The apostle after speaking of Christ's first coming, and the work accomplished by Him, as the sacrifice for sin and of His having entered in once by His own blood into the holy place (heaven itself), "having obtained eternal redemption," sums up the whole doctrine in the closing verses of this chapter, and there contrasts, in a definite way, the portion of the first Adam and those who belong to the first Adam, with the place and expectations of the believer. "As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment [that is what we have to say as to men, that there their history is ended], so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many [for the believer death and judgment have been already met - Christ having died for him and borne his sins]; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."
A word in explanation of a portion of this passage. The Lord Jesus, as regards Himself, appeared the first time, as truly "without sin," as He will the second. But then He appeared the first time, though without sin, yet about it (v. 26); He came to bear it. The second time He has nothing more to do with sin; it will be unto salvation," as He says, "I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also," John 14. His second coming is to fulfil in the result all the designs of His first coming for those who believe. This makes it their hope - "that blessed hope," Titus 2:13.
This event has nothing whatever to do with death (with which it has often been confounded): so far from it, that, when the Lord Jesus Christ appears, if a believer be alive, he will never see death. See 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:15, 17. So little has it to do with death, that the apostle declares expressly, "we shall not all sleep." Here it is contrasted with death.
Another thing note. It is said, "unto them that look for him shall he appear." It is not a question about Christ's appearing to us at death; we "depart to be with Christ." So Colossians 3:4, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory"; not only He appears, but we appear with Him. Again, 1 John 3:2, "We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him," etc.; at His coming we are to be conformed to the image of God's Son in glory; Rom. 8:29.
83 See too Philippians 3:20-21, "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body." Many other scriptures might be quoted, but these will suffice to shew that His coming has nothing to do with death. It is the power of the living Saviour taking us out of the reach of death.
If the Spirit of God works in our hearts with power, this gives us present fellowship with Jesus glorified at the right hand of God. The heart of the saint is fixed on Christ Himself. This is what sanctifies: "We all with open face," etc. What then is our hope, connected with this? Our hope is to be conformed to the image of God's Son in glory. "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly," 1 Cor. 15:49. Such is the desire, the object of hope in the soul. Now we are bearing the image of the earthy, but we hope to be made like Christ on high. "We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him." It is not that there is not a moral change wrought now, but the effect of this is to produce the desire to be conformed to the image of God's Son in glory.
This being so, God could not have given us a more glorious hope or one more practically powerful in disentangling from the world. But when is it we are to be conformed to His image? At death? Clearly not, for then the bodies of the saints are in the grave, and our hope is to have them fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body. Scripture speaks of men being glorified, but nowhere of glorified souls. It is "far better" to depart and to be with Christ; Phil. 1:23. I would not weaken that. "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened," says the apostle (2 Cor. 5), "not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. [That is what I want, to have this mortal body changed without seeing death.] Now that he hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given us the earnest of the Spirit; therefore we are always confident," etc. The confidence I have is not interrupted at death; the life in my soul will not be affected. If I depart, it will be to be present with the Lord, and I am "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." But I want "mortality to be swallowed up of life"; I want this to be accomplished in myself, I am to be conformed to what I have seen of His image by the power of the Holy Ghost, and I want to be "like him."
84 There are but four passages in the New Testament which speak of the joy of the disembodied spirit: Luke 23:42-43, where the dying thief says to the Lord, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom," and the Lord replies, "Verily I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise," Acts 7:59, where Stephen says, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit"; then 2 Corinthians 5:8, and Philippians 1:23. We see in these passages that the soul, on departing from this world, freed from sorrow, placed out of the reach of sin, enjoys the Lord apart from it; but this is not the object of our hope - our hope is to be conformed to the image of God's Son in glory. We are to be "like him." "Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." There is the practical effect of this expectation. It is never said (blessed as that is), 'he that hath the hope of going to heaven purifieth,' etc. What am I expecting? To be like Christ. What is the effect of this? I am trying to be as like Him as I can now. This is the present practical effect of the certainty of being like Christ, when He appears.
