Possibly never since the beginning of the second century of the Christian area has the coming of our Lord had such attention given to it by the vast majority of true believers than at this present moment. It is not in the power of the creature to sound the depth of that interest, nor the effect produced in the souls of those who seem to engage themselves with it—one would trust that the influence of it upon the practical lives of all is great indeed, and conducive to rigid separation from this world that rejected, and still rejects, Him for whom we wait—but thanks can be gladly given to God for bringing the bright hope once more so definitely before our hearts.
From the moment in which man, on account of sin, was expelled from Paradise, faith was looking forward for the Deliverer who was to bruise the head of the fell destroyer of the human race; and of His coming and intervention on our behalf all the prophets gave clear and unmistakable testimony. The bruising of the serpent’s head by the Saviour, and the bruising of the Saviour’s heel by the serpent, are the burden of the prophetic word, from the fall of Adam until the coming into the world of the long-expected Redeemer.
But that man was under the complete power of the devil, dominated by sin, guilty of innumerable offences, obnoxious to the judgment of a holy and righteous God, and therefore could only be redeemed by a suffering Saviour, seems to have had little or no place in the minds of His saints, though, as I have said, the burden of prophetic testimony. And even when He had come to earth, and when He had set before His disciples in the plainest words His suffering and death, they were utterly unable to take it in, nor until He was risen from the dead, and had opened to them the Scriptures, were they able to reconcile what they had seen Him in His humiliation subjected to with the words of power they had heard from His lips, and the mighty works they had seen Him perform; but when He had opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, they saw that from Genesis to Malachi the prophets were all occupied with His sufferings and the glory that should follow. Therefore they rejoiced that they were permitted of God to have part in His sufferings, in order that they might be made sharers of His glory.
Presented to man’s responsibility He was despised and rejected; and this rejection, right up till the hour of His coming again, and what will take place then, we have set before us in a few words from verses 12 to 27 of Luke 19. Rejected by the men of this world He leaves His servants to occupy till He come, and when He comes He deals with them, and destroys His enemies who would not have Him to reign over them.
In the gospel men are warned that this Jesus whom the world rejected is coming back again, and that by Him God will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31), and that He shall reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25), and that His ransomed people will in that day sit upon His throne, reign along with Him, and share His glory (Rev. 3:21; 2 Tim. 2:12; John 17:22). This is made known to us in the gospel, and for this we look and wait.
And for this the Thessalonians were waiting. Paul had been among them preaching the gospel, and some of the Jews had believed, “and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 27:24). After he had left them and gone to Athens he wrote them an epistle, in which he says he has no need to say anything concerning the effect produced upon them by what he had made known to them, for the heathen all about them knew that they had knew that they had “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come” (R.V). This is the effect of the gospel upon all who hear and believe it, when it is preached in the way in which it has been revealed to us.
We have a good deal in the Word about the wrath to come, and perhaps we have not all grasped the import of these terrible words, the hour in which the wrath shall begin to burn, and the consequences resulting from the execution of it for all who are the subjects of it. Throughout the whole history of the fallen race of Adam the wrath of God has broken forth upon individuals who, by the way in which they have provoked God, have rendered themselves obnoxious to it. Of the fearful nature and execution of this wrath we have many examples in Scripture.
But there is a day of wrath that is still future, and which shall come upon all the earth. This will take place in the last days of this present age. We read in Isaiah 13, “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel both with wrath and fiercer anger, to lay the land desolate; and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven, and the constellations thereof, shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine, and I shall punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” Then the Lord shall ask, and God shall give Him the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession. He shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2).
Of this day the gospel warns all who come under the sound of it. The prophets of the Old Testament kept it prominently before Israel, for that nation must be the first to feel the fearful effects of the fury of the Lord. It is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), and also the time in which the dwellers on the earth (apostate Christendom) shall be tried, and found more ready to believe the lie of the devil than the truth of God (2 Thess. 2; Rev. 3:10; 13:8).
This is the judgment of the living, beginning with the opening of the seals (Rev. 6), and culminating in the revelation of the Lord Jesus, who will come with the angels of His might in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power (2 Thess. 1; Rev. 19; Matt. 25). As far as Israel is concerned, this shall be “as the waters of Noah unto me,” says the Lord, “for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord that has mercy on thee” (Isa. 54). But the nations shall once again, because of their rebellion, feel the brunt of His anger; for even a thousand years under the beneficent reign of the Son of God will not have changed the human heart, nor disposed it in the least toward cordial relations with God (Rev. 20:7-9).
From this wrath the Thessalonians had found a deliverer in Jesus. The One in the power of whose blood they had found justification would deliver them from wrath (Rom. 5:9). How He would effect this deliverance they knew not as yet. They were waiting for His return, when He would take to Himself His great power, and by judgment establish the kingdom that was His own by right, but which men refused to acknowledge when He came into the world in grace.
