And we have seen how the first century saints believed the "Parousia of Christ” was the substance, of all the shadows and types of the Levitical priesthood of Aaron in (Leviticus 9). Aaron had to inter into the earthly tabernacle of meeting, to bring a sin offering for himself and then for the people (Leviticus 9 7) Then Aaron had to “come out” of the tabernacle to bless the congregation of Israel and let them know their sin were forgiven another year. (Leviticus 9:1-22-23)
The author of Hebrews tells us Jesus is superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; (Hebrew 9:24) Just as Aaron appeared before the shekinah, the symbol of the divine presence in the earthly tabernacle, so Christ appears before God himself in our behalf in heaven.
And as had to “come out” of the earthly tabernacle to bless the congregation of Israel and let them know their sin were forgiven another year. So did Christ appear a “second time” and bless the people who were waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
But how and why did some of the other first century saints believe the parousia would happen in their life time. We will look into this very important question by starting with John the Baptist. How and why did John the Baptist believe the "Parousia of Christ” would happen in his life time?
John the Baptist is one of the most distinctive characters in the New Testament. He had an unusual flair for fashion, wearing wild-looking clothing made of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist. He lived in the desert wilderness, ate locust and wild honey and preached a strange message. Unlike so many people, John the Baptist knew his mission in life. He clearly understood that he had been set apart by God for a purpose.
Through God's direction, John the Baptist challenged the people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah by turning away from sin and being baptized as a symbol of repentance. Although he held no power or influence in the Jewish political system, he delivered his message with the force of authority as he also warned of a impending judgment of God.
When John say some of the religious party among the Jews coming his way he said, Matthew 3:9-12 "and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. "And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Even as he attracted the attention of the crowds, he never lost sight of his mission—to point people to Christ and warn them of his coming judgment. “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees”. Later after John’s imprisonment he sent some of his disciples to Jesus on his behalf to ask the question, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Luke 7:18) Then Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'" (Luke 7:21-23)
While John the Baptist was a great man, like us he was not perfect. This was the worst moment of John’s life. His imprisonment and he is about to lose his life. We will never fully appreciate this passage of Scripture unless we begin by understanding the background and seriousness of his question. John here is not openly questioning God, nor does he question himself or his ministry. John does not question the fact that the Messiah will come. John questions that Jesus is the coming Messiah.
John’s task was to condemn Israel’s sins and to warm them of the impending judgment of God. It was a call to repent form their sin to avoid the wrath of God. (Matthew 3:7-12) John fully understood the prophecies of the Old Testament about the comings of the Messiah which included the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf shall hear the judgment or vengeance of God. Isaiah 35:4-6 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, "Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come (with vengeance), With the recompense of God; He will (come and save you)." Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert.
Notice here the “vengeance” of God and His “recompense” make restitution or requital for damage, come and save you (salvation ) are to happen synonymously. When John did not see the impending judgment part he conclude that Jesus might not be the Messiah. The Old Testament prophets contained an emphasis on both areas. John believed the judgment of God would happen in his life time. Thus John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"
There is another important point about John that must not be overlooked. John had very little contact with Jesus. From what Luke tells us in his gospel, we would have to conclude that Jesus and John were virtual strangers. There was the contact between Mary and Elizabeth, at which time John leaped in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41), but John lived a secluded life in the wilderness.
The point here is that John did not have a close relationship with Jesus which might have assured him of Jesus’ identity and of His ultimate fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, especially those John had emphasized. Jesus’ response to John was very simple. He simply told John’s emissaries to tell John what they had witnessed: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Luke 7:22). In other words I am fulfilling prophecy.
In effect, Jesus is suggesting to John the solution to his problem. He is simply telling John to compare the prophecies of the Old Testament with what Jesus was doing. If Jesus was fulfilling these prophecies, then the Bible bears witness to the fact that He is indeed the Messiah. John was a great prophet, but John was not perfect, as our text makes clear. All humans have a weakness. And in fact John was not alone in this, for Peter tells us that all of the Old Testament prophets struggled to grasp the meaning of biblical prophecy. (1 Peter 1:10-12) Indeed, they even struggled to grasp the meaning of their own prophecies.
The reason why Jesus refused to publicly claim to be Israel’s Messiah was so that flesh and blood would not reveal His identity, but that the Spirit of God would do so, based upon the Old Testament prophecies concerning Messiah.
John’s challenge was attempt to force the Lord’s hand, to announce that He was the Messiah, and to cause Him to begin to bring judgment to the earth as he had warned. Peter tells us the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) God waited another 40 years for them to repent and then that axe fell. (Matthew 3:9-12) So the “vengeance” of God and His “recompense” did happen synonymously. (Matthew 24:34)
In my next article I will give you the historical background why John the Baptist used the metaphors of a winnowing fan and a threshing floor, to gather His wheat into the barn. This has culture background that ties into the warning of Jesus as will.