1 Cor. 15:52
“O the saints who shall be alive on the earth at the coming of the Lord no precedence shall be given. They shall not prevent (or go before) those who shall have fallen asleep. (1 Thess. 4:15.) But immediately following the resurrection of the dead in Christ the marvellous “change” shall be wrought upon all the living saints which shall instantaneously fit them for their place with the resurrection company in the glory of the heavens.
As the corruption of the grave, shall be exchanged for incorruption, so the mortality of the living shall be exchanged for immortality. The two companies transfigured and fashioned like unto the body of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:21) shall form one great assembly or “gathering together unto Him.” (2 Thess. 2:1.)
It would seem as though the resurrection of the dead, the changing of the living saints and their being caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, would all be the work of a moment, or like the twinkling of an eye.
Blessed, glorious moment, when the patience of Christ shall have its perfect work, when the long-restrained affections of our Lord and Saviour—now constantly and wisely bent on blessing us rather than on enjoying us— shall find its full, unhindered outburst, and lavish on the long-loved, and cherished, and disciplined purchase of His blood, the treasures of glory and of grace.
The girded loins shall be loosed, and the Nazarite shall drink wine; for the family shall be at home.
“Home, oh how soft and sweet
It thrills upon the heart!
Home, where the brethren meet,
And never, never part.
Home, where the bridegroom takes
The purchase of His love;
Home, where the Father waits
To welcome her above.”
“What an answer there is in the rapidity of this transaction to the murmur of unbelief, “My Lord delayeth His coming.”
Is it not as though the Lord Jesus awaited the very moment appointed by the Father with eager expectation, then to descend with a shout, swift as the lightning flash to fulfil the cherished purpose of His heart, and receive His people to Himself?
It has ever been God’s way to give foreshadowings of His great purposes. Thus were the person and work of Christ foreshown in many types, from the days of Adam and Abel down to the rending of the veil of the temple.
So also was resurrection foreshadowed, with earnests and pledges, both in Old Testament times by Enoch and Elijah, and in New Testament times by the Lord Himself, as we have seen in three distinct instances.
Nor has He left us without an earnest of this further triumph—the transfiguring and taking up of the saints at His coming.
It was but fifty-seven years after the grave had been dug for our first father, Adam, the solemn sentence, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” having at length been carried into effect, and fifty-eight years before the second recorded death, viz., that of Seth (Abel being excepted), that God chose to give a memorable pledge of the immortality that should be brought to light through the gospel.
“By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him.” (Heb. 11:5.)
“He walked with God: and he was not; because God took him.” He prophesied of the coming of the Lord with ten thousands of His saints, and of the judgment He should then execute in company with the saints upon the ungodly, and knew that his place would be among that glorified company which should appear with Him.
Thus, according to his faith, he was translated, taken away without tasting death, to be a witness in the heavens, and to all ages an earnest and a pledge of the coming victory of the Son of God.
So was it with Elijah—by a whirlwind taken up into heaven—another faithful one, in another time of universal apostacy, honoured by passing, without the humiliation of the grave, from earth to heaven.
Nor is it without signification for us that the Lord Himself ascended thus from Olivet, in the presence of His disciples, until a cloud received Him out of their sight.
And as to the transfiguration scene recorded by three of the evangelists, we have Peter’s inspired commentary declaring that it was really a foreshadowing of the same august occasion: “For we have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16.) There on the mount transfigured—the glory that had been veiled outshining with brightness above the sun—was seen the Lord Himself, and with Him Moses and Elias—the one a dead one raised, the other translated without having tasted death—thus, as it were, representing the whole scene of His appearing, and the gathering to Himself of the sleeping and the living saints.
Moses and Elias were in glory along with Christ, and their converse with Him was of that which was nearest His heart and theirs—the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.
Not one of the foregoing instances in which the translation of the saints is foreshadowed was public. It is said, “Enoch was not found,” as though he had been sought for by those who missed him; and this proves unquestionably that the world did not witness his translation. Elijah was only seen by Elisha—the fifty who “went to view” saw nothing, and instituted a search, lest, perchance, he might be found upon some mountain.
The Lord Jesus, when transfigured, was seen only by the chosen three; and when He ascended up to heaven, it was in the presence and view of saints only.
True, there will be the shout of the Lord Jesus, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; but it by no means follows that such sounds will be understood or even heard by the world. On the road to Damascus, those who journeyed with Saul “saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but heard not the voice of Him that spake to him. (Acts 22:9.) So when the voice came from heaven to the Lord Jesus, they who stood by said “it thundered;” they heard a sound, but its import they knew not.
It is not well to dogmatize on such subjects; but from what may thus be gathered from Scripture, it does seem as though, according to all analogy, the gathering of the saints to meet the Lord in the air would not be of that public character that will form a conspicuous element in the appearing of the Lord in glory with His saints to judgment.
In the epistle to the Ephesians the saints are viewed as already risen with Christ, and seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In Colossians they are also seen risen with Christ, and already translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. In Hebrews the scene of the worship of God’s people is transferred from earth to heaven, and already by faith we anticipate the coming glory, and enter with boldness “within the veil,” whither for us our great High Priest has gone.
Death is therefore to the saints no “debt of nature” left unpaid by Christ. There is no imperfection in His work, leaving it as essential that those whom lie has redeemed should pass through it at all. Being already, and in virtue of the infinite preciousness of Jesus, “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” the people of God require no purgatory beyond the discipline common to the family in this life: at any moment they may be called hence, as in the twinkling of an eye, to meet the Lord in the air. The very next song of praise may be sung in the great congregation, with Jesus in the midst; the next remembrance of His death may be, not with the broken bread and wine, but around Himself, looking into that very face that once was marred more than any man’s, beholding crowned with glory that very brow that once for us was wreathed with thorns.
“Seeing therefore that ye look for such things, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?”