Expecting the

The Apostles and first-generation Christians knew they were living in the last days of the Old Covenant age. They looked forward anxiously to its consummation and the full ushering in of the new era. As the age progressed and the "signs of the end" increased and intensified, the Church could see that the Day of Judgment was fast approaching; a crisis was looming in the near future, when Christ would deliver them "from this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). The statements of the apostles are full of this expectant attitude, the certain knowledge that this momentous event was upon them. The sword of God's wrath was poised over Jerusalem, ready to strike at any time. But the Christians were not to be afraid, for the coming wrath was not aimed at them, but at the enemies of the Gospel. Paul urged the Thessa-to "wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come" (lThess.l:10). Echoing Jesus' words in Matthew 23-24, Paul emphasized that the imminent judgment would be poured out upon "the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost" (1 Thess. 2:14-16). The Christians had been forewarned and were therefore prepared, but unbelieving Israel would be caught off-guard:

Now as to the times and epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know t hat the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. . . . For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:1-5,9).

Paul expanded upon this in his second letter to the same church:

For after all it is a righteous thing for God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give relief to you who are troubled and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire dealing out vengeance to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed (2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Clearly, Paul is not talking about Christ's final coming at the end of the world, for the coming "tribulation" and "vengeance" were specifically aimed at those who were persecuting the Christians of the first generation. The coming day of judgment was not something thousands of years away. It was near — so near that they could see it coming. Most of the "signs of the end" were in existence already, and the inspired apostles encouraged the Church to expect the End at any moment. Paul urged the Christians in Rome to persevere in godly living, "knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light" (Rem. 13:11-12). As the old age had been characterized by sin, despair, and bondage to Satan, the new age would be increasingly characterized by righteousness and the universal reign of the Kingdom. For the period of the "last days" was also the time when the Kingdom of heaven was inaugurated on earth, when the "Holy Mountain" began its dynamic growth and all nations began to flow into the Christian faith, as the prophets foretold (see Isa. 2:2-4; Mic. 4:1-4). Obviously, there is still a great deal of ungodliness in the world today. But Christianity has been gradually and steadily winning battles since the days of the early church; and as Christians continue to make war on the enemy, the time will come when the saints possess the Kingdom (Dan. 7:22, 27).

This is why Paul could comfort believers by assuring them that "the Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5). Indeed, the watchword of the early Church (1 Cor. 16:22) was Maranatha! The Lord comes! Looking forward to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, the writer to the Hebrews warned those tempted to "draw back" to apostate Judaism that apostasy would only bring them "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:27).

For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord." And again, "The Lord will judge His people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. . . . For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: "For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:30-31, 36-39).

The other New Testament authors wrote in similar terms. After James warned the wealthy unbelievers who oppressed the Christians of the miseries about to descend upon them, charging that they had fraudulently "heaped up treasure in the last days" (James 5:1-6), he encouraged the suffering Christians:

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9).

The Apostle Peter, too, warned the Church that "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet. 4:7), and encouraged them to live in the daily expectation of the judgment that would come in their generation:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. . . . For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Pet. 4:12-13,17).

The early Christians had to endure both severe persecution at the hands of apostate Israel, and betrayal by antichrists from their own midst who sought to steer the Church into the cult. But this time of fiery tribulation and suffering was working for the Christians' own blessing and sanctification (Rem. 8:28-39); and in the meantime God's wrath against the persecutors was building up. Finally, the End came, and God's anger was unleashed. Those who had brought tribulation upon the Church were cast into the greatest Tribulation of all time.

Church's greatest enemy was destroyed, and would never pose a threat to her ultimate victory.

The objects of worship formerly were varied and countless; each place had its own idol and the so-called god of one place could not pass over to another in order to persuade the people there to worship him, but was barely reverenced even by his own. Indeed no! Nobody worshiped his neighbour's god, but every man had his own idol and thought that it was lord of all. But now Christ alone is worshiped, as One and the Same among all peoples everywhere; and what the feebleness of idols could not do, namely, convince even those dwelling close at hand, He has effected. He has persuaded not only those close at hand, but literally the entire world to worship one and the same Lord and through Him the Father.

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [46]

THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL

Old Israel has been excommunicated, cut off from the covenant by the righteous judgment of God. On the surface, this presents a serious problem: What about God's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God had sworn that He would be the God of Abraham's seed, that the covenant would be established with Abraham's seed "throughout their generations, foi an everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17:7). If salvation has gone from the Jews to the Gentiles, what does that say about God's faithfulness to His word? Is there a place for ethnic Israel in prophecy?

These questions are answered most directly in Scripture by the Apostle Paul in Remans 11.

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