For the advent of this Saviour they were waiting, and they were ready to give Him a welcome from hearts over-flowing with thanksgiving for all that by His death He had accomplished on their behalf. They were not looking for death, in contemplation of the blessedness of departing and being with Him as absent from the body. It does not seem as if they had expected any of their number to die before they would see Him, and therefore their distress when death invaded their holy circle, and took away one and another of their loved ones. They were not prepared for this. They knew not what to think. Would such be debarred from the blessings of the kingdom? They would not be here to welcome the Lord. They wanted light, and this they got in abundance.
Our God is the God of encouragement; and He would not have His people cast down through ignorance of the way that He takes in the effectuation of the counsels of His love. He says. “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thess. 4). He would have His saints in the full light of His purposes of grace, and adds “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
The question has been raised as to whether this verse refers to the bringing of the saints from their graves, in the same way in which Jesus was brought out of death, or whether it refers to their coming with Jesus, when He comes in glory to establish His kingdom on earth. I certainly think that if it referred to the resurrection from the dead it would have very definitely said so. All through the epistle the coming of Jesus is presented as His coming to this earth—His appearing when every eye shall see Him—except verses 16, 17, which are brought in parenthicaily to show how those that have fallen asleep come to be with Him, so as to be able, to appear with Him, to the world when He comes in glory. For His coming the saints were waiting, and now they are informed that when Jesus comes those who have fallen asleep through Him shall come with Him.
When the Lord appears to this world at His coming again He does not come unattended. His saints come with Him, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Jude says, “Behold the Lord comes with ten thousand of His saints.” And in Revelation 19, “And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” And in verse 8 of the same chapter we are informed that the fine linen is the righteousnesses of the saints. I think, therefore, if we take all this into consideration, that there can be no question that the saints must by some means come to be with Christ before He appears.
But however reasonable it be to think this, we are not, thank God, left to what we may gather by putting certain very definite scriptures together. The Word is very clear on the subject; and in unmistakable language the beloved apostle gives us to understand how it comes about that we can appear with Jesus when He appears to the world. “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede) them that are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
This is what has been sometimes called the secret coming, because the world will be utterly unaware of what is taking place. Indeed this is no concern of the people of the world, for except that the Spirit of God will leave the earth along with the church, which is His habitation, it will not in the least affect them. It is a heavenly thing we are speaking of, when we speak of the true church of God, and therefore the removal of it from one part of the creation of God unto another part cannot in itself concern the men of this world. But if the Spirit leaves the earth along with the church, as I have no doubt He will, and if Satan must be cast out of heaven when the church goes up, as he certainly must (Rev. 12), the things contingent upon the rapture of the church will be serious for dwellers upon the earth. It will then be woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea, for the devil will have come down to them having great wrath, knowing that his time of liberty is but short. Then upon the nations of the earth will fall the terrific judgments of the Lord, of which I have already spoken.
But before these judgments begin we shall have left this scene, for “God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 These. 5:9-10). While the seals are being opened, the trumpets blown, and the vials poured out, we are with our Saviour in the heavens, as His word informs us. Before the flood was poured out upon the world of the ungodly Enoch was translated to heaven, while Noah was left on earth to go through the judgment, but found salvation in the ark; so the church shall be translated to heaven before the judgments shall begin to be poured out upon this world, while the Jew will be left to go through it, though the godly remnant will find salvation in Christ.
The believer in the present dispensation does not come into judgment; neither that of the living, nor of the dead (John 5:24). It is not merely that the judgment does not overwhelm Him, he does not come into it. As the Lord says to the church of the Philadelphians: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10). They are not saved merely from the judgment, so that they are not destroyed by it, they are not on earth when the judgment comes, they are kept from the “hour” of its execution.
And this is the way in which we are saved from wrath through our Saviour. We have been justified by His blood, and we shall be saved from wrath through Him, for to wrath we have not been appointed. The Jew has to go through it, but the godly will find deliverance from all their tribulations when He whom the nation rejected shall arise as the sun of righteousness with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2). He will take us out of the world before His judgments are let loose upon it. Then when He appears we shall appear with Him in glory.
This is our hope and expectation. We shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). He will come and receive us to Himself, and we shall have some little time with Him in the Father’s house, before He comes with the angels of His might in flaming fire taking vengeance, and when we shall appear with Him in glory, and in His image and likeness.
And the time draws near. We can see the day approaching. The day that will be ushered in with the sun of righteousness. But before the day dawns we must be gathered up from tomb and waste to Himself. Hence if there are signs of the day, we may well expect to be brought at any moment under the powerful influence of the Morning Star, which shall with its magnetic influence counteract every earthly attraction, and lift us into the presence of Him, whose infinite love shall be the subject of our everlasting praise.