Volume 26, New Series, October 1965
Commander Steedman's ideas about the prophecy of the Seventy Sevens must appear at first sight, they nevertheless effect a considerable simplification of the various problems posed by Prophecy in general. For that reason alone, they call for most careful consideration.
Part 2 of my studies of the Epistle of James (Vol. 23, p. 59, April, 1961) is very much concerned with these problems; and the conclusions reached therein are illuminated by those reached by Commander Steedman; so much, in fact, as to provide collateral ground for believing that he has largely proved his case.
For a long time past there has been nagging at my mind the misgiving that, with any of the hitherto accepted systems of prophecy, there simply is not sufficient time available to fit in all the Hebrew prophecies concerning Israel. This is illustrated by the last paragraph of p. 59, referred to above, where, writing of the world's future plunge into the darkest sin and the direst judgments of all the ages, I added: "This will occur concurrently with the re-emergence of the twelve tribes of Israel as such on the stage of history."
Here the word "concurrently" is a man-made and wholly unjustifiable addition to Scripture—and I say this plainly and without reservation, although the word in question is my own! When I wrote it I was still in some measure prisoner of tradition. There is no sufficient reason to believe that the era of darkest sin and direst judgments will start the instant we are removed from the earthly scene. On the contrary, the notion is utterly incompatible with the general tenor of Scripture. We have no part whatever in prophecies of Israel's history, and Israel has no part whatever in those concerning ourselves, with the one exception of Rom. 11:25-32; and even this prophecy is not connected in any way at all with any sort of time-table of Israel's affairs. True, it concerns Israel, and it contains the word "until"; but it tells us precisely nothing about the series of future events that will lead up to the coming of Christ to Mount Olivet and His triumph on earth. It might be called a "para-prophecy," a prophecy that lies alongside the others and will in the event affect them, but which nevertheless tells us nothing whatever about when they will take place. Certainly it does assure us that they will take place and that the prophecies concerning ourselves will take place, and that the fulfillment of the latter will remove an otherwise insuperable obstacle to the former—but as regards the timetable itself it tells us nothing. It is a link between the two sets of prophecies, but it modifies neither set.
So, in my assertion quoted above, I was unwittingly devising a private addition to that link, and thus providing a false and entirely unjustifiable modification.
Where, indeed, do we learn in Scripture that our snatching-away will immediately be followed by the darkest sin and the direst judgment of all the ages? Nowhere. Nowhere at all.
Our departure will clear away the hindrance that now exists to the start of the train of events which will lead up to this tremendous judgment period; but it is wholly unwarrantable to suggest that it will actually be the start itself.
Reason alone is sufficient to indicate that a period of considerable length must intervene to enable the stage to be set for the final seven of the seventy. Yet, obvious though that is, most expositors have in this respect turned a blind eye to reason and common sense. They have quietly ignored a matter which is perfectly obvious, once attention is directed towards it. Always it is easy not to notice what one does not want to notice.
Yet, lest I should be accused of unlawful reasoning about Scripture, this point has to be enlarged on. For us, it is common ground that the Temple is to exist during the seventieth seven. Suppose we were snatched away to day. Then, by the ordinary view of the seventieth seven, it has to begin at once; yet how can the Temple, an indispensable feature, possibly have come into existence? Its site is occupied by one of the most important of the "holy places" of Islam.. Is this, by some sort of miracle, to be cleared at once and the Temple put in its place by an act of magic? Only two solutions of the problem are Possible. One, which I have long held to be the truth, is that ere will elapse a considerable time after our snatching-away before the seventieth seven starts. The other is that the Temple must be re-built before our snatching-away. But such re-building assumes that Israel will once again be, in some measure, God's People; once more "ammi." It involves contradiction of the idea that God's only Temple now is in ourselves, the church which is Christ's body; and, anyhow, there is no trace whatever of any Scripture ground for such an assumption. Also, it would involve giving warning that our snatching-away would be at hand, thus producing an unwarrantable addition to Scripture.
