Nathaniel West. Second Coming of Christ. Chicago: Revell, 1879. Google Books. 2012. E-book.
———. The Right and Left Hand Blessings of God. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1853. Google Books. 13 Jan 2009. E-book.
A friend who recently completed a master’s program at a seminary recommended nineteenth century author Nathaniel West for books on Bible prophecy. He is not to be confused with Nathanael West, the twentieth century author known especially for his Day of the Locust. That book alludes to Bible prophecy, too. Maybe they are not so different after all.
West’s books are long out of print, but Google Books has posted some of them online. It turns out that Second Coming of Christ is not actually written by West, even though he is listed as its author. It is a collection of essays and lectures edited by West. There are thirteen separate essays and lectures plus an appendix with excerpts from other documents.
There is one focus to Second Coming of Christ: the Millennium. In the Bible, Revelation 20:1-10 describes a thousand-year reign of Jesus over the earth after He returns. This is called the Millennium from the Latin or the Chiliasm from the Greek.
Over the centuries Christians have debated the prophetic significance of these verses. Some say the Millennium refers to events that have already taken place such as the fall of the Roman Empire. Others say that it describes the Church Age, in other words, it is a summary of world history since the first century. Other say that the Millennium is a time in the future, a prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled.
Historically, many interpreters from the time of Augustine on have advocated one of the first two. Most Reformed churches take the first as their understanding. This was probably the case of West’s own Presbyterians back in 1879. The official position of the Catholic Church is the second. The contributors to Second Coming of Christ take the third, the most literal interpretation.
At the time this was written millennialists were in a distinct minority. This is not necessarily so today. Many of the arguments for the position are repeated in several essays, so there is a certain repetitiveness, but each one takes a different approach.
Many years ago I read Irenaeus’s Against the Heresies. Irenaeus lived around the year A.D. 140. His mentor was Polycarp of Smyrna, who had studied under John, the author of Revelation. Irenaeus would sometimes write, “Polycarp said that John said.” In other words, from a Biblical perspective, he had some authority. Irenaeus clearly understood a literal millennium after Christ returns. He even wrote that it would be a Sabbath rest for the world, after six thousand years of turmoil. Many of the authors in Second Coming refer to Irenaeus and other early church fathers (i.e., from the first three centuries), the majority of whom were like Irenaeus and took the prophecy literally.
From a contemporary perspective, two things are worthy to note. All the presentations that touch on the subject express the belief that Jesus will return after the so-called Antichrist has been revealed. This is a literal interpretation of Revelation 19:19-20 and II Thessalonians 2:3-8. No author or speaker mentions a “rapture” apart from the Second Coming.
One author does mention in passing Edward Irving, the person who in the 1830s first came up with the idea that Christians would be taken out of the world before the Antichrist was revealed and Jesus returned openly. That author merely notes that Irving had translated a popular French book on Bible prophecy into English and calls him “erratic in some things but still a noble soul.”
The other notable item from a modern perspective is that some of the writers and speakers state explicitly that the Jews must be gathered back to the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, before the Millennium will come to pass. Many Scriptures are cited, but one that stood out was Zechariah 12:10 along with chapters 35 through 39 of Ezekiel. Of course in 1879 it would still be nearly seventy years before that would come to pass in 1948, or eighty-eight years if we consider Jewish rule of Jerusalem which did not happen until 1967 (see Luke 21:24).
Regardless of what is happening in Israel or what the pope might be doing, several writers note perhaps the most important thing about God’s promises for the future. In every generation those who are devoted to the Lord are looking forward to His coming. That is what really matters. Jesus is coming back and bringing an honest justice to the world. There will come a time when the earth and mankind shall fulfill the vision and intent God had from the beginning.
This is vastly good news “to all them that also love his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:8 KJV) “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13 KJV)
The Right and Left Hand Blessings of God is short, more like a tract or perhaps a message based on a sermon or two. It is very simple and direct teaching taking its cue from Proverbs 3:16. The Scripture tells us that God has different blessings from His right hand and His left hand. The right hand gives “length of days” and, hence, eternal life. The left hand gives riches and honor.
God’s promise of eternal life applies to all who receive it by faith. He does not take that away. His grace is unconditional. However, He does not always give riches and honor. Not only that, but as Job reminds us, they can be taken away.
West notes that, unlike God, people cannot extend life to anyone. However, they can share riches and they can honor others. For humans, this becomes the right hand blessing. Indeed, when we face someone our right hand is opposite their left. West tells us that a left hand blessing coming from a person is literally sinister. (See Matthew 6:3) West also makes a case for tithing since most biblical examples, even in the Old Testament, are apart from the Law.
It could be summed up in the saying “God loves a cheerful giver” (See II Corinthians 9:6-7) or “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Give. And then wait and see what God does. West would say that applies to both giving and prophecy…