“How Long, O LORD, Holy and True?”

“Pilate … called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? … Jesus answered him, My kingdom is not of this world.” —John 18:33,36

IN ONE way or another, the Catholic Church is much in the news these days. The nations two hundred and eighty-eight bishops, recently meeting in Chicago, approved a statement calling for an immediate end to the arms race. A nun holding a public position that requires action contrary to church doctrine refuses to give up her job when ordered to do so by her religious superiors. The Reverend Hans Kung, popular Swiss-born theologian and subject of Vatican displeasure, who has questioned the doctrine of papal infallibility, continues his lectures on controversial teachings. Catholic bishops of East Germany denounce their nation’s growing militarism, and join with Protestant churchmen in supporting youths who refuse military service. The Canadian hierarchy takes a strong stand in opposition to Prime Minister Trudeau’s austere economic program. And almost daily there is more.

But the most visible evidence of Catholic presence and activity today is supplied by the pope himself. John Paul II seems not averse to serving generous portions of politics along with his pastoral nourishment, and his unprecedented world travels effectively remind the nations and their leaders of the prestige of the church. He possesses considerable charm, and seems imbued with a determination to restore to the church something of its former authority and glory among the nations of the world, which for long, weary centuries had been substantial.

In its early, pristine days the Christian Church had no temporal power—nor did it seek any. Its perceived purpose and duty was to preach the Gospel, to publish the news of salvation through faith in Jesus, and to invite and encourage believers to dedicate their lives to the Lord as living sacrifices, walking humbly in the steps of their Savior and Master. Far from exercising earthly power, it was persecuted on every hand. As one of its greatest proponents and early examples wrote, to truly be a Christian was to bear a double stigma—the mark of ownership by the Lord Jesus, and (in the eyes of unbelievers) the mark of infamy.

Remarking on this inescapable condition of discipleship in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity [love] of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: … that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.”—II Thess. 1:3-5

Knowing full well the trials his followers would undergo, our Lord Jesus sought constantly in his brief ministry prior to his crucifixion to encourage his followers in the narrow way of sacrifice, by reminding them of that righteous kingdom over which he would rule, following his second presence, for the blessing of the resurrected world of mankind, and in which future great work they would so gloriously share. When the rich young ruler found it impossible to give up his perishable earthly treasure for that which is eternal in heaven and follow after Jesus, Peter—always alert, and always curious—said to the Lord, “Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?”—Matt. 19:27

We remember Jesus’ reply: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (Matt. 19:16-29, RSV) Clearly, this present Gospel Age, ordained for selecting out of the world and proving those who would be found worthy of a part in that glorious kingdom, is not the time for churchly glory and power.

Thus, when following in Jesus’ steps became onerous and the flesh weary, as it must, and the ostracism and suffering more intense, as it often did, it was but natural for his disciples to long for his promised return, and the establishment of that kingdom in which they would have so grand a part in guiding mankind up the highway of holiness to everlasting life. How often those early Christians must have pondered that wonderful statement Jesus made shortly before he was taken from them: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”—John 14:1-3

But how gracious is our Heavenly Father to all whom he calls to walk in Jesus’ steps, that they might later share in their Master’s glory; and how wonderfully he provides for their knowledge of his plans and purposes, lest perchance they should become discouraged with long and arduous waiting, or be misled before the time by false expectations, false hopes, false claims or false representations! In that same instructive letter to the brethren at Thessalonica, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul reveals what must take place before our Lord Jesus’ second advent, and the ultimate establishment of Christ’s kingdom. He warns that there must first be an apostasy, a corruption of the pure truths and principles of the faith, and a seeking of temporal power and glory by a supplanting false system.

He writes: “Now we beseech you, brethren, … [concerning] the … [presence] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and … our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter … [purporting to come] from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”—II Thess. 2:1-4

We believe this man of sin is not an individual, as so many seem to infer, but a system; and that as the Christ consists of the true Lord and the true church, so the Antichrist is a counterfeit system consisting of a false lord and an apostate church, which for a time is permitted to misrepresent the truth, to counterfeit the authority and future reign of the true Lord and his church, and Intoxicate the nations with false claims and assumptions.

We believe history confirms that such a system has already come. The system that fully answers the description given by Paul under inspiration must be professedly Christian, and must contain a large proportion of those who claim to be Christians. And it must be one having its start as an apostasy, or falling away from the true Christian faith—an apostasy, too, which was secret and stealthy, until circumstances favored its assumption of power. Its stealthy beginning had already occurred in the days of the apostles in the desire of some teachers to be greatest.—I Thess. 2:7

Papacy is the name of this false system, and it was built upon a misapplied truth—the scriptural truth that the church is called to be kings and priests unto God and to reign on the earth. But the time for reigning had not, and has not, yet come. The Gospel Age was not appointed for that purpose, but for the selection, development, discipline, humiliation and sacrifice of the church, following in the footprints of her Lord, and patiently waiting and enduring until the time appointed for the promised exaltation and glorious reign—the Millennial Age.