Another essential consideration is that the period of God's wrath is towards the close of the Seventy Sevens. (Here, "towards" is deliberate, for we must not venture to date it definitely ourselves. It may cover only the last 3, but it may begin earlier). This puts out of court any lingering idea that we are to be on earth during any part of the period of God's wrath see particularly Vol. 24, pp. 229-232 and the point made at the top of p. 234).
In our Vol. 17, p. 68 and Vol. 24, p. 248 (see also Vol. 21, 225) I supported an idea which meant that eight sevens remained to be fulfilled, not one only. I still consider that the reasoning on which it was based is sound enough in itself. Where it falls down is in the assumption behind it that any at all for the prophecy has yet been fulfilled. Logically one had to divide the prophecy into two parts in order to make it fit into the historical facts of the period supposedly covered by it. But if the prophecy does not, after all, belong to that past time, the circumstances of that time no longer influence it and the whole necessity or the division becomes inoperative. Thus, a hitherto unrealized truth effects a simplification of other matters. A query till remains about why there is a distinction between the seven years and the sixty two sevens; but the fact that the problem is transferred to the future relieves us of any pressing need to find the answer. Even if data for that do not now exist, no doubt there will be a complete clearance when the time comes.
Although the idea visualized when writing the paper in Vol. 24, p. 248 is now shown to be mistaken, the actual facts therein remain untouched. And it is worth adding here that the time when the Lord Jesus leaves the heavens (Acts 3:21) becomes all the more plainly irrelevant to 1 Thess. 4:13-17 in the fresh light shed by Commander Steedman. The papers in Vol. 24, p. 287 and 25; p. 168 and on Matt. 24:34 in Vol. 22; p. 116 are highly relevant to all this.
If his ideas are sound regarding this matter, and I believe now that they are; there is ample time for the stage to be set for the events of the seventieth seven and the consummation of this eon.
Moreover, and that is the point I have been working up to, there is ample time for the special circumstances envisaged in the General Epistles to appear, grow and develop, run their course and come to fruition. Hitherto they have been crammed into a very brief "Pentecostal period," plus, perhaps, a similar interlude at some period of time after our departure, though no one has cared to define how and when this interlude is to occur. Actually there has been no room for them in the various systems. Expositors have skated hurriedly over this thin ice, and, as usual, nobody has troubled to ask awkward questions about them. Yet it is quite fantastic to suppose that there is never to be any occasion for the twelve tribes in the dispersion, and others, to have much need for what James has to say, let alone Jude, and the Apostle Peter in Acts and his two epistles; or, for that matter, as Commander Steedman points out, the seven assemblies in Asia to whom the Lord spoke through the Apostle John.
Nor is that all. We now see clearly that the Sermon on the Mount has only a very limited application to past or present conditions; so unless there is to be a period during which it is to apply in the fullest degree, the Lord's extremely solemn words in it fall to the ground, to a large extent. And moreover there is much in the Gospels which has yet to be fully applied or, in fact, to be fully applicable. Many people try to force them into present conditions; but this strain is hopelessly artificial. Yet a time must come when they will fit, and will be seen to fit, perfectly and completely into circumstances, as they then will be. An artificial fit is a false fit. Much of the hostility to the teaching of the Gospels results from a dim appreciation of the artificiality of most expositions of some parts of them. Undeniably, they have an essential place now; yet, even so, only in part; because something else, namely Paul's Evangel, occupies the foreground of God's dealings with humanity. When that is out of the way, and Peter's Evangel comes into force, the teaching of the Gospels have a newness and freshness beyond anything we find in them now.
At present general understanding of the Gospels is blurred and confused on account of universal failure to fit them properly in relation to past, present and future conditions. Once we set in lace our understanding of all three sets of conditions, the whole of these difficulties vanish. We can, so to speak, focus our eyes in turn on all three and see the Gospels as they were to those who ehe1d and heard the Lord Jesus, so far as they apply to us, and as they will manifest themselves in days to come after we have been snatched away and Israel, to whom they primarily belong, are once again in the foreground of God's purposes.
No longer will we have to suppose that the full application of the Gospels and the General Epistles to the people for whom they were primarily written lasted only a very brief time and was at best inconclusive, or even that it was already over before some of them were even written; or that it is to be crammed into part of only 2,520 days, the future seventieth seven. God does not work in such a hurried way. On the contrary, something like five hundred years lie ahead for this part of His purpose to germinate and grow, and flower and come to fruition.
