A Striking Parallel

There is a striking parallel between the period that terminated with the rejection of Christ by Israel, and the period that ends with the judgments which will attend the public return of the Lord from heaven. Now seeing how near this last named event must be (without pretending to fix dates), consideration of this parallel becomes an exceedingly solemn matter for all who have ears to hear. Let us turn then to the instruction of God’s Word about it.

   Israel as a nation was peculiarly favoured by God. This was not a product of their own imagination but a certainty based upon a divine revelation: “For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God, and thee hath Jehovah chosen for a people of possession unto himself, out of all the peoples that are upon the face of earth” (Deut. 14: 2; see also 7: 7). God had made Himself known to them (see Exod. 6: 2–8). As such it could not be said of the Jews that they were without the truth or destitute of divine light. There was no nation on earth like Israel, and nor will there ever be. As Paul says of them: “whose [is] the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the law–giving, and the service, and the promises; whose [are] the fathers; and of whom, as according to flesh, [is] the Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 9: 4–5). Despite this, event after event in the OT told of their rebellion against this divine light and their lusting after other gods. Though God bore long with His people’s unfaithfulness, eventually He allowed first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to carry them away into captivity. When a chastened and feeble remnant returned many years later, the curse of idolatry had been banished from their midst. The house of Israel was, in the language of the parable, “swept, and adorned” (Matt. 12: 44). Thus in the NT period, though surrounded by the idolatries of the ruling Roman power, the Jewish nation remained steadfast in its adherence to the worship of the one true God. Moses was read in the synagogues every sabbath day (see Acts 15: 21), and many were “as to righteousness which [is] in [the] law, found blameless” (Phil. 3: 6). It was into this favoured nation that the Christ was born. 

   Yet there was something badly amiss with the Jewish religion. If it was to the house of Israel alone that the Messiah came (see Matt. 15: 24), the greatest faith He found was among the Gentiles (see Matt. 8: 10). The Lord Jesus testified to one who would lay claim to what was not properly hers that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4: 22), but He was scathing in his denunciation of what He found among His own people: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for ye do not enter, nor do ye suffer those that are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye compass the sea and the dry [land] to make one proselyte, and when he is become [such], ye make him twofold more [the] son of hell than yourselves … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye pay tithes of mint and anise and cummin, and ye have left aside the weightier matters of the law, judgement and mercy and faith: these ye ought to have done and not left those aside. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat, but drink down the camel. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within they are full of rapine and intemperance …Thus also ye, outwardly ye appear righteous to men, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness … Serpents, offspring of vipers, how should ye escape the judgment of hell?” (Matt. 23: 13, 15, 23–25, 28, 33). So the Lord addressed the religious hierarchy of Judaism. It was not that they did not have the light—no, they had that in abundance in the sense that they knew the Scriptures. They held the revelation of God in their hands but they resisted its claims on their hearts and so rejected the more wonderful revelation of God in their midst. As He Himself said “Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me; and ye will not come to me that ye might have life” (John 5: 39, 40). The house of Israel in the Lord’s day might have been “swept, and adorned” but it had no place for Him. Indeed, the “last condition” of that “wicked generation” will be “worse than the first” (Matt. 12: 44, 45) for they will receive a false Messiah “come in his own name” (John 5: 43). Such were the conditions among God’s earthly people at the Lord’s first coming into this world.

   “We are disciples of Moses” (John 9: 28) was the Jews’ boast, and yet they rejected Him of whom Moses had written (see John 5: 46). “Away with this [man]” and “Crucify, crucify him” they cried. Even after the message of grace went out to the world “beginning at Jerusalem”, the divine entreaty was rejected, and with the murder of Stephen a message was sent up to heaven reiterating that “We will not that this [man] should reign over us” (Luke 23: 18, 21;24: 47; 19: 14). God’s earthly people were given up to spiritual blindness (see John 9: 39; Rom. 11: 7). As already demonstrated, none of this was on account of an absence of truth deposited with the nation, but nor was it on account of a formal denial of the truth either. By and large the Jewish people were thoroughly orthodox. What brought on their judicial blindness was the twisting of truth—the changing it into a lie—to sanction their rejection of God’s Christ. “We have a law” they said “and according to [our] law he ought to die, because he made himself Son of God” (John 19: 7). An unlearned heathen would shortly exclaim that “Truly this [man] was Son of God” (Matt. 27: 54), but these so–called doctors of the law were “Fools and blind” (Matt. 23: 17). This dreadful state of affairs had been long predicted: “Well spoke the Holy Spirit through Esaias the prophet to our fathers, saying, Go to this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear and not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive … lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28: 25–27). And so, in the wisdom and judgement of God, “wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2: 16) and the Jews have been given “a spirit of slumber, eyes not to see, and ears not to hear”, not just in the day of visitation, but “unto this day” (Rom. 11: 8).

