The Heavenly Hope — John 14:1-3
(Section 3 of Three Prophetic Gems.)
Another aspect in which Scripture presents the coming of the Lord is part of that immense change intimated in the Gospel of John when the public testimony was closed and the Lord unbosoms Himself to the family of God before He gave Himself up to apprehension and death. He had already and publicly announced His crucifixion (John 12:32). The time was come to leave the world.
John 13 introduces the new subject. It is a distinct transfer from earth to heaven. Messianic hopes are wholly eclipsed. The chosen nation is no more in evidence than the city or the sanctuary. We do not have the Lord correcting the earthly expectations of the disciples as they drew His attention to the buildings of the temple, or predicting that not one stone should be left upon another, but be broken down. Nor is it the chief disciples coming privately to Him on Mount Olivet and asking, When shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Thy presence and of the consummation of the age? Here we breathe a wholly different atmosphere. The Lord by deed and word leads on His own to unprecedented dealings of grace soon to dawn on them in proper Christian privilege and responsibility, for which the cross as seen in the light of God laid the basis.
WASHING THE DISCIPLES' FEET
“Now before the feast of the passover, Jesus (knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father) having loved His own who were in the world, loved them unto the end. And supper being come, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot Simon's [son] that he should betray Him, He, knowing that the Father had given Him all things into His hands and that He came out from God and goeth to God, riseth from supper and layeth aside His upper garments and took a linen towel and girded Himself; then He poureth water into the basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples and to wipe them with the linen towel wherewith He was girded. He cometh therefore unto Simon Peter. He saith to Him, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said to him, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know afterwards. Peter saith to Him, Never shalt Thou wash my feet. Jesus answered him, Unless I wash thee, thou hast no part with Me. Simon Peter saith to him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He who is bathed needeth not to wash save his feet, but is wholly clean: and ye are clean, but not all. For He knew His betrayer: on this account He said, Ye are not all clean” (vv. 1-11).
What could be more impressive? and all the more, if Peter who expressed what all felt had only known that the Lord's washing their feet was in view of His departure to be with the Father in heavenly glory. This was the truth they all had to learn. The earth was now to be left behind for things above; not of course absolutely, but now for the Christian, as for Christ. Thus to stoop was a wholly unexpected and unrealized exercise of His love. He was conscious that the Father had given all things into His hands and that as He came out from God, He was going back to be with God, the rejected Holy One of God. He was passing from the earth and from the earthly people who were about to consummate to their own ruin that rejection which their state had implied. He was going to the Father who ever loved the Son, and now all the more because the evil was only the occasion of proving His entire devotedness at all cost to the Father's will and glory.
If He thus left this world, He would demonstrate His love to His own who were in it, in a manner beyond all thought even of those who had been learning it in every form they then needed and could bear. Associating them while here with Himself for that glory into which He was going, He must and would counteract every defilement of their way inconsistent with that association. Such defilements were incompatible with heaven where He was going as their forerunner. They had learned much of the kingdom from the Old Testament, and yet more from Him who added so much that was new to the old things. But the Lord here provides for them a fellowship with Him on high, transcending all previous thoughts, when He should ascend where He was before. His love would carry them through every need, obstacle and danger. No wonder that Peter who had confessed His personal glory (revealed to him by the Father who is in the heavens) was lost in astonishment at Christ going down so low as to clear away their soils as saints. Yet he was to learn soon afterwards that the reality in heaven would enhance the wonder beyond measure.
The Lord on earth sets forth by His action towards the disciples what He was about to do for them in heaven. We have an Advocate with the Father if we sin. Such advocacy is expressly not for the unclean as such, but for those already washed, if the feet get defiled. Those “washed all over” need to have any subsequent impurity removed. The washing of regeneration abides in all its value, but demands the cleansing of the soiled feet.
It is the glorified Jesus who assures His own of His persistent and effective love in carrying on this most needful work at God's right hand, acting on His people here below by His Spirit and Word, as it is said in Ephesians 5:26, purifying by the washing of the water by the Word, consequent on giving Himself for the Church on the cross. The restoration of our communion when interrupted by sin is as essential as the new birth or as justification. He has set Himself down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, having made the purification of sins. However, this finished and accepted and abiding work, instead of dispensing with further work, makes Him the more anxious to clear away every inconsistency that would otherwise mar its lustre and displease our Father and leave ourselves in unavailing shame and grief. It is His action of grace on high which gives us to confess the sin and prove how faithful is the God of all grace. “He who is bathed needeth not to wash except his feet.” The blessed relationship of the Christian abides intact, but the Lord, even in the glories of heaven, occupies Himself to remove every failure and to turn it to our needed humiliation and to fresh blessing in His infinite love.
Why is this wondrous grace here enlarged on? It is part of the characteristic blessedness of the Christian. It was completely new to the disciples when the Lord so vividly set forth its type before their eyes. It was a necessary provision for them during His absence, which they would soon learn is full of far higher privilege than could be possessed or known during the days of His flesh. It would endear Him yet more when they knew it shortly afterwards, as they did not and could not know it then. They were aware of His exceeding condescension, and deeply moved that He should do the work of the lowest slave on their behalf, but only after His death, resurrection and ascension would they learn by the Holy Spirit what His mystic washing of their feet really meant.
GOD GLORIFIED IN THE SON
There is another and still more stupendous communication which the Lord made in this thirteenth chapter. It also is part of our Christian heritage, going far beyond any prophetic account of our Lord's atoning death in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 53, precious and bright as it is in itself and as it will be to the generation to come of Israel. The going out of Judas (after Satan entered in) on his awful treacherous errand gave the occasion. “Now is the Son of man glorified and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God also shall glorify Him in Himself, and straightway shall glorify Him” (vv. 31-32). No greater revelation of the Saviour's death as made sin on the cross is anywhere found, nor one so distinctly illuminated with Christian light and result for God's glory now that it is fulfilled.
As Son of God He had glorified His Father in a life of unwavering and absolute obedience. The exit of Judas was the signal of death on the cross. Would the Holy One of God bow to bearing our sin at God's hand, whatever it might cost? He had vanquished the living temptations of Satan by obeying the written Word. Was He willing through death to annul him who has the might of death, and thus deliver all those who through fear of death, were all their life subject to bondage? Would He take upon Himself the sins and iniquities of God's people, the most loathsome of burdens, to make propitiation for them? Would He by the grace of God taste death for everything, and thus break the yoke of bondage under which all the creation groaned? Would He bring many sons to glory as the Author or Leader, of their salvation, perfected through sufferings?
The Lord here reveals the deepest and most marvellous contest ever engaged in, wherein the otherwise impossible was achieved and the insoluble as plainly solved to God's glory and the everlasting deliverance of those who lay under guilt and judgment. Good and evil here strove for decision, and at the very place where evil seemed to have all its way, good triumphed to all eternity. Man was seen at his worst, hating the Father and the Son, hating God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Satan here swayed, not the heathen only, but most fatally, God's earthly people and above all their religious leaders — scribes, doctors of the law, Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, chief priests — and the high priest himself. Roman justice proved shamelessly unjust. Jesus was condemned for His good confession and for the truth counted as imposture and blasphemy. The disciples forsook their Master and fled, one betraying Him for the price of a slave, another denying Him repeatedly and with oaths. And in the shame and agony of the cross, His God hid His face and forsook Him — the bitterest of all His sorrows, the most intolerable of His sufferings. But so it must be. He was made sin and bowed to what it deserved at God's hand, that the divine majesty and holiness might be perfectly vindicated and salvation come to sinners through their judgment falling on Him. Grace then could issue in God's righteousness, justifying the ungodly who now believed. There and thus only, all the attributes of God are brought into mutual harmony. Otherwise, if love pleaded, justice opposed, for sin was not cancelled. But here mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other, and this not for earth only, but for heaven and all eternity. In the Lord's own words, the Son of man was glorified and God was glorified in Him in the very place where unbelief saw only failure and ignominy. What was the result? God shall glorify Him in Himself and shall straightway glorify Him. It is Christ's work seen in God's light, estimated and honored by God Himself on high.
