Groupings Amongst Men
John Heading, Aberystwyth
Introductory Remarks to the next Great Event. Having traced the greatfeatures of decline and restoration leading to ultimate rejection of Christendom by the Lord, a great decision must now be taken by faith before further progress can be made in understanding the onward path of prophecy. We must face the fact that the Bible has not been given as a clear-cut textbook on prophecy, nor really on any other subject. Otherwise faith would not be operative in its approach to prophecy; the exercise would merelybe an intellectual and academic absorption of facts. Spiritual discernment is necessary with well-defined aims— to give Christ the pre-eminent position and to see in the eternal purpose of God the Church completely distinct both from the nations on earth, and from religious institutions erected by men. To achieve this end, we must see the miraculous element in prophecy.
Since the Bible is not a ready-made text-book on prophecy, this has given rise to several distinct schools of interpretation. Some of these are pathetic, laughable (were it not a serious matter), faithless, academic, with some pertaining to the heretical cults. Believers need not be concerned with the details of the various schools, but since various names are associated with them which believers may sometimes hear, it is well to spell them out very briefly. The preterist school considers that the book of Revelation was all fulfilled in the early days of Christian persecution, the book being prescribed for their comfort in those difficult days. The historicist school asserts that the book of Revelation has been fulfilled throughout the centuries of the Christian era. The futurist school believes that chapters 5-19 deal with the apostasy at the end times after the Church has been taken from the scene of its testimony.
It is unfortunate that expositors differ amongst themselves regarding the millennium. Those who claim to be Amillennial are those who state that the beginning of Revelation 20 refers to the church age. Those are called Pre-millennial if they believe that Revelation 20 is literal—the personal return of the Lord to reign in a future day after the Church has been taken. Post-millennial are those who believe in this golden age of the future, but who claim that the Lord's advent occurs afterwards. The difference is marked, and forces one to ask whether the Old Testament promises to the Jews mean what is written, or whether after all such promises have to be spiritualized to refer to the Church. Hence it will be seen that the preterist works essentially without the miraculous in prophecy. The historicists have to be good secular historians, with extraordinary flights of their inconsistent imaginations throughout history to weave together a jig-saw puzzle of history supposedly answering to the minute details of Revelation. But the futurists perceive the righteousness of God in His judgments, leading to the vindication of the Lord Jesus Christ— once rejected, and still rejected, but reigning supreme in the coming day. The Amillennialist fails to see that the blessings and peace of the early part of Revelation 20 can never be achieved by the divided state of church testimony—or perhaps we should say by the divided state of Christendom. The Post-millennialist fails to see that the Lord has been promised the kingdom of David. But the so-called Pre-millennialist exalts Christ in His glory and His kingdom. Although the author does not like names, yet his conviction is that the only self-consistent teaching, and that which exalts Christ, is that commonly designated as futurist and pre-millennial. Many fail to see that the complete Jewish domination during the millennium, with other nations at peace, is quite distinct from the Church raised in resurrection. Otherwise there is an unwarranted spiritualization of all Old Testament prophecy.
The Jews, Gentiles and Church of God. 1 Corinthians 10. 32 draws this distinction between men, and Christians must recognize it; moreover, the distinction is mutually exclusive, since, by faith and baptism, in the church "there is neither Jew nor Greek ... ye are all one in Christ Jesus", Gal. 3. 28. All three groups exist today as in Paul's day; their origins in the past, and God's intentions for them in the future are quite distinct and Scripture never confuses the classes. Gentile proselytes tried to be Jews by means of circumcision; Jews tried to imbibe Gentile practices by a converse mutilation leading to uncircumcision, Rom. 2. 25. But only a convert in the church loses his former class in the eyes of God, and in the desires of his own heart.
Origin of the Groupings. The origin of the Church is found in the eternal purpose of God, since believers have been chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world", Eph. 1.4. Redemption is their portion through grace, and formation into the one body by the Spirit. The Jews, on the other hand, originated through the promise to Abram, "I will make of thee a great nation", Gen. 12. 2. Moreover, this seed would be granted the land, v. 7. They were thus a special nation chosen and loved, and brought out of Egypt so that the promise to Abram might be kept Deut. 7. 7. Whatever happens throughout history, and whatever the greed of nations may seek to do, the land is always as secure as the promise; the people and the land are closely associated as long as earth shall last. It was given to Abraham and to Jacob as "an everlasting possession", Gen. 17. 8; 48. 4. The origin of the nations essentially commenced at Babel, because of the sinful presumption to reach up unto God; it was there that "the Lord scattered them abroad", 11. 8. Chapter 10 is a summary of what happened to the distribution of men amongst the nations. There is a second origin: Abram's unbelief led to the nation stemming from Ishmael, 16. 10; 17. 20. The same may be said of the descendants of Lot and Esau, yielding nations that were always a thorn in the flesh for Israel, particularly when the latter was sunk into sin and idolatry.