But it is a hope which I have in common with all saints, not merely my individual hope. It is the church's hope. And therefore, as regards the Lord's supper, it is said, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death [not, till death, but] till he come," 1 Cor. 11:26. There is the basis of our common hope - the death of Christ, and we go on shewing this till He comes again to receive us unto Himself. If I think of death, of my departing to be with Christ, it is myself that I am thinking about; I shall be happy, but not the whole church glorified. When Christ comes, every saint will be there, and Christ shall then see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. The bride shall have the Bridegroom, and the Bridegroom shall have the bride. It is not merely that I shall be happy. The Spirit of God carries me out of myself, in thinking about it, to the whole body of Christ. Christ shall have that church which He loved, and for which He gave Himself (Eph. 5), with Him in the glory.
85 See another thing. It fixes the heart on Christ Himself. I am looking for a Person whom I love. He, who has loved me, died for me, is coming again to receive me to Himself, and I am looking for Him. The angels said, "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. The Person whom they loved they had lost; they stood looking stedfastly towards heaven, longing after Him, and the first thought God brings upon the heart is, He will come back in like manner. They were to expect His return. It was a grand truth to be kept as a present thing before the soul. I see it all through the epistles, mixed up with every present feeling, whether of joy or of sorrow.
For example, turn to 1 Corinthians 1:7. They were all there together "waiting [it was an individual thing, it was a common hope] for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; not all waiting to die, but "waiting for the revelation," etc.
And mark another thing. Many have supposed that we are to be waiting for another outpouring of the Holy Ghost. A very characteristic and essential feature of the church of God is the fact that the Holy Ghost dwells in it. This is not our hope, but what we have already. The Holy Ghost came down on the day of Pentecost, that "other Comforter" to "abide with us for ever," John 14. "I thank my God," says the apostle, "always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you," etc.
If we turn to the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, we find everything there having reference to the coming of Christ. It is mixed up with all the constant daily thoughts, hopes, affections, motives (with every element in the daily life), of the saints. As to their conversion itself (chap. 1), the power of the word had made them so like what Paul preached, that their neighbours could not help seeing it. The very world was speaking about them (perhaps saying, "How foolish," yet still bearing witness). And what did they say? That they had "turned to God from idols" and were "waiting for his Son from heaven." That is, that they had left their idols, the stocks and stones they had formerly worshipped, and were waiting for God's Son to come down from heaven. And the apostle Paul sanctions it. It was so little their death they were expecting, that he says (chap. 4), "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord," etc. Let us be only, as an habitual thing, waiting for God's Son from heaven, it would cut short the links that bind us to the world, and knit us in heart to Him and to one another.
86 Look at Christian affections in the apostle; chap. 2. What a picture of careful tending of the flock! And he concludes, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? for ye are our glory and joy." That is the time (he says), when I shall get all the joy of Christian affections.
Again (chap. 3), it is associated with holiness in the saints - "to the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." Again (chap. 4), what comfort at the death of brethren! where it is still more remarkable. They were uneasy at seeing Christians die (so present a thing was the hope of the return of Christ) and it was therefore a mutual comfort at the death-bed of a saint to be enabled to remind one another of a mutual meeting. "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [go before] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." The apostolic consolation to saints mourning the death of brethren was not, "Be content, they are gone to heaven," then it would have been "You will go to them"; but so did the coming of the Lord fill the soul, as a present thing, that he gives this comfort, as it were, at the dying-bed of a Christian, "Be content, God will bring him back, when Jesus comes." It need not be said that it is not death, for it is comfort against death.
87 In the second epistle we get it linked with comfort in trial and persecution. They were in terrible trouble (though exceedingly patient under all; their faith growing exceedingly, and their love one towards another abounding). What comfort does Paul give them? "You will go to heaven soon?" No! there will be respite, when Jesus comes. Again, it has no connection with death.
These passages have been quoted, and it may be added, that all through the epistles we find the same thing, in order to shew that this grand truth (not death) is kept as a present thing before the soul, mixed up with the whole course of feelings amongst them in their everyday condition. Thus it enters into the whole framework of Christian service. It is quite evident if this be left out there must be a gap, a spiritual gap. And this becomes even still more evident when we consider (as properly characteristic of the saint) such passages as, "Unto them that look for him," "Unto all them that love his appearing."
At the close of Matthew 24 the Lord mentions the sign and characteristic of the "evil servant," and what I find there is that, the evil servant says in his heart, "My Lord delayeth his coming, and then begins to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken." Were we going to trace to its source the evil, ruined state of the church (considered in its relations and responsibilities here below), we should find that the putting off of the Lord's coming brought in all kinds of evil.