Christianity is based on this, while Israel passes into its long eclipse. Hence flows the gospel of grace to the lost; hence, according to God's secret purpose, the call of the Church for union with Christ by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven to baptize the saints into one body, Christ's body. Even the apostles were then and afterwards full of the earthly hope of restoring the kingdom of Israel. Not so; instead of the throne of David or even the dominion of the Son of man over all the peoples, nations and languages, Christ was to be glorified. His glorification was to be not only in heaven entirely separated from the world, but in God Himself, and this “straightway,” in emphatic contrast with the future kingdom which He eventually will receive. Then, He will return to put down all adversaries in power and glory. Christianity has heavenly and eternal things revealed to faith now.
THE HOPE OF THE COMING OF THE LORD FOR HIS SAINTS — THE CONTRAST TO HIS APPEARING
With this, the hope revealed in John 14:1-3 is in perfect keeping. Here the land and the city, the people and the temple, vanish into nothingness. Not a word is said about misleaders, false Christs or false prophets. We don't hear of wars or rumors of wars, of nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, of famine, of earthquakes, of tribulation and murder, of hatred from all the nations for Christ's name, of internal discord and treachery and hatred as the love of the many decayed, or of the glad tidings of the kingdom preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony unto all the nations. Still less is there room here for the special and awful sign, according to Daniel's prophecy, of an idol standing in the sanctuary, the harbinger of speedy desolation when the godly in Judaea must flee immediately to save their lives or yet worse. There is not a hint here of the tribulation beyond parallel to fall at the close on the nation of Israel.
In chapter 14 we have a wholly different state. We see people about to be severed from such anxieties and elevated by incomparably higher associations, who have no fears of flight in winter or on sabbath and are in no way warned for themselves against the cry of Messiah here or there, or the great signs and wonders which Satan will be allowed to work in the hour when God retributively sends an energy of error that they all might be judged who did not believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Still more complete and manifest is the difference of the Christian hope in John 14 from the Presence of the Son of man in Matthew 24, “As the lightning goeth forth from the east and shineth to the west,” especially with the accompanying words, “wherever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered.” This latter is the Lord coming in the accomplishment of His judgment, not of His love; His coming for the earth, not for the Father's home above. The figures employed point only to His judicial dealings, with which sun, moon and stars sympathize. For “immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened and the moon not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the land (or earth) lament, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of trumpet and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Here in Matthew 24 is no gathering of saints to Christ in heavenly glory, but the coming of the Son of man to whom all judgment is committed; and His appearing is as sudden as the lightning flash. The governing powers, supreme, derivative and subordinate, no more fulfill their office; all shall be shaken. The sign is not as before of apostate religion for the godly to flee and escape, but of their Deliverer to destroy those who destroy the earth. The Son of man appearing in heaven is the sign of His speedily coming to the earth to judge the living and the dead. Hence it is no longer those in Judaea, but “all the tribes of the land” (or earth) that lament and see Him coming; whereas Christians at that time are manifested, neither after nor before, but in glory with Him. While He is hidden, so are they; when He is manifested, so are they, having been previously caught up. It is His elect of Israel accordingly who are gathered together when He sends forth His angels with a great sound of trumpet and comes in His kingdom.
It is plain that when the Lord presents Himself for the earth and for the earthly people, the traits which characterize the solemn event are the apostasy and the man of sin usurping God's prerogatives even in His temple, the desolation and the tribulation that ensue beyond all that ever had been or that is to be, and the Son of man appearing to take vengeance on the portentous and blasphemous lawlessness, and to deliver Israel by the destruction of their enemies.
Our position is the completely distinct one of His coming to receive us to Himself for the place which He is gone to prepare for us in the Father's house, that where He is we may be also. It is the consummation of the sovereign grace which has associated us with Him, so that we are risen with Him even now, one spirit with the Lord, and can say with the beloved apostle that “as He is, so are we in this world.” We await His coming to be caught up together with the dead in Christ risen first, in clouds to meet the Lord, into the air, and thus to be ever with the Lord. We are not of the world as He is not, and we look for Him to make it a reality by taking us up to heaven as He Himself ascended there. Here, we do not have judicial dealing with our enemies to make the earth the scene of His righteous rule, but giving us part with Himself in His joy and glory on high, though we shall also reign over the earth when He takes His great power and reigns.
These are the words of the Lord and they are worthy of all heed.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe on (εἰς) God, believe also on (εἰς) Me. In My father's house are many abiding-places; were it not so, I would have told you, because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you unto Myself that where I am ye also may be.”
Simpler words there could hardly be, but what depth of feeling and height of glory! Jesus was departing, despised of Israel. He was His disciples' beloved Lord, yet one was the traitor, another His denier. Who could wonder if all of them were troubled? Let them be assured that grace would turn all for good and to God's glory. “Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe on God,” though you never saw Him. “Believe on Me” when I depart unto the Father, and you cease to see Me. Let your faith rise from its Jewish form to its Christian character and fullness. Compare John 20:29.
Even my earthly people shall yet say, Blessed is He who cometh in Jehovah's name. Meanwhile I am re-entering heaven to give you who have fore-hoped in Me, the Christ, a better portion, even a part with Me on high. Instead of abandoning you, I will as your divine Saviour both prepare you for the place as already set before you, and prepare the place for you by going to the Father's house. My heart is fixed, as is the Father's will, on bringing you there. “In My Father's house are many abiding-places.” No doubt you have never aspired to such a home. You have expected Me to abide forever with you in your house when I have purged it of all adversaries and evils by the power which I have even to subdue all things to Myself. But there is ample room for you as well as Me in that intimate home of divine love and heavenly glory. “If it were not so, I would have told you, because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you unto Myself that where I am, ye also may be.”
This is a hope far beyond that of the fathers, though they waited for the city that has foundation, whose artificer (builder) and demiurge (maker) is God, and were eager for a better country than Canaan, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. But to Christians or saints now being called, God is not ashamed to be Christ's Father and our Father, His God and our God. Since redemption, this is our association with Christ.
No truth is more sure or important than the love the Father has for the Son, and all the more when for the glory of God He became man and died atoningly that the salvation of the lost might be of both grace and righteousness — God's righteousness — and that the same death of Christ might be the basis for all blessing and glory forever in His universe, His unbelieving enemies alone excepted. “This is My beloved Son in whom I found My complacency” (Matt. 3:17, etc.). “The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things [to be] in His hand” (John 3:35). But the Son Himself tells the Father later before the disciples that He (the Father) loved the saints as He loved the Son (John 17:23).
This love accounts for their future display in the same glory. But it also accounts for that which was in His hidden purposes, still deeper, more tender and intimate — the hope of Christ's coming for the Father's house and fetching us into the place He prepared for us there, that where He is, we too might be. That is where He went, out of this world which crucified Him, unto the Father. There God, who was glorified in Him here at infinite cost, glorified Him in Himself. There our life is hid with Him in God. There is where we go when He comes and takes us unto Himself. How bright is the glimpse of it in John 17:24! “Father, I will (or, desire) that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me, for Thou lovedst Me before the world's foundation.” To those who love Him, this far transcends the glory that He gives us and that we share along with Him before every wondering eye of man at His appearing. Then the world shall know by the fact that we appear with Him in the same glory, that the Father sent the Son [for how else could we be thus blessed?] and that He loved us as He loved the Lord.
The facts that He deigns to prepare a place for us in the Father's house, so much above the hopes of saints and prophets, and that He personally comes into the air for the wondrous meeting to fetch us into His heavenly house, speaks of love unmeasured. We know how to show honour to our friends when we do not let them search for our homes, but send some trustworthy person to guide them. If greater attention were called for, the wife might go. But if the utmost honour were intended, the head of the family would set aside every hindrance and come to meet the beloved and honoured guests. How wondrous, that for us, the Son comes! This is love beyond all thought or comparison for this supreme moment, and all that follows is in keeping with it. Sovereign grace lays the ground. Unfailing grace in its faithfulness, notwithstanding every human failure and malice of our — of His — great enemy, guards and preserves us all the way through. Triumphant grace at length consummates the love of Christ. “I am coming again and will receive you unto Myself, that where I am, ye also may be.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT SENT
There is the context which follows the hope and confirms the essentially Christian character of these communications the Lord was then giving. He proceeds to explain to His disciples that the gift of the Holy Spirit which is unique to the individual and the Assembly, as says the apostle Paul, is the distinguishing privilege and power since His work of redemption and ascension to heaven. “For the Spirit was not yet because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Nowhere is the divine personality of that gift more clearly asserted or implied than in John 14-16. It is the other Advocate whom the Father would give and send in His name, whom He Himself would send from the Father to be forever with them and in them. He is the Advocate who was to come because Jesus went away to heaven and sent Him unto them to be abidingly with us and in us.