But when we state that the one and only system whose history fits the prophecies is papacy, let no one misunderstand us to mean that every Roman Catholic is a man of sin; nor that the priests, nor even the popes of the Church of Rome are, or have been, the Antichrist. No man is the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, described in prophecy. Popes, bishops and others are at most only parts or members of the Antichrist system, even as all of the royal priests are only members of the true Christ, under Jesus, their Head. As the true virgin church continues to be such to the end of the age, when she is to be united to her Lord and take his name—Christ, so the apostate church was not the Antichrist, or Man of Sin, until she united with her lord and head, the pope, the claimed vicegerent of Christ, and became a religious empire, falsely styled Christendom, which signifies Christ’s kingdom.

This apostate system, known as Christendom, or Christ’s kingdom, a counterfeit of Christ’s true kingdom, continues to this day. But there have been defections from the fold. After centuries-long, unsuccessful attempts to find a solution to their long-simmering differences, the schism between the Roman Church and the Orthodox Eastern Church became final in 1054 A.D. Later, with the storms of the Reformation that shook the ecclesiastical world in the sixteenth century, came the birth of Protestantism with its numerous denominations.

For some centuries this status quo continued. In the Protestant world one of the first formal attempts to restore unity among the various factions was initiated by the Evangelical Alliance in England in 1846. In 1908, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ was organized. In 1910, the movement known as Church Reunion in Great Britain sought to produce a creed to which all Christians could agree.

The ecumenical movement began on an international scale when the World Missionary Conference took place in Edinburgh in 1910. This was followed by the creation of the World Council of Churches which, in 1948, brought together more than two hundred and fifty Protestant, Orthodox Eastern, and Old Catholic bodies in Amsterdam. Although, in 1916, a proposed merger between English Methodists and the Church of England failed, the Anglican Church did, however, reach some degree of doctrinal agreement with the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1970s.

At about the same time, the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Church also resumed efforts to heal their own particular breach. In a circular letter promulgated in the middle of the nineteenth century, Pope Pius IX stressed the need for reunion, but this and several subsequent appeals were rejected by the Eastern Church. Undaunted, in 1895 Pope Leo XII stated, “We will not be truly happy until we see the Christians’ reunion. … We look forward to it in the future.”

In the last quarter-century, endeavors to make progress toward church unity have greatly increased. On Christmas Day of 1950, Pope John XXIII made an appeal for all Christians to come together in unity and peace. This invitation led to the Vatican II Synod of October 1962, which was attended by representatives of various branches of both Catholic and Protestant Churches, and was hailed by many as continuing evidence that the desire for unity was still very much alive.

Shortly thereafter (1964), Pope Paul VI met in Jerusalem with the patriarchs of the Eastern churches, where Athinagoras stated dramatically and hopefully, “The ice is broken!” This meeting was regarded as further progress on the road to unity, and resulted in additional exchanges between the heads of the churches, including overtures to the Protestant world. In 1967 Pope Paul made a historic visit to Constantinople, where his meeting with Athinagoras was enthusiastically hailed by Protestant groups as well. This indication toward progress was followed by the Patriarch Athinagoras’ visit to Rome, Switzerland, and finally to Great Britain, where he was received by the queen, with both sides expressing wishes for reunion.

The winds of ecumenism, however, do not blow steadily in one direction. In an article in The New York Times (May 25, 1980) headed, “Other Faiths Find New Pope Ultracautious on Ecumenism,” the writer states that the pope (John Paul II) regards “reunion with the Eastern Churches as the leading—and perhaps only—item on his ecumenical agenda. In all of Christianity, Orthodoxy in its dogma and its all-male priesthood, most resembles Catholicism.”

But even these two main elements of the Catholic body still have serious differences. Eastern Orthodoxy “rejects the concept of a supreme pontiff and the doctrine of papal infallibility.” It also rejects “the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. … By underscoring the primacy of the papacy for [Roman] Catholics, John Paul II has heightened fears that he would be opposed to changes to make his role acceptable to Eastern Christians.”

Be that as it may, in the middle of 1982 in what Time magazine described as “a mission of unity and peace” and an “undeniably special moment in history,” Pope John Paul II found his way to London’s Westminster Abbey where he was accorded a warm reception in a colorful and impressive ceremony. “Sitting on the cathedral’s high-backed throne, with high-ranking British clergy standing beneath and beside, was the Pope of Rome, whose claims to authority covered both heaven and earth.” (Time, June 7, 1982) “Today, for the first time in history,” said John Paul, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on British soil.” His mission, of course (the article went on to say), “was to establish the basis for a new religious peace between Anglicans and Catholics, who have been divided for four centuries.” It was, indeed, a historic moment!

