The Second Coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which had such a large place in the preaching of the apostles and in the hearts of their converts, became, when decay set in upon the profession, and spiritual sleep sealed the vision of faith, quickly given up; the spiritual mind gave place to the fleshly, and carnality and worldliness spread a mantle of thick darkness over the slumbering host of the redeemed.
But when, almost a century ago, the “midnight cry” went forth, there was movement within the ranks of that which had more the outward appearance of “dry bones” than living “members of Christ;” here and there the cords of the world dropped off as though they had been touched with fire, affection for Christ was awakened in the hearts of thousands, truth long forgotten was brought to heart and mind, and Christ and His interests became paramount Again the hope of the Lord’s return took possession of the soul, gave colour to the language of the lip, and filled libraries with wholesome reading.
But again the soporific character of the present darkness laid hold of many hearts, and drowsiness, if not actual sleep, stole afresh over the weary watchers. Not that the bright hope was forgotten, or even ceased to be a subject of spiritual ministry, but it had lost much of its primitive power and brightness, and had become more a dry doctrine than a living energy in the soul. If there was the waiting, it is to be feared there was not much of the watching. We perhaps have found it hard to keep awake through the black and dark night while the Sun of Righteousness delays His appearing.
But once more the unwearied grace of our God seems to be calling our attention to that blessed hope. As to the manner of His coming, and as to the order of events in connection with that bright prospect, not all the saints of God are of one mind, but no one can truthfully deny that the fact of His coming is being at the present moment greatly emphasized. The church is calling out for Christ, and the world is calling out for a man to take the helm of the government of the nations. The Christ of Christians is the Christ of God, the man the world is looking for is the antichrist, the son of perdition. Alas, that any of the people of God should be found following the lead of the world. And yet it is to be feared that many saints are ardently following the course of this world, with their eye upon the devil’s ignis fatuus, which leads, they think, to a millennium of bliss, but which, they will assuredly find, leads only to wrath divine and regions of despair.
How good it is, in the midst of this Christless profession and a confusion of tongues, to be able to fall back upon the Holy Scriptures, as upon a tower of strength, well knowing that God will stand by all that He has said, and that no question that can arise has been unforeseen by Him, but that He has anticipated every evil way that the mind of the flesh, as under the influence of the evil one, may take, and has made provision in the Scriptures for its detection, exposure, and defeat. He will vindicate every utterance that He has caused to be put on record, for He has magnified His word above all His name. The Scriptures are a rock unshakeable, and however wildly the winds may blow, and whatever threatening voices may mingle with the fury of the tempest, we are always able to say confidently, “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.”
In these days, thank God, Bibles are plentiful, the poorest have direct access to the utterances of the Holy Spirit, the gospel is proclaimed with a measure of clearness, and people are informed that God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and that He is no respecter of persons. If men will not have the gospel it is their own fault if they are without the Spirit; the blame lies at their own door. To be able to use the Scriptures aright a man must have faith in Christ and be anointed by the Holy Spirit. But every one who has come to Christ has received the anointing. The only important thing for such to look to is that they may be under the influence of that anointing, and if they are, they will be intelligent in the mind of God, and they will not be found giving a loose rein to the fleshly mind, and wandering in paths not defined for us in the Scriptures. Such will have an outline of sound words, and the spirit of Scripture will be the joy and rejoicing of their hearts, and they will not be found in subject to the letter.
I am not writing to set forth the peculiar views of a section of professing Christians, but I have before me the whole assembly of God, and indeed the whole profession of Christ upon earth. Some who read will possibly find truth set forth with which they have been long familiar, others may find that I have cut at the roots of long and deeply-cherished theories which have been woven into the very texture of their moral being; and on this account I feel, as I ever do in setting before the people of God the truth as I see it, a kind of natural timidity that has always to be overcome before I can proceed. No one ought to wish to unsettle the minds of saints, unless they are seen to be grounded upon what is really profitless to their spiritual welfare; and it is only by bringing in the truth that souls are to be helped, not by attacking error.
I wish to put before the reader, as clearly and as concisely as I can, the Lord helping me, what the prospect of the believer is as I see it. Various theories are afloat concerning this important subject, and firmly embedded in the minds of true believers. The death of the body, and the passage of the spirit to be with Christ, is the prominent thought in most minds, and though it be true that to be “absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord,” I trust every one who may read this paper will see that this is not our hope; it is not set before us as something for which we are to look. A general resurrection is added to the above to complete and perfect this doctrine, in which, by the power of God, all the human race shall come out of their graves at the close of the history of this earth, and stand before the great white throne to be judged according to their works, the righteous being then justified and the wicked condemned. The eternal state will then be begun. This theory is, I am happy to say, through the diffusion of Scripture knowledge, being rapidly driven to the winds. But I will hasten to set before the reader the way in which, as it appears to me, the hope is presented.
It is plain enough that the effect which the gospel, as preached by the apostles, had upon those who believed it was that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Where the gospel is faithfully and clearly presented this must always be the effect, for the grace which carries with it salvation for all men teaches us “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13). And Peter desires for those to whom he writes that the trial of their faith “might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7) and he exhorts them to “be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 13). The Corinthians were “waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). The Colossians were told that “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Timothy was enjoined to keep the commandment “without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). The Hebrews are exhorted to patience, and encouraged by the announcement that “yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37); and “unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (chap. 9:28). I need not multiply passages of Scripture, the object of this paper being only to encourage the reader to search for himself in the fear of God.
But I can very well understand some one saying that when Christ comes it will be the last day, the end of the world, the complete wind-up of everything as far as earth is concerned. But Scripture presents things in a very different light. “The last day” does not mean the last day of time, upon which the sun shall set to rise no more, but the last day of the present age; and the end of the world does not mean the destruction of the heavens and the earth by fire, but the end of this present age, which will be concluded when He, whose voice as the Lawgiver once shook the earth, will shake heaven and earth when He comes in the thunder of His power. The appearing of Christ will bring the present age to an end, and will also introduce an age which all who had faith looked forward to since the world began. The Old Testament is full of references to that age, and the reign of Christ, as also is the New. “Abraham rejoiced to see my day,” Christ says, “and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). Peter speaks of it as the times of the restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since time began (Acts 3:21). Paul speaks of it as the dispensation of the fullness of times, when all things in the heavens and upon the earth shall be gathered under the headship of Christ (Eph. 1:10). Everything that has been foreshadowed in the past ages will be found realized in Christ. In the past ages God was casting shadows beforehand of what would be accomplished in Christ. This is why nothing that He ever set up in the man after the flesh stood for any length of time. No man was able to bear for a moment one of the least of Christ’s glories.
Dominion over this creation was given to Adam, but he fell the moment he was tested. Noah was to execute judgment in the earth and the government of it was committed to him, but the next thing recorded of him is his drunkenness and degradation. Abraham got the promises, but they are confirmed to his seed, and that seed is not Isaac but Christ. Moses the apostle, and Aaron the priest, and the tabernacle, and the ark of testimony, and all the sacrifices—what did all these things do for the people? Moses gave Israel a law that brought upon them condemnation and the curse, and he was unable to make atonement for them, or lead them into the land, Aaron, God’s high priest, made for the people a calf of gold, and became high priest to that idol. David was anointed with the holy oil, and placed upon the throne, but he soon stained it with innocent blood. Solomon built the temple, but no sooner are its glories described than we read of its desecration. The throne of David became utterly polluted, and all the power passed into the hands of the Gentile king Nebuchadnezzar; but the idolatrous monarch usurped the place of God, made an image of gold to be worshipped, and a furnace of fire for all who refused to bow down to it. Every one of these men failed God. Not one could support a single glory placed upon him by God. But these were all shadows of what Christ shall take up in the next age—the dispensation of the fullness of all these times. In the coming age you will find Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, the tabernacle and all connected with it, Joshua, David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, and many other shadows which I have not mentioned. But where will all these be found? In Christ. Everything that was shadowed forth in these past ages will have its fulfilment in the next age in Christ. He will take up everything that each of these men failed in, and maintain all to the glory and praise of God. Hence the appearing of Christ was the great hope of the saints of God in all ages; and the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 were led by the light of that day to abandon every earthly prospect; and all the works of power wrought by them, through faith, were only samples of the powers of the world to come, by which everything will be subdued under the feet of man in the Person of Christ. The writer of the Hebrew Epistle tells those to whom he writes not to cast away their confidence, “which has great recompense of reward;” he says, “ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” And then he points them to the fulfilment of the promise, “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:37-38); and then in chapter 11 we have the cloud of witnesses, who lived by faith in the light of the coming of Christ and of the world which would be placed under Him. “These all,” he says, “having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (vv. 39-40).
Those who believed the gospel, when at the beginning it was preached in its purity, were, as Scripture informs us, set in an attitude of expectancy with reference to the coming of Christ, and the introduction of the “world to come.” It was that which was preached to them in the gospel message. Peter says, “He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify, that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” (Acts 10:42). And Paul, “He (God) has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained; whereof He has given assurance unto all men, in that He has raised Him from the dead” (chap. 17:31). The world had nothing to do with the taking up of the saints, commonly called “the rapture.” What was necessary for it to know was the fact that a day was appointed for its judgment, and that Christ was the One to whom that judgment was committed; but that in the meantime, while as yet that day of judgment was future, an opportunity for repentance toward God and for faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ was held out, in order that men might turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Jesus. With the rapture of the church the world neither has, nor will have, anything to do, nor is it told anything about the matter.