See in connection the beginning of Matthew 25: "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom [death is not the bridegroom]," etc. "While the bridegroom tarried," it is said they all slumbered and slept. The whole were asleep - the wise as well as the foolish, and both awoke together. While the wisdom of the first was in having oil in their lamps (the Spirit in the heart), when the others had not, there was forgetfulness of their hope, and consequent slothfulness. They had gone to sleep. What brought them out of this condition? What roused them? "At midnight there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh," etc. That was what was to rouse the slumbering church. Time sufficient is given to prove if there is oil in the lamp, but not to procure it.
88 Passages might be multiplied from the Gospels, as from the Epistles, one more however will suffice; Luke 19:12-27: "And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come," etc.
We cannot mistake, if we really attach importance to the word of God, the vital importance of all this.
The resurrection of the saints (the "first resurrection") takes place at Christ's coming; as it is said, "Every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming." This resurrection is altogether another thing from the resurrection of the wicked. There will be a resurrection, both of the just, and of the unjust, but on different principles. The former have life in Christ, which life has nothing in common with the world around. Moreover, they have the Spirit of God dwelling in them. "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you," Rom. 8:11. "The body is … for the Lord and the Lord for the body; and God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power," 1 Cor. 6:13-14. The body is the Lord's as well as the soul. As to the wicked, Christ raises them up for judgment, but not at the same time. Christ will accomplish, for the bodies of the saints, what He has already accomplished for the soul; the wicked will be called up for judgment, and forced to honour Christ in spite of themselves; John 5. In Luke 20:35-36, there is a remarkable distinction. As regards all my sins, He put them away at His first coming. I am going to appear before Him who has already died for me.
But then there is another aspect of the coming of Christ, and a most important one as regards the present interests and operations of the church; namely, the way in which God is going to accomplish, through it, His purposes towards the world.
I quite understand a person saying, "I do not see this"; but I do not understand the saint saying, "I do not see the importance of it." Christ is soon coming again, and He is coming to judge the world. Now is not that important? A man may not believe it, but it is folly to say that it is unimportant. The world is going on in a rapid progress of evil, concerning which Scripture gives abundant testimony, and the preaching of the gospel is not that which is to convert the world which is all ripening for judgment. And here it would be well to guard against a false thought, namely, that to insist upon this would hinder the preaching of the gospel. Quite the contrary. It would urge to it with more power and energy, with more of the activity of love to go and say to poor sinners, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." Did the sure knowledge of judgment coming hinder Noah? It is admitted on all hands that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will one day fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea. But the question is, how is this to be brought about? In Scripture this event is attributed to the glory of Christ. Nobody can be saved unless born again, unless washed in the blood of Jesus, but they may believe through seeing Him, like Thomas.
89 If we turn to Isaiah 26:9-11, we there find it said, "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Let favour be shewn to the wicked [the character of the gospel], yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of Jehovah. [Grace does not produce that effect.] Jehovah, when thy hand is lifted up (just ready, as it were, to strike), they will not see: but they shall see," etc.
Habakkuk 2 speaks of the universality of blessing: "Behold, is it not of Jehovah of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?" Is that the success of the gospel? yet it makes the prophet say, "for the earth shall be filled," etc.
So Isaiah 11, and here again it is connected with His glory. In Isaiah 25:6-8 we read, "And in this mountain shall Jehovah of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, etc … and he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory," etc. Doubtless, it is the desire of our hearts that this terrible veil might be taken off, and we get (1 Cor. 15:54) a positive revelation as to the time at which it shall be so taken off. "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." We must be subject to the word of God as to when, and how.
90 We ought (as regards responsibility) to have filled the earth with the knowledge of Jehovah; but we have not! And what have we done? We have let the enemy into the church of God. See the parable of the wheat and tares, Matthew 13: "While men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way." Through the carelessness of men Satan could come and spoil the results of Christ's sowing. Could this be repaired? are we to undo it? No! we cannot undo it. The mischief is done, and there they must stay until the harvest (v. 28-30). It will be rectified by a dispensation of judgment - a harvest, not a re-sowing of the field. We ought to have filled the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, but we have failed; and here we get a truly sorrowful revelation (blessed be God! He can come and set all to rights); the mischief done, where good was done, is irreparable.
