Ezra 2 brings before us, then, the remnant. We see clearly that it is a remnant, that it is no question of establishing Israel yet - a very important principle, because the true understanding of the prophecies depends upon this. If I look at the prophecies as a whole, their regular testimony is of the time when the kingdom will be established - when Israel as a whole shall be gathered - when not only the Jews but the whole of the ten tribes will be put under the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, nothing that has come in during the times of the Gentiles is a fulfilment of the prophecies.
It may accomplish some particular principle of them. For instance, now under the gospel we see, "Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Well, that will be accomplished, nay fulfilled, when Jerusalem shall be the earthly centre of God. But is anything we know now the fulfilment of that prophecy of Joel? Not so. It is an accomplishment of it; but the fulfilment of it will be when Jerusalem shall come directly under the power and glory of God; and then in that mount of Zion it will be universal. Whoever shall call upon the name of Jehovah shall be saved, and the Lord shall extend the blessing to all flesh. The principle is true now, but the actual fulfilment of it will be then.
This, then, is very important - that the prophets look not merely to the remnant but to the nation. Prophets look not merely to an accomplishment, but to the fulfilment. In Christianity we get a remnant and we get an accomplishment and nothing more. We have the principle; but the full accomplishment awaits the future.
Well, now, in the second chapter we have most clearly this essential to understanding the prophecies of the Old Testament - that it was only a remnant, and an inconsiderable remnant - some 43,000 or rather less - between 42,000 and 43,000 of the people, chiefly Judah and Benjamin, that were brought back out of the captivity of Babylon; only 'stragglers out of the ten tribes. The great mass of the ten tribes had been carried into Assyria a long time before. These were chiefly Jews who had been carried to Babylon, not to Assyria, so that we have thus, both in the numbers and in the persons - the tribes out of whom the remnant came - proof that it was not the fulfilment of the prophecies, but only a partial accomplishment, and we know the reason why. It was to leave room for the Lord's coming in humiliation. The prophets looked for the Lord's coming in glory. It was necessary that a remnant should go up to Jerusalem, and that the Lord should meet them in as much humiliation on His part, and a great deal more than that humiliation of which they ought to have taken the place on their part. That is, it was but a little remnant, and the Lord came Himself in the deepest humiliation, as fully entering into their circumstances, meeting them where they were in order that He might show that, let things come to the worst, He was going down below the deepest of all shame and the most complete ruin in point of all circumstance. Nay, further, He was going down under sin and judgment itself, in order that He might deliver after a truly divine sort, in all the fulfilment of the grace of God, As this alone could be in humiliation, so do we see that their feeble return was directly suitable to the coming of the Lord in humiliation.
I do not dwell on the details. Indeed this is not at all my object in the present course of lectures. It is to give a general sketch to help souls in reading profitably this portion of the word of God for themselves. But I may mention one or two interesting facts, before I pass on. One is the care that was taken, as we see in the case of the priests. Their genealogy was insisted upon.
It is said, "And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name: these sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha (or governor) said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things" - that is, they should not have the full enjoyment of priestly privilege - "till there stood up a priest with Urim and with Thummim." That is, till the Lord Jesus comes by and by who will, no doubt, be the King, and will also act in the full power of priesthood, the power of Urim and Thummim in the lights of perfections of God, and will then disentangle all the confusion, and supply all that is lacking.
But what I call your attention to is the principle that although it was a day of weakness and humiliation it was not to be a day of negligence but of the greatest care. It was to be a day when God's people were to be as watchful and vigilant for His name as when things were in the full power and beauty of divine order. This I hold to be very precious for ourselves now. In the present confusion of Christendom we are called to exercise the greatest care with regard to those who bear the name of the Lord - those that take the place of being near to God, which, of course, ought to be in all that are accepted as members of Christ's body - as true worshippers that come together in His name. And therefore we are entitled to demand that they shall prove their genealogy. The reason is plain, because now people generally take the place of Christians without reality. We are bound to require that there shall be the proof that they really are what they profess to be, that is, we are not to yield to the mere general profession. While owning it as a fact, we are to demand that there shall be the adequate proof to carry conviction.
This was not so necessary in the earliest days. Then the Spirit of God came down in power. There was novelty in it, and a seriousness for man to break off all his old associations and to come together in the name of the Lord Jesus. And the danger was such that, as a rule, men would not come unless they were truly led of God. When there was some person with penetration but without conscience who saw the power that might be turned to his own selfish purposes he might come on false ground. I refer now to Simon Magus; yet, as a rule, I repeat, people did not come unless they were real. But in these days it is not so, and we know well that people deceive themselves - that people may not know what it is really to be converted to God - what it is to be members of Christ's body. They have been wrongly taught: they have been brought up in an unhealthy and corrupting atmosphere; and, therefore, it is necessary, I repeat, that we should require that the genealogy should be proved; that is that there should be full evidence that they really are Christ's in the true and proper sense of the word - that they are brought to God.
Now, there may be persons at the present time who, though they will be in heaven, yet are such whom we should not accept on earth. There may be persons to be declined because they cannot prove their genealogy. The Lord may see, in the midst of a great deal that is very painful, what is real, but we must look to God simply according to the measure of discernment that He gives.