That those converted had, at the beginning of their Christian career, very hazy ideas as to what would take place when the Lord would come, and how they themselves would enter the kingdom, is evident. They seem to have had little more than Jewish notions regarding the form the kingdom for which they waited and suffered would take; though certainly the Thessalonians were not left for long in this state of mind. Still, to begin with, the appearing of Christ was the one great hope for which they waited. This, I think, is so well established by Scripture, that it is impossible, apart from great prejudice and self-will, to deny it.
There seems to be an unhealthy kind of nervous fear in the hearts of some who rightly look for the taking up of the Church, that to give the manifestation of our Lord the least prominence, as that for which the believer waits, is to endanger the hope of that blessed expectation. But this is a very childish and baseless fear, and requires no other antidote for its banishment than the fact that the Holy Spirit of God has given it such a large place in the Scriptures. Indeed, as to the “rapture” and the introduction of the “world to come,” both are brought about by the one coming of Christ. And for that one coming of Christ we look, though now that we have the full and perfect revelation of God, we know that we shall be with Him when that coming bursts upon the world; and though this involves our being with Him before He appears, it does not alter the fact that—
“We look for Thine appearing,
Thy presence here to bless;
We greet the day that’s nearing,
When all this woe shall cease.”
That appearing, I trust, is greatly loved and longed for, by both reader and writer; and. I trust, we also know that “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). This would, to my mind, be impossible, were we not with Him previous to His appearing. But the consideration of this subject I must leave for another chapter. May we be like those who wait for their Lord.
The Rapture of the Church
The taking up of the church to meet the Lord in the air is now admitted by almost all who undertake to speak of the coming of Christ as the hope of the believer. Some will have it that it is at the moment of His appearing to the world this takes place, others that it takes place some considerable time before the event. But every one who loves Him, and longs to see Him will be exceedingly thankful that the attention of saints is being directed to that glorious advent, even though all may not be quite agreed regarding the order in which the various events connected with it will shape themselves. At the same time we need to be watchful that the wily foe does not divert our minds and thoughts into channels of error, from the plain paths marked out for them to traverse by the Word of God.
It is said in Colossians 3, that when He appears we shall appear with Him in glory. And in order for this to be so, it is surely needful that we should be with Him before He appears. How long, or how short a time it may be that we are with Him before He appears I am not prepared to say; but that the world shall not see Him until it sees us with Him is clear.
Again, we are to see Him “as He is” (1 John 3:2). Now the world will never see Him as He is. It will see Him coming with the angels of His might, in flaming fire (2 Thess. 1:7-8). “As He is” is apart from all regal splendour, and judicial terror, and treading of the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. It is as He is at home, in the quiet, and peace, and rest of the Father’s house. There we shall see Him, and there we shall be like Him; He the First-born among many brethren, and we His brethren around Him in that holy place. Were we to wait, like the world, for His appearing, we could neither appear with Him nor see Him as He is.
The passage that speaks of seeing Him as He is tells us we are now the children of God (as 1 John 3:2 should read). We can never be more this than we are at the present moment. In one sense we are sons, but yet we await sonship, the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23); for the full thought of sonship is likeness to Christ in glory, conformity to the Son of God. But children we now are—first, by the right given us by Christ on the ground of redemption (John 1:12); second, by the Father’s call (1 John 3:1); third, by the witness of the Spirit (Rom. 8:16). And as such we are already manifested. As sons of God we are not yet manifested. For creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God when all its travail will cease and its groans be hushed (Rom. 8:19). But as children we are already manifested, and that by the fact that we do righteousness, and love the brethren; whereas the children of the devil are manifested in practising sin, and in hatred to the brethren (1 John 3). The children of God exhibit the moral features of the One by whom they have been begotten, as do also the children of the devil.
But we are still looking for likeness to Christ and glory with Him. This that lies ahead of our present place as children of God has not yet come, but we know that when it is manifested, it will be that we shall be like Him; and one great proof of this is, that “we shall see Him as He is.” We shall see Him, and be with Him, and be like Him, before He appears, and therefore when He does appear and is seen by the world His saints will be seen with Him.
Now I turn to John 14. The Lord is about to pass out of the world to the Father, from whom He had come. And what a joy it was to His heart to be going there, however full of gloom, desertion, betrayal, and the abandonment of God was the journey thither! No doubt He could have gone a different way than by the cross, for twelve legions of angels would have made short work of the powers of darkness, and of a hostile world. But two tremendous considerations impelled Him to choose the circuitous, and, beyond all creature thought, terrible, route, by way of grim Golgotha. One of these considerations was the glory of God and the fulfilment of the counsels of the Father; and the other His love for His own, whom the Father had given Him out of the world. He says, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (John 14:31); and having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (13:1).
He was going beyond the range of their natural vision, and would have to be an object of faith to them, as the unseen God had ever been. But He assures them that there is room for all where He is going. There was room for them, and for every family of faith, in the Father’s house. If there was no room for them in the world, as there had been no room for Him, there was room for both Him and them in another and better sphere. And there He was about to prepare a place for them. “And,” He says, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” There they would be with Him, and there they would see Him as He is.
It would be very difficult to fit all this into His manifestation in the clouds of heaven, taking vengeance upon the wicked. I cannot see how it is possible to reconcile His coming to receive us to Himself in the Father’s house, and our seeing Him as He is with His manifestation to the world, when every eye shall see Him.
In the Epistles to the Thessalonian believers, the coming of the Lord is the one great subject. These saints had, by faith in the gospel, been turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come [or rather our Deliverer from the coming wrath].” It is more One who would deliver than One who had done so. This coming is the general thought of His coming, though they could only think of it in connection with His coming to judge the world, for it was in this character He was presented to men in the gospel. The truth of the rapture does not cast a shadow on the appearing, but rather clarifies and brightens it before the soul.
It can scarcely be questioned that epistles were written by the apostles to the churches other than those which by the grace of God have been preserved to us. Meat in due season was given to the saints; that is to say, truth as they were able to bear it. It would be a great mistake to suppose that no assembly of God except that at Thessalonica was instructed into the truth regarding the coming of Christ; yet it is the Epistles which were written to this Church which are almost wholly occupied with this subject. Colossians 4:16 would lead us to suppose that the Epistles to the various assemblies may have been handed about from one to another. But we have that which God in His infinite wisdom and love saw fit that we should have, as a perfect revelation of His mind for our guidance during this whole dispensation. Therefore we do not find any useless repetitions, but every stone in the glorious edifice of Divine revelation set by a master hand in its own rightful place, and giving forth its own peculiar ray of living light, and all in the most perfect harmony for the enlightenment and comfort of His people. One text was enough to silence the devil, and one text is enough for the man of God.
It was necessary for the comfort of these Thessalonians that the general hope of the coming of their Deliver should be particularized; that they should have the events connected therewith in their proper order, and that difficulties which beset their faith should be cleared up. Some of their brethren had fallen asleep, and what about them? They would not be here to share in His glory and the blessings of His kingdom and reign. And this of itself shows us the hold this hope had upon their hearts. They did not expect any of their number to fall asleep before that event would take place. The Word of God never puts the coming of the Lord beyond the lifetime of the saints who wait for Him. The things spoken of as certain to precede this event—such as the death of Peter and Paul, and the evils of the “last days”—were not things that could not have taken place within the lifetime of the saints then living. Peter was not young when the Lord told him what would take place when he would be old; Paul might have been slain any day after he reached Rome, and evil develops very rapidly. But this I must leave for another chapter.
But the hearts of these Thessalonian believers must be comforted regarding those for whom they sorrowed so deeply. “Them also which sleep,” he says, “in Jesus, will God bring with Him.” When He returns the saints whom they had laid in the graves would come with Him. When God brings His First-begotten into the world (Heb. 1:6) His saints will be with Him. It is exactly what we have in Colossians 3:4.
But mark the way in which this blessed truth is introduced. He says, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” The death and resurrection of Jesus is brought in because the resurrection of His own is to be like His. His resurrection is the great pattern of that of His saints who sleep through Him. The world never saw Him after He was laid in the cave by His sorrowing disciples, nor will it ever see Him until He comes in glory. But this will also be true of His own.
“The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming,” by S.P.Tregelles (a more unfair and false witness to the truth it would be difficult to find), speaks of “The visible opening of the graves, when dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (p. 96). But where is this said of them? That the angel rolled away the stone from the mouth of the cave where Jesus had lain is not questioned. But who will say that it was to let out the body of our blessed Saviour? Surely it was rather to show how death had been already vanquished. The angel who did this says to the woman, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:6).
It may be replied to this that I am forgetting Matthew 27:52-53. But this also was for a witness to the power of the death of Christ, as that which had annulled both death and the one who had the power of it. As to whether these are included in the first resurrection, or whether they returned to their graves again when they had rendered their testimony Scripture does not say, and where Scripture is silent we must also be. I see no necessity of the opening of the sepulchre of our Lord to set Him free; nor of ours either, who come forth with spiritual bodies.
A secret resurrection, and a secret taking of His people to Himself, are utterly denied by the writer of the book in question. He says that everything must be open and manifest. The graves must be opened, the dead raised in visible glory, and all caught up in the sight of everybody (pp. 96-97). This is a complete denial of our appearing with Him in glory, for all this, we are told, must take place after His appearing. Our appearing would not be at the same moment with His; nor, indeed, if there were no secret rapture, would it be with Him at all; but rather, we should appear, some of us from our graves rising in glory, others as changed, and all going up to meet Him in the air. Instead of being seen coming with Him, we would be seen going to Him. This is a complete reversal of the teaching of Scripture.
