Seemingly Conflicting Scriptures
“There are some statements of Scripture with reference to the manner of the Lord’s return and appearing which, until critically examined, appear to be contradictory of each other. And no doubt they have for centuries served the divine purpose of concealing the truth until the due time for it to be understood; and even then, from all except the special class of consecrated ones for whom it was intended.
For instance, our Lord said,
“Behold, I come as a thief“; and, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man [the days of his PRESENCE]: They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage,” “and knew not until the flood came.” “And when Jesus was questioned of the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The Kingdom of God comes not with observation” [marginal reading, “not with outward demonstration and show“]. Rev. 16:15; Luke 17:26, 27, 20; Matt. 24:38, 39
These scriptures plainly state and illustrate the manner of the Lord’s coming. They show that he will be present unseen, doing a work of which the world for a time will be entirely unaware. His arrival must therefore be in a quiet manner, unobserved, and entirely unknown to the world, just “as a thief” would come, without noise or other demonstration to attract attention.
As in the days of Noah the world went on with its affairs as usual, not in the least disconcerted, and without the slightest faith in the preaching of Noah with reference to the coming flood, so in the early part of the Day of the Lord, the world (as well as the professing church), having no faith in the announcement of his presence and of the impending trouble, will go on as usual, giving no heed whatever to any such preaching until, in the great flood of trouble, the old world–the old order of things–goes down, passes away, preparatory to the full establishment of the new order, the Kingdom of God under the whole heavens–“As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days [of the PRESENCE] of the Son of man.”
On the other hand, we find scriptures which at first sight seem to be in direct conflict with these; as, for instance:
“The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a SHOUT, with the VOICE of the Archangel, and with the TRUMP of God.” “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty messengers, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “They [the world] shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and Great glory.” “Behold, he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him.” 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:7, 8; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7
IMPORTANT: As seekers after truth, it will not do for us to say, in view of these passages, that the majority of them seem to favor whatever view we incline to prefer, and then to ignore the others. Until we have a view of the matter in which every Bible statement finds a reasonable representation, we should not feel sure that we have the truth on the subject. One statement of God is as true, and as firm a foundation for faith, as a hundred. And it would be wiser to seek for a harmonious understanding than to arrive at a conclusion or adopt a theory based on a one-sided interpretation, and thus to deceive others and ourselves.
Christians generally make no effort to harmonize these statements, and therefore their ideas are one-sided and incorrect. The last group of statements is just as positive as the first, and apparently teaches the very reverse of a quiet, unobserved, thief-like manner in the Lord’s coming and presence. In addition to these statements, we are referred to two other illustrations of the manner of his coming, viz.: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven,” and, “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shines even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:27) To reach a correct conclusion, these also must be given due weight.
In our examination of the subject we should note that while our Lord stated, as a positive fact, that his kingdom would be established without outward show, and that his coming, his presence, would be AS a thief, requiring close, attentive watching to apprehend and discern it, all of the above texts generally cited as proof of an outward, visible manifestation are in highly figurative language, except the one which says that he will come in like manner as he went away.
The symbolic must always bend in interpretation to the plainer, more literal statements, as soon as their symbolic character is recognized. Whenever a literal interpretation would do violence to reason, and also place the passage in direct antagonism to plain statements of Scripture, such passage should be considered figurative, and its interpretation as a symbol should be sought in harmony with obviously plain and literal passages, and with the general character and object of the revealed plan. By recognizing and thus interpreting the symbols in this case, the beautiful harmony of all the statements is manifest. Let us now examine them and see how perfectly they agree with the statements, which are not symbolic.
“The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a SHOUT, with the VOICE of the archangel, and with the TRUMP of God.” (1 Thess. 4:16) The voice and the trumpet here mentioned correspond in every way with the same figures used in Rev. 11:15-19–“The seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever…. and the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged,” etc.