   As a result of the rejection of God’s testimony by the Jews, the Gospel went out to the Gentiles: “Be it known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the nations; they also will hear [it]” (Acts 28: 28). Yet it was this transfer of the testimony to the Gentiles (the Jews being left to the blindness they had chosen) that imposed responsibilities on Christendom which distinguish it from mere pagan tribes. It may come as a surprise to some, but in Europe we are not simply Gentiles. We are Gentiles, of course, as distinguished from the Jews, but we also have distinct responsibilities that other Gentiles do not share. These responsibilities flow from the testimony of God to us and among us for many years which distinguish us from the nations which have scarcely heard the Gospel until recently. Christendom has a knowledge of God. There is a remarkable passage in Romans 1 which will help illustrate what I mean.

   In verses 19, 20 Paul speaks of the witness of creation, for which light all the heathen are responsible. In verse 21 however, he leaves aside what is “known of God … through the things that are made”, and speaks expressly of some who actually knew God: “Because, knowing God …” (v21). He is referring to those who lived in the years immediately following the flood. The immediate descendants of Noah were not ignorant of God in the sense in which the heathen nations are now ignorant—they had inherited a knowledge of the truth from those who had witnessed God’s hand in judgement. They thus had a higher responsibility—just as Christendom has a higher responsibility today. Of course these inhabitants of the ancient world did not know God as Saviour any more than the thousands of professors know Him as Saviour now, but just as these know many of the external facts of Christianity from others, so Noah’s descendants knew God through the instructions and traditions of their forefathers. But what did they do with this knowledge? They did not rest until they had “changed the truth of God into falsehood” for “they did not think good to have God in [their] knowledge” (vs 25, 28)! To a much greater degree, Christendom—meaning the sphere in which Christianity has long been nominally recognised—has had a rich inheritance of truth deposited with it, and is correspondingly responsible for what it has done with that knowledge. Without question, Christendom has a knowledge of God!

   And what do we find foretold as to Christendom at the close? The old adage says that history is forever repeating itself and thus the state of Judaism at the Lord’s first coming is matched by the state of the Christian profession at His second coming. We have seen that the Jews, when they had the testimony of Moses and the prophets to the Messiah which they expected, made “void the word of God” (Mark 7: 13), and chose a Messiah according to their own thoughts and wishes, and rejected the Christ of God. So Christendom, favoured with immeasurably greater light, will in the end follow the same course, and like Israel, be given up to judicial blindness. Is it not noteworthy that the last of the seven assemblies in Revelation (which surely corresponds to the end of the present dispensation) is told that she is “poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3: 17, my emphasis)? The Jews of the Lord’s day were rebuked with “This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me; ... teaching [as] teachings commandments of men” (Matt. 15: 8). In the Christian era the time has surely come “when they will not bear sound teaching; but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4). The Jews in the NT were dominated by three schools of thinking: the Herodians, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees (see Matt. 22). The Herodians accommodated themselves to the political situation of the day—Christendom is likewise marked by an adulterous “friendship with the world” (James 4: 4). The Sadducees denied both the supernatural and most of Scripture. This is precisely what is preached in the majority of our pulpits today. The Pharisees were the ritualists of their time, “which appear beautiful outwardly, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23: 27). And, brethren, do we not have to admit that there is now a frightening amount of outward show and false profession abroad in that which professes Christ’s name?

   Things are moving rapidly on, and the day hastens when the Lord will spue Christendom out of His mouth (see Rev. 3: 16). Of course before that happens every true child of God will have been caught away to meet the Lord in the air (see 1 Thess. 4: 17), for such are “not set ... for wrath” (1 Thess. 5: 9). What is left behind for judgment is but a shell of empty profession. Yet soon even that veneer of profession will be cast off. Rejection of God’s Man leads to acceptance of the Devil’s man “whose coming is according to the working of Satan and in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish, because they have not received not the love of the truth that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2: 9, 10, my emphasis). Notice that is not because they are destitute of the truth, or because they have not nominally received it, that men will travel on their doomed course, but because they have not received the love of the truth. For this reason God shall send them “a working of error, that they should believe what is false, that all might be judged who have not believed the truth, but have found pleasure in unrighteousness” (vs. 11, 12.) This is the fearful secret in every case: a heart that has pleasure in unrighteousness, and loves to practice it under shelter of religious forms and pretensions, and so perverts the truth of God to this end. If the Jew had “the form of knowledge and of truth in the law” (Rom. 2: 20, my emphasis), so these have “a form of piety but denying the power of it” (2 Tim. 3: 5, my emphasis). The word translated form is the same in both passages, and it occurs nowhere else. The parallel is striking.

   Thus as the Jews would have a messiah according to their own minds, so now and hereafter men will have a Christianity according to their own proud thoughts, and God will let it be so. He will send delusion to those who love to be deluded! Brethren, these things are very close. While multitudes in China and Africa turn to Christ, the light in Europe is going out—and yet this is nominally a Christian continent! And England, favoured as the land of an open Bible perhaps more than any other, leads the way—and she loves to have it so. The Lord give us to tremble at His word, and be faithful to it in these dark and closing days!