But if the Thessalonian believers who had passed away from this world by “falling asleep,” were to come with Jesus when God should bring Him again into the world, it was necessary that they should be taken to be with Him previous to His appearing. And this is brought before them in the parenthesis from verse 15 to 18 of chapter 4. And that which he brings before them forms the subject of a special revelation. He speaks by “The word of the Lord.” I need scarcely say that all the Apostle wrote to the churches, except a few verses in 1 Corinthians 7, was by the word of the Lord; and one of the tests of the spirituality of a saint was the acknowledgment that the things be wrote to them were “the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). But while this is true, there are certain communications, which, because of their great importance, he draws special attention to as distinct and specific revelations. One of these is in 1 Corinthians 11, and refers to the Supper of the Lord; another we have here.
The living, he tells them, shall have no advantage over those fallen 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 special revelation, given for the comfort of the hearts of sorrowing and bewildered disciples, is the grand and perfect explanation regarding the way in which God shall be able to bring His people along with His Firstborn into the world.
In this connection there does not seem to be any attendants with the Lord. It looks as though He were unaccompanied. He comes only for His own; and what needs He with angelic hosts. Perhaps it will be said there is the voice of the archangel. But in this case the voice is only characteristic. It is “with archangel’s voice.” In His manifestation the angels have a very prominent part; and in connection with the gathering together of the elect of Israel they have a very great service to render (Matt. 24:30-31; 23:31; 16:27). I do not see any indications of angelic companions in this instance. But I should not dogmatize on the subject.
In speaking of this, Tregelles says (p. 17), “The scene presented is the reverse of secrecy. … To say that this triple sound shall not be heard by all, would be a mere addition to Holy Scripture of a kind that contradicts its testimony.” But what about a man who would affirm that it is heard by all? What would such a person be doing other than adding to Scripture? The passage does not say that any single soul of man, living or dead, saint or sinner, saved or unsaved, shall hear this triple sound. Though surely the impression left in the mind by these words is that at least those spoken of in the passage as those for whom He comes shall hear it. Shall the wicked dead hear it? If not, why should it be heard by the wicked living? But this triple sound proves nothing as to the publicity or secrecy of the rapture of the church. Not only that, but the effort to prove a public taking away of the church is clean contrary to the Word of God, which makes our life a hidden one with Christ in God, and gives no prospect of an appearing until Christ appears, and then we appear with Him in glory. I affirm, and from that passage alone, that we shall not be seen going up.
The way in which the Lord presents Himself to the remnant of Israel in His closing words to that nation by the Prophet Malachi, in contrast with His last words to ourselves who are of this dispensation, is worthy of notice. To them “shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings.” But to us He is both the root and the off-spring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16). We know how brightly the morning star breaks upon the vision while it is yet night and even before the coming lord of day has cast a single beam of light over the eastern hills. Not those who sleep during the night, but the weary watchers, are gladdened by its brightness.
Now were there nothing in the order in which these luminaries manifest themselves, I do not see why it should not have been the star for Israel and the sun for us, for we are, even at this present moment, more in the light of the coming day than Israel will be when the sun is risen. The light that will illuminate God’s earthly people, and spread its healing wings over the whole wounded earth, will be the light of Christ radiant in the church. The saved nations will walk in the light of it, and the leaves of the tree of life, growing within its jasper walls, will heal their woes (Rev. 21:24; 22:2). I cannot doubt that the wings of the Sun of Righteousness, in which there is this gracious healing, are His saints, who come with Him through the opened heaven.
Then again, we are the sons of the day. We have our origin in the light that shall drive the clouds of night from this evil world, when the time comes for Him, in whom all light centres, to show Himself. We are neither of the night nor of the darkness, nor are we in the night nor in the darkness. The world is in both; and it is either asleep or drunken. If outwardly it is night, and darkness all around us, our hearts are in the light of the coming day, and as sons of the day we show forth in the midst of the world’s night “the virtues of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Therefore it is impossible that that day should overtake us as a thief, or indeed in any way seize or come suddenly upon (for this is really the meaning of the word) us in any way. For “God has not appointed us to wrath (as the world and Israel are), but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” As we are told in Romans 5:9, “we shall be saved from wrath through Him;” and 1 Thessalonians 1:10, “Our Deliverer from the coming wrath.” He died for us, that whether we are among the living or amongst those who sleep in Jesus, we should live together with Him.”
It can scarcely be questioned that the seven churches of Revelation give a forecast of the various stages through which the church of God was to pass, from the moment when it could be said to be fallen until, as nauseous to Christ, it would be spued out of His mouth. And there, to the angel of the church in Philadelphia (which I have no doubt takes in the whole body of Christ upon earth), the Lord says, “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.” Now this does not refer to any preservation accorded to the church, as a company going through this time of trial. They are not simply kept from the temptation, but from the hour in which that temptation comes upon the whole world. How could such a preservation be extended to the church other than by its being taken out of the scene of the trial altogether before the trial comes? The church is not only not in the temptation, but is not under heaven in the hour in which it exists. We are not preserved through the wrath when it is present, nor are we taken out of the midst of it when it begins to burn, but we are removed from this world before it comes.
And this is in perfect harmony with the disappearance of the church before the appearing of Christ to judge the world, and also with seeing Him as He is, and with our appearing with Him at the moment of His appearing. Of course, a person might say he refuses altogether the notion that these churches (Rev. 2:3) should be taken to set forth the history of the whole church of God in its responsible career on earth, but if he did I should think he had still something to learn. I only refer to the passage to show its complete harmony with all that I have advanced as to the rapture, and I say, the secret rapture of the church.
Scripture is clear on the point that there is no appearance of the saints in glory until Christ appears. Hence that the notion of the “triple sound”—shout, archangel’s voice, and trump of God, being heard by everybody; graves opened, dead raised in glory, living changed, and all caught up to meet the Lord in the air in the sight of all, is but a fictitious vagary of the human mind becomes evident.
That we are to see Him as He is precludes the thought of our not seeing Him until His manifestation to the world, for as He is the world will never see Him. If “every eye” were to see Him as He is, it could scarcely be a proof to us that we should be like Him at His appearing, and as this it is brought to our minds in 1 John 3. And this being known by us causes us to purify ourselves according to that blessed standard.
One other passage (Rev. 19). Here we have the marriage of the Lamb in heaven before He comes forth in judgment. For this to take place, the bride must be there. The harlot is judged in chapter 18, and on this account heaven resounds with the praises of God. Also there is great gladness and rejoicing in heaven, because “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife has made herself ready.” She is arrayed in “fine linen, which is “the righteousness of saints.” Next, heaven is opened, and the Lord rides forth to judge and make war, followed by the armies which were in heaven.
Who this bride is, chapters 21 and 22 leave no doubt on our minds. She is the church, the heavenly bride, as the earthly Jerusalem is the earthly bride. The heavenly is the bride of the Lamb; the earthly the bride of Jehovah, as King of Israel.
Taking all these things that we have had before us into consideration we cannot get away from the truth of a secret rapture of the church, and a time in heaven with Christ previous to His appearing to the world. Of the things of which we have been speaking this is the sum:—
First: He assures His disciples He is coming to bring them into the place He has prepared for them in the Father’s house (John 14).
Second: The dead in Christ are raised as He was. His death and resurrection are referred to as a kind of headline or pattern of theirs. His resurrection and ascension were secret from the world, so shall theirs be.
Third: The way this is brought about is by the Lord’s coming into the air, and calling all up to Himself (1 Thess. 4).
Fourth: We are to see Him “as He is.” To wait for His manifestation would be to see Him risen from off the throne of the Father and coming in judgment. This is not as He is (1 John 3).
Fifth: The marriage of the church to the Lamb takes place in heaven before His appearing (Rev. 19).
Sixth: When He appears, we appear with Him in glory (Col. 3). The impossibility of this is evident if we await His appearing before being caught up.
Seventh: He keeps us from the hour of temptation that comes upon all the world to try them that dwell on the earth (Rev. 3).
Eighth: He is the Morning Star for the church; for Israel the Sun of Righteousness.
I have confined myself, for the setting forth of the opposite side, to a paper by S.P.Tregelles, as I take him to be one of the great leaders in the school of thought which I believe to be opposed to Scripture. I have spoken of his unfairness and falsity in that paper, because he designates as sentimentalists and emotional teachers those who hold the doctrine of a secret rapture, though he well knew that those who were largely used of God to bring this truth before the hearts of His people could not be characterized as either. In the judgment of the author they were men who cared little about “textual criticism,” or the “letter of Scripture.” Not so thought F.W.Newman the infidel. For he spoke of the teacher who, more than any other, brought the rapture before the hearts of saints, as the one man above all he had ever met, who was determined that no statement of Scripture would be to him a dead letter, or words to that effect. But no man can afford to be fair who has an unscriptural theory to propagate or defend.
Note the strange questions on page 78 of this tract, “If the secret advent and secret removal of the Church be true, how can the advocates of this theory show that the secret event did not take place long ago? How do they know but that they themselves are living in the supposed interval between the secret coming of Christ and His coming in glory? And thus, how can they be sure that they are part of the church at all? In fact, if the secret rapture theory were true, they might be devoid of all knowledge of what way of salvation (amongst the confused theories) is now available; for the preaching of the gospel may have ended with the rapture and resurrection of the church; and if this is a private occurrence, it may be long past, without anyone being aware of it.”
