Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION OF JOHN 13-17.
By Rev. D. J. Burrill, D.D., LL.D.
(John xvi. 16-33.)
Our Lord in this interview with His disciples told them He was about to reassume "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was"; but He assured them that He would presently return, and exhorted them to live in expectation of that event. "A little while, and ye shall not see me," he said; "and again a little while, and ye shall see me."
His words puzzled them: "What is this that he saith, ‘a little while’? We cannot understand it." But, however they may have been perplexed by His manner of speech, they never entertained the slightest doubt as to the fact of His coming again in the fulness of time.
1. The Fact.
The doctrine of the Parousia, or second coming of Christ, was joyfully cherished in the early Church. There are approximately a thousand allusions in His teaching and that of His apostles with reference to it In the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of Matthew we have what is familiarly known as the parousia discourse of Jesus: and, whatever of uncertainty there may be as to its interpretation in detail and particular, there is no room whatever for uncertainty as to the promise it contains. The teaching of the apostles is of the same tenor. It may be found in the last words of Paul: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." There is an intimation of it in the last words of Peter: "There shall come in the last days scoffers saying. Where is the promise of his coming?" It is clearly set forth in the last words of James: "Be ye patient, therefore, unto the coming of the Lord, as the husbandman waiteth for his fruits. Be patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Also in the last words of John, sole survivor of the Old Guard, who from his desert home in Patmos heard his Lord calling, "Behold, I come quickly!" and answered "Amen! Even so come. Lord Jesus!" Thus the early Christians strengthened themselves in the glorious hope.
Our faith may tremble, but the promise is Yea and Amen. It is recorded that when He ascended from the Mount of Olives, the eyes of the disciples following Him as He disappeared through the open skies, two angels stood by them in shining apparel who said, "Why gaze ye up into heaven? He shall so come as ye have seen him go into heaven."
2. Its Significance.
In this detailed account of His ascension we have a clearer light on the prophecy under consideration. It means, first, that He is to come personally, "as ye have seen him go." The promise cannot be explained away by referring it to an influential presence. It is true that Christ has been the commanding figure in history ever since those days. The power of all the Caesars and Alexanders and Napoleons combined is not comparable with His. But this does not answer the demands of the promise before us.
Nor can it be disposed of as a reference to the miracle of Pentecost. He did, indeed, so pour out His Spirit on that memorable day that His Church was baptized with fire and power for the great campaign before it. But this was manifesdy not the coming referred to.
Nor was that promise fulfilled in the coming of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem. This was with no such benignant glory as when He ascended with outstretched hands of benediction into the heavens that were opened to receive Him.
Nor are the conditions of this promise met by the sympathetic coming of Christ referred to in the words, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you." Here is a splendid truth, which is realised in the experience of every true follower of Christ; but that does not exhaust the matter in hand. The parousia lies deeper yet.
It means, second, that He is to appear visibly; that is, ye shall see Him come "as ye have seen him go." We are to see Him hisce oculis, "with these very eyes." He will be recognised as the same Christ who lived and suffered among men. His hands will be the same that ministered to their needs. His feet the same that walked along the paths of Palestine, His heart the same that throbbed responsive to human want, and broke at last under the burden of human sin. The marks of His vicarious pain will be seen in His hands and side, the stigmata by which the world is to know its crucified and triumphant Lord. He did not become incarnate simply as a temporary expedient or for a transient purpose; He remains for evermore the incarnate Son of God. Thus John the Evangelist saw Him enthroned u as a lamb that had been slain."
It means, third, that His coming will be glorious; not as it was at Bethlehem: a mother looking fondly down into her baby’s face; a group of rustics at the doorway of the cave, standing on tiptoe peering in; a few shepherds on their knees about the Child; a company of wise men on camels approaching to lay their gold and myrrh and frankincense at His feet. Not so will be our Lord’s final advent. The tokens of His attendant majesty are definitely given us.