Character of the Groupings. Ephesians 2 presents the Church as a heavenly spiritual body—one body from those saved out from the Jews and Gentiles, the workmanship of God as a holy temple and a bride with access to the Father by the Spirit. The Jews are presented in Romans 11 as temporarily blinded as a nation, deaf, having stumbled, fallen, diminished, cast away and broken off in unbelief, until "the fulness of the Gentiles be come in", v. 25. The present state of the nations is traced in Romans 1 and 3, where there is found none righteous, no not one; where all the world is guilty before God, and where all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Future of the Groupings. Present-day believers in the Church can well rejoice that there are so many references in the New Testament to the hope placed before them. The Church, so loved by the Lord, has been sanctified and cleansed so that "he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot . . . holy and without blemish", Eph. 5. 27, a presentation accomplished when the Lord descends in the air so that believers should "ever be with the Lord", 1 Thess. 4. 17, with bodies fashioned like unto His body of glory, Phil. 3. 21. The Jewish nation, on the other hand, now still scattered throughout the world, shall be restored to Zion, Isa. 60-62, with their Messiah as their sole authority. The nations who enter the millennium will be completely blessed on earth because of the Lord's rule. "The Gentiles shall come to thy light", Isa. 60. 3; "the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory", 62. 2; "the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into (unto) it", Rev. 21. 24. This is not because of any self-effort, but because of the work of Christ in those who are saved at that time. Of these three groupings, Old Testament prophets spoke of the Jews and the nations, both in the past and about their future; but they did not speak of the distinct body, the Church. They spoke of the world situation until the first advent of Christ, and then of world events on earth after God's building of the Church would be complete at the rapture. There is therefore a prophetical gap, a parenthesis (of nearly two thousand years so far) which Old Testament prophecy has passed over. The present day of grace when Jew and Gentile can be converted into members of the Church is not seen in Old Testament prophecy.
The Prophetic Gap. Scripture presents this gap in several ways, and the objective of prophecy together with the unique character of the Church cannot be properly understood unless readers grasp this truth. (1) In Isaiah 61. 1 -3 and Luke 4. 18, 19, the Lord had come to preach the gospel and the acceptable year of the Lord; this is prophecy up to the gap. Isaiah continues, "the day of vengeance of our God", and blessings in Zion when God's people will "be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord", namely prophetical matters after the gap. (2) In Acts 1.6, the disciples asked the Lord if He would then restore again the kingdom to Israel, namely they were occupied with matters falling within the scope of future prophecy. The Lord replied that these things were not yet, but in the meanwhile they would receive power after the Holy Spirit was come upon them. The time of the operation of the Spirit was a gap till their question would be answered in the prophetic future. (3) In John 14. 3, the Lord said, "If I go away ... I will come again"; the gap implicitly contained in prophecy comes between these two events in the movements of the Lord. (4) In Romans 11. 17-24, Israel is seen broken off as an olive branch. The gap occurs at that stage, since afterwards, God is able to graff them in again. (5) Isaiah 9. 6 informs us, "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given". The prophetic gap then occurs, followed by "the government shall be upon his shoulder". (6) In Revelation 1.19a distinction is made: "the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter". The things "which are", namely chapters 2-3, constitute the gap. (7) In Daniel 7, the fourth beast seems to exist from its beginning to its end. But Revelation 17. 8 describes the beast by the words "that was, and is not, and yet is". The words "is not" introduce the gap that could not be revealed in Daniel 7, covering the Church age. To perceive this important distinction introduces the fulness, the glory, and the fineness of detail in prophetical matters. All prophecy fits into this scheme, as demonstrated by the diagram previously published, on which "the gap" is marked, namely the Church age with no arrowed lines reaching it from the Old Testament prophets. Thus the gap may be discerned where it is not explicitly stated. For example, in Daniel 2. 33, "his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay" contains the gap between the legs and the feet.
The Future Hope of the Church
is a doctrine only found in the New Testament; this is a deduction that may safely be made. Thus, the Church will be removed to be with the Lord before Old Testament prophecy unfolds God's dealings with Israel and the nations. This removal, or rapture at the coming of the Lord, was promised by the Lord: "I will come again, and receive you unto myself", John 14. 3. It was predicted by Paul: "to wait for his Son from heaven", 1 Thess. 1. 10; "our joy, or crown ... ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming", 2. 19; "hearts unblameable in holiness before God ... at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ", 13; "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air", 16-17. Thus the rapture implies the transport of believers into heaven. It was proclaimed by John: "when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is", 1 John 3. 2. It was also longed for by John, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus", Rev. 22. 20.