And yet this writer was not an infidel, but supposed to be an earnest Christian! I should be inclined to ask those who have republished this tract how they know Christ is risen? how they know they are children of God? how they know they have the Spirit of adoption? how they know they have passed out of death into life? how they know what dispensation they are in at the present moment? Is it only by seeing “anno Domini” placed after 1913 that we know we are in the Christian era? What is the meaning of, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (Acts 19:2). Or, “Examine yourselves, … know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (1 Cor. 13:3). Or, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14). I might ask many other such questions, the answer to which will suffice for answers to all these questions asked by S.P.Tregelles.
But I will bring this chapter to a close. The truth concerning the church of God must, with the help of the Lord, occupy us for a little before taking up the question of the place it has during the time of trial, to which those that dwell on the earth shall be subjected before the appearing of the Lord, when we are to appear with Him. In the meantime may we be characterized by the spirit of the bride, who has but one word to say to Him, and that word—“COME.”
The Church—Christ’s Body
I am persuaded that the difference of judgment regarding this supremely blessed hope arises in great measure from a defective apprehension of the different ways in which the saints of God of the present dispensation are viewed in Scripture. It is plain that the hope of the church, as such, is the “Morning Star,” in contrast with the “Sun of Righteousness,” which is the hope of Israel. The presentation of the Lord in the former character to His heavenly people, the church, in the last book of the New Testament, and in the latter character to His earthly people Israel in the last book of the Old Testament, cannot be without some significance; and that the transference of His saints from earth to heaven must be secret from the world is beyond question for those who believe that His resurrection and ascension is a pattern of theirs, and that their appearing hangs upon His; that is, that they do not appear until He does, and that then they are seen coming with Him. That they shall be transferred from earth to heaven, and be with Him before He is manifested to the world, and that they shall be manifested with Him at His manifestation, nothing but ignorance of Scripture or blindness as to its meaning would lead any one to deny.
At the same time, this does not alter the fact that the appearing of Christ, and the things which will take place at that appearing, are never absent from the thought of those who look to be caught up to meet Him in the air at His coming again. Indeed, in the very place in which He presents Himself to us as the Bright Morning Star, He couples with it the great truth that He is the “Root and the Offspring of David” (Rev. 21:16), thus giving us the assurance of the fulfilment of all that was set forth in the son of Jesse. For what is the morning star but the forerunner of the day? It does not usher in the day, but it tells us of its near approach. But only those who watch during the night have their hearts gladdened by its brilliant beams. Indeed, none else see it, for when the sun rises it sinks out of sight into the blue of heaven. When the day dawns the sun rules supreme, for he is both its creator and its lord. And such shall Christ be in the day of His glory.
I trust that what I have been led to say regarding the Scriptures (see other article on “The Holy Scriptures”) may be used of God to prepare our hearts to receive unquestioningly its communications concerning the character of the present dispensation, and the different ways in which the saints of God are viewed in the Epistles which are by the Holy Spirit addressed to them. I am not pleading that saints should accept my interpretation of Scripture, but that Scripture itself should have full authority over all our hearts and minds.
It is to the Epistles of Paul that we must look for light regarding the church in its heavenly character and in its relationship to its living Head in glory. John never mentions it. I am well aware that he speaks of the seven churches in Asia, churches which existed in his day but which have long passed away from this scene. Of the church in its universal and united character, as the body of Christ, composed of those who in their natural condition were Jews or Gentiles, but now neither the one nor the other, but one new man in Christ, no one speaks but Paul. Of this mystery he was the only minister.
Here we come to something more than the kingdom, however great a thing the kingdom may be. While the Lord was with the disciples the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was the thought uppermost in their minds, and that thought the Lord so little disturbs that they again refer to it as we have seen alter His passion and resurrection; but not even then does He do more than put the matter off for a little. Nor does Peter set before those to whom he writes any higher hope, except his allusion to the new heaven and the new earth. He tells them that the apostles had not followed any “cunningly devised fables” when they had placed before them this prospect, and refers them to the vision in the holy mount, which confirmed to their hearts the prophetic word.
It may be said that Paul also, in quite as definite a way as Peter, brings before those to whom he writes this blessed hope and expectation of the kingdom, and tells them it is for this they suffer. Surely indeed he never loses sight of it. But he has something much higher to tell them about; something which comes not only much nearer to their hearts, but also much nearer to the heart of Christ. Could anything be as dear to a man as his body and his bride? “No man ever yet hated his own flesh;” and, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself;” and this is spoken “concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:25-33). What is the kingdom compared with this? What to the heart of the Lord? What to the heart of the one who loves Him?
I do not underrate the appearing and the kingdom. It will be a joy to our hearts beyond all thought to see the stigma taken from the name of Christ in this world; to see the world coming to the knowledge that it was love to the Father and obedience to His command on the part of Jesus that took Him to that cross of woe (John 14:31); that He was obedient unto death, and such a death—the death of the cross; to see His name excellent in all the earth; to see every knee in heaven, earth, and in the infernal regions, bend before Him, and to hear every tongue confess Him as Lord; to see Him accepted where He was rejected; supreme where He was set at naught; honoured where He was mocked and derided; justified where He was condemned; eulogized where He was anathematized; honoured where He was dishonoured; crowned with glory where He was crowned with thorns; enthroned where He was crucified; judging where He was judged; and where He was the song of the drunkards praised continually by heaven and earth. Haste, Lord, that day of glory, that we may see Thee adored by all; yea, that we may be the very first to cast ourselves at Thy feet and own Thee supreme in the universe, which once witnessed Thy humiliation at the hands of Thy creature man!
Will a wife be regardless of her husband’s honour? Surely not. But is be himself not more to her than the kingdom which is his? Infinitely more. And is she not more to him than the honour of his kingdom? Much more indeed. Is she not supreme in his affections? Is he not supreme in hers? What intimacy exists between those in such a relationship! What holy affections! At what a distance stands the highest in his kingdom compared with the nearness which is hers. To His church Christ is entirely devoted. For her He gave Himself; and from the day in which He laid down His life that she might be His own He has been occupied with her, and shall be until the day in which He shall present her to Himself glorified, having neither spot nor wrinkle nor any such thing.
With His church the rapture is connected. He will present her to Himself. She is already united to Him. The marriage in heaven will be the public declaration of this Union. When this takes place He will be able to appear. He will not appear without her. In His universal supremacy the Last Adam is not complete without His bride. At the beginning God made man male and female, and blessed them, and called their name Adam. Therefore in the day in which Christ is manifested the church will be with Him. God has given “Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). It will not be a Head without a body that will appear, but Head and body—“The Christ” complete (1 Cor. 12:12).
Then again, it is not in connection with Him simply as King of Israel that the church is found, but it is in connection with Him in universal supremacy. It is the earthly Jerusalem that is viewed as the bride of the King of Israel. Psalms 2 and 18 set before us the extent of territory placed under the Messiah, but it is Psalm 8 that shows us One supreme in the whole creation of God. Not only a King set on the holy bill of Zion, getting the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, but the Son of Man placed over everything that the hand of God has created. Nothing is excepted but the One who places everything under Him (1 Cor. 15:27).
Now it is with Christ viewed in this glorious position that we are said to be united. It is not to the King as such, nor even to the Bridegroom; for both these terms have reference to Christ only in His relations with Israel; though, of course, if we speak of the bride, a bridegroom is supposed, but the term Bridegroom is not applied to Christ as the Husband of the church; in this relationship it is the Husband and the wife. This is clear from Ephesians 5:25-33; and in 2 Corinthians 11:2 we read, “I have espoused you to one Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” “The kingdom under the whole heaven” (Dan. 7:27) is surely His, and the day is coming in which He shall assuredly take it; and when He reigns we shall reign with Him; but there is the dominion which is His, which is as far-reaching as the utmost limits of the whole creation, and with Him in this universal dominion also we are associated. I fail to see how the throne can be set in heaven, as we have it in Revelation 4, until His church is with Him. Were it so He would be beginning to assume universal dominion as Head without His body. And it is “to the church, which is His body,” He is “Head over all things.” Hence, it seems to me, He will not move in the direction of the acquisition of the inheritance without the one who is to share all with Him.
The idea in most minds is that the Head and the body have little or no reference to anything but the kingdom under heaven; hence the church is, in their minds, indissolubly connected with this earth. Now when we come to the way in which we are viewed in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which is the one Epistle in which the church in her true position and privileges is set before us, I find that she is already set in Christ in the heavenlies, and has no more relation to earth than to any other part of that vast realm of God, though the individuals who compose the church direction as to their walk on earth at the present moment. We have a great deal about the earthly kingdom in the Old Testament, but not a word about the church. Why is this? and why should Israel be so prominent? Simply because, though we get “all things” spoken of as put under the feet of the Son of Man, this is not the subject of the revelation. God is there presented as dealing only with the world, and putting Israel in the place of head over the nations of the earth; as He says in Deuteronomy 32:8, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam [referring to what we have in Genesis 10], He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” Here we see that even from the confusion of tongues at the building of Babel, the supremacy of Israel was in the mind of God. He would govern the nations through Israel. They failed Him, and He scattered them. But He will again take them up, and there will be no failure in that day. But until that day comes there will be no peace among the nations of the earth. Then they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks.
But when we come to the church, it is not the secret in the heart of the Most High who divided the nations, but it is “the mystery, which from the beginning of the world [not from Babel] has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:9). This was the grand secret of the Creator. It was not that the church should be supreme amongst the nations of the earth. No; that was to be Israel’s place; but it was to be at the centre of the whole vast universe of God. There all the light that ever God gave to man shall be effulgent; there it shall shine forth to the utmost limits of creation. The Father in the Son, and the Son in the heart of the bride (John 17:23), illuminating, warming, cheering, nourishing, with infinite grace and love, redeemed creation. The Husband and the wife, the Last Adam and His Eve, Christ and the church, enlightening, directing, controlling, ordering everything in heaven and upon earth for the good of the whole creation.