This fact shows the prophetic aspect of Romans to have far greater future relevance than has hitherto been supposed, see the paper on this in Vol. 22; p. 149. Over a long span of future time, the circumcision really will be of benefit; for there wil1 be faithful ones of Israel who will have the happiness of Rom. 4:9 and who eventually will constitute the glorious companies referred to in Rev. 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 14:1-5.
Some have dwelt on what they regard as signs that the close of this eon is at hand; and certainly on the surface there is a case for believing this. Nevertheless, it may well prove in the event that what these signs are pointing to is, rather, the close of our sojourn on earth. Our snatching away cannot do other than create a tremendous stir. If the appearance of the Lord Jesus to Saul who became Paul was so startling, how can the simultaneous resurrection and snatching away of all the saints of this era be other than an event of vast magnitude? Some have called it a "secret rapture"; but how they deduce this is their secret so far undisclosed. Thus, when we go, a vast upheaval must needs take place, with results that at present no one can estimate.
Against this it has been suggested that such a great miracle as this, if it happened publicly, must convert the world or at least many people; which we know will not be the case (Vol. 23; p.229). To this contention Luke 16:27-31 supplies the adequate answer. Such conversions do not happen. Much more is required.
Yet we ourselves are nowhere exhorted to watch; for there is no indication anywhere of any premonitions of the tremendous event. As the end of the eon approaches, long after, matters will be very different. Then will be the proper occasion for watching the signs of the times; and indeed that will be so to some extent right through the closing centuries of this eon—not all the time but as circumstances demand. For Israel will once more be ammi, God's People, and the fulfillment of Israel's prophecies will begin; so those who are truly His will have the whole scheme of Prophecy laid out before them and will have no cause to be taken by surprise at any time. Unbelievers will; but that IS as they always have been.
When we come to look into signs which are commonly supposed to be for ourselves with a critical, if not a skeptical eye, they turn out to differ little from earlier "signs" which have appeared from time to time throughout the centuries. The only at all valid suggestion that our departure may be imminent IS the fact that we have been quietly thrust off the world's stage yet one may question whether we have ever been noticeably on it. Distressing though our insignificance may be for us it can hardly be called shattering for mankind in general. People do not care what we say. Have they ever cared?
In this connection, a curious idea was set out at the bottom of p. 228 of our Vol. 23, namely, that "it could be possible" that the snatching away of the church and sudden destruction coming upon the world might occur at the same instant. There is some force in this; for it may be that our snatching away could be on account of some great world-crisis; but that it were to herald sudden destruction coming "upon the world" is out of the question, for that would at one stroke destroy any possibility of the fulfillment of the prophecies for Israel. No. There must be a period for them of prolonged apparent stagnation, else the words of 2 Peter 3:4 could never come to fulfillment.
In Part 2 of the studies of James' Epistle, in spite of having misled, vide the quotation at the start of this paper, I was prevented by the force of fact from going further astray. I wrote (Vol.23, p.60): "So, in spite of the fact that James' Epistle is addressed to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, it carries with it no trace whatever of the fearful judgments characteristic of the end of this eon, its atmosphere is quite different from that of Matthew 24, 2 Thess. 2:3-12 and the Apocalypse. Also, it carries with it nothing whatever of the transcendent spiritual blessings that belong to Paul's Evangel." All this is still true, but it is now seen to be less than the whole truth. The epistle covers the whole time during which the twelve tribes are in the dispersion. Some were, during the period covered by the Gospels and Acts; all are now; and all will be until the great Ingathering which is yet to be, and which cannot take place until we are out of the way. So it covers all of the period during which Paul's Evangel is in operation, and some of the preceding and of the following periods. How far it and other writings will apply after the Ingathering is not at present clear.
My remarks about the Seven Churches in the Province of Asia (p. 61) are right as far as they go; but in this fresh light they call for further examination later on. Apparently their proper fulfillment belongs to the time just prior to the seventieth Seven.