The same events are referred to in Daniel’s prophecy: “And at that time shall Michael [Christ] stand up [assume control], the great Prince…and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation…and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” And Paul adds to his mention of the voices and the trumpet the statement, “And the dead in Christ shall rise first.” In 2 Tim. 4:1 he further states that Christ shall judge the quick (the living) and the dead, at this time of his appearing and kingdom; and the beginning of this judgment of the living nations is everywhere described as the greatest time of trouble the world has ever known. Dan. 12:1
Thus Paul, John and Daniel evidently refer to the same time, the time of our Lord’s appearing, and the establishment of his kingdom in the midst of a great time of trouble, and to the events preceding and introducing it. The same result is shown by each writer to follow the standing up of Michael, the voices and the trumpet: namely, trouble and wrath upon the nations and the resurrection of the dead. Next, mark the figure used:
“WITH A SHOUT” The Greek word here translated “shout” is “keleusma”, which signifies a shout of encouragement. A shout implies a public message designed for the ears, not of a few, but of a mixed multitude. It is generally designed either to alarm and terrify or to assist and encourage. Or it may have the one effect upon one class, and the reverse effect upon another, according to circumstances and conditions.
The aspect of affairs in the world at present very strikingly corresponds with this symbol, in the outbursts of world-wide encouragement for all men to wake up to a sense of their rights and privileges as men, and to consider their mutual relationships, the principles upon which they are based and the ends which they should accomplish.
Where on the face of the earth is the civilized nation that has not heard the shout, and is not influenced by it! The entire civilized world has, in the past few years been studying political economy, civil rights and social liberties as never before in the annals of history; and men are encouraging each other, and being encouraged, as never before, to probe these subjects to the very foundation. The shout of encouragement started by the increase of knowledge among men has already encircled the earth, and under its influence men are banding themselves together, encouraged and assisted by men of brain and genius, to contend and strive for both real and fancied rights and liberties; and as their organizations increase and multiply, the shout grows louder and longer, and will by and by result as foretold, in the great time of trouble and tumult of angry nations. The Prophet graphically describes this result–
“The noise of a multitude in the mountains [kingdoms] like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the Lord of hosts mustered the host of battle.” Isa. 13:4
“THE VOICE OF THE ARCHANGEL” is another striking symbol of similar import. The name “archangel” signifies chief messenger; and our anointed Lord himself is Jehovah’s Chief Messenger–the “Messenger of the Covenant.” (Mal. 3:1) Daniel refers to the same personage, calling him Michael, which name signifies WHO AS GOD–an appropriate name for him who is “the express image of the Father’s person,” and the representative of his authority and power. The voice of the Archangel represents Christ’s authority and command. This symbol, then, represents Christ as taking control, or beginning his reign and issuing his commands, his official orders, announcing the change of dispensation by the enforcement of the laws of his kingdom.
The same thought is differently expressed by Daniel, when he says, Then shall Michael, the great Prince, “STAND UP.” To stand up signifies to assume authority, to give commands. (See “ARISETH,” Isa. 2:19, 21) Another illustration of this symbol is from David, who says of Christ prophetically, “He uttered his voice; the earth melted.” The great time of trouble will be precipitated, and the earth (organized society) will melt, or disintegrate, under the change of administration going into effect when the new King utters his voice of command. At his command, systems of error, civil, social and religious, must go down, however old or firmly entrenched and fortified they may be. The sword out of his mouth shall cause the havoc: The truth on every subject, and in all its varied aspects, shall judge men, and, under his power and overruling, shall cause the overturning of evil and error in all their thousand forms.
“THE TRUMP OF GOD” Many seem thoughtlessly to entertain the idea that this trumpet will be a literal sound on the air. But this will be seen to be an unreasonable expectation, when it is noticed that Paul here refers to what the Revelator designates “The Seventh Trumpet,” the “Last Trump” in a series of symbolic trumpets. (Rev. 11:15; 1 Cor. 15:52) The proof that these references are to the same trumpet is found in the record of the events connected with each. Paul mentions the resurrection, and the establishment of the Lord’s Kingdom, as connected with “the trump of God,” and the Revelator mentions the same with even greater minuteness. The propriety of calling the “seventh,” or “last trump,” the “trump of God,” is evident, too, when we remember that the events mentioned under the preceding six trumpets of Revelation refer to humanity’s doings, while the seventh refers specially to the Lord’s work, and covers the “Day of the Lord.”