This is the new and characteristic provision for the Christian and the Church while the Lord Jesus is at the right hand of God. It is in the Spirit that we cry Abba, Father, and each are guided in right dependence. By Him one enjoys the deep things of God, otherwise beyond all comprehension. By Him we walk, witness and worship. So it is that one is enabled to preach the gospel or teach the truth. Through Him we by faith wait for, not righteousness which we have in Christ, but the hope of righteousness in the coming glory. Again, it is by or in virtue of one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body; as we are also built together for God's habitation in the Spirit.
Only part of what we now owe to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit is here alluded to, for He covers and gives a new and divine character to every exercise of the new creation, by the Word revealing and glorifying Christ to us. The Spirit was sent forth from heaven to honour Christ. Therefore, it was expedient for us that Christ should go away, great as the loss seemed to the sorrowing and troubled disciples. If He didn't go away, the Advocate who was to be expressly our Helper in every need (and this in the recall of all Jesus had said and been and done, as well as in the revelation of all His glory on high) would not come unto us. But Christ went up, and sent Him unto us — the two essentials of Christianity.
When the Spirit came, it was the demonstration to the world of its sin in not believing on Jesus. It also was a demonstration of righteousness because Christ is gone to the Father, rejected by the world that will see Him no more as He was, but as the Judge. Lastly, it was a demonstration of judgment because this world's ruler who led to His rejection has been judged. The Spirit's presence, outside this world which does not behold or know Him, can (now that redemption is made) guide the believers into all the truth, taking of Christ's things and reporting them to us, and also the things that are to come.
All this wondrous manifestation of the truth to the Christian depends on three things: the Son as come in manhood here below; the accomplishment of His work of reconciliation on the cross; and His ascension as the risen accepted Man according to divine counsels, who has sent the Spirit that we might have this divine Person dwelling with and in us forever, to make good subjectively what we behold by faith objectively in the Lord, the blessed image of the invisible God. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Now that He is dead, risen and gone on high, we have not only the unique hope beyond all others of His coming again to receive us unto Himself, to be in the Father's house where He is, but further by the Spirit, the unfailing power of communion with the Father and the Son. This is a fountain of blessing within, fresh and perennial, and rivers of living water flowing out through that Saviour living above for them, as they live because He lives.
All is new and Christian truth; the foundation as here made, not merely in view of our need met, but of God glorified as such to our immeasurable blessing. We have the necessary purifying from every defilement in our walk which Christ effects all the way through for us associated with Him for heaven. We see the heavenly hope for us destined to be with Him where He is, altogether outside and above the world, whatever else we may share. In the meanwhile, we have all the gracious help and power suitable for those so blessed and with such a hope, while we wait for Him in the world which with its ruler is already judged.
The allusions to Judas Iscariot in the middle and to Peter at the end of chapter 13 were important for the Christianity about to replace Judaism, as well as to strengthen and comfort those who were to labour, suffer, and share its privileges. The Lord made known to His disciples, in the presence of the traitor not yet indicated, the awful course he was about to take, so that their faith in Himself might be more established instead of being shaken. He followed it up with His very solemn statement: “Verily, verily, I say to you, He who receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he who receiveth Me receiveth Him who sent Me” (v. 20). No mistake was made either in His sending the guilty Judas or in others receiving him. He was one sent by the Lord. It was a divine message heard from his lips, though he himself had neither saving faith nor life eternal, but was the son of perdition. Judas was the sad witness that the greatest external and official nearness to Christ, without eternal life, only exposes to the worst sin and ruin. And John could add later, “Even now are there many antichrists.”
There was another lesson yet more needed by the Christian. It is the most humbling case of Peter. The Lord, in view of His soon going where they could not as yet come, presses that new commandment which was an old commandment that they had from the beginning, and was to become true in them as it was in Him — love, love one to another, the love not of a neighbour only, but the deeper love of God's family. Then Peter, having confidence in his love, expresses his readiness to follow the Lord into the unknown, to follow Him now, to lay down his life for the Lord's sake, however others might hang back. Peter truly loved Him, but he was utterly wrong to have confidence in his love. Self-confidence is the feeblest of reeds. He was soon after to learn this and then to walk entirely dependent on Christ as a Christian. But now Peter must prove to all that flesh is no better in a saint than in a sinner. “Verily, verily, I say to thee, A cock shall not crow till thou hast denied Me thrice.” And so it was that night, not for Peter's profit only, but for every Christian's.
THE MYSTERY IN 1 CORINTHIANS 15:51-52
Let us turn to other Scriptures and see whether the Holy Spirit presents the heavenly apart from earthly admixture, and distinct from the events of prophecy. Does He present a hope dependent only on the secret of the Father's purpose and the Son's faithfulness to His Word and love to us? In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 we read, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in an eye's twinkling, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
The resurrection of the dead is not “a mystery,” or even the resurrection of the righteous as a distinct act from that of men generally. Of the latter we read in Job 14:1-12. “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow and continueth not. And dost Thou open Thine eyes upon such a one, and bringest me into judgment with Thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; turn from him that he may rest, till he shall accomplish as a hireling his day. For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof grow old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the spirit, and where is he? The waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up; so man lieth down and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.”
The more familiar a believer may be with God's final revelation of things to come unto eternity itself, the more he will see the exact agreement of this early disclosure of resurrection with the resurrection of the unjust. It is man, the prey of sorrow, decay and death, without one ray of divine light till all ends in utter gloom, but not of actual extinction. Yet it is a “sleep” only broken when “the heavens are no more.” How striking the agreement with Revelation 20:11! This resurrection is not only after the resurrection of the blessed and holy to reign with Christ, but when the thousand years of their reigning are over, after the last insurrection of released-Satan's deceit has ended in total destruction. Then comes the Great White Throne for the judgment of guilty unbelieving man. The portion of men is to die, and after this judgment; in contrast with the believers' portion which is Christ, once offered to bear the sins of many, appearing a second time apart from sin to those who look for Him unto salvation. He is the Saviour of the body also.
The resurrection of the saints, which is called “the first resurrection,” was not in those early days unknown to the much enduring Job. “O that my words were now written! O that they were inscribed in a roll! That with an iron pen and lead they were graven in the rock forever. For I know that my Redeemer (or Kinsman-vindicator) liveth, and that He shall stand up at the last upon the earth (or dust) [while the earth and still more the heavens continue]; and after my skin hath been destroyed, yet from (or in) my flesh shall I see God, whom mine eyes shall behold and not another” (Job 19:23-27). The orthodox Jews in New Testament times also confessed that there was to be a resurrection both of just and unjust (Acts 24:15).
As this was commonly believed except by the skeptical Sadducees, we may observe how properly the apostle does not speak of a mystery when he discusses the resurrection of the faithful in the earlier part of 1 Corinthians 15 and proves it to be the complement of Christ's own rising from among the dead. He tells them a secret or “mystery,” a New Testament truth now revealed, when he speaks of our being changed without dying at Christ's coming. “We shall not all be put to sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in an eye's twinkling, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” No intimation of this change of the living saints had ever before been made, though now that it is, we can see a gleam preparing the way for it in the translation of Enoch in the antediluvian world, and in that of Elijah in the world that is now. And we can also read the words of the Lord in the days of His flesh, which were only written down in John 11:25-26 after the Epistles of Paul. “I am the resurrection and the life: he who believeth on Me, though he have died, shall live; and everyone who liveth and believeth on Me shall never die.” Here we have the grand result at His coming — the dead saints raised, the living believers changed without dying; as the Lord then enunciated, but left to be written and understood at a later day.
See how completely earthly objects are outside the description in 1 Corinthians 15. Nothing is named except the resurrection of those who are Christ's, except the living Christians who are changed, if possible more gloriously, at the same time. This last “change” involves “the mystery.” It is a mistake to think that the last trump has any reference to the seven trumpets of the Revelation which are the loud warnings of divine tribulational judgments in providence, after the seven seals of more reserved dealings have been opened. At length the last vials of God's wrath are poured out before the Saviour appears in personal display of judgment.
