2 Thess. 2:8.
The saints having been “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air, according to 1 Thess. 4, shall subsequently appear with Him in glory.
But the intervening interval shall be occupied by momentous events, both in heaven and on earth.
The course of these events is detailed in the book of Revelation, from the end of chapter 5, in which the saints are seated around the throne of God, to chapter 19, where they are again seen marshalled as the armies in heaven, and accompanying the Lord Jesus on His march to judgment, as “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
As to the earth—owing to the presence and testimony here of a multitude of God’s children, in each of whom the Spirit of God is dwelling, and by whom He is continually reproving and restraining evil—there is at present a barrier or hindrance raised to the full development of apostasy, and its culmination in the man of sin; and so it is written in 2 Thess. 2:7, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth (or hindereth) will let (or hinder), until he be taken out of the way.”
But with the removal of the Church to heaven, the last obstacle to the full outburst of wickedness shall have been removed; and “then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.” (2 Thess. 2:8.)
The mighty current of infidelity and infidel politics has already set in, its true character known only to those who, being in the “secret of the Lord,” are forewarned by His word. Under the guise of liberty, it is opposed alike to Christianity true and false; and when those who hold and testify for the truth are withdrawn, the infidel beast will turn and devour the harlot of professing Christendom.
Into the details of this mighty uprising of lawlessness it is not purposed here to enter; suffice it to note, that two great scandals shall culminate, and be judged by the Lord. The one professing Christendom, which is shown in Revelation as “the Mystery of Iniquity, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots.” The judgment upon this shall be, first, by the oppression and hatred of the political power, “the beast;” and secondly, by vengeance from heaven. (See Rev. 17:10, and Rev. 18.)
The other, the great political confederacy, headed up in antichrist, or the man of sin—who, exalting himself above all that is called God, and saying that he is God, shall be worshipped by many nations, received as Messiah by apostate Israel—shall cause all to be slain who will not receive his mark, and finally be destroyed by the Lord Jesus, when He shall come personally, with His saints, to take possession of the kingdom, and deliver and bless the faithful remnant of Israel.
Often has the question been raised and discussed: “Shall the Church be on earth to pass through these scenes of unprecedented tribulation and judgment, or shall it have been removed ere then to heaven?”
That there will be saints on earth in the midst of it all, suffering and slain for their testimony, is certain; and if they be not the Church, who are they?”
In answer to this, we find first that, in Daniel 12:1, they are called “the children of Thy people.”
Of those an election, viz., “every one that shall be found written in the book,” shall be delivered. The whole book of Daniel treats of the period of Gentile supremacy in the earth, of the time when Israel is captive and oppressed, and its prophecy goes on to “the time of the end “—foretells the final tribulation of Daniel’s people, and their deliverance by the coming of the Lord to take vengeance upon their oppressors.
The whole period from the cutting off of the Messiah till His coming again to reign is overstepped, so that this present parenthetic dispensation does not at all appear. The saints, therefore, spoken of throughout Daniel as passing through these events, are not Christian, but Jewish; and as such shall be saved by judgment on their foes, and shall be blessed in the land of Israel.
In perfect harmony with this are the words of our Lord in Matt. 24:15-31. The whole of this passage treats of a time of trouble in the land of ***Judaea; there also an elect remnant is seen, who cannot be deceived by Satan’s imitations of Christ; for the false Christ cannot deceive those who know the true.
This remnant shall be saved in the flesh, and to this end those days “shall be shortened.”
Such language is inappropriate to the Church; for we, being destined for a heavenly and not an earthly inheritance, shall not be saved by sparing us in the flesh, but by death and resurrection, or by a changing of our mortal bodies equivalent thereto.
Moreover, those who are looking for the Son of God from heaven, to take them in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, to meet Him in the air, could not be deceived by any saying, “Lo, here is Christ, or lo there;” but such a temptation might have power with a people who were looking for deliverance on earth, and in the flesh, from a cruel oppressor.
At no time does God leave Himself without a witness, and in the midst of those days of tribulation and apostasy He will certainly have His faithful witnesses; but the character of their testimony will not be such as the Church is called to bear, viz., of grace, but rather analogous to that of Moses and Elias, a testimony of judgment. Such is the character of the testimony of the two witnesses in Rev. 11. Fire proceeded out of their mouths and devoured their enemies. Compare Rev. 1:4 with Luke 9:54-56. The contrast is conclusive proof that the “acceptable year” shall have ended, and a new dispensation have begun; and strictly in accordance with this is the prayer of the martyred remnant in Rev. 6:10, presenting an equally distinct and characteristic contrast to that of Stephen, in Acts 7:60.
Again, the fact that an angel flying in the midst of heaven, proclaims the everlasting gospel to men (see Rev. 14:6, 7), is strongly presumptive evidence that the Holy Spirit in the Church had previously been withdrawn.
Some have maintained, that between the coming of the Lord for His saints, and His return with them to judgment, there will be no interval, and based this conclusion upon the Second Coming of Christ being ever spoken of as one event. They argue that if there be an interval between, during which antichrist reigns, then there must be “two Second Comings of Christ;” and if there be saints martyred and raised again after the Church is caught away, there must also be “two first resurrections.”
This may appear at first sight conclusive, but a very slight reference to the manner of prophetic scriptures will show that, though plausible, the argument is fallacious. When viewing an extensive landscape, those objects in the foreground which are a mile or less apart are seen to be so; distances are easily estimated by the eye; but, in the far distance, mountain peaks that may be many miles apart appear as one, or close together. Such is the manner of prophecy. In the Old Testament Scriptures the “sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,” are almost invariably foretold as though the glory would immediately follow the sufferings. No mention is made of a parenthetic dispensation, stretching out for well-nigh two thousand years, between the rejection of Christ and His coming a second time in glory. Indeed, strange as it may seem to some, it is only from the New Testament that we know of any such distinction as a first and a second coming of the Lord Jesus. As far as the Old Testament Scriptures are concerned, the two events appear as one.
In witness of this see Ps. 22, where the sufferings of the cross are immediately followed by the glory of the kingdom. See also Isa. 52:14, “the visage marred;” verse 15, “Kings shall shut their mouths before Him.” Also in Isa. 61:2, “the acceptable year” and the “day of vengeance” are seen close together; but in the synagogue of Nazareth the Lord Himself, when quoting this verse to the people, closed the book at “the acceptable year,” knowing that the day of vengeance was long postponed, because of the long-suffering of God. (Luke 4:19.)
So also in Zech. 11, 12, 13, 14, the sufferings of Christ are spoken of, with many minute details; but the restoration of Israel, and their turning again as a nation to the Lord, and the taking away of the veil of unbelief, are also foretold as immediately consequent, whereas these events are yet future, though the selling for thirty pieces of silver, and the smiting of the Shepherd were accomplished 1800 years ago. Many other instances might be given, but these may suffice to remove from our minds any surprise that the coming of Christ should be regarded as one event, although it should be accomplished as it were in two parts, with an interval between, which even if it should extend to seven years is very short in prophetic reckoning.
As to the “two first resurrections,” this idea arises from not seeing that the “first resurrection” comprises all who rise to life eternal, including Christ as the first-fruits; some who were raised immediately after Him (Matt, 27:52, 53); the Church; the Old Testament saints; the two witnesses of Rev. 11:11, 12; and finally, the entire company of those who shall be slain under antichrist, for the word of God and the testimony which they hold. Compare Rev. 6:9-11 with Rev. 20:4. Then, and not till then, is the expression used, “This is the first resurrection.”