israel, until the filling up of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:25,26.). It was partly in order to guard the Gentile believer against a spirit of pride and superiority that Paul wrote the eleventh chapter of Romans. Boast not against the branches, he writes. “Be not high-minded, but fear.”—-(Verses 18-20).
These words of the Apostle Paul are in full accord with the sequence of events as recorded by Peter in Acts 15: “After this [that is, after the calling out of the Gentiles] I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up” (Ver. 16). Then it is, and not till then, that “the residue of men will seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my Name is called, saith the Lord”—(Ver. 17).
Signs Of The Coming Kingdom
If therefore we believe that the fullness of the Gentiles is about complete, and are convinced concerning the signs of our Lord’s return, we should be eagerly looking around us and scanning the pages of God’s Word in order to see this new development of God’s Plan which must synchronize with the closing days of the Church on earth. If it is God’s Plan, we cannot, we dare not be indifferent to what is taking place in the earth today. Our eyes should be frequently and eagerly turning to the land of prophecy, the land of Israel. As we do this, there will be an urgent incentive to greater diligence and faithfulness in our Christian walk.
Our Lord himself indicated to his followers some of the signs they should be looking for at the time of his return, preparatory to the establishment of his Kingdom: “And he spake to them a parable; behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now night at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” Then he adds those words which should mean so much to us: “Verily I say unto you, This generation [the generation that sees these things come to pass] hall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:29-32).
Why did Jesus use the illustration of the fig tree? The interpretation is provided in the 24th chapter of Jeremiah’s prophecy, where the Prophet records that the Lord showed him “two baskets of figs.” This was after Nebuchadnezzar had carried away the Jews into Babylon. In verses 8-10 one basket which contained “evil figs” is used to represent the overthrow and captivity of the Jews at the commencement of “the times of the Gentiles,” and their subsequent experiences throughout the whole period of Gentile dominion. The “good figs” are used in verses 5-7 to represent their final regathering in their own land, and their conversion: “Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.”
Just as the complete fulfillment of verses 8-10 extended beyond the Babylonian captivity, so also this prophecy of the good figs was not fulfilled at the end of the seventy years captivity. It is not until the Lord’s return that the fig tree would show signs of God’s returning favor. This prophecy of Jeremiah is one which cannot be spiritualized without doing despite to our reasoning faculties. The people who because of their idolatry and waywardness were to be dispersed-—a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse—are the same people whom God has pledged to re-establish in the land of Israel.
Perhaps some will ask: “What about the other trees of which Jesus spoke in this parable of Luke 21? Why single out the fig tree?” The fig tree has a special significance because Jesus singled it out, but as a further “sign” of the Lord’s parousia he informs us in parabolic language that the fig-tree nation would be shooting forth its leaves at a time when other nations also would give evidence of life in their struggles for independence and national sovereignty.
A Further Significant Sign
Was there ever a time as this when peoples who for centuries have been subject to the great powers of earth, have endeavored to throw off the yoke of servitude, and to claim their rights as sovereign and independent nations? The once great British Empire, which for many, many years derived her wealth from the toil and labor and resources of subject peoples, has been forced to bow to this demand for independence and sovereignty by those who were once described as “the backward races”; and the process continues. India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, Africa—indeed “all the trees” are “shooting forth.” The once great French Empire is disintegrating under the same influence, to which the troubles in Indo-China bear witness; and so also with all the other colonial empires of the world—and all this at the time when the “fig tree” is putting forth her leaves. Linked with all this is the failing hearts of men as with fear and dread they look after those things which are coming on the earth.
It is at such a time as this that the Lord’s disciples should be looking up, and lifting their heads as they see the nearness of their deliverance. Oh, how circumspect we would be if in our hearts there was a conviction that the last days of our pilgrimage had been reached! If we could but count the days to the time of our change, how eagerly we would throw aside many of the trivialities which claim our time and attention. The petty grievances, the arguing about non-essentials and things that do not profit, would give place to that warmth of love and zeal which characterized the earliest days of the Christian Church. Alas, instead of that we see the vast majority living their lives as though all things continue as they were from the beginning. What if it were tomorrow? Would we find it necessary to hurriedly reshape our affairs, to alter our plans, to scrutinize more closely our motives, and to break down the barriers which have separated us from fellow-brethren in Christ? Do we ardently long for “his appearing”? May we here pause and answer honestly the question—”How great is my desire to `meet the Lord’ and to see him face to face?”