THE LAST TRUMP
“The last trump” seems to be a picture drawn like others here and elsewhere from the familiar facts of an army at the moment of leaving its encampment. Previous soundings were the known and necessary preparatory signals usual among the military. But the Spirit of God avoids more here and concentrates anything answering to them in the “last trump” when the instant arrives for those who are Christ's to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren.
BLESSING OF LIVING AND DEAD SAINTS
The gracious power of His resurrection is now proved to be the resurrection of the dead saints and the life of those alive, and to be on a scale and pattern altogether transcending the raising of Lazarus or any other during the days of His flesh. The unclothed will be clothed as never before and the surviving saints clothed upon, that mortality — the mortal in them — might be swallowed up of life (2 Cor. 5:1-4). There is therefore an evident contrast with the awful sound of the trumpet at Sinai, and but one plain link of connection with “the great trumpet” of Isaiah 27:13 and Matthew 24:31; in that, the loud sound accompanies the gathering together of His chosen people on the earth, “the holy mount at Jerusalem,” as the trump of God is to gather the changed to the Lord for heaven.
One readily understands that the aim, when God was about to speak His “ten commandments” to Israel, was to fill sinful trembling man with overwhelming awe by thunders and lightning and thick cloud, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, and by Sinai covered in smoke because Jehovah descended upon it in fire with blackness and darkness and tempest and a voice more terrible than all. But here, it is exclusively the one fashioned, even in the body, according to the likeness of Christ's glory, loved of God as He was loved, and about to be with Him in the Father's house. Solemn grandeur will be there, but not an atom of fear before His perfect love as befits God's glory and ways.
Magnificent results will follow for the earth, for Israel and for all the nations when Jehovah will destroy “in this mountain” the face of the covering cast over all the peoples and the vail that is spread over all the Gentiles. But the resurrection of the just — the glorification of the family of God for the heavenlies — must precede even the taking away the rebuke of His people from off all the earth. Then indeed Jehovah's hand will accomplish what His mouth promised. A woman may forget her sucking child and have no compassion on the son of her womb, yet Jehovah will not forget Zion. Behold, He has graven her upon the palms of His hands, and her walls are continually before Him. And kings shall be Zion's nursing fathers, and princesses her nursing mothers; they shall bow down to her with face toward the earth and lick up the dust of her feet.
But the heirs of God and the joint-heirs with Christ have a place as elevated in the heavens as Israel will have on the earth. God's everlasting purpose must be made good in sight of the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, before the dealings of God begin to awaken and lead on into blessing the nucleus of His firstborn for the earth and to put down their Gentile foes in every form and degree. The secret of His will, now made known to the Christian according to the good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, is that, for the administration of the fullness of the seasons, He will head up together in one, all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on earth, in Him in whom we were also allotted our inheritance. We are to share this with the Heir of all things.
The final touch He will put to fitting His joint-heirs will be done when He receives them to Himself on high for the Father's house, before the judicial measures of Daniel's last week begin to chastise the usurpers of the inheritance, and the gracious measures concurrently to prepare a people for the Lord when He with His heavenly ones appears in glory to possess Himself of the earth and fill it with the blessings of His reign.
OPPOSITION TO THE TRUTH
Before entering on the examination of other testimony, I take the opportunity of noticing the blighting effect of only seeing an earthly or Jewish position in John 14:1-3. But notice that the Lord spoke of their being with Him, “that where I am, ye also may be.” This is quite different than being in Him. We do hear of this in the different intimation of verse 20 where He said, “In that day ye shall know that I am in My Father and ye in Me, and I in you.” This beyond question is realized today, as the context also shows both before and after, where the Lord says, “I will not leave you orphans (or desolate), I am coming unto you” (v. 18), and “If one love Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him” (v. 23). But in verse 3 there is distinctive care to preclude the confusion, as the word is “I am coming again and will receive you unto myself.” It is not the spiritual coming of the Father and the Son to abide with the obedient saint here, but Christ's personal coming again to receive us unto Himself, that where He is (that is, in His Father's house of many mansions, in which He even then speaks of Himself, as in chapter 17:11), we also may be.
Can one conceive of greater havoc done through Judaizing the hope? Never have I known any truth as to which the least taught had more hearty communion with the most deeply instructed than in looking onward to be with Christ on high according to this promise of our Lord.
The mischief does not end with unbelief as to John 14:1-3. It is equally marked when Zechariah 14:5 is cited to show that the Old Testament recognizes the coming of all the saints at Jehovah's advent and day. Admitting that the holy angels will be there, it seems strange to question what is so distinctly taught in 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Jude 14; Revelation 17:14 and Revelation 19:14, in some of which texts the accompanying terms exclude angels, though elsewhere these may really be meant. It is sad to see how a partial apprehension of the truth works to obliterate what is heavenly. Yet Daniel the prophet does not fail to discriminate the saints of the high or heavenly places (Daniel 7:18, 22, 25, to whom judgment was given as in Revelation 20:4), from their “people” who have the greatness of the kingdom given them “under the whole heaven.”
Christ is the power of resurrection and life in His person, as being the Son of God. He was therefore able to raise Lazarus to life in the flesh, as He will at the due time raise the dead believers and change the living ones. In order to do so, at the last day, consistently with God's nature and our sins, He must Himself die and be raised again. For as John 12:24 tells us, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” Life in resurrection power is to have life abundantly. Hence since He rose, believers are now quickened (made alive) who were dead in offences and sins — quickened together with Christ and raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Him.
This in no way supersedes, but is rather the ground of our being changed, even our bodies of humiliation transformed into conformity with His body of glory when He comes from the heavens as Saviour in full, not of the soul only as now, but of the body also at that glorious hour. Life and resurrection are not inherent in the human race. The believer has life, but it is in the Son. All depends on Him. We live because He lives; and the life as a believer that I now live in flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20). But though heavenly as of the Heavenly One, we still bear the image of Adam, the man of dust. When the body is raised in incorruption, glory and power at His still future coming, we shall bear the image of the Second Man, the Last Adam.
Satan shall then be crushed under our feet and the power of the Lord so established that not an idol shall remain, nor a blade of grass that shall not flourish under His glory. Then God heads up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, and we shall share with Him all the inheritance, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Though the Lord is received up in glory, He is hid in God; whereas then He will be manifested, and we too in glory. The “world to come” is not come, but is surely coming.
It is all well to quote John 5:25, “Verily, verily, I say to you, The hour cometh and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they who have heard shall live.” This is the faith that must be now, if souls are to be quickened and not perish. The further truth is added in verses 28-29, “Wonder not at this; for an hour is coming [which now is not] in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice and shall come forth: those who have done good unto a resurrection of life, and those who have done ill unto a resurrection of judgment.”
No one rises again independently of Christ, for as He is the giver of life eternal, God also gives the prerogative of all judgment to Him as the despised but glorious Son of man. It is His voice that expressly calls for resurrection, for “all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice,” just or unjust, well-doers or evil-doers. Hence there are to be two bodily resurrections, as we read in the prophecy of Revelation 20:4-6 and 11-15: a resurrection of life and reigning with Christ, and a resurrection of judgment and endless woe. We need not wonder at the quickening (making alive) of the spiritually dead, when the Lord will call from their tombs the physically dead to come forth — the godly and believing who have life in Him now unto a resurrection of life, and the worthless unbelievers unto a resurrection of judgment, ending in the lake of fire.
Christ is not on His own throne to reign as yet, but as the world's despised and crucified is on the Father's throne. “In the world ye have tribulation,” said the Lord; not a special tribulation as retributively for Jews and Gentiles at the end of the age, but constantly during our pilgrimage. The very apostles the last, though in the Church the first, a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. It was the volatile and worldly-minded Corinthian brethren who took the place of being filled, and rich, and reigning “without us” (the apostles): “and would that ye did reign, that we might reign with you,” said the large-hearted Paul. But it was a mere delusion.
