J. A. Trench.
from 'Truth for Believers' Vol. 3. — Miscellany.
Question. — Have we any Scriptures which indicate where the Church will be in the interval between the rapture and the appearing of the Lord?
The answer is simple: We have. The Lord Jesus tells us in John 14:3, that He will come to receive the saints to Himself, "That where I am ye may be also." But His blessed words go farther still. He mentions, for the first time in Scripture, the Father's House (for I do not allude to the Temple in Jerusalem, as in John 2:16), and connects with it His going to prepare a place for His own, the emphasis lying in "I go" to prepare it. In all His path down here His words and works had revealed the Father and thus the Father's House. In going there on the ground of accomplished redemption He fitted it as the place for us, and us for the place. "And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am ye may be also." Could anything be more decisive? Then will be fulfilled that which He has demanded of the Father, and which alone can satisfy His heart. "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am: that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world," and this as an entirely distinct thing from the glory in which He will display us with Himself at His appearing, "That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." (See John 17:22-4.)
The manner of the accomplishment of the promise is revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, with especial reference to the need of the youthful assembly at Thessalonica, of whom it has been helpfully observed "the principal and living object was the Lord Himself, and they were waiting His return with hearts full of joy and life; but the heavenly side of this expectation had not its place clearly marked in their minds, and they connected the Coming too much with the manifestation, so that the earthly character predominated, and the Lord seemed to be shut out from it." Hence verses 13, 14. But the revelation given the Apostle for them puts all in its place, and the dead in Christ first "raised in glory," as we learn from 1 Corinthians 15, and we which are alive and remain, "Changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, who shall come Himself for us as He promised; "and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The air was but the meeting-place, as in contrast with the earth, the vestibule to the Father's House.
I know not that we need go further for any simple soul that loves the Lord, and for whom heaven is "Where I am." But there is the strongest confirmation of the meeting in the air being only introductory to the heavenly glory of Christ in Revelation. We must not expect to find the intimate side of the Father's House revealed there; nor the Father as our Father. It would not accord with the divine design and scope of the Book. Nor, therefore, have we the Coming of the Lord to receive the saints that compose the Church, to Himself. But the glorious results for them of His having done so are clearly presented, when the book is divided for us into its three parts (Rev. 1:19), "The things which thou hast seen," namely, the aspect in which the Lord was seen of John in chapter 1, "The things which are," i.e. the state of things in the Church as the responsible vessel of His testimony as long as it exists down here to be addressed, "And the things which shall be after these things" (as more definitely expressed in the original). We know that the third division is yet future. For from chapter 4 on, the Church is no longer taken account of in the Book, till the closing words of it (Rev. 22:16, etc.), answering to the address of Rev. 1:4-11 by which it was put into their hands.
Revelation 4:1 opens with the identical words of the third division of 1:19: "After these things," and the scene in heaven opens to John. Round the throne, and One who sat on it, are four and twenty thrones on which the elders sit clothed as priests and crowned as kings. We learn who they are from Revelation 5, who, in the nearest circle round the throne, and the Lamb seen as slain in the midst of it, proclaim Him worthy to take the sealed book and to open the seals thereof, "For thou wast slain and hast redeemed to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and nation and hast made them unto our God kings and priests and they shall reign over the earth" (as vers. 9 and 10 must be read). As in true worship they are not occupied with themselves, so as to define who they are thus redeemed and exalted, but with the worthiness of the Lamb and His work. But it is only the full realization in glory of what they already knew to be their place when on earth as we find in chapter 1:4, 5. The moment He was represented in any of the varied glories that belonged to Him, they could not be silent, but break forth in praise, "Unto him that loveth us and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever."
Having thus established who the elders are, the representatives of the heavenly redeemed, they that are Christ's at His coming — I doubt not taking in the saints of the Old Testament times as well as the Church period — I only note in conclusion, that not only their place in the highest heavenly glory is given us, but their occupation — worship being the chief as in Rev. 4:10, 11; 5:14; Rev. 11:16-18; Rev. 19:4. They are also marked by full intelligence of God's purposes and ways upon earth as in Rev. 7:13-17 besides the passages referred to. All this takes place between their first being seen in heaven, as the effect of what is called the Rapture, and the appearing of Christ which is not till Revelation 19:11, when He comes forth from heaven. We last hear of them as taking part in the greatest revelation of joy in heaven over the terrible judgment of Babylon, the destroyer of the saints, and corruptress of the earth — the fearful end of that which has professed the name of Christ, but that being spued out of Christ's mouth had become the fitting instrument of Satan in the apostate system, so designated and judged in Rev. 17 and Rev. 18. Then just before the Lord comes forth to execute the last stroke of judgment in Person, which will clear the scene for His taking the Kingdom, there is the marriage of the Lamb in heavenly glory, His wife, the saints of this present epoch from Pentecost till He comes, while those of old may be those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. If this be so it accounts for the elders being no more seen as such; they have in fact divided into these two distinct families of the redeemed. None but those who are called since Christ took His place as the risen and ascended Man could be united to Him in glory to be His wife and bride, though all who are of the first resurrection shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. But enough has been said to show from Scripture how the interval between the taking up of the Church and the appearing of the saints with Christ in glory will be filled by them, and the place they have with Him. So full and complete is our association with the risen Christ that our place is ever determined by His. Thus there is no possible warrant for the idea that, because the saints meet Him in the air when He comes for them, they shall remain there till they appear with Him in glory.