Now if this be so, what would be the natural expectation of a heart filled with the knowledge of this mystery of His will? Would it be found looking for the appearing of Christ when He would come to judge the world, as the moment of meeting Him? or as the moment of appearing with Him? Surely the latter. And this is just what Scripture says. Here and now, we do not appear, except as lights in the midst of this darkness: we are dead with Christ as regards this world, and our life is hid with Him in God (Col. 3:3); we are also risen and seated in Him in the heavenlies, and waiting the moment of His appearing, that we may appear with Him.
In view of this marvellous mystery we can well understand the deep desire of the heart of the aged Apostle that caused him to go down on His knees and pray, “To the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family [or every family] in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”
With a true view of the church the rapture is seen to be a necessity before the appearing. It is a heavenly thing, has its place already in the heavenlies, is seated there in Christ; therefore the raising of those that are asleep, and the quickening of the mortal bodies of the living, are all that is necessary to complete the salvation which is already ours in Him; so that when He shall appear we may appear with Him in glory. But the glory in which we shall appear is a glory that will not only illuminate earth but will send its brilliant and beneficent beams to the confines of creation. As Israel will have her place at the centre of the nations of the earth, and under her King in Zion will rule in the fear of God, and judge with equity, so will the church have her place at the centre of the universe, the glory of Him who is both the Morning Star, the Sun of Righteousness, the effulgence of God’s glory, and the expression of His essential being. “To Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
The administration of this mystery was in the wisdom of God, committed to the great Apostle of the Gentiles. John never mentions it. In contrast to what we have seen in Paul’s writings, he keeps up the distinction between Jews and Gentiles (1 John 2:2; 3:7), though the word “whosoever,” which is so largely used in his writings, gives the grace of which he speaks a very universal bearing. But as I have said, he does not speak of the church, however he may forecast, by the Spirit of prophecy, its downward career, as indicated in the seven then existing churches of Asia. I do not doubt we have it in the bride at the close of the book of Revelation, but there it is the heavenly Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, as the earthly Jerusalem will be the bride of the King of Israel (Ps. 45). From his writings you could never learn anything of the one new man, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile but new creation.
Peter, even in a more pronounced way than John, keeps up the distinction between Jew and Gentile. He writes to the believing remnant scattered throughout five different regions, and exhorts them to have their conduct “honest among the Gentiles,” and tells them that the time past of their lives should suffice them to have wrought the “will of the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:12; 4:3). The place of blessing among the nations, forfeited by Israel on the ground of law, the remnant inherits on the ground of grace and faith. They have this place of favour now amongst the Gentiles, but not yet in the way of authority, power, and government, but as holy priests “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ;” and as royal priests, to “set forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). They were to be “sober, and hope to the end for the grace which was to be brought to them at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (v. 13); then the apostate people would be dealt with, and the remnant would take their place as head of the nations. All along the line of this dispensation Peter treats them as the Israel of God, who would come in for the kingdom at the appearing of Christ. They are like the manslayer who killed his fellow by mistake, and found an asylum in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest, when he returned to his inheritance (Josh. 20). Christianity is that to the remnant of the Jews who believe today; and those that were being saved out of Israel the Lord at the beginning added such to the church (Acts 2:47). But when Christ abandons His present place of priestly intercession and comes forth to reign, then the Jew will take up his place in his own land under the reign of the Messiah.
This is the way in which Peter views those to whom he writes his two short Epistles. But in these he lays before them how much greater their blessings are during the present dispensation than were Israel’s in the past, even had they been able to inherit them on the ground of works of law. All was but shadow in the past, now they had come to the substance. In the city of refuge their blessings were greater than they had been before they were compelled to fly for refuge from the Avenger of blood, when by terrible mischance they had slain their Messiah. An inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading, was reserved for them in heaven; and they were guarded by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last tune: in contrast with an earthly and corruptible inheritance, which they were to hold by the fulfilment of their obligations; and also in contrast with a salvation, such as was theirs at the Red Sea, which was then open and manifest to all the world. Not on Jehovah did they call, but on the Father; and not by silver and gold had they been redeemed, but by the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and spot; by whom, and not by Moses, they had now believed. They had also been born again, this time of the living and imperishable Word of God. And in contrast with Israel after the flesh, who had to do with a material temple and a carnal priesthood, these were the temple themselves, living stones, every one of them instinct with the life of Christ. They were also a holy and a royal priesthood, as I have already observed.
This is the way in which the remnant of the Jews who believe on Christ are viewed. Accidentally they had slain Him whom God raised up to be their Saviour, and have fled for refuge (Heb. 6:18). Their links with the nation which now stands guilty of His murder (Acts 3:17; 7:52), have been severed by baptism (Acts 2:38, 41), and by this means they were also received into the city of refuge. I refer, of course, to what was outward and dispensational. For all that is vital, personal faith in Christ and true repentance toward God are requisite. Out of their earthly inheritance all must remain until the death of the high priest, according to the type; that is, I take it, until Christ abandons His present priestly place of intercession and comes forth to judge the world. Should the manslayer come out of his place of refuge before that day arrives, he falls into the hand of the avenger, and is treated as a murderer. This is what sinning wilfully means in Hebrews. Therefore it is said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:26-31).
It is the same remnant which flies for refuge in the beginning of the Acts that enters the kingdom in its earthly character at the appearing of Christ: not the same individuals, I need scarcely say, but still the remnant of Israel viewed in an unbroken line, but during the church period having their part in the blessings of Christianity.
Now one would not expect such to be found looking for the rapture as their expectation, but rather for the moment of the appearing, when they would return to their inheritance. Viewed in this way, the appearing must be that for which they are said to be looking. They would no doubt form part of the churches to which Paul wrote, and through him would learn something of the body and bride of Christ, and of the privileges and hopes connected with this mystery; but from Peter, as far as we have any record, they hear nothing of this. To every servant of Christ the Lord gave his own special work; and though all the apostles and prophets of the New Testament knew the mystery as well as Paul, to him alone was the administration of this grace given (Eph. 3:3-10).
But this is not peculiar to the truth of the Mystery: where does Peter speak of “eternal life,” or of the “Son of God” except in his confession of Him as such while the Lord was on earth (Matt. 16:14)? In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we have eternal life relegated to the world to come (Matt. 19:28-29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30); in Paul, to glory and the eternal state (Rom. 2:7; Titus 1:2); but in John we have it as in present possession (John 3:36). This is the way that God in His wisdom and love has been pleased to teach us His truth, and we may be sure it is the best way. We have to learn it in sections, and only His Holy Spirit can teach us, and only He can put it together in our souls.
The following is a strange statement, “There were with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Olives, a few days before He suffered, a portion of that church which He desired to instruct: whatever He then said to Peter, Andrew, James, and John was not addressed to them for themselves merely, but to them as a portion of that one body to which, among other endowments, there had been given corporate hopes.”
A statement like that by a prominent teacher, reproduced by another as light for the people of God in these difficult days, condemns the whole pamphlet in which it occurs, and disqualifies the writer of it as utterly unfit to enter into this special field of controversy. That these disciples eventually were amongst those who on the day of Pentecost were by one Spirit baptized into one body is not to be questioned; but to say they were of that body before the body existed is but the imagination of the writer. They were the Jewish remnant who had attached themselves to the Lord, and had believed on Him, as all the rest of their brethren should have done; these He commands to do what the scribes and Pharisees said to them as they sat in the seat Moses. And in a few days afterwards He eats the Passover with them. That He gave them to see that His own death would take the place of the Pascal Lamb in the affections of their hearts is true, but there is not one word said by Him that was calculated to disconnect them in their thoughts from the nation of which they formed at that moment part.
Not only that, but at the ascension of our Lord, when He was parted from those who had accompanied Him to Bethany and carried up into heaven, the disciples are expressly forbidden to make heaven the object of their hearts; and not until the stoning of Stephen do we find the Spirit of God turning the hearts and minds of the saints thitherward. Nor, indeed, does there appear any thought of breaking entirely with the earthly system until the revelation of the Mystery. That they were no longer to view themselves as true Israelites was never hinted at by the Lord while He was with them upon earth. When they ask Him after His resurrection if He intended at that time to restore the kingdom to Israel, His answer is, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Then, “While they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold) two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1). They are turned back to earth, to wait for the kingdom to be given to Israel at the appearing again of the Lord. Hence they go back to Jerusalem, God’s earthly centre, and to the temple and its worship. The question regarding the relation of the Jews with Jehovah was not yet closed, and Peter tells them that if they would repent God would send Him back.
Their answer to that was given in the stoning of Stephen, which was the message sent after Him, saying, “We will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19). But for many a day afterwards Christianity was regarded by all as a sect of the Jews (Acts 28:22). It is questionable if many of the leaders amongst Christians in Judea ever got clear of their Jewish prejudices, and Paul himself when in their midst fell under their carnal influences and got himself into no end of trouble on account of it. They were all zealous of the law, their sacrifices were continued, and temple worship religiously adhered to. And yet these believers had the apostles dwelling amongst them and were continually under their instruction.
