The Lord’s coming for us His heavenly people may be at any moment. The Lord’s appearing with us and with all His saints cannot be for some time yet; certainly it cannot be until the expiration of Daniel’s last week. (Dan. 9:27). This period of seven years has not even commenced yet; nor can it commence, as it is a time after which there shall be blessing for God’s earthly people, Israel, until His dealings with us His heavenly people have here terminated. The prophecies concerning the Jewish nation are suspended as to their fulfilment during the presence of the church on earth. There are many prophetic dates in Scripture; but they have nothing to do with our calling, which is unto a region where the measurement of time by sun and moon obtains not. After the Lord has taken up the church to be with Himself, then that said seven years, during which Revelation 6 to 11 and 13 to 18 will be fulfilled, will be a sort of antitype to the seven days during which He waited after Noah was shut in the ark. Then the fulfilment of His words to Israel will be resumed just at that very point where it was discontinued by their murder of Messiah, or at least by their rejection of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. And further: this brief period will be the last moment of His patience with this world, which will then speedily ripen in its iniquity after that we, the salt of the earth, are removed. Then will the great Roman emperor, called in Revelation “The Beast,” together with his false prophet, antichrist, come to the front. These will terribly persecute all, and particularly that elect remnant of Israel, who will refuse to worship an image of that emperor, and are sustained in their refusal by the hope of the appearing of their Messiah. And so at last He will come down; not alone, but we with Him.
This His public interference is not our hope; it is Israel’s. Wherever you read of this interference of His, you will invariably find that we are associated with Him in the glory of introducing His reign. (1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 19; Zech. 14:5.) How can that day come without the children of the day, who are the rays of the Sun, coming too? (See 1 Thess. 5:4, 5; Matt. 13:43.) It is the ignorant confounding of the church’s heavenly call and hope with Israel’s earthly call and hope, that has been the sad cause of the many mistakes about the Scripture dates. Nor is the infidel’s sneer the worst that has happened in consequence. Alas! it has numbed the spiritual energies of many, so that they have ceased to watch for Himself. They have been engaged in noting the signs of the time earthwards, and studying the newspapers for indications of the approach of antichrist, instead of, in their chambers, with anointed ears, listening attentively for the Lord’s own signal. If you refuse to see that Scripture widely distinguishes between the Lord’s coming, or rather “presence,” and His “appearing,” you may then certainly affirm the Lord cannot come yet! Such and such things remain first to be fulfilled. You are at the mercy of all the religious dabblers in politics. But rightly divide these two stages in the Lord’s return, and all is plain. Watch!
Look at this truth from divers points of view!
1. As to GOD—whenever He begins His work of judgment, He will begin at the very top, and work downwards. His first work will be to give in full His own estimate of the value of Christ’s blood, by lifting us who believe up into the clouds, making us like His own Firstborn, and welcoming His children all, and joining the hands of the affianced Bridegroom and Bride.
2. As to Christ—He has saved us! Now that His work as a Saviour is completed, His work as a Priest is begun. Therein He is engaged at this moment, applying that salvation to our cases individually. And thus His work as High Priest will be found to commence at the point where His work as a Saviour is complete. Then His third work as a Bridegroom, which is to receive us to Himself, that we may be for ever with Him, will be the crown of His work as a Priest. Thus, as His second work is consequent upon the first, so His third is the conclusion of His second. Hence His three titles—Saviour, High Priest, and Bridegroom—set forth the way of His grace to the church. Now all this purpose of love would be still carried out, even if there were no earth in rebellion to deal with at all. When He returns, His first thought is not wrath; it is not at all, until grace with us hath fully had its scope in placing its objects there!
3. Again, it is the Holy Ghost who now hinders the development of the last apostacy. This is proved by comparing 2 Thess. 2 with 1 John 2:18-19. For at present the Holy Ghost is here; but when He lifts up the church into the presence of her heavenly Isaac, then He will be here only by His influences, as was the case before Pentecost. For it is by the power of the Holy Ghost even now in us, that our bodies are to be raised (Rom. 8:11.)
4. Matters concerning the Kingdom are different altogether! As to the church’s standing, all is completely fixed now, as ever it can be. There is a man in God (John 13:31-32). In Him I see my acceptance. Each ray of His glory is another witness of my sin having been perfectly put away, and of my exaltation in Him, and the more you dwell in God’s light, the more will you yourself behold the costliness of that blood in which you trust. But the kingdom, as respects your place in it and His rewards by it, are connected with your present service and faithfulness or unfaithfulness therein. These things Christ will speak to you about; but not until after He has received you in tender love. Even your place there must not be viewed apart from God’s sovereign will. (Matt. 20:1-16 and 23.) Also His rewards, remember, have an abiding and eternal character. (1 Peter 5:4.) Your crown will express the measure of His approbation of your work. But still, as the members of a royal family may be—one the colonel of a regiment, another the captain of a ship, who yet when they all come together are only one family—so is it with us: our common standing as children of God is our highest one.