Apart from doctrinal differences, which seem to be losing some of their former priority in this rapidly changing world, the major stumbling block to union was frankly pointed out in 1967 by Pope Paul VI himself. “The pope, as we all know,” he said, “is undoubtedly the gravest obstacle in the path of ecumenism.”

But there is evidence of a growing inclination to compromise, at least on the part of the Anglicans. Christopher Hill, a prominent Anglican theologian and leader, directly attacked this thorny problem. He said, “We Christians need to see a personal figure of unity. We see the value of one man. A personal focus of communion. So we are beginning to see the point of a pope for the worldwide Christian churches—just so long as their traditions are not swallowed up in Roman Catholic traditions.” Time magazine (June 7, 1982) concludes, “With John Paul II on British soil, reunification suddenly seems more possible.”

Thus, although serious obstacles to reunion still exist, with so-called Christendom still broadly divided between Catholicism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other, efforts to arrive at mutually acceptable arrangements for unity continue almost unabated. The latest of these endeavors took place in August of this year at British Columbia, where the World Council of Churches struggled to produce a major statement of agreement on basic issues.

When the assembly ended one week later it was reported that many left “with confidence that … new advances had been made to overcome the theological obstacles that divide the churches. … The assembly welcomed a recent Council document that affirmed broad agreement on baptism, eucharist and ministry by Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and Catholics. [Emphasis in bold is ours.] [But] frustration over the slow pace of ecumenical relations cropped up most visibly in discussions of the Council’s relations with the Vatican, and some delegates spoke of what they perceived as the lukewarm attitude of Pope John Paul II toward seeking ecumenical ties with member churches of the Council, particularly with Protestants.”—The New York Times, August 14, 1983

But will the sought for reunion be accomplished? The Scriptures suggest that as the forces of social injustice and religious superstition give way before the advancing light of knowledge and understanding that accompany the time of trouble, and as the distress and perplexity among men and nations intensifies, the separate elements that together comprise this imitation of Christ’s true kingdom on earth will come together—in an effort, perhaps, jointly to stem the rising tide of anarchy, symbolically described in the Scriptures as a great earthquake, which will bring this present evil world to an end.—Dan. 12:1-4; Matt. 24:21; Luke 19; II Peter 3:7,10,12; Rev. 16:18,19

The Prophet Isaiah calls this event to our attention. “Come near, ye nations, to hear,” he writes. “And hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein: the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains [kingdoms] shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the [nominal ecclesiastical] heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. … For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.”—Isa. 34:1-4, 8

But such reunion will not avail to avert the inevitable destruction of the false system. The Revelator pictures the closing days of the Gospel Age in symbolic language: “I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the [ecclesiastical] heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain [kingdom] and island were removed out of their places. … For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”—Rev. 6:12-14,17

The final end (in the climax of the great time of trouble, the Battle of Armageddon) of that great counterfeit system, called Babylon in the Scriptures, is further vividly described by John: “And the kings of the earth … shall bewail her, and lament for her … saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth … which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. … And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.”—Rev. 18:9,15-17,21

Following this picture of the everlasting destruction from the earth of that counterfeit system, so-called Christendom, with its false claims, John describes the approaching establishment of Christ’s true kingdom under the loving rulership of our Lord and his glorified footstep followers, to reign for a thousand years for the blessing of the resurrected world of mankind with life. (Rev. 20:4,6) It was for this glorious kingdom the Lord taught us humbly and earnestly to entreat the Heavenly Father when he said, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9,10) It was for this same kingdom that his disciples yearned when they later asked the resurrected Jesus, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”—Acts 1:6,7

It is still true that we do not know just when this present evil world will ultimately be destroyed, and the wonderful new world wherein dwelleth righteousness will be established in the earth. (II Pet. 3:7-13) But the Lord did not leave us without hope, or without instruction. He gave us clearly discernible signs of the times, both to direct and encourage us in the narrow way, and to inform us where we are on the stream of time. And from these we glean much comfort, believing they tell us that the kingdom is indeed not far off.

What are these signs? Just where are we in the course of time? What mileposts have we arrived at, or passed? Why the long delay in setting up the kingdom? What developments in the outworking of Jehovah God’s grand plan of the ages for man’s everlasting blessing are still future?

No doubt, weary, wondering Christians many times asked just such questions all down through the long centuries of the Gospel Age. As the years rolled on with the kingdom seeming to come no closer to view, many weary footstep followers of Jesus must often have prayed, “How long, O Lord, holy and true?” (Rev. 6:10) How long to Christ’s true kingdom? How long before evil, suffering, sickness and death are banished, and love, justice, life and joy reign on the earth? How long, O Lord?