God, in the accomplishment of His purposes, is gathering out, through the gospel, the co-heirs of Christ; but there is a sorrowful side of the picture. It is blessed to preach the gospel to sinners; but it is profitable for us, as saints, to own where we have failed. "In the last days," says Paul to Timothy, "perilous times shall come"; and again, "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
If we take two other passages, we find the same testimony as regards the carelessness of man in responsibility, and the continuance of evil (so introduced), up to the time of Christ's coming, leaving no room for intervening blessing.
First, 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8: "The mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." The principle of evil is already working in the church - it has begun, and it will go on working till Christ comes: there is now a hinderer; but when this is taken away, the man of sin will be manifested; and then it will be put an end to by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The same truth is revealed in the Epistle of Jude. When Jude gave all diligence to write about the common salvation, he found it needful to exhort believers earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints; "for," says he, "there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; their character is described in detail, v. 4-13. And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these saying, "Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints," etc. He identifies these very men with those whom the Lord is about to destroy.
91 Let us now turn to God's dealings with the nations.
When "Lo-ammi" was written upon Israel, God gave power into the hands of the Gentiles; Dan. 2. How is it that the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ? Is it by the preaching of the gospel - a clear duty, whether the earth be filled by that, or whether judgment is to come first? The word says, "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay and brake them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them [there was the most complete and utter destruction of the whole system of the image]; and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth," v. 34, 35. There again I get a positive revelation that the universal prevalence of Christianity will be preceded by the execution of the judgments of God. The little stone cut out without hands does not become a mountain, etc., until it has executed judgment upon, broken in pieces, and destroyed the image. And, note, the act of smiting the image and then filling the whole earth is not the setting up of Christ's kingdom at the day of Pentecost. It is not an influence that changes the gold, the silver, etc., into the character of the stone; but the sudden execution of judgment upon the image - a blow, which breaks in pieces, and leaves not a trace of the existence of the image, so that we read, "no place was found for them."
If I turn to Revelation 19:11-22, and compare it with Isaiah 63:1-6, I get a striking testimony respecting the judgments of the nations. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I, that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the wine-fat? I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me [it is not here "He that was trodden in the wine-press," but "He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God," Rev. 19:15]; for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment [not whiten theirs]. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come." Revelation 14:17-20. The clusters of the vine of the earth are gathered, and cast into the great wine-press of the wrath of God.
92 One passage more, Zephaniah 3:8: "Therefore wait ye upon me, saith Jehovah, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy." Verse 9 brings out subsequent blessing. This needs no comment.
Whatever part of scripture I turn to, bearing upon these things, I find the same uniform testimony.
There is another part of the subject, for which there is not space now beyond a brief notice: namely, its connection with the destinies of the Jewish people, "as concerning the gospel, enemies for your sakes, but, as touching the election, beloved for the fathers' sakes" (Rom. 11:28); "of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came," Rom. 9:4-5. We say, with the apostle, "Hath God cast away his people? God forbid." Israel, as a nation, will be saved, and planted in the land. "There shall come out of Zion the deliverer," etc. "The gifts and callings of God are without repentance." The promises have never been accomplished. God gave certain promises to Abraham, unconditionally. Israel got into the land conditionally under Joshua, failed, and were turned out of the land. The promises are taken up under the new covenant, and connected with Messiah. Their return from Babylon was nothing in that sense; Neh. 9:36. And Messiah was not there. When He came the first time, they rejected Him. But even this, while it filled up the measure of their guilt, did not touch the promises given without condition. If this be so, it must be under a new dispensation. It is another state and condition of things altogether.
93 "In the dispensation of the fulness of times," God will "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him," Eph. 1:10-11. When Christ, who is "heir of all things," takes the inheritance, we, as joint-heirs with Him, shall be brought into the same glory.
In conclusion, as it regards Christ's coming to judgment: I find there a very solemn testimony against being identified with the world in its interests, its pursuits, expectations, etc. The world - aye, and the church (in the general vague sense of the word) too - is ripening for judgment. "In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh." How can I be found identifying the interests and objects of the world with my interests and objects as a saint? making myself a nest in the place where Christ has been crucified, and where He is coming to judge?
But here is another thing. If I look up, "Glory is coming! there is the Bridegroom! I am going to see him as he is, to be with him in the glory, to be like him." "Every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure."
The Lord give you to search the word, and see if these things be so. May you receive them, not merely as matters of knowledge, but of faith and of hope. This plants a thousand joys.