The trumpet shall sound; the trumpet of a great angel going on before, as a herald before the King. He will then appear in a pavilion of cloud; not like the dust-cloud that rises before a royal retinue on an earthly highway; but the historic Shechinah, the "most excellent glory" in which the Lord has manifested Himself again and again; the same cloud that led the children of Israel on their journey through the wilderness. He will be attended by a multitude of angels. The shining seats of heaven will be emptied to furnish His retinue on that great Palm Sunday when hosannas are to fill the earth as they fill the heavens now. "The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall dap their hands before Him. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
It means, fourth, that His coming will be beneficent. As He lifted His hands in blessing when He vanished through the skies, so shall He come again saying, "Peace be unto you." His fan will be in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor. Sin shall be swept utterly from the face of the earth. No more trail of the serpent, no more shame and remorse, no more wrong and oppression, no more war and desolation, no more envy and hypocrisy, no more sin ! Wherefore the followers of Christ shall rejoice in that day like a woman who, gazing on the face of her newborn child, finds her "sorrow turned to joy." For the Tabernacle of God shall be among men, and He will dwell with them; and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be their God.
3. The Time.
But when shall these things be? We • have no such definite information as would enable us to determine the exact time. His prediction is veiled in "dark sayings." To the disciples at Olivet who asked, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" His answer was, "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." On another occasion He had said: "Let no man deceive you. For many shall come, saying Lo, here! or Lo, there ! Believe them not. For of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." He shall come "at an hour when ye think not."
Let it be remembered that with the Lord a millennium is as an handbreadth of time. Peter says, "He is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Here is the reason for His delay. It is not because He has forgotten, but because He is long-suffering toward the children of men.
It is recorded that when William the Conqueror came to England the Barons prostrated themselves before him and took this vow: "I do become thy liege man, for life and limb and earthly regard; and I do pledge myself to keep faith and loyalty with thee, for life and death, as God shall help me." Thus should we be ever renewing our consecration to Christ. For the highway must be cast up for His coming: the stones of stumbling must be gathered out. There is something for us to do: and when it is done,' oh, happy day! The heavens shall part asunder and His people shall cry, "Behold Him !"
Meanwhile, blessed are they that love His appearing. He said there should be "weeping and lamenting" before the promised day; but let not our faith misgive us. He that shall come will come, and will make no tarrying. "These words have I spoken unto you," said Jesus, "that ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world !"
4. The Command to Watch.
We wait: and while we wait we watch. The word appears again and again in the teaching of Christ. Watch! Watch! Watch I But how are we to watch? Like those that impatiently look out of their windows? Nay, He has told us: "Let your loins be girt about, and your lights burning." A man lights his lamp for an expected guest, and girds his loins when he addresses himself to an important task. Watch, therefore, in the discharge of duty, for the coming of the Son of Man !
At the close of the Tenth Century the Christian world thought that the end was drawing nigh, since this was the close of the cycle of a thousand years. The signs were all favourable. The social deeps were broken up; there were wars, famines, pestilences, natural convulsions, confusion everywhere; "signs in heaven above and in the earth beneath." It was believed by Christians generally that the Lord was surely at hand. In the last year of the century the impending event was proclaimed from Christian pulpits. Industry was suspended. The Emperor of Germany announced "the Truce of God," and went about in a garb of penitence preaching it On the final day of the year the people clothed themselves in ascension robes and at sunset betook themselves to the roofs of the houses, the porches of cathedrals and the open fields, where they stood waiting. The hours passed until midnight. Midnight passed; the stars began to fade. The first gleam of morning came; and then the Christian world, heaving a sigh of relief as of one coming out of a paralysis of mingled fear and hope, went back to its work.
Then came the Crusades, the greatest movement in history prior to the Reformation. The monks, led by Peter the Hermit, with kings and courtiers, went everywhere proclaiming the conquest of the Holy Land. "It is the will of God I" We must do something toward the coming of the Son of Man! They were still waiting, but waiting at what they believed to be their appointed tasks. Thus Christ is ever saying to His people, "Watch!" Watch and be sober; watch with your loins girt! Let your door be on the latch! It may be at evening, or at midnight, or in the morning that He will come. Watch, therefore! "Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing."