The Order of Events.
(1 Thess. 4:16, 17.)
First, the Lord Himself, the Son of God, descends with “a shout”—a signal to His own, as the Greek word signifies. It will not be understood by the world. When the risen Christ spoke to Saul, he alone heard and understood the words spoken (Acts 22:9), others only heard a sound (Acts 9:7). “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27).
“The voice of the Archangel”—for it will bear on the destinies of earth.
“The trump of God”—for it will be the consummation of God’s heavenly calling, the home-call of the wilderness camp. In an instant, in quick response and joyful obedience to His call, all the dead in Christ—all to whom death was only a “sleep through Jesus”—will rise from their graves. Then immediately, all the living saints will be “changed”—a change equivalent to death and resurrection passing on their mortal bodies, by which they will be fashioned like unto Christ (Phil. 3:21). Then these two companies will simultaneously rise to meet the descending Lord in the air, and to return and come down with Him when He descends to earth. This, the expression “to meet” in the Greek suggests, Compare Acts 27:15, and Matthew 25:1, which are the only three places where the phrase occurs.
(See 1 Thessalonians 4:17.)
It has been objected by some that the word “rapture” is not found in Scripture. Be it so. The word “caught up “or “caught away,” and the word “rapture,” which is a Latin word, is formed by metatheses from the Greek word which is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The suddenness and secrecy with which the Lord comes, and the saints are “caught away,” is called in 1 Corinthians 15:51, “a mystery”—that is a secret revealed.
The whole action is to occupy only a single moment, or the twinkle of an eye, or even less time still. For “the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52,) denotes the casting of the eyelid down and up, but the Greek word here means only the one or the other. Thus the one moment the living saints will be here, at their daily toil, the bodies of the sleeping saints in their graves, when lo! in a moment, ere the clock has ticked once more, all will be gone—the earth swept of all the saints, and all gathered up to Christ.
The Lord’s Coming And His Appearing.
(1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 1:17.)
Scripture distinguishes between the Lord’s coming (or presence), and his appearing. 1 Thessalonians is chiefly occupied with the former; 2 Thessalonians with the latter. Significantly also, the New Testament closes with a reference to His coming for us as the Morning Star, while the Old Testament ends with a reference to His appearing as the Rising Sun. Surely this variation in itself is adequate proof of the difference between the Church’s hope and that of Israel. His coming for us may be at any moment, while His appearing with us cannot be until prophecy is fulfilled. A period of seven years— the last week of Daniel’s seventy (Dan. 9:27)—must intervene between the two events. After the Lord takes up His people to be with Himself, then that period will begin, during which the events of Revelation, chapters 6 to 9, and chapters 13 to 18, will be fulfilled on earth.
To this it has been objected that this makes two second comings. No; only one in two distinct stages. If His first coming was in two stages; first to Bethlehem, then to Calvary, why may not His second coming be in two stages also? First to “the air” for His saints, then to “the earth” with them. At His coming to the air for His saints, the Holy Ghost, who is at present here with the Church, will lift her up into the presence of the Lord, as Eliezer presented Rebekah to Isaac, to be welcomed there by God the Father, who will join the hands of the Bridegroom and the Bride. After “the marriage of the Lamb” has been celebrated in heaven (Rev. 19:7), He will return to earth accompanied by His saints, to execute judgment on His foes. He appears then as a warrior, riding on a white horse, and His saints, “called and chosen and faithful,” accompany Him on white horses as the “armies of heaven” (Rev. 19:11-14). So true is it that when He shall appear we “shall appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). To fail in distinguishing between the Lord’s coming, or presence, and His appearing, is to leave yourself open to be misled by political prophets and others, who will tell you that certain things must first be fulfilled before the Lord can come. But rightly divide these two stages, and all is plain.
Times And Seasons.
(See 1 Thessalonians 5:1.)
“Times and seasons” are not connected with our hope. We know not, nor do we wish to know, concerning these. It is a proof of the Lord’s confiding love to us that He has not told us the time of His arrival. No loving wife would like the implication that she could not be trusted to be ready, with her hand on the latch of the door, waiting for her husband at any moment. There are many prophetic dates in Scripture, but they have nothing to do with the saints of the present age. They do not fix anything for those who are called with a heavenly calling. Ours is a calling to that region where the measurement of time by sun and moon obtains not. Those who fix dates, and count years, betray their ignorance of the Church’s heavenly calling and hope. It is this confounding of the heavenly and earthly, of the calling and hopes of Israel and of the Church, that has been the cause of all the errors made in counting years and dates, and this has raised the scoffer’s sneer again and again. Nor is this the worst that has happened in consequence. Alas! the spiritual energies of those who have been beguiled by these vagaries have been numbed, so that they have ceased to watch for the Lord Himself, and, in many cases, now throw discredit on the truth regarding His coming altogether. Others are engaged scanning the newspapers, for indications of the approach of Antichrist and other signs, instead of with anointed eyes watching for their Lord, and with anointed ears listening for His signal shout, that shall bear them to His presence above.
The Man Of Sin.
(2 Thess. 2:3.)
In the Apostle’s days there were already “many antichrists” (see 1 John 2:18). They had crept in among the saints, and were doing their work. That work was then to get saints to reject what was of God. Now it seems to be to incite to the reception of that which is false. “The unction”—which is undoubtedly, the Holy Ghost—spoken of by John (see 1 John 2:20, 27), was to be their safeguard against being seduced by false teachers. The Holy Ghost is the God-sent Teacher, who is to guide into all the truth (John 16:13), and thus preserve from what is false.
But “the Antichrist” is yet to come. You will never see him if you are a true Christian. You will be in heaven with Christ, before he is manifested. The world is fast preparing for him, but so long as the Church is on earth, indwelt by the Holy Ghost, the “Man of sin” cannot personally appear. The Holy Ghost indwelling the Church is “the Hinderer” mentioned in 2 Thess. 2:7, when but He lifts the Church from earth to heaven .and accompanies it there, the salt will be gone from the earth, the light gone from the world, the restraint away, so that Satan, who is now, as fast as he can, preparing the world for the coming Man, will have his way then, and all the world shall wonder after the Beast. Even now, many professors are infatuated by the spirit of the age, and are being carried down with that current of boasted progress, out from which shall come “the Man of sin.”
Antichrist, Or The Beast.
(2 Thess. 2:9.)
“The Beast” (Rev. 13:1) is the Roman Emperor of the future. He will be received with acclamation by men who have despised God’s lowly Christ, and regarded with wonder and awe by the whole world. But he whom men thus regard, and elect by their suffrage as their Imperial Potentate, is described by God from His throne in the heavens as “The Beast.” How different are the estimates of earth from those of heaven! And this monster, raised from among the masses by Satanic power, will be elected by the kings of the future Roman empire as their head and chief. They are to be in subjection to him (Rev. 17:12). And this great political ruler of the Roman empire, whose power is derived from Satan (Rev. 13:4), will have his ecclesiastical representative in “the False Prophet” (Rev. 19:20), who has power to work “signs “in the sight of his imperial master, and so deceive men thereby (verses 12-14), that they will worship the Beast (v. 8). Thus we have a trinity of evil—the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet—the Devil’s caricature of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
The Mystery Of Iniquity.
(2 Thess. 2:7.)
The leaven hid by the woman in the meal (Matthew 13:33) had begun to work in the apostles’ time (Gal. 5:9), and the last glance of the professing Church on earth as represented in the Laodicean state (Rev. 3:14-16), is characterized by lukewarmness, or a jumble of sacred and worldly things, with excessive pretensions to high condition, while, in the sight of the Lord, it is so utterly disgusting as to be fit only to be vomited out of His mouth. At the Lord’s descent into the air, all His true saints will be snatched away from earth to heaven, only the false will remain. These are seen, preachers and hearers alike (compare Matthew 7:22 with Luke 13:26), rejected, and disowned by the Lord at His closed door. The “mystery of iniquity,” which had up till then been working in secret, restrained by the presence of the Holy Ghost, indwelling so many of God’s true saints on the earth, will then be seen in its full manifestation in Babylon the Great, who with unblushing effrontery, wears her full name branded upon her brow— “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” (Rev. 17:3), in guilty alliance with the kings of the earth, seated on the Beast, who is full of names of blasphemy. What an awful consummation of the secularised Christianity of the present time, which is even now busy courting and dallying with the aristocracy of the world, while professing to be the spouse of a rejected Christ! And the inglorious end of this huge system of false Christianity, which is so much thought of and petted now, is to be trampled under foot, and the last vestige of its existence extirpated, by the hand of those whose patronage it now seeks, and whose support it invokes by its flatteries.
The Coming In Judgment.
(2 Thess. 2:8.)
After the Lord has completed the gathering of His heavenly people, the calling up on high of His saints, He will then resume His dealings with Israel at the point where they were broken off by their rejection and murder of Messiah, and by their rejection of the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51-54). An elect remnant of God’s earthly people will be persecuted by Antichrist because of their refusal to worship his image. This will be to them “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7); that “great tribulation” of which the Lord foretold them (Matthew 24:21-24). None of the saints of the present dispensation will be on earth during this period. The Lord’s own promise is, that they shall be taken out of it (Rev. 3:10). He does not interfere on earth for His heavenly people. His way is to lift them out of it. But for His earthly people He will interpose for their deliverance, and for the overthrow and utter destruction of their foes. These will be sustained in their refusal to worship the beast, by the hope of their Messiah appearing to deliver them. And when He does come down, He will not come alone, His heavenly people will come with him. Nor will He be perturbed at the nations raging (Psa. 2:1), and gathering themselves together in battle against Him. What though the chivalry of Europe are massed together under the great rebel Emperor, who leads them on to “the battle of that great day of God Almighty”! What though they openly seek to make war with the Lamb! He shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Once, as the lowly Lamb of God, He was led to the slaughter; now, as the King of kings and Lord of lords, He comes forth to execute judgment on His foes, and to interpose for the deliverance of His earthly people.
“The Bride, The Lamb’s Wife.”
After the judgment of the false Church, the great whore, who had “corrupted the earth with her fornication (Rev. 19:2), the marriage of the Lamb is celebrated in heaven with great joy. It was fitting that this false and shamelessly corrupt system should be exposed and finally disowned, ere the true Bride, the chaste and holy spouse of Christ, should be brought forth and publicly acknowledged.
That the Bride is the Church—that is, the saints of this age, who by the Holy Ghost are even now united to the Glorified Man on the right hand of God there can be no doubt. Who else but these had been “espoused to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2), and had shared His rejection here on earth? That there are other saints in heaven besides the Bride, is evident from the fact that some are “called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9). These are not angels, for they had never been “called.” They never sinned, and have no part in redemption. And they are not identical with the Bride herself, for they are only “called to the marriage supper.” They are the saints of other ages, who, although they had never known on earth what it was to be united to Christ by the Holy Ghost, have great joy in being there as friends of the Bridegroom (see John 3:29) whose highest blessing here consists in being the invited guests at His marriage supper. The marriage celebrated in heaven amid adoring hosts, the Lord will then present His glorified saints to the world in company with Him in glory (Col. 3:3). The time has at last arrived for the once-slain Lamb to assume the sceptre of the world and reign, and He will not reign alone. “Unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the habitable world to come”; they are superseded by those who for Christ’s Name’s sake had been scorned, despised, and made as the offscouring of all things. “If we suffer we shall reign.”