If we died together with Christ, we shall also live together; if we endure (or suffer patiently), we shall also reign together. As Christians we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him. “For I reckon that the sufferings of the now-time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed to usward.” Christ is not reigning yet, still less is He directly administering the affairs of the world. Even the last time or hour (1 John 2:18-27) is marked by the prevalence, not of Christ, but of many antichrists, the sad harbingers of the Antichrist whom the Lord Jesus shall appear to destroy, as 2 Thessalonians 2:8 tells us. The Father's kingdom will not arrive for the heavens, nor the Son of man's for the earth, till He shall come to judge the living, and all lawless ones are cast out of His kingdom into the furnace of fire, and the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
In these verses we do not have the bridesmaids outside with their torches going forth to meet the bridegroom, but servants within the house with their lamps alight. “Let your loins be girded about and lamps burning, and yourselves like men waiting for their own lord whenever he may leave (or return from) the wedding, that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open to him. Blessed those bondmen whom the Lord on coming shall find on the watch. Verily I say to you, that He will gird Himself about and make these recline, and coming up will serve them.” Believing merely in the Lord's second coming in no way meets what our Lord here impresses on His bondmen, but their hearts fixed on His return is the first of their duties. He craves their watching. Servants are not to seek their own pleasure when their Lord is away. But He in the most earnest way lays it on them to be as people who wait for their own master whenever he may return from the wedding feast, that when he comes and knocks they may without delay open to him. They are to be on the look-out, by the door as it were, that, when His knock is heard, they may immediately open to Him. “Ye,” yourselves, waiting for Him, characterizes their whole outlook.
This account is eminently in keeping with the place assigned by the Spirit to Luke, who, as he conveys the grace in Christ, demands also the proper answer of the heart in the saints. The return from the wedding feast was the best possible figure on the Lord's part, the sympathetic occasion of festive joy, yet when the night might be more or less spent. His return from the wedding as a prophetic event does not suite the marriage of the Lamb on high, still less the day when Zion shall be called “Hephzibah” and the land “Beulah.” But as a figure, expressive of a duty suitable to His loving fellowship, filled with bright joy and excluding all associations of judgment and sadness, what is so appropriate? What could so well call out the warm affections of the bondmen to their own Lord? If words were to put the saints into the constancy of waiting for the coming of Christ, surely none could more powerfully set that hope as the proximate and immediate object before their hearts.
But there is more. What could strengthen that hope so much as the wondrous assurance He solemnly adds! He shall gird Himself about — yes, in the glory of heaven — and make them recline at its feast, and come up and serve them. It was the humiliation of love we only conceive faintly, that He who subsisting in God's form deemed it no object of seizure to be on equality with God, emptied Himself when He took a slave's form and came in likeness of men. Yet He went farther, as love's need required, and when found in fashion as man, He humbled Himself in becoming obedient as far as death (and what must it have been to Him) yea, the death of the cross. It was in that divine love which would secure God's glory and man's blessing at all cost. Now glorified in heaven He continues the work of a slave in intercession for us, which was symbolized by the washing of the defiled feet of the disciples. Here again His love is to assume a renewed form when we are there glorified; when, as His mark of honour for His bondmen who have watched for Him, He will cause them to recline at the heavenly feast and will come up to serve them.
Let us consider the joy it is, that this the apostolic hope is ours now no less than the apostolic faith and fellowship, if one has ears to hear. “And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find [them] so, blessed are those.” It is thus evident that expecting the Lord at a distant and defined moment is not what He impresses. The object is that His bondmen should be always on the watch.
THE LORD'S COMING IN THESSALONIANS
If the teaching of the apostles is sought, none can find a more direct supply than in the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. From 1 Thessalonians 1, we learn that the great apostle Paul instructed those saints from their conversion to God, not only to serve Him as a living and true God, but to await His Son from the heavens, whom He raised from out of the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath. This waiting is quite general, and wisely so as a first outline for believers just brought out of heathenism. It was enough for them to be put into this happy condition of waiting for Him who so loved them and had wrought so effectively for them now and forever. They would have details in due time: many were given in these early letters from Paul.
Nor was it less on Paul's side who, as he wished no selfish advantage nor present power nor worldly honour, but to be the ready servant of Christ's love and will, looked for his reward in no object of earth's vain glory. “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting? Are not ye, too, before our Lord Jesus at His coming? for ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2). But he also most carefully urged them to love one another and all, as was his own affection toward them, in order to confirm their hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints (1 Thess. 3). The unbelieving idea of any members of Christ being absent at that coming was about to be effaced from every heart.
Disallowing another old idea that a saint's death is Christ's coming for him, the apostle in 1 Thessalonians 4 adds to the scene of bereavement the joyful certainty that God will bring with Christ all those put to sleep through Jesus. And he explains, as a new revelation, that the Lord Himself will come for His saints, the dead in Christ and ourselves then alive and remaining, in order that all thenceforth will be forever with Him.
Paul also points out in 1 Thessalonians 5 the awful character of the Lord's day when sudden destruction comes on the sons of night and darkness whom that day shall overtake as a thief. Every Christian ought to see the distinctness of the Lord's coming to gather His own unto Himself above, from His day of judicial dealing with His and their adversaries: the first is a fresh revelation of sovereign grace, the other a well-known theme of all prophecy.
The second Epistle follows the same truth, but particularly to guard from the delusion that the day of the Lord had actually come. Hence they are shown that their persecution was not at all the feature of that day. Then, the Lord shall be revealed from heaven, awarding both tribulation to their troublers and rest to His future saints. It will be the time of His vengeance in flaming fire on the evil; while He shall have come, not to receive the saints to Himself for the Father's house, but to be glorified in His saints and wondered at in all who believed, before the world. Therefore in 2 Thessalonians 2 he begs them for the sake of (or by) His coming and their gathering together to Him, not to be shaken by the false cry that the day of the Lord was present. For before that day (not before His coming for us) two fearful evils must be: the apostasy and the man of sin revealed who is to be annulled by the appearing of His coming in that day. Lastly, in 2 Thessalonians 3 he prays the Lord to direct their hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. He waits patiently, and so should we.
1 CORINTHIANS 1:7
See how the blessed hope is meant to cheer, elevate and strengthen all the practical life! No wonder Satan labours incessantly to dim, weaken and destroy its light and power. Take 1 Corinthians 1:7. There we have in strict propriety not exactly the “coming,” but the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, in verse 8 “the day” because only then will be manifested how the saints acquitted themselves as to the use of each gift of grace entrusted to their charge. Whereas in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:26) they were to announce His death until He come, bringing the affections into the deepest play between the beginning and end of Christian existence and pilgrimage — Christ's death and His coming.
2 PETER 1:19
Nor should we fail to note Peter's words, which bear on our theme, especially as they are generally misunderstood. Peter counts the scene on the holy mount as confirming “the prophetic word, to which ye do well in taking heed, as to a lamp shining in a squalid place, until day dawn and [the] day star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). “Ye” were the same Christian Jews of the dispersion who Peter had addressed in his first Epistle. They were already familiar with the law. They did well in paying attention to the prophetic word which he compares to a lamp shining in a squalid place (as this world truly is), over which hang the unsparing judgments of God soon to fall. Like the Hebrews to whom Paul wrote, they were slow in appropriating the fuller light and better hope of Christianity. How few know of themselves, that “the worshippers once purged have no more conscience of sins”! The apostle accordingly adds, “until day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts”; i.e. till in your hearts shall have dawned heavenly gospel light, and Christ as morning star arisen there in hope, as now made known by the apostles.
The believing Jews were prone to be satisfied with “the word of the beginning of Christ” — that Jesus in truth was the Messiah, God's Anointed. They believed the fact of His death, resurrection, ascension and return, but they feebly apprehended the blessed results both for God and man, and especially for the saints. They were truly born of God and converted, but how little they entered, if at all, by the new and living way into their own nearness, far beyond that even of the Aaronic priesthood! How slow also to cry Abba, Father! With the light of the gospel goes also the hope of Christ as morning star coming before the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. Thus it is not merely His rising in the day of Jehovah with healing in His wings for Israel and with treading down as ashes for the wicked.
Here it is the hearts of the saints fully receiving heavenly light as well as the proper Christian hope. But men, and none more than Israelites, were proud of the old wine and unwilling to believe in the superior value of the new. They thus said, “The old is good.” Hence (as this was a serious wrong to Him who was infinitely more than Messiah), the apostles painstakingly led them onward from Judaism into the depths of God now revealed. God did this by Paul showing the better things of Christianity in the Epistle to the Hebrews, by John in the mysteries of his Gospel and the Revelation, and by Peter in the fervent appeals of both his Epistles.