As pants the hart for water brooks,
So pants my soul for Thee;
O, when shall I behold Thy face,
When wilt Thou call for me?
How easy to sing these words, but are we ready if the call should come? How blest we are if we can really say “Yes”; if from the heart we can utter those words: Even so, come Lord Jesus. That is what the Lord’s return is all about! If I go away, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.(John 14:3). Do those words of Jesus stir your heart? Would the return of a loved one from afar stir you more? If so, you are not ready for him—and the time of our deliverance is at hand! “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away,” said Jesus. (Luke 21:33). How essential, brethren, that we should not only be able to clearly discern the signs which indicate the Lord’s return (there are many who are able to do this); if it means anything to us we must also recognize its implications, for they have a direct bearing upon our lives and daily walk. It was Peter who wrote in 2 Peter 3:11: “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved—today we can say, Seeing then that all these things are being dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”—RSV.
Our Lord indicates that it would be at this very time when there would be the greatest tendency to become occupied with lesser things, and the need for watchfulness would be more urgent than ever before. “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare” (Luke 21:34, RSV). There must be a sense of urgency and eager, joyful anticipation—a daily living in the imminence of his appearing. The cares of this life are linked with those more manifest indications of worldliness—”dissipation and drunkenness,” and how they tend to crowd in upon every one of the Lord’s people to deaden the awareness of the near approach of “his appearing.”
Our Father has designed that all the devoted followers of the Lord throughout the Age, from the earliest days, should live in the keen expectation of the Lord’s return and of their deliverance and gathering together to him. How can we who have been so enlightened concerning the parousia of the Lord do otherwise? Jesus did say, “This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” and we must accept his word! Almost eighty years have passed since 1874 A.D.; almost forty years since 1914! “Behold the Bridegroom; go ye out to meet him.”
The One Certain Sign
Shall we consider one of the prophecies in the Old Testament which are vitally connected with the “fig-tree” nation, for this sign of the “fig tree” is one of the near “appearing” of the Lord. There have been many wars during this Gospel Age; there have been many times of trouble, each increasing in severity and encompassing more and more of the nations of the earth; never has there been a budding “fig-tree” sign until these latter years, and Jesus informs us that this the one certain sign that he is at the doors and his appearing is at hand! That surely infers that the Church’s course on earth is almost run!
It should be noted that Jesus did not say that we were to look for a fig tree full grown and mature. t he first signs of life were to be the indications that our deliverance is near at hand. Matthew’s record says: From the fig tree learn its lesson: “As soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matt. 24:32,33—RSV). It is the “watcher” who will see the first faint beginnings of a revived Israel.
The Valley Of Dry Bones
There are many things to transpire before Israel is a nation fully reconciled to God and enjoying the destiny which he has marked out for it. This is graphically portrayed in Ezekiel’s vision of the “dry bones” recorded in chapter 37. In the first fourteen verses we read: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: and I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above; there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, Son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.”
Can These Bones Live?
Note the sequence of events: “a noise,” “a shaking” or earthquake, and then bone being joined to bone. Then sinews and flesh upon the bones, and all covered with skin. Thus far, in his vision Ezekiel sees a complete organism or entity, without life! And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above; yet there was no breath in them (Ver. 8). In verse 11 it is recorded: “These bones are the whole house of Israel.” What, then, should we expect to see? What are we seeing today?
It was during the forty years prior to 1914 that the longings of scattered Jewry, thediaspora, to be united as one nation in the land of their fathers, began to find expression in the aims and aspirations of the Zionist movement. But the “bones” were so dry and withered, there seemed little hope that the ideals of a few Jewish zealots would ever be realized. Can these bones live? would seem to express how humanly impossible it was. For nearly 2,000 years that people had been dispersed among all the nations, and while retaining their separate identity, they had grown up and lived their lives in environments and circumstances which varied as widely as the nations among whom they were scattered. How wise and wonderful is our God! This people, designed by God to be his channel of blessing to all the families of the earth, must needs gain their experience by contact with every race and kindred of mankind, ranging from the most “backward races” to the highly civilized. Yet surely the sentiments of many were echoed in the words of verse 11: “Dried are our bones, and lost is our hope; we are quite cut off” (Leeser). But in 1914 there was a “shaking” or earthquake!