From this state of things nothing delivers but the truth given to the Apostle of the Gentiles. No doubt Peter points out to them that they had everything now in a spiritual way, but with him it is Jews who have it, and that in contrast with the Gentiles, who are viewed as giving a loose rein to the flesh and walking in abominable idolatries (1 Peter 4:3). With Paul, Jew and Gentile are alike guilty before God; short of the glory, with no difference between them: this as regards their state by nature. But “in Christ,” justified, dead to sin, to law, to the elements of the world, alive to God, sons of God, with the Spirit of His Son in our hearts, crying, Abba, Father, united to Christ, who is the Head of the body) the Jew no longer a Jew, the Gentile no longer a Gentile, but both together “one new man” in Him heavenly, quickened with Christ from being dead in sins, risen and seated in Him in the heavenlies, and blessed there with every spiritual blessing. Our portion is not upon earth, therefore the man of the earth does not stand between us and it. We do not require his removal in order to our entering into it. The Jew does; hence he gets nothing until the appearing. The Lord give us to know better where our place and portion are.
He is no mean Christian who can duly balance the duties of affection and faithfulness, and show us how to smite the sin and love the sinner—to denounce the error, and yet to cultivate affection for the brother who has fallen into it. He is a wise chemist who can in right proportion blend the pure and the peaceable.
The Church as a responsible Witness for Christ
If we are to be intelligent in the mind of God concerning the subject of the Lord’s second coming, it is of importance that we should know something not only of the church, in its heavenly character and privileges as the body and spouse of Christ, but also in its character as the responsible witness for Christ during the time of His rejection from the earth. If we do not apprehend the different ways in which the church is viewed in the various epistles addressed by those used by the Spirit of God to unfold His mind to His people, we shall find ourselves in great confusion through mixing up things which differ. We require to be able to rightly divide the word of truth, especially in days like the present when the confusion of tongues has reached to an extent hitherto unprecedented, and to which even Babel itself is no parallel.
In the previous chapter we have been occupied with the church as the body and the wife of the heavenly Adam; and though it is not necessary to know the truth of the church in this way to be assured of the fact of the rapture, and that that rapture must also be secret from the world—for the letter of Scripture makes that plain enough, as I think I have clearly pointed out—the knowledge of it is necessary in order to see that it is not in any way dependent for entrance into its heavenly position upon the appearing of Christ, for that position it has already. I speak of His appearing as His appearing to the world, when every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and when all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. But this has no reference to things in the heavens, where the church has her place in Him.
I may be met here with the statement, that then will be the dispensation of the fullness of times, and that then all things in heaven and earth will be gathered under His headship; and that, therefore, the appearing has as much to do with heaven as earth. But this would be a mistake, because in this place (Eph. 1:10) to which reference is made, there is no mention of the appearing at all, though I do not doubt that that dispensation will be introduced by the appearing. Still the appearing is not the subject there. Nor is it the subject in John 14, where He says He will come and receive His disciples to Himself; for there He does not say He will be seen by anyone. His appearing has always reference to His assumption of His rights to the judgment of the world, and to the deliverance of His afflicted people, but not to their removal from this scene. It is the wicked who will be removed in that day, while His people, who have been up to that moment enduring persecution at the hands of the men of this world, will experience deliverance at His hand, and will inherit the kingdom, and eternal life upon earth. “One shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24 refers to this: one taken in judgment, the other left for blessing upon the earth). To be removed from the earth in that day is to be removed in judgment; and this cannot be the portion of the church, for which He gave Himself. His appearing is His open manifestation to the world, when He shall be seen by every eye, and when He shall take to Himself His great power and shall reign: when He will ask, and He shall get the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession.
But for His church, which seeks for nothing on the earth, and whose ultimate blessedness does not depend upon His judgment of the world, nor upon the destruction of enemies, nor upon the establishment of His throne on the hill of Zion, nor, indeed, upon the effect of His appearing, one way or another, His manifestation can bring no deliverance. And whether it be but ten minutes or ten years before His appearing, her expectation is to be caught up to meet Him in the air, and so to be for ever with Him.
But I come to speak of the church as a responsible witness for Christ upon earth, during the time in which He is gathering out of the world those who are to compose His mystical body. This is the house of God; a “habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). The body is never called the body of God, nor is the house ever spoken of as the house of Christ. It is the body of Christ, and the house of God. The Spirit dwells in each of the members of the body, uniting all together and to their living Head in heaven; but in the house, God dwells by His Spirit, as one might dwell in the house he has built for a habitation, or as God dwelt in the temple of old.
The house is not a new idea; a house existed in the past dispensation. The instant God has a redeemed people with Himself in the wilderness, He says to Moses, “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 24:8). And in the land they had the temple. But such a thing as the body was never heard of until the present dispensation. Paul speaks of it as having been “kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest” (Rom. 16:25); and, “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;” and “which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3). It was the great secret of the Creator, and made known to none in the past dispensations, while the probation of man was running its course. It was hid in God; not in the Old Testament, not in the dark sayings of the prophets, not in Symbolic language, not in the whole creation, not in any revelation made to man was there the slightest hint of it.
But there was the house of God in the past dispensation, for God dwelt among His redeemed people. And He has a dwelling-place today, in which He dwells, and where He is known according to the revelation made of Himself in Christ. It is called in 1 Timothy 3:15, “the pillar and ground of the truth.” It is that which maintains the truth in this world, and it is that upon which the truth is inscribed. The truth is to be set forth in the lives of those who compose the house.
It is also the sphere, the only sphere, in which the blessings of Christianity are. They are not to be found today in Judaism, nor anywhere else than in the sphere which professes the name of Christ. It is in Christ that all the promises of God have their “yea and amen.” Whatever promises God had made in the past, up till Christ came they were only promises; there was no realization of them by anyone. But now we have them deposited in Christ, in Him is the Amen; they are established there. But the testimony to this is “amened” by the believer; that is to say, he adds his “amen” to the testimony of God concerning His Son, and possesses the promises to the glory of God (2 Cor. 1:19-20). The promises, then, are in Christ, but the house of God is the sphere in which these promises are possessed. They are not obtained in the house, but in Christ; and it is to Christ the gospel directs the sinner; but when Christ is submitted to, the one who submits to Him is introduced into the profession of Christ upon earth by means of water baptism, and there, where God dwells by His Spirit, the blessings of Christianity are ministered to Him, and in that healthful atmosphere he is nourished by the good Word of God, and grows in the divine nature. Of course, in this I am speaking of what the house of God should be rather than that which it has become.
To this sphere of profession responsibility is attached, and account is taken of it by the Lord as to the way in which it represents Him down here, upon earth, during His absence. Therefore, we have the statement made very early in its history, that “the time has come that judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). When God begins to judge He will begin at the circle nearest to Himself, for He is no respecter of persons. As it was in the days of Ezekiel, when they had defiled the house of Jehovah with their idolatries, and when the city of Jerusalem was to be smitten, those who were charged with the execution of the judgment of the Lord were told to begin at His sanctuary (Ezek. 9:6); so when God begins to execute judgment upon the world He will begin at His own house. Then it will be without its august Tenant, for the true church, the body of Christ, will have been removed from this world, and the Spirit with it; the false will have been spued out of the mouth of Christ (Rev. 3:16), and its apostasy and acceptance of the Antichrist will be the consummation of its wickedness. Then the long-merited judgment will fall upon it mercilessly.
That there is this sphere of profession is a manifest fact, and that as originally set up by God it was composed of real believers Scripture leaves us without any doubt on our minds (Acts 2:41-42); but gradually the enemy found his way within its precincts, its builders did not always build with good material (1 Cor. 3:11-17), evil men crept in (Jude 4), grievous wolves made their appearance, and among those set in authority perverse men arose speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:30). We have its history forecast by the Spirit of God in Revelation 2:3, from the moment in which it could be said to be “fallen” until it is utterly rejected by Christ as nauseous to Him. Its apostasy is foretold, and its doom in Babylon is vividly brought before us in Revelation 18. As the temple built by Solomon, in which God took up His abode, became in the hands of men corrupted, abandoned by Him, and finally destroyed, so in the hands of men has the house in the present dispensation been corrupted, will be suddenly left desolate of His presence, and will fall under His judgment in its apostate state.
Now, to the church as God’s witness upon the earth the rapture has no application; nor can the rapture have any application to anything, or to anyone, viewed in responsibility. The appearing alone has to do with such. Hence, whether it be the house, the servant in it, or in any other department of service, it is always the appearing that is kept in view. The rapture is not connected with the thought of responsibility. Were it so, it seems to me, some would have to be left behind at His coming again; for as to people’s practical ways, not so many are in a fit state to meet Him. To the angel of the church of Sardis He threatens to come as a thief—the way in which He comes to the world. And why? Just because “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3:1). That which represented the church in the stage described by Sardis was without divine life. Therefore, such must be treated as the world. But in Thyatira the overcomer gets the Morning Star, glory with Christ, before the moment of His appearing. And as to Philadelphia, they are kept out of the hour of trial that is to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell on the earth; they are with Christ before the day of trial comes.
Timothy is viewed by Paul as in the house of God, and the first Epistle is to give him to understand the conduct befitting such a holy place, and he is told to keep the commandment “without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:14). Now, does anyone imagine that Paul expected Timothy to be here until the appearing of Jesus Christ? I am sure no one will think he did. But the servant will be here, and the servant to whom the Lord has given a charge during His absence. The servants to whom the talents were given are the same that the Lord deals with at His return; also the servant to whom a charge is given in His household, who is found doing, or not doing, his Lord’s will in the day when He takes up the kingdom. The angel in Revelation 22:9 is John’s fellow-servant.