Many dear Christians unconsciously betray their total misapprehension of the apostle's drift by stopping short of what he says and quoting only “until the day dawn and the day star arise,” as if the words “in our hearts” had never been written or had no meaning, whereas they are essential to the true sense. The apostle does not here speak of the day of glory come for the earth, of Zion's light arrived. On the contrary he desires that the believing remnant of Jews to whom he writes, should not be content with the lamp of prophecy, good as it is for the murky world under judgment with divine wrath impending, but have gospel daylight dawning and the morning star arising in their hearts. This is the special Christian privilege, but many never rise in their anticipations beyond the kingdom and reigning with Christ. It is the realization in their hearts of what Christ entitles to, both as to their present standing and the hope of His coming. If any already understood this privilege, they would know the vantage ground it gave them; if not, he would have them seek it from Him who blesses by faith according to the word of His grace.
REVELATION 2:28 — THE MORNING STAR
A confirmation of considerable weight appears in other references. Thus Revelation 2:28 holds out to the overcomer the precious promise of the Lord Jesus, “I will give to him the morning star.” It is presented as distinct from the authority which the Lord will also give to him over the nations, “and he shall tend them with an iron rod, as vessels of pottery are they broken in pieces, as I also received of my Father.” On the one hand there is the public display of association with Christ when the nations are shattered like potter's ware; on the other, our receiving from Him the privilege of having Him before that day of glory breaks, when He is compared to the star that precedes the dawn, and none see except those who wait for Him and watch in the night before the morn.
It is more interesting when we view the context more closely. This passage occurs in the message to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira, the first of the letters which speak of the Lord's coming again, and therefore in principle go on till then. Here, the change takes place when the expression “He who hath an ear,” instead of preceding the promise, follows it, and thus gives the more emphasis to the individual who overcomes. In what is written here one easily discerns the prefiguration of the mediaeval state, not only the adulterous and haughty iniquity of Jezebel or extreme Popery with its claim of infallibility (“who calleth herself prophetess”), but others also of wholly different mind — “My servants” whom she misled into uncleanness and communion with idol sacrifices, as notably the worship of the host, etc. There is also the striking intimation of a distinct remnant, “to you I say, the rest in Thyatira as many as have not this doctrine, such as know not the depths of Satan as they say,” that seem to designate witnesses of the pre-Reformation era, like the Waldenses who were remarkable for their endurance and works of faith: a people singularly simple, devoted and suffering.
Can we not discern the fitness of such a quasi-prophetic picture drawn by Him who knew the end from the beginning? The great corruptress, with her children, that sat a queen and should in no wise see grief, is to be cast into a bed, and with her lovers into great tribulation, to be killed with death. She, by falsely claiming His name, usurped authority over the nations in His absence and reigned where and when the true Church was called to suffer yea unto blood, wrestling against sin. Faith follows Christ as He walked here, content and bound to wait till He takes His world kingdom (Rev. 11:15). Faith refuses, as He did, Satan's offer of the habitable world, the reward of paying him homage. Faith waits to share all with Him at His coming. It is not only that the Church will reign with Him over the earth, but that He will come to have her with Himself before (as the Sun of Righteousness) He shall arise with healing in His wings for those who fear His name, when as an oven the day comes to burn the proud and the wicked as stubble and to leave them neither root nor branch. In a certain sense all His saints have this honour — the risen reigning with Him, those on earth reigned over.
For the overcomer who keeps His works to the end, there is another privilege yet more precious, if not such a display of power. “And I will give to him the morning star.” It is actual association with Himself on high before that day! It is quite an advance on what the apostle Peter desired in his second Epistle (1:19) for the Christian Jews of the Dispersion. There, he distinguishes the lamp of prophecy shining in the world's squalid place, over which judgments impend, from the superior daylight of the gospel, and the morning star of Christ as the heavenly hope arising within. It was well to heed that lamp, but they should not rest satisfied till they had what was far better even now in their hearts. In Revelation 2 it is not merely realizing the Christian hope as in 2 Peter 1, but the positively fulfilled promise when Christ will “give” the morning star. Then shall we who watch be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. But as yet the world slumbers and sleeps for it is still night, and they who sleep, sleep by night, and they who drink, drink by night. But we being of day, let us watch and be sober.
In the last chapter of Revelation there is another application of the same figure when a similar distinction reappears in the closing words of our Lord. “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify these things to you in the churches” (Rev. 22:16). It is our privilege to have the Spirit reporting to us what is coming, as well as what glorifies Christ both here and on high, guiding us into all the truth. “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Here we have the witness of His twofold glory. The Old Testament bears clear witness as in Isaiah 9, 11, etc. that He is the Root and Offspring of David, the Mighty God, and the Child born, the Son given. The New Testament alone tells us of Him, whether in hope or in possession, as the Morning star. It is not the sun rising and calling the sons of men to their functions in the day when all shall be ordered aright under the great King. It is not the day when Israel will be at the head of the nations, and they in their place of subjection as Jehovah ordains for the world to come whereof we speak.
The passage conveys much more. The declaration from His lips is that He is the bright, the “Morning Star.” This elicits the prompt answer of the bride, the Lamb's wife in title; and not her's only, but that of the Holy Spirit who had anointed and sealed, and here fittingly guides her. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” It is Christ announcing Himself as the Morning Star which draws out the heart's answer. His bride, the Church, animated and directed by the Spirit, thus responds to His love and bids Him come according to His promise. Long had she waited for Him, and watched earnestly more than those who long for the morning. His coming will be her crowning joy of love and her instant change into glory forever, though not yet the appearing before the world.
In John 14 the Lord had said, I am coming again and will receive you unto Myself that where I am, ye also shall be. He was crucified by the world, but on the cross He glorified God as He never had been and never so needs again, glorifying God even as to sin and thus furnishing to Him a new glory. He was therefore glorified by God and in God as the basis of the gospel at its fullest, as well as of the Church of God, Christ's body. In order to do this with other purposes pertaining to the heavenly and new state of things, He departed out of this world unto the Father. But far from abandoning the feeble objects of His grace, it is there and then strenuously declared (John 13:1) that having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end. His love was complete. Besides both He and the Father sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit of truth, to abide with and in them forever. But He also assured them of His own coming again to fetch them into the Father's house, that they may be with Himself in those many mansions.
When the Lord says that He is “the bright, the morning Star,” it is no mere wish or enthusiastic emotion of nature that bursts forth. The Spirit Himself takes the initiative in the heart of the Church. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” The earthly bride does not receive the Spirit till the Lord has appeared in glory. There will be true conversion of a godly remnant of Jews long before, in days of sore trial and growing evil and danger. Some will be slain for righteousness' sake and for truth as far as known; others preserved to be the nucleus of the generation to come. But the great privilege of the outpoured Spirit from on high is when the King is come and the wilderness becomes a garden and a garden is counted a forest. It is the day of Israel's full blessing and of the restitution of all things concurrently. But here in Revelation 22 every solid reason points to that heavenly bride who alone has the privilege of the indwelling Spirit to give her present communion with Christ in all things before He comes, and here in His coming for her. The simple form of speech has striking beauty, and is full of grace, for He speaks and she replies intelligently in the love that at once answers to His love.
First, there is recognized the normal relationship, and the Spirit as competent and graciously prompting the bride. Many a child of God is uninformed and unconscious of his proper association with Christ after this intimate pattern. He does hear His voice and does not know the voice of strangers. The reality of his divine birth is thus fully owned, while ignorance of the bridal relationship is graciously provided against up to (we may say) the last moment that intervenes: “and let him who heareth say, Come.” What is there to fear in the coming of Him who died for us and rose and comes again? What love, joy and honour are couched in His coming again to receive us unto Himself and to set us with and like Himself now in the Father's house! Therefore “let him who heareth say, Come.”
To the last, the outflow of divinely given compassion for the wretched and lost has its place. The gospel has its glad and urgent message for souls. Hence the distinct turn in the closing half of the verse. The difference is made clear by the omission of “say.” It would be out of the question for any except the bride and the Christian to bid Christ come; those who know Him by faith and are assured of His love can and are called to say so. But it would be madness for any others to join in such a call. Because of their ruin and their sins, they need Him first to save them. Till they believe, He could only be their judge. But it is still the day of grace. The word for such accordingly is, “And let him who is athirst come and let him who will, take life's water freely.”