During the thousand years of millennial glory, she will reign with Christ. Creationwards she appears as “the New Jerusalem,” the heavenly city, high above the earth, basking in the beams of glory—“having the glory of God,” her light like unto a precious stone crystallizing the earth. Full herself, she becomes the dispenser of that glory to others, beautifying and gladdening creation. The nations walk in her light, which is radiated upon them through her wall. At the close of the millennium, she is seen descending, to become God’s tabernacle among men, still bearing the title of “the Bride” as if for ever and ever she will bear the unchanging beauty of youth.
Course Of Events In “The Book Of The Revelation.”
The Book of the Revelation traces the onward course of events from the Pentecostal Church in its first love, to the last stage of Laodicean lukewarmness and self-satisfaction (see chaps, 2 and 3). Then at an unnamed moment, between the events of chapters 3 and 4 the true church is removed from the world to her eternal home.
In the beginning of chapter 4. John sees a door open in heaven, and is caught up in the Spirit. John’s action here is symbolic. He is the representative of the Church caught up from earth to heaven, and the first object that fixes his eye is the throne, and the Being that sits upon it. The Throne-Sitter was “like unto a jasper and a sardine stone”—the first and last stones on the breastplate of the High Priest of old. “Sardine” comes from a root which means “Adam,” hinting that there is a Man up there. “Jasper” was Benjamin’s stone; Benjamin means “Son of my right hand,” hinting that He is not there alone. Where Christ is, there the Church shall be. The throne is here seen dressing itself for judgment, the time for which has however hardly come yet. There is a rainbow seen around the throne, the sign of God’s covenant with the earth, which is ever before Him (Gen. 9:13 with Isa. 54:9, 10).
Round about the throne are seen four-and-twenty elders sitting, crowned, on “thrones” also. (The same word is used as in verse 2). These represent the glorified church as worshippers, seated there in perfect calmness and serenity in the presence of God. The “living creatures” (not “beasts” as in the A. V.) represent the same church in service. Rev. 4:pictures the last moment in heaven, ere God commences by judgment to sweep the earth, and place it on a redemption basis.
Chapter 5 shows the title deeds of the world in the hands of the Lamb, whose worth had been attested, and His claim owned by all in heaven, the church, angels, and all creation, bursting forth in praise and adoration of Him. From chapter 6 to 18 events on earth ripen; apostate Christianity left on earth at the descent of the Lord into the air for His saints, becomes more and more corrupt, until, in spite of its plausible pretentions, it is wiped off the face of the earth.
In chapter 19 all in heaven rejoice that Divine judgment has fallen on Babylon the great, and accompanied by His risen and glorified saints, the Lord goes forth as a Warrior, to take vengeance on His foes, and deliver the remnant of His earthly people who amid unprecedented trials had waited for Him.
Chapters 20, 21:3, trace the onward course of events subsequent to the Lord’s return to earth and during the millennium. Satan is bound. Now he is the world’s “god” and “prince”: i.e., its religious and religious head. He is at present in the heavenlies (Eph.6:12): at the Lord’s coming for His saints, and their rapture to heaven, he will be cast down to earth (Rev. 12:9 with Rom. 16:20). At Christ’s appearing with His saints Satan is cast into the abyss, or bottomless pit (Rev. 20:3) where he remains throughout the millennium. Then after a final effort to lead men after him, his career is suddenly ended, and he is cast into “the lake of fire”— his eternal doom (Rev. 20:10).
Chapter 21:1-9 gives a view of the Eternal State, and chapter 21:9 to the end, goes back, giving a view of some aspects of the millennial glory. “The Bride the Lamb’s Wife” is the glorified Church, seen in her relation to Christ, who suffered for her, and with whom and for whom she suffered on earth. Now the Bride-groom and the Bride are seen in the same glory. As “The New Jerusalem” the Church is seen in her relation to the millennial earth. Creationwards she appears as “a city” “having the glory of God” and crystallizing with her light the world below. The closing words are from the Lord Himself, thrice repeated, “I come quickly,” and the heart response of the Bride indwelt by the Spirit is “Come.” Oh to be ever on the tip-toe of expectation, to welcome Him! “Come, Lord Jesus.”