The blessed Lord when leaving this world called His servants, and gave them their work to do; and all along the line He has His servants at His work—professedly at least—and He will find them when He returns; and so, whether Christian, Gentile, or Jew, whoever they may be, must do that which has been given them to do, in view of His appearing. But the church, as the body of Christ, He did not leave here when He went away, nor had it any actual existence until the baptism of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, nor will He find it here at His appearing. As the body it is not set here in responsibility, though when we know the truth of this we have a responsibility with relation to it.
But someone will say: This seems a little confusing. No doubt to some minds it may. Peter speaks of some things in the writings of Paul, which are hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16); but do not blame the Scriptures, but rather our own dullness of understanding. But why should it appear confusing? Is there not such a place upon earth as that in which the Spirit dwells? Is the house of God not amenable to His judgment? Will it not apostatize from the faith? Surely the Scriptures are clear enough on these questions. But will any true Christian apostatize? Surely not. Then there is a sphere of privilege upon earth, in which there are many who are not true believers. Since the church was set up there have been many apostates, but “the apostasy” is that of the whole profession, and, therefore, before that can come to pass true believers must be gone from earth. Will this lifeless thing not be found here up to the hour of the appearing of the Lord? It will, indeed. What part could it have then in the rapture? None at all. The only thing to speak of to it is that which concerns the appearing. And it is just of this that Scripture does speak.
Again, may I not ask: Had He no servants to whom to give commandments before He left this world? He surely had. Were they of the body of Christ at the time He gave them these commandments? Some say they were, but I prefer to believe Paul, who says they were not. And has He not had servants all the time of His absence? And shall they not be here at His return? And shall not His instructions be useful for His servants in all times? Most certainly they will, even though some of them may have found, and may again find, themselves in circumstances in which neither the reader nor the writer shall ever be found. But it has been asked: Of what use would instructions be to men who will not believe in the One who gave them? This we will reserve to another part of our subject.
“The Hour of Temptation”
We must now take up the question regarding the church’s place during the time of tribulation through which the world will be called to pass before the public manifestation of Christ from heaven. There seem to be three classes of people which shall be specially tested by the trials which shall usher in the day of the Lord: the Jews, the nations, and them that dwell on the earth. These last seem to be a special class who have taken up the earth as their home and have all their interests there. Possibly those who had been professing Christians, and were, as far as profession goes, partakers of the heavenly calling, but who now definitely took up their dwelling in the earth. The hour of trial which is about to come upon all the habitable world, is in a special way to try these (Rev. 3:10). They are responsible for the blood of those martyred for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held, whose souls are said to be under the altar, their lives poured out as a sacrifice for the truth (Rev. 6). They rejoice when the beast, who comes up out of the abyss, overcomes and kills the two witnesses (Rev. 11) because by these they were tormented. They worship the beast, make an image to it, and are deceived by it (Rev. 13). I cannot think that “they that dwell on the earth” refers to the whole population of the world, for I suppose the influence of the beast will not extend beyond the Roman Empire. They seem to me to be a class that in some way were supposed to have links with heaven. Apostate Christendom, I am persuaded, is that which is referred to. These, as we see, are in a very special way linked up with the fortunes of the beast—the revived Roman Empire, and its blasphemous head. Such have had the blessings of the gospel administered to them, but they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, and therefore do they fall under the influence of the false prophet—the pseudo-Messiah—whose devilish subtlety and infernal wisdom are placed at the service of the Roman emperor. Under the influence of his power, signs, and wonders of falsehood, apostate Christians and apostate Jews fall down together. To the Jews the Lord has said. “I am come in My Father’s name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive” (John 5:43). And of lifeless professors of Christianity we read, “Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved… God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2).
The Jews who are in the land of Palestine after the church has been removed from this world come under the wrath of God for their transgressions, and in a special way on account of their rejection of Christ. On this people the Lord tells His disciples there shall be great wrath (Luke 21:23). This wrath will come upon them as a nation. When the storm is over He will be able to say to them, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee; in a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, says the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth 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. 54:7–10). The nations also shall come under His wrath for their sins, and for their persecutions of God’s earthly people, as we read in Isaiah 17, “The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters, but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. And behold at even time trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.” The climax of these judgments shall be at the appearing of Christ, when the beast and the false prophet shall be cast alive into the lake of fire, their followers slain (Rev. 19:20-21) and all nations which have gathered together to fight against Jerusalem shall fall down slain on the mountains of Israel (Ezek. 39; Zech. 14). Then, He Says, “I will set My glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see My judgment that I have executed, and My hand that I have laid upon them. So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward. And the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: because they trespassed against Me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword.” The result of all the judgments shall be that both Israel and the spared nations shall be brought to know the Lord, shall submit themselves to Christ, and sit down at the feet of the Jew to be taught by him the right ways of the Lord (Ezek. 39; Isa. 66:19).
But where is the church during the time of these governmental judgments? We need not search for it in the Old Testament, for it has no place there. Neither is it in any of the four Gospels as an existing institution. Neither can it be found in the Revelation from the beginning of chapter 4 till the end of chapter 18. In the past dispensation the world was divided into Jews and Gentiles, but in the present we have Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). After the church period is over, there will again be nothing but Jews and Gentiles. The church was formed at Pentecost, and previous to that had no actual existence. The disciple who followed the Lord in His pathway upon earth became afterwards incorporated into it, but that was not until the Lord was glorified and the Holy Spirit given. Some think they find it in Matthew 24; but it cannot be found before it existed. Such complain that, “Whatever has been felt to be a difficulty has been set aside by saying it is Jewish.” But in this case there is no difficulty at all. Any one can see at a glance that the whole character of the chapter is Jewish, and the teaching that which was needful for Jews in the circumstances described. The locality spoken of is Judea, the subjects are the temple, its desecration by the abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place, the coming of the Messiah according to Jewish expectations, the hindrance that the observance of the Sabbath might offer to flight, the gospel of the kingdom as it was then preached, and the cutting short of those distressful days, in order that any flesh might be saved for entrance into the earthly kingdom. A man must be blind indeed not to see that the whole teaching of the chapter has to do with a Jewish order of things only.
But we are told that “the persons who will use the warnings, and who will expect the manifest appearing of Christ, as here spoken of, must be believers in His divine mission, and thus their profession must simply be that of believers in His name; in other words, they must be part of the church of the first-born, to which all belong who accept the Lord Jesus as He is set forth by God.” That they must be in some measure believers in Him as having come, and as having been rejected by the nation, I will not question; but it is another thing to say they must be part of the church of the first-born. I rather think people make a mistake regarding the intelligence of the remnant of the Jews who will be taken up by God after the church has been removed from this world. It seems to be taken for granted by some that they will have no other faith in a Messiah than the saints in past dispensations had, who looked for Him as yet to be born into the world. Therefore it is concluded by them that the New Testament will have no value for that remnant, because they shall not believe on Him as having come. I think such are greatly mistaken. As to the full extent of their knowledge I am without light, but I believe it to be a huge blunder to imagine they shall know nothing of what has taken place in the present dispensation. We read in Daniel 11 that “they that understand among the people shall instruct many;” and in chapter 12:10, “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” What understanding can it be that is referred to, if it be not the understanding of the Scriptures? And there is enough in the Old Testament to put them in possession of the facts of the coming of Christ and His rejection by the nation. It will not be a very difficult thing, when they see this, to believe these things have had their fulfilment in Jesus. The leaders of the people were blamed for not understanding the voices of the prophets (Acts 13:27), and their terrible blindness with respect to this is fully brought to light in Acts 28, when Paul set before them the truth concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets.
I am well aware that the disciples of our Lord had to have their understanding opened to understand the Scriptures; and this, I have no doubt, was by the gift of the Spirit of life (Luke 24:45; John 20:22); and we know that before the day of the Lord comes the Spirit of God will be poured out upon all flesh, and the young men shall see visions, and the old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2). Therefore I conclude there will be a great deal more knowledge given to the remnant of Israel than people generally imagine. And I have very little doubt that a good deal of the New Testament will be of great service to them in their sorrows.
Of course, when they see Him it will be a very different matter. They will understand to the full then the enormity of the guilt of the nation; and their repentance will be greatly deepened, but it will have begun before that day. We get an illustration of the Lord’s dealings with them in Joseph’s ways with his brethren. When he spoke roughly to them, charged them with being spies, and bound Simeon to hold him as a hostage against their coming again, with their youngest brother, they are greatly troubled, and their guilt in putting Joseph out of the way rises up before them, and they say, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” This comes upon their consciences, and in all that happens to them they feel that God is dealing with them about their wickedness in this matter. But when he made himself known to them, we are left to conjecture what their feelings must have been. What shame and confusion of face must theirs have been, augmented surely by the grace shown to them by the one whom they had so cruelly wronged!
Such will it be with the remnant of Israel in the day in which God begins to deal with them concerning their rejection of Christ. But His appearing, though it will deepen their repentance, will heal their woes.
But the rise of Antichrist is also adduced as a proof that the church must go through the sorrows that will be brought to pass by his wickedness. We are asked, “Will any one with the Scripture before him say that he there learns that the rise of Antichrist shall not precede the coming of Christ? Will he say that the warnings of the inspired Apostle have no application?” All who believe the Holy Scriptures will admit that when the Lord appears to deal with the condition of things that shall be found on the earth at that day, Antichrist will have arisen, and will have climbed to the height of his infernal ambition. But that is not the question at all. The question is, “Shall Antichrist have arisen before the first stage of that coming has been reached, when the Lord comes into the air, and we rise to meet Him before we appear with Him?” But there are really no warnings given to the church regarding the Antichrist. Christians are informed of his coming, as they are of all other events, whatever they may be. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we are told that the day of the Lord cannot come until the apostasy takes place, and the man of sin is revealed. But as to the fact which above all others should give them assurance that that day had not yet dawned upon the world, he reminds them that we must be gathered to Him in the air before He can appear. But the warnings of Scripture regarding Antichrist do not relate to the personal Antichrist, but to the spirit of Antichrist, and to the many antichrists which are signs that we have reached the last time (1 John 2:18-26; 4:3; 2 John 7). Regarding the personal Antichrist there are no warnings addressed to the church. It will not be on earth in his day.