The thirsty one is invited to come. The Church has the spring within and rivers flowing without, but she calls to Christ. It is His name that avails for all the sinner's need before God. There is no obstacle on His side in the way: God gave and sent His Son for this express purpose. His death, however wicked and destructive might be man's part, only the more met his wants in God's surpassing grace. Let him in all his need “come,” but not say “Come.” Yea “he who will,” however feebly he as yet feels his evil state, shall the more truly feel it as he by faith apprehends divine love. “Let him take life's water freely” God's grace gives it to him who is only willing, to him who comes just as he is. Is it not indeed a wondrous verse? And it emphatically applies till Christ comes.
O the darkness which fails to see that the bright morning Star is the Lord's coming in fullness of grace to associate the heavenly saints with Himself, without the smallest sign of judgment if we accept the Word of God! How sweet a hope now to arise in our hearts! How glorious and what joy of love when He thus comes to receive us unto Himself for the Father's house! Yes, He announces Himself as the bright, the morning star; and the Spirit and the bride say, Come. Destructive judgments! unknown worlds! No! Rather, we have the consummation of His love and ours as one with Him, and this realized in the Father's house. If it were not so, He would not have raised our hope so high. Did He not say that the Father Himself dearly loves us because we have dearly loved the Son and have believed that He came from God, yea the Father?
God will do more than display us before every eye in the same glory with our Lord, that the world may know that God loved us as He loved Him. He will gratify His own desire that we shall be with Him above the world where no earthly eye can penetrate, so that we may behold Christ's glory, for the Father loved Him before the world's foundation. This spiritual joy is far beyond any manifestation before the world, however glorious. Weigh it, brethren, that you may learn how much your earthly preoccupation robs you of what should be your proper portion in fellowship with Him above.
THE SECRET RAPTURE
In John 14:1-3 the rapture is implied in our Lord's coming again and receiving us unto Himself. Neither time nor season, neither contingent change nor prophetic date, neither general state of the earth nor specific sign of any sort, finds the least place. Infinite love of the Son in communion with the Father elevates us above all such thoughts into an incomparable blessedness above with Christ. It is inconceivable that any Christian mind fail to discern the rapture in what the apostle Paul announced in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, with details as to the dead saints and the living ones. Philippians 3:20-21 and Jude 24 sustain the same heavenly truth. In all it is the same translation of the saints to be with the Lord above.
Not one word in these different Scriptures teaches visibility to the world. It is the making good that sovereign grace which without a displayed signal to the saints, still less to those who are not concerned, has given us the promise of heavenly association with Christ. Here we shall have the hope blessedly accomplished. In all these intimations there is the most marked absence of others beholding what the Lord is effecting. It flows from His special love for His own, which excludes strangers from intermeddling with His joy. But the day of the Lord duly follows when the world shall see both Him and His Church appearing in glory (John 17:24).
What has misled people is the confounding of the revelation or manifestation with the rapture. The manifestion distinctly calls for “every eye” to see it, as the rapture excludes every eye. The Lord will come for His own, will raise those who were put to sleep through Him, will change us the living who remain until then, both in an eye's twinkling at the last trumpet, and thus gather us together to Him, not only into the air to meet Him, but so received to set us in the Father's house before the presence of His glory with exultation. All this is above and apart from the understanding of man. But the public vindication of Christ and His own before the universe is when He will come forth after the marriage of the Lamb on high (Revelation 19), as well as the final judgment on earth of Babylon the great harlot to which God under the seventh vial gave the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath (Rev. 17, 19). Only then is the visible display of the Lord and of the glorified saints who follow Him out of the opened heavens, when He smites the nations, shepherds them with iron rod and treads the winepress of His wrath.
It is called, not His presence merely, but “the appearing of His presence” (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1 with 8), by which the Lord Jesus shall annul the then-revealed lawless one as well as the apostate imperial chief, who shall both be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. Thus does God render tribulation to the troublers of the saints and rest to the troubled, not at the rapture of the saints, but at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of His power, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who know not God, and on those who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus. This would have been quite out of place with all that is said of His coming to change His saints and translate them to heaven. But it is entirely in keeping with His appearing, His glorified saints being with Him, for the double purpose of their enemies paying penalty of everlasting destruction from the Lord's face and from the glory of His might, and of His coming (not to receive, but) to be glorified in His saints and marvelled at in all who believed in that day. It will be the day of the Lord then truly present, the saints having been gathered to Him previously.
This perfectly agrees with Revelation 17:14 which is ignored by those who oppose what they call the “secret rapture” and no wonder, for it is utterly incompatible with their hypothesis. Those with the Lamb, when the Beast and the vassal kings make war with Him, are called and chosen and faithful, the first and the last. These terms can describe only His accompanying saints, not angels. This is confirmed by the later description in Revelation 19:14 where the symbolic clothing points to the saints, not to angels (compare verse 8 before), and yet more by the previous marriage of the Lamb. All agree in proving that the rapture of the saints, unseen by the world, whatever the astonishment produced by the disappearance of the living saints, must have preceded the revelation of the Lord and His glorified saints which is associated with the manifest and awful judgments He will execute on their enemies.
It has already been shown that Colossians 3:4 concerns the manifestation, not the rapture of the saints when the Lord is manifested in glory, which is more than His coming or simply presence. They are then, and not before, manifested in glory. Christ is therefore not seen in glory before they are caught up. They shall be manifested together. The Scriptures on which people have thought differently refer to the Jews, not to Christians. These godly Jews will be gathered in the land to Him as their glorious King instead of being first caught up, and then at a later time will appear with Him in the same glory. Compare Matthew 24:31-41, Mark 13:27-31, Luke 21:27-36, Isaiah 24:21-23 and Isaiah 25-27.
Though none of the Scriptures which apply to this subject speak of visibility to people, we do hear of the Lord's “shout,” of the archangel's voice and of the trump. But why should any attach loudness of sound to these expressions, solemn and impressive as they undoubtedly are? These verses fully speak of the personal and gracious intervention of the Lord Jesus for His own, the faithful summons of God, the acclaim of the archangel and in 1 Corinthians 15 the immediate and final notice to depart, but none of these goes necessarily beyond the persons interested. They directly concern only the household of faith and only the glorified.
People have compared the Lord's descent for us with Exodus 19. But thunder and lightnings were then, and the voice of a trumpet “exceeding loud,” so that all the people trembled. And Mount Sinai was altogether covered with smoke and Jehovah descended upon it in fire, and the smoke from it ascended as the smoke of a furnace and the whole region quaked greatly. And the voice of the trumpet became louder and louder. All thus was alarming, and awful, as became the ministry of death and condemnation in the law.
When the Lord comes in restoring mercy for Israel, we read that in that day a “great” trumpet shall be blown and that His angels will be sent with a great trumpet, or a great sound of trumpet. This expresses what is wholly absent when Scripture tells of His coming in love and majesty to make good His love to the heavenly saints. His appearing to Israel is bound up with the infliction of judgments on the apostates, Jewish and Gentile, and the punishment of the enemies of His people and of the wicked in general. As with His own ascension, our rapture will be the triumph of grace which leaves the world unmolested for the moment, though the providential inflictions of God soon begin to follow in measured order and increasing degree, till all culminates in the day of the Lord at their close, as detailed in the Book of Revelation.
WHEN DOES THE RAPTURE TAKE PLACE?
The glorified saints must be caught up to heaven for some time before they with Him emerge from heaven, for they follow the King of kings who descends to smite the nations with a sharp sword and to shepherd them with iron rod, as well as to tread the winepress of God's exceeding wrath. Some only allow the saints to have been there from the destruction of Babylon under the seventh vial. Since all God's vials precede Christ's appearing, He cannot appear before they all are poured out. If therefore Christ destroys Babylon and takes up the saints then or before its destruction, so that God is praised above for His judgment of the great harlot, He must have come for them before the day of His revelation from heaven in Revelation 19 for His still more awful judgment of the Beast, etc. This clearly overthrows this system.
The main question for those who value the truth is, Where or when according to Scripture are the saints translated to heaven? It is beyond question that the book of Revelation opens with the Lord seen in the prophet's vision judging the seven churches in Asia. This is what John “saw.” “The things which are” is a notable description of the seven churches as judged by the Lord in His letters to each respectively. “The things about to be after these,” are the visions of the future to follow up even into eternity itself. These are the three divisions of the book according to Revelation 1:19. The third division is the strict prophecy, consisting of two portions (Rev. 4-11 and Rev. 12-22:5), for each opens with a prefatory introduction and goes on to the end.