One rendering of verse 7 is: “There was a noise, and behold a commotion, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.” In 1917, during this “commotion,” when Palestine was freed from Turkish oppression, there began a great regathering of Jews which has never ceased to this day. The earthquake has not yet subsided; the noise and commotion continue, but in it all, the words of the Prophet Ezekiel are being fulfilled. Bone joins to bone, as Jews from seventy-four nations of the earth have gathered together until the Jewish population of Israel has swelled from 56,000 in 1914 to nearly two million today!
Yet that was not all the Prophet saw in vision. There was a further development—the skeleton took shape. “And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above” (Ver. 8). This is the point of time to which we have reached today! Turning our eyes from the prophecy to the land of Israel, we see not a skeleton, but a nation, for in May, 1948, the bones took shape and form, and for the first time since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, 2500 years ago, Israel is a sovereign and independent nation.
But There Was No Breath In Them
“But,” some may say, “only a few of all those hundreds of thousands of returned Jews have faith in the Holy Scriptures, and fewer still have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They are there in unbelief. Furthermore, the Ancient Worthies and those who will be `princes in all the earth’ have not been resurrected to their position as the leaders of restored Israel.” How true that is; how in accord with the words of the prophecy: “But there was no breath in them” (Ver. 8). Spiritually, Israel is not yet alive! Yet how interesting to note a faint stirring in the hearts of many individuals in Israel. The President of Israel—Isaac Ben-Zvi—is reported to be “a man of the Book” and when formally taking office he carried with him his family Bible. In the course of his inaugural speech to the Knessett he spoke these words: “We are witnessing today the wondrous process of the joining of the tribes of Israel, bone to bone and flesh to flesh, the merging of them into one nation. . . . I pray that the Rock and Redeemer of Israel may prosper our ways, and that in our days Judah may be saved and Israel dwell securely.” Shall not all the Lord’s people respond with an Amen!
I Will Make A New Covenant After Those Days
What then is the next step in Israel’s revival? The prophecy indicates that it is the loosing of the “four winds,” which is to bring life to the nation. Then it is that God’s spirit will be poured out upon the nation, and he will make with them a New Covenant, putting his law “in their inward parts, and writing it in their hearts.” The giving of life to the nation is the next stage in her development. This is where we are so vitally concerned because “they without us shall not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:40). In other words, the Church must first be glorified; her deliverance must be accomplished; her course on earth completed! Israel waits for the appearance, the manifestation of her Messiah, and “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
Have we lost that sense of urgency which was such a marked feature of the Bible Student movement during the years prior to 1914? Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11, RSV), yet the attitude of expectancy and eager anticipation seems largely to have declined. Surely the knowledge we have received concerning our Lord’s parousia should keep us alert and increasingly watchful! It is not sufficient to be able to produce all the reasons why we believe the Lord is present. Does that satisfy the deepest longings of the heart? “I shall be satisfied”—when?—”when I awake in thy likeness.” That surely must be the sentiment of every true lover of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we should be looking for now; it should be the prompting motive of our lives—the one thing with which we are concerned.
Behold the Bridegroom!
How many of the Lord’s people have rejoiced in that proclamation, and alas, how many have quarreled about it also. How many have again and again reiterated their conviction that we are now living in the days of our Lord’s parousia, and have joined in the proclamation—”Behold the Bridegroom!” But what has it done for us? What is it doing in us? Can we remain unmoved as we meditate upon it? Does it stir our hearts? Has it brought home to us the fact that his appearing cannot be long delayed? Has it made the things of earth lose their attraction, and caused us to redouble our efforts to put on more of the graces of the spirit and those qualities of heart and mind which the Lord will expect and delight to see in us when he appeareth?
“BEHOLD THE BRIDEGROOM!” is only part of the proclamation—there is something to be done—”GO YE OUT TO MEET HIM!” That is just as essential as the recognition that the time of our Lord’s return has come All the signs indicate that very soon now the door will be shut, and the last member of the Bride will have made herself ready.
We haste, because that door once shut
Will never ope again.