A favourite scripture with those who contend that the church goes through the great tribulation is Revelation 7:9-17. But if we examine this scripture, we shall not find that it gives the least support to such a doctrine. Almost everything said of this company connects it with earth. They came out of the great tribulation. The writer of the pamphlet to which I have referred in these papers says they “are set forth as those who have passed through great tribulation.” This would imply that they had an existence as saints before the great tribulation began. Then, to make any opposition to this ridiculous, he says in a footnote, “Some who saw that the company of the redeemed in Revelation 7 are indeed the church, and who yet would not admit that the church can be in the special tribulation, rashly cut the knot by asserting that this company were not in the tribulation at all; ‘they came out of great tribulation’ … they came away from it, so as not to have been in it.” With this school of thought there is a very special deftness by which those who do not think with them are made as ridiculous as possible. The fact is, his own statement regarding the passage to which reference is made, conveys just as unscriptural a thought to the mind as does that of his opponent. Now Scripture does not say these came through the great tribulation, but out of it. I think that way of putting it carries the thought to the mind that these had their origin in the tribulation. “In wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2) is the prayer of the prophet; and this shall be well answered, for in the midst of the outpouring of the wrath that shall in those days threaten to make an end of the human race altogether, it shall come to pass “that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). And this white-robed multitude, I take it, are the fruit of the grace and mercy of God in the midst of the great tribulation. Had they had a previous existence as saints of God, I feel confident they would have been spoken of as having come through, not out of, the great tribulation.
Then again, they are “before the throne,” not around it, as those in heaven are said to be. Before the throne gives the idea of blamelessness and acceptance (Eph. 1:4; Col. 1:22; Jude 24). I do not think “washed their robes” refers to redemption, but rather that the blood of the Lamb was the power of their separation from the evil of the world. Their “robes” refers to their practical ways. And the fact of its being said of them that they shall neither hunger, nor thirst, nor suffer from the heat of the sun nor from anything else that would scorch them, and that the Lamb would shepherd them, and lead them to living fountains of waters, surely gives to the mind the impression of an earthly scene. He who sits on the throne is said to spread His tabernacle over them, putting one in mind of God’s care of Israel in the wilderness, leading the thought to an earthly people under the shepherd care of a Saviour-God. Certainly, without doing violence to the text, the church cannot be found here. Nor shall it be on earth in the day of these woes, for the Lord says, “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 on the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
Both Old Testament and New present Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jew as the centre of all the thoughts of God, and of all His dealings with the earth in those last days. The church is nowhere visible. This habitation of God through the Spirit is altogether ignored. Could this possibly be, if it were in this scene at all? I do not for a moment believe it could. Indeed, I am sure it would have a very large recognition. The “body of Christ” and the “house of God” could not surely be so utterly ignored.
But the truth is, there is no reason why the church should go through these terrible days; days in which the spirit of lawlessness and opposition to God advance with lightning speed, and in which all forces arrayed against the Lord and His Anointed manifest themselves, and gather themselves together that they may receive at the hand of Christ the judgment they so richly merit, and which has been so long delayed. And this in order that He may take the kingdom, and cause the meek to inherit the earth. But the church, being heavenly, and never having to do with the government of the earth, neither stands in the way of the Lord’s taking the kingdom, nor does it wait the removal of the wicked from the earth, that it may have its portion. It is heavenly, and has its portion in heaven; and though it will rejoice to see the Lord take the throne which rightly belongs to Him, and though it will reign with Him, it has with Him a still more glorious inheritance, for God has given Him to be Head over ALL THINGS to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all (Eph. 1:22-23).
Thank God, we have found a Deliverer from the coming wrath. We have already been justified by His blood, and by Him we shall also be saved from wrath. For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who has died for us, in order that ere the wrath comes, whether we are amongst the living or amongst the dead, we shall live together with Him. He will deliver us from the wrath by removing us from the scene upon which His wrath shall be visited, before that wrath begins to burn, so that when it is being poured out upon the earth we shall be on high, living together with Him. He will take us out of the world, as He did Enoch, before the judgment falls upon it, while the Jew will be left to go through it, and to feel something of the fear of it also. But he will be saved through it, and be able to say at the close of it, O Lord, I will praise Thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day ye shall say, Praise the Lord, call upon His name, make known His doings among the people, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing unto the Lord; for He has done excellent things: this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee” (Isa. 12).
The First Resurrection
A few words will suffice regarding the first resurrection. It is contended that this must take place at the coming of Christ to reign over the earth, and that no one can have part in that which is thus designated previous to the moment spoken of in Revelation 20:4. If this were so it would of itself settle the question under consideration in this paper. But what then would come of our appearing with Him when He appears? (Col. 3:4). And what about our coming with Him? (1 Thess. 4:14). And what about the taking up of the living? There is no rapture here; no one is caught up at all.
The fact is, that “first” does not only refer to time—though the first resurrection is first in time—but it also refers to order of merit. Peter is called the first Apostle, though they were all sent out together, and he was not the first to be brought to the Lord at the beginning. The Lord also speaks of the last being first, and the first last. The first resurrection is the resurrection of the blessed and holy, over which the second death has no power, but there is no necessity of all who have part in it being raised at the same moment. The Lord Himself is the first-fruits of those who are asleep, and they shall be raised at His coming. But as we have seen, His coming has two parts in it: the coming into the air and taking up His church and those of His own who are in their graves; and afterwards coming forth with them, and completing the first resurrection by causing those who have lost their lives for the testimony of God during the evil days that shall end the present age, to live again that they may reign with Him.
In Revelation 19 we have the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, consequent on the judgment of the harlot upon earth. The bride is clothed with the righteousness of the saints, the effect of the work of the Spirit in the various members of the body of Christ. Then we have Him coming forth, followed by “the armies that were in heaven.” In these those who compose the bride are included: they are “called, and chosen, and faithful” (chap. 17:14). No angelic being is said to be either called or chosen. The beast and the false prophet are cast alive into the lake of fire, and the rest of the enemies are slain with the sword of His mouth. Next, we are told that the devil is cast into the abyss to be bound there for a thousand years.
John next tells us that he saw thrones and they sat upon them. Those who came out of heaven have thrones and judgment given to them. Then he says, “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, nor in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Then we have the statement made, “This is the first resurrection.” The whole company of the redeemed from Abel up till that moment, except those found alive on the earth, are here looked at as the first resurrection. We have those caught up included in this glorious company. They are blessed and holy, and on them the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. The whole vast company, those who came out of heaven with Christ, and those found slain upon earth, are all viewed in glory, planted in the resurrection sphere by the power of God, and together they are spoken of as “The first resurrection.” That those who came out of heaven were not raised then is evident.
While in some other parts of Scripture those caught up are distinguished from those raised from the dead, they are not so contemplated here. Nor are they in John 6. Four times over we get in that chapter, “I will raise him up at the last day.” We are well aware that many who believe on Him, and who eat his flesh and drink His blood, and thereby find eternal life, shall be caught up without dying; yet here He speaks of raising such up, and that without any exception. The change of the body when the Lord comes will be equivalent to resurrection. Therefore the Lord can say, “I will raise Him up.” The last day, of course, is the last day of the present age, a general term for its conclusion, without meaning just the last twenty-four hours.
But I must now bring these meditations to a conclusion. His coming, in whatever way we view it, is precious to all who know and enjoy the blessedness of His salvation. Still, it would be well for us, and pleasing to Him, if we could all be in one mind about it. Scripture is plain enough on the subject, as it is on every subject set before the saints of God by its means. And then He has also given to us His Holy Spirit that we might understand the Scriptures. Therefore, if we find ourselves holding contrary views from one another, we can neither lay the blame on the Scriptures, nor on the Divine Instructor. We must take the blame to ourselves. Perhaps we have been following teachers who have been in measure carnal, and who have put too much trust in their learning, and in the power of their natural minds, and thus have we been led astray. If we could all get down in the dust before Him, and like little children, without any confidence in ourselves, look to Him to guide us, and to keep us from all wrong thoughts, we would find ourselves more in agreement with one another. The desire of the Apostle was that the saints might all think the same things; but we almost feel as if this were an utter impossibility, for we seem incapable of thinking alike about any subject. Again I say the fault lies in ourselves. Let us take all the blame to ourselves, and carry it to God, and tell Him all about it, and we shall see what He shall do for us. Thank God, we are all of one mind about the Christ of the Scriptures. He is everything to us, as He is everything to the heart of the Father.
And it is for Him we look, and for no other, and for nothing else. What a day it will be when we see Him! If such a thing were possible in the joy of that day, how we would bewail our carnality, half-heartedness, and lukewarmness in His interests down here! And how, with hearts broken by the remembrance of our folly, on the one hand; and by His faithful and changeless love, on the other, we would mingle our praises with sore weeping and lamentation! But this shall never be. That day shall be a day of unmingled joy and gladness of heart, and however great our joy may be, His shall be greater, for His love to us is infinitely greater than ours to Him. May the bright prospects of seeing Him as He is be the light of our hearts while down here, and until He comes!