Here then may be found adequate evidence when the rapture of the saints takes place. The condition of the Church is prefigured in the seven churches — “the things that are”: not the actual Asiatic assemblies only, but what they prefigured successively as the things would be to the hearing ear by what the Spirit says. Revelation 4 and Revelation 5 indicates the glorified saints already symbolized as in heaven, twenty-four elders, chief-priests of the fully numbered courses, crowned and enthroned around God's central throne. This is definite; and they are no longer disembodied souls but changed, resurrected people. Any saints, Jewish or Gentile, called afterwards (as many are), add nothing to them: they are complete. During the period that follows no church-state is seen.
Revelation 7 shows a numbered complement out of the twelve tribes of Israel, and after that a countless crowd of Gentiles, objects of divine choice and blessing, but they are separate from each other. There is no fusion into one, as the nature of the Church requires. God keeps each distinct from first to last: it resembles His work in the Old Testament. Only grace largely works outside Israel and so far like the New Testament. But church-state is closed. It is a new condition with abundant mercy in the face of idolatry, apostasy, persecution, tribulation and divine judgments. A people is prepared for the earth under the reign of the Lord personally present and His glorified saints: a reign of righteousness and peace, Satan wholly excluded and the Holy Spirit poured on all flesh for 1000 years.
That the existing Church-state closes on earth at the end of Revelation 3 is as demonstrable as that the overcomers out of it, with all who were Christ's before them, are thenceforth seen as glorified in heaven from Revelation 4 and 5. Nothing but the coming of Christ to gather those who believed to Himself can account for the new company above, the disappearance of recognized churches here below, and the formation of separate companies out of Israel and the Gentiles thenceforward for the earthly purposes of God during the crisis of evil and His judgments, till the Lord comes from heaven to put down Satan and his agents and to establish His world-kingdom. It is therefore between Revelation 3 and 4 that the time for the saints' translation best suits. A transition period then ensues when the Church disappears and grace works, in presence of solemn chastenings of men, to get ready a nucleus for the Lord's appearing and for the millennial earth, as well as for martyrdom meanwhile.
This conveys the general preview of the steps God takes in judgment, though with dealings of concurrent mercy, to chastise the world, and especially its more favoured parts, and to pave the way for investing the Lamb at the proper time with its direct and supreme government. This ends with Revelation 11:18 for the earthly and the eternal kingdom.
In the next section we do not see a central throne with enthroned heirs of God and Christ's joint-heirs around, but the temple of God in heaven is opened and the ark of His covenant is seen, not on earth, but still above and yet with added signs of present displeasure. The first great sign seen there is of God's sure promise for Israel's glory. It is not the bride, but the travailing mother of Him who is to tend all the nations with an iron rod, arrayed with the sun, the moon under feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. Supreme authority is to be her's, the sun that rules the day; the changing and reflected light of the old covenant, no longer guiding but under her feet; but also the fullness of human subordinate authority. Meanwhile the child who was born, the Son of might, was caught up to God and to His throne. The great dragon, another sign, was seen there, having seven heads and ten horns, emblematic of the Roman empire in deadly opposition to both. War in heaven ensues. The dragon, the devil, is cast out with his angels; woe to the earth and to the sea while the heavens and those who dwell there (for so it will then be) rejoice greatly! The devil has great rage, knowing he has a short time — and he vents it against the woman and the rest of her seed, the godly remnant.
These conflicts are regarded in a far deeper way than in the earlier visions. The counsels of God centering in His Son are seen, and the hostility of Satan in his last efforts during the half-week which has still to run out, before the Lord in person crushes him and his lawless instruments as in Revelation 19 and 20. It is the import of the woman's seed caught up on high that is insinuated. For in the manner of the prophetic word the apostle intimates in mystic style the translation to heaven of the saints before the dates begin.
We are thus viewed as in Christ who was caught up there, while the woman and the remnant of her seed are objects, not only of Satan's hate, but of God's providential care on the earth. As we shall share Christ's authority when He takes His great power and reigns (Rev. 2:26-27), so we are symbolically wrapped up in Him in His being caught up out of Satan's way. We are one with Him in this foreseen rapture, as the apostle Paul in Romans 8:33-34 applies to the Christian what Isaiah 50:8-9 says of Christ.
Thus we again, and in a very different form suited to this part of the prophecy, come round to the still higher promise in Revelation 2:28. We are associated with Christ as the morning star before the Sun of righteousness introduces the day for all the world, and we too share the glorious reign with Him. If, instead of groundless fancy, we listen to Scripture, the bright, the morning star shines not for the slumbering world, but for those who watch during the dark night. It is essentially spiritual, visible to saints only, not to the world which will have to do rather with the Sun of righteousness.
The Holy Spirit had first to be poured out and the gospel preached to all the creation. But the New Testament attests that this was done during that first generation, and that the saints were then taught by the apostles to wait for Christ habitually and constantly with no revealed event to precede or intercept.
Reviewing, we have seen that after Revelation 3, churches in the book of Revelation disappear from the earth and that a new sight of glorified saints are soon in heaven. The fresh action of God follows, concurrently here below, of a secured complement of Israel and a blessed and far larger crowd out of all the nations. They are kept apart instead of being baptized in the power of the Spirit into one body as we are, and as the nature of God's Church characteristically demands.
Revelation 22:16 is no exception. From verse 6 to the end we simply have appeals to John and the churches that then existed, however permanent the profit might be, as the suited conclusion to the visions previously revealed. The Lord would have all that preceded testified in the churches. But this affords no ground for imagining “churches” in the New Testament sense during the entire period of the crisis, or any part of it, from Revelation 6-19, or indeed any longer as on the earth.
The closing words of the last chapter of Revelation are impressive. They corroborate the essential difference between the Christian hope and the wondrous communication that comprises the unfolded visions of what is to befall the earth in judgment as well as mercy from Revelation 6-19 inclusively. This latter is in the richest way the prophetic word which in God's wisdom and goodness, completes the New Testament.
There are to be two successive series of judgments, of a general and then of a special character, as in the seven seals and the seven trumpets. A general securing to Himself out of Israel and from among all the nations, accompanies the one; and if the Jews in unbelief seek to establish their polity and religion, God begins within the other to recognize a godly remnant during those days of sin and sorrow, with an adequate testimony like that of Moses and Elijah, which none can hinder till their work is done. And the Beast is first seen in his deadly antagonism. Martyrdom ensues. The apparent triumph of the enemy is answered, not only by God's power in raising the slain and taking them up to heaven in view of their foes, but by a defined overthrow of man's pride on earth. Then follows the end of man left to himself, and the world-kingdom of our Lord and His Christ is come.
Next, we go back to let in details of the deepest importance, of which enough has been said. And the kingdom of glory follows, the great white throne and the eternal scene.
Many saints contend for a certain part [of Daniel's 70th week] to intervene before the Lord comes for us. However, none can show any legitimate Scriptural evidence. Proof to the contrary has already been given. The only consistent point for the removal of the saints to heaven is when the churches are no longer seen or heard of on earth and a new symbolic company is presented in heaven. After this, the steps are revealed by which God chastises the guilty world. In the midst of the great tribulation He calls and forms, not in one body as now, but separately, a twofold nucleus of blessed people — Jews and Gentiles — for the earth under the Lord's future reign. At that time He had already taken to Himself on high those destined to reign with Him when that glorious time arrives, as we see in Revelation 20-22:5.
The fulfillment prophecy awaits the time for the earthly question to be answered. Now, the Lord is occupied with a heavenly work which does not have the distinction of Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman, but Christ being the all and in all. This work is quite independent of earthly change because the end of that work is to be with Him where He is. And thus He concludes, “He who testifies these things saith, Yea, I come quickly. Amen, come, Lord Jesus,” is the divinely supplied reply. The constant waiting, apart from times and seasons, is kept up to the last for those who have an ear to hear.
It is striking to see how careful the Lord is to exclude prophetic events from mingling with our proper portion in His coming for us; and all the more because Revelation is in the main the great Christian book of prophecy. Hence, while giving solemn warnings in these concluding appeals in Revelation 22, He fixes our hearts on His coming in sovereign grace without a revealed earthly event to intercept it. He precludes any delay on the basis of governmental dealings with people on the earth. He allows no room for confusion with intervening changes in the world. “He who testifieth these things saith, Yes, I come quickly,” to which our graciously provided answer is, “Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” Can any words be simpler or more effective for