Application of Old Testament Prophecy to the Church
There will be no lasting peace on earth until God openly take up the reins of government; in that day He will set up a throne of righteousness on which the Son of Man shall sit and rule over all nations. The present state of the world is not an adequate witness of God's active government; for the moment He remains apparently silent. What would happen to those who give Him no place in their thoughts and ways if He were to make His presence fully known as a judge and ruler? If He were to appear in judgment, He would, deal with the evil so evident on every hand and put it out of the world.
Even now there are certain infallible consequences attached to behaviour as effects follow the cause, “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6: 7). But the day is coming when sin will not be allowed, the hand of divine authority will be seen and recognized, and the evil-doer will be quickly cut (Isaiah 55: 20).
Meanwhile the providential government of God goes on in the world whatever outward appearances may be; every hair of our head is numbered, and not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father's knowledge. Providence is a concealed form of God's government, but a day is coming when He will govern the world openly and directly by Christ. In the past Israel was the centre of His authority on earth, but because of their failure to walk in the law of Jehovah, which was the expression of the terms of His government, the throne of Jehovah was removed from Jerusalem; and Israel became a captive to the Gentile powers raised up as chastening rods of judgment. In the mind of God Israel ever remains the centre of His public earthly dealings. All Israel will again be restored to the land of their inheritance through the mercy of God, according to His unconditional promise made to Abraham, and confirmed to his Seed, of which Isaac as one given back from death was a type. The Jews will first return, for they, were the people who joined hands with the Gentile power to reject and crucify the Messiah when He came to His own, and to them He will appear that they may be the first to repent and not lose their place amongst the tribes (Zechariah12: 7). Then the ten tribes will be gathered and the LORD will reign in Zion and govern the earth from amidst His people.
Prophecy is not occupied with providence, in which the ordering of the divine will is secretly brought to pass; but it speaks of the direct government of God in His immediate dealings with men on the earth with reference to their conduct, and His direct interference in human affairs revealing His ways on earth. The Jews are the central point of His displayed government on earth, and the Gentiles have their place in connection with God's ways as they have to do with God's people.
God is not now governing the world in a manner that all may learn His ways from the outward course of events. His providence governs everything, but the day is coming when His King will reign in righteousness and He will openly manifest His presence by His judgments, and right will receive its just recompense. At the moment, while Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, God is gathering out a people for heaven to reign with Christ, and to be joint-heirs with Him; in the meantime they are joint-sufferers.
The Church is not the subject of prophecy; it is given the light of prophecy, so that it will know what is coming upon the world when God rises up in judgment to remove from His sight those whom He judges, and bring His earthly people into full blessing. The Church belongs to heaven; it is the body of Christ while He is seated there. A picture of the Church as a body in its external and active life in the world, covering the whole period of its history down here, is given in the book of Revelation. In divine wisdom seven assemblies are selected, and these serve to present a complete view of the moral character of the state into which the body on earth would successively fall. The moral judgment of the Lord is pressed on them, for what He judges cannot be in any way as His heavenly body. The Church, will never be set up on earth by the government of God to reign in peace. When Christ reigns the Church will sit with Him in His throne and reign with Him from above. Those who make Christ their confession will have to leave all that is in the world or perish with it. Christians must sooner or later give it up, and they may do so as taught by God in the truth, doing it with joy in the sense of His grace in Christ, or they will know the pain of broken ties that hold them bound to the earth. Grace working in the heart will make the feet willing to turn from, and flee the scene of coming judgment; if the heart is not free from the world, judgment will compel the break.
In New Testament prophecy judgment is pronounced against that which has taken the name of the Church, but which has the character of Babylon, and is the power of evil in the world. The Church proper belongs to heaven and will be taken away to heaven to be with Christ before the day of judgment.
The apostle Paul was given the revelation of the Church in its heavenly relationship with Christ in present spiritual union, and he does not speak of believers going to heaven, but of going to be with Christ. He speaks of the Church's heavenly calling; and by the Spirit says that believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ; and adds that their present conflict is against spiritual wickednesses in the heavenlies. He lived morally in the new creation, and waited “to be clothed upon with our house from heaven”: so much did his mind already live in heaven.
The scene of God’s government is the earth, and prophecy is the expression of God's politics with regard to it. Israel is the pivot on which revolves His whole earthly system of government. When God begins to separate His people from among the nations, and judge them for their departure from Him, and also for their allegiance which they give to the Antichrist—the false Christ who will arise amount them in the last days—He then looks on all the nations and brings them into the land for judgment.
Christians have grown familiar with the prophecies which speak of the times of the Gentiles, which began when Jerusalem ceased to be the centre of Jehovah's government as it was in Old Testament times. After the failure of the house of David, the glory left Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 11), and God ceased to exercise sovereign power on earth; He gave it into the hands of the Gentiles, king Nebuchadnezzar being raised up by God to hold the world in subjection. The imperial system was to run its course, and God, who knows the end from the beginning, foretells its breakdown and ultimate apostate state, which brings down upon the whole system the wrath, and judgment of heaven. The Roman Empire was the last of the four empires of which Daniel speaks; and both Daniel in the Old Testament, and the book of Revelation in the New, give details of the rise and fall of the last form of Rome in its apostate character, allied with the Antichrist who leads Jewry at the end. The Church began its history on earth in the early days of Rome’s imperial power, and it will be taken away from the scene of coming judgment just a few years before the final destruction of “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17: 18), and which has earned for itself the name of Babylon because of its religious corruption.
There are two divisions of prophecy, one that deals with Israel when owned of God, and the other when Israel is no longer owned as “My people”, and even the last tribe—Judah with its capital Jerusalem is in captivity to a Gentile power. There are two classes of enemies of Israel mentioned in these two divisions of prophecy. The prophecies addressed to Israel when owned of God, speak of one class of enemies; those spoken by the prophets of Judah, prophesying of the time when Jerusalem would be taken, and God's government no longer for the present be seen in the midst of the Jews, indicate quite another enemy.
Daniel in the Old Testament, and the book of Revelation in the New, together give the complete history in prophecy of the Gentile empires, to which was confided sovereign power during the period known as “the times of the Gentiles”, when Israel, including those called Jews, are not owned by God as “My people”. (See Hosea chapters 1 and 2). They will not again be publicly owned until the last form of Gentile imperial power is broken and destroyed for ever. Providentially the Jews have been preserved and are to-day coming into the forefront of world news; the nation is stirring, but nothing that is taking place to-day is a witness to the open government of God on earth. Much that is going on is godless and destructive. Only when His people are repentant through grace, and the enemies of Christ are made His footstool, will He introduce His reign of righteousness and peace will pervade the earth.