Since the six preceding trumpets were symbols–and this is generally admitted by commentators and students who make any claim as expositors of Revelation–it would be a violation of reason and common sense to expect the seventh, the last of the series, to be a literal, audible sound on the air. And not only so, but it would be out of harmony with the Lord’s general methods, as well as with those statements of Scripture indicating the secrecy of his coming; for a thief never sounds a trumpet to announce his arrival.
The seven trumpets of Revelation are all symbolic, and represent seven great periods of time and their events. We find ourselves today in the midst of the very events, which mark the sounding of the seventh trumpet. The great voices, the increase of knowledge, the angry nations, etc., taken in connection with time prophecies, establish this as a fact. Many events are yet to transpire before this seventh or last trumpet ceases to sound; as, for instance, the rewarding of the saints and prophets, the resurrection of all the dead, etc. In fact, it covers the entire period of the Millennial reign of Christ, as indicated by the events, which are to transpire under it. Rev. 10:7; 11:15, 18
Thus we find the “SHOUT,” the “VOICE OF THE ARCHANGEL” and “THE TRUMP OF GOD” all symbols, and now in process of fulfillment. Note carefully, too, the fact that each of the three prophecies just referred to (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 11:15; 1 Thess. 4:16) declares the Lord’s PRESENCE at the time when the events mentioned transpire.
They were foretold for the very purpose of indicating the manner in which his INVISIBLE PRESENCE would be manifested (made known) to those who have faith in the word of prophecy. Paul says, “The Lord shall descend with [literally in, or during] a shout,” voice, trumpet, etc.; John says that the kingdoms of this world become his, during the time of these events; and Daniel says, “At that time shall Michael, the great Prince [Christ], stand up” (BE PRESENT) and take to himself his great power.
If, therefore, we can recognize the shout, the voices and the sounding of the great trumpet, we should accept them as indications, not that the Lord will come soon, but rather that he HAS COME AND IS NOW PRESENT, and that the harvest work of gathering the wheat and burning the tares is already under way. This we shall soon see is abundantly proved by time prophecies.
Yet it is not to the natural vision, but only to the eye of faith, through the sure word of prophecy, the written testimony, that his presence and work can be discerned.
Just here another fact should not be overlooked, namely, that the “Shout,” the “Voice of the Archangel,” and the “Trump of God,” as above explained, are all instrumentalities for the accomplishment of the harvest work of the Gospel age. If, therefore, we see not only the meaning of these symbols, but the foretold results actually taking place, we have additional proof both that we have rightly interpreted the symbols, and that we are now in this period called the “harvest,” in which the Gospel age and the Millennial age lap–the one closing and the other opening. Many will need no aid in tracing a separating work now going on between the truly consecrated and the merely nominal Christians. Many can see the symbolic fire already under way, and can discern the “shout” of the people, the command of the new King Immanuel and the events called the “seventh trumpet,” and the “clouds” of trouble, in which the Lord comes, and from and in which his power is to be manifested–subduing all things unto himself.
The recognition of the harvest work in actual process is proof of the Lord’s presence, since he declared that he would be the chief reaper and director of the entire work, and that this would be his first work–“Behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle…. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.” “In the time of the harvest I (being the Lord of the Harvest, being present) will say to the reapers, gather” etc. (Rev. 14:14,16; Matt. 13:30) The various features of the harvest work will be accomplished gradually, but all of its days are “days of the Son of Man“–days of our Lord’s presence and power–recognized in the end by all, but at first only by the class specified by the Apostle–“Ye, brethren –not in darkness.” (B142-150)
We continue with our next post.