5. Then, with regard to the world, Christ’s advent is to take the kingdom; whilst the tribulation, which precedes His interposition in person in earth’s affairs, ever in Scripture eyes the Jews. (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12; Matt, 24; Rev. 7.) He will not interfere on earth for His heavenly people; His way is to lift them quite out of it.
6. The world’s present civil and religious Head, i.e. its “god” and its “prince,” is Satan. Now he is in the heavenlies; at the rapture of the church he will be cast down to the earth (Rev. 12.); and at Christ’s appearing he will be put into the bottomless pit. Observe how the scenes depicted in Rev. 19. vary in heaven ere they open (i.e. at the appearing) and afterwards. Before He is seen, in what is the Lord engaged? Is He perturbed at the nations raging and gathering for the “battle of the great day of God Almighty?” Not at all. There, behind the clouds, He is “celebrating His” marriage. (19:7-9.) Then when He puts on the aspect of a warrior, and is seen on a white horse, so those heavenly ones, “called, and chosen, and faithful” (19:14), do the same, and appear with Him as “armies” following Him on white horses too. So true is it, that when He appears, we shall appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4) His pledge to us is perfectly distinct, that we shall not be even the “hour” or time of the tribulation at all (see Rev. 3:10). Where will He hide us? In the secret of His own presence—not merely spiritually—that might keep us from the bitterness of the tribulation; but certainly would not keep us from being in the “hour.” That can only be fulfilled by taking us bodily away altogether. Subsequently, when He appears for the succour of His persecuted earthly people, they shall perceive that during their rejection of Him, the true Joseph, He has been married to an Egyptian.
Is it, objected that this view makes two second comings? Surely such a quibble comes badly from those who generally make several comings, who will tell you death is a second coming, and the destruction of Jerusalem is a second coming! If His first coming was in two stages, at Bethlehem and at Calvary, why may not His second coming be in two stages too? Suppose that the Queen intends to visit “a” certain city. As she approaches, the nobles or chief men thereof go forth to meet her. They then form her escort, and return with her. Does a pause for this purpose make her visit to the city a double one? We are His nobles: we shall be His escort, His “armies.”
But when He come, He comes “with a shout!” Yes, indeed, a signal for His own, as the word used signifies. But when He spake of old to Paul, did undefined
undefinedthose near Paul hear? No (Act 22:9; or if they did (9:7), fit was only audible indistinctly, out of which they could make nothing. Only the sheep hear His voice.
But the term “rapture” “is not in Scripture! Well the word “caught up” or “away” is.) And the word “rapture” comes by metathesis from the Greek word used for this in 1 Thess. 4:17. We are God’s Enochs; we shall not see earth’s iniquity come to the full.
The suddenness with which the entire church, and all the Old Testament saints shall rise together into the presence of the Lord, is called in 1 Cor. 15:51 a mystery, i.e. a secret revealed. First, the Son of God descends, and gives the triumphant signal so long expected. It will bear on the destinies of earth, being the voice of the archangel. It will be the consummation of the heavenly call, and hence is termed “the trump of God.” In instant and joyful obedience, rise from their graves all the dead in Christ, all those to whom death was only a “sleep through Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14). Then a change equivalent to death and resurrection passes on the bodies of the living believers. Then the two companies rise simultaneously into the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and to return and come down with Him (as the Greek words suggest here: compare Acts 28:15, and Matt. 25:1, the only three places where this phrase occurs), when He descends to judge the world. But though these two, the resurrection of the dead saints, and the change of the living, as also their rising all together into the Lord’s presence, will be done thus orderly and perfectly, yet the whole of this action is to occupy only a single moment, or even the twinkle of an eye, or even less time still. For a twinkle denotes the casting of the eyelid down, and up too; but the Greek word denotes only the one or the other of these. What a moment! Here one second at our daily work, and then, ere the clock has ticked once more, all this accomplished.
Here, then, is our Morning Star; our hope is His coming. How very significant is the contrast between the close of the Old Testament, which compares Christ’s coming to the Rising Sun, which all must in course of time behold, and the close of the New Testament, which compares His return to the Morning Star, and which is only descried by those who watch. This wondrous variation between the end of the two Testaments should be of itself an adequate proof of the uniqueness of the church’s hope. So WATCH.