A further consideration presents itself, and it is a rather curious one, too. In spite of all that has been written, apparently many still believe that the church which is Christ's body will remain on earth while the Great Tribulation is taking place (see Vol. 24, p. 229). If this is so, and if the new idea of the Seventy Sevens propounded by Commander Steedman is the truth, it follows inexorably that the church which is Christ's body will remain on earth during the whole of the Seventy Sevens; that is, during one of the periods while Israel is "ammi," God's people, while the Temple is rebuilt and it with the Levitical offerings in full swing once more, while the Evangel of the circumcision is in force. From this it follows that two incompatible evangels, two incompatible callings, will function side by side and simultaneously. At one and the same moment, salvation will be of the Jews, and salvation will be open to all irrespective of fleshly distinction. All this has only to be stated for its absurdity to be manifest.
Already that theory has been refuted very thoroughly; yet it is as well now to clinch the matter, as above, so that at long last it can be buried and forgotten. After all, even if the Apostle Paul's prophecies had never come down to us, we would still be able to deduce that people with our standing and calling could no longer exist on earth when God resumes His dealings with Israel as His elect People.
Somewhere about this point, the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (or Darnel) necessarily comes to mind. How far is it affected by the new idea? The answer is that the issue becomes simpler; for we have tended to assume that the harvest will follow not long after our snatching-away-in fact, the same old self-centred idea that everything in world-history revolves around ourselves. Yet our departure will not mean that there will be no more wheat in the field. Godly men will live, and believe God, and suffer and die, as the Revelation or Apocalypse shows plainly. The tares have not yet had much time to grow among the Israelite wheat, not enough time to develop fully; because the change inaugurated by the Apostle Paul came too soon after Pentecost to allow this. Those tares must be given time to come to fruition. The Seventy Sevens will give them that time. Why did we fail to perceive this before?
James' Epistle and the other General Epistles are, as I put it in Vol. 23, p. 63, "dispensationally" neutral. The reason is that they cover a long period of time, occupied both by the Evangel of the uncircumcision and the Evangel of the circumcision. So they have to be "dispensationally" neutral, even those addressed to the twelve tribes. Indeed, the very fact of their "dispensational" neutrality implies that they are operative over a vast period of time. If they had been, as the C.V. asserts, "circumcision epistles," they would not have been neutral. The truth is, a whole school of students of Scripture has become completely obsessed by "dispensationalism." At one time, the truth involved in that term was a beam of wonderful new light; but now it has so dazzled its votaries that they have become blind to all other light. So they invalidate the Word of God because of their tradition; and the result is all the worse because of the relative newness of that tradition.
The Evangel of the circumcision has yet to be proclaimed; and fairness suggests, if it does not actually demand, that its proclamation should be as complete as that of the Evangel of the uncircumcision. And when we look over church history, we must in candor admit that the proclamation of the latter has not been notably complete and sweeping. No doubt, only a small proportion of believing Christians has ever heard of it, taking the era since the call of Paul as a whole, though it has lain there in Paul's Epistles, plain enough for anyone to perceive who so desires. Even so, it has been proclaimed widely and over a considerable period of time. From the fact that the seventieth Seven will be a period of apostasy, in fact the most sweeping apostasy of all, we may reasonably deduce that the ultimate results of the proclamation of the Evangel of the circumcision will not be essentially different from the results of the proclamation of the evangel of the uncircumcision: an initial but short-lived triumph followed by a long period of decline with occasional temporary spells of better things.
With the call of the Apostle Paul a long winter set in for Israel's own calling in the New Covenant; it simply disappeared from view. With the ending of the proclamation of Paul's evangel will come a period during which the conclusion of the New Covenant will once again be something to be looked forward to, though still only in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, a long winter will have set in for the Gentiles. They will come to be as they had been before the Lord Jesus came and before the Apostle Peter unlocked the Kingdom to them. What will happen to them until the seventieth Seven is veiled from us. Sufficient is it that God will once again leave them to their own devices, as clearly He is beginning to do already. To us this is sad, even lamentable; but as it was previously, so it will be once again. God is in control; and He will work out His own purposes most gloriously.
R. B. Withers
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