In his role as prophet, the inspired Apostle Paul supplied an answer to those yearning ones of the Early Church who mistakenly believed Jesus was then already present at his promised return. As noted earlier, Paul explained that before our Lord would return there must first have come a falling away from the simple, saving truths of the Gospel, to be followed by the gradual development of an apostate church which would rule the so-called Christian world, falsely styled Christendom. Inasmuch as we have seen that this apostate church came into being just as foretold in the Scriptures, and that this condition precedent to our Lord’s return has been clearly met, what other evidence do we have that God’s plans and purposes are, indeed, going forward?

Shortly before he was crucified the disciples asked Jesus a revealing question. They asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [Greek, parousia: presence], and of the end of the world [Greek, aion: age]?” Since a divine being cannot be seen with human eyes, the question was a proper one. (I Tim. 6:16) The presence of a divine being can be known only by the signs of his presence. Thus, in his reply, Jesus indicated his presence would be manifested, or signified, by “a great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”—Matt. 24:3,21

We believe the ever-growing threat of annihilation of the world civilization by nuclear warfare, together with the increasing difficulty of feeding and providing for the rapidly multiplying human race with its attendant environmental problems, clearly constitutes that unique time of trouble which Jesus said would indicate (1) his presence, and (2) the closing days of the Gospel Age.

The Prophet Daniel confirms Jesus’ statement regarding the proof of his second presence. He writes, “At that time shall Michael [Hebrew: Who is as God; i.e., Jesus, representing God] stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time.”—Dan. 12:1

The Prophet Jeremiah foretold that Israel would be regathered to their homeland in Palestine in this same time of trouble. He wrote, “The days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it. … Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble.” (Jer. 30:2,7) Inasmuch as that prophetic and extraordinary regathering of Israel to the land of Palestine has actually occurred in these very times in which we are living, we have further proof that the world is, indeed, experiencing the foretold time of trouble that both Jesus and the prophets said would manifest his second presence.

Thus, the united, revealed testimony of these three prophecies is that we are in the time of trouble, that Jesus is present, and that we are in the closing days of the Gospel Age. We are now at, and may shortly pass, this particular milestone.

Another milestone along the road to the kingdom was pointed out to us by our Lord Jesus in that same remarkable prophecy uttered as he sat upon the Mount of Olives. He said, “And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end [of the age] come.”—Matt. 24:14

The Bible has long been the best selling book in all the world. As far back as 1861 reports of Bible Societies showed that the Gospel had even then been published in every known language on earth. In view of today’s almost universal use of radio, television, and the miracle of communication satellites, the Gospel message regularly reaches into virtually every corner of the earth. It is well to notice what Jesus did not say in this prophecy. He did not say all the world would be converted by the message; he said it was to be preached for a witness to all nations. And he added, significantly, that when that worldwide witness had been accomplished, the end of the age would come, for that was one of the matters the disciples inquired about in their question to him.

We believe this clearly-marked milestone has also been reached, and may soon be passed. Thus we have further confirmation from our Lord Jesus himself that we are, indeed, in the closing days of the Gospel Age. Additionally, and importantly, it means that the harvest of the wheat, picturing those who will reign with Jesus in the kingdom, is almost finished, for Jesus also informs us that “the harvest is the end of the age.”—Matt. 13:39

As we examine the Scriptures in the light of revealed truths, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it becomes evident that the wise designs and loving purposes of the Great Architect of the divine plan of the ages are proceeding unerringly, and precisely on time! But what yet lies ahead? What additional landmarks along the church’s pilgrim journey should we be watching for? What yet intervenes between us and the kingdom?

We believe the Scriptures suggest the following:

The foretold reunion of the elements of nominal Chrisendom must yet take place.—Isa. 34:1-4; Rev. 6:12-14

Before the mighty attacking forces “from the north parts” fall on embattled Israel she will have lost all her lovers (allies), and will be standing alone, so that her salvation will be seen to be from the Lord, and only the Lord.—Jer. 30:7,14; Ezek. 38:18-23

The church must be complete (Rev. 14:1-4), and the marriage of the Lamb must take place.—Rev. 19:7

Then will follow the final phase of the time of trouble, leading to the Battle of Armageddon, in which Babylon and all the forces of evil are to be forever destroyed.—Rev. 19:11-21

Satan will be bound.—Rev. 20:1-3

Then will come the long-awaited answer to all those anguished prayers of all the Lord’s dear people down through all the ages, How long, O Lord, holy and true? Christ’s kingdom will be established, and the glorified church will live and reign with him for a thousand years for the everlasting blessing of the resurrected world of mankind.—Rev. 20:4,6; 21:1-5; 22:17

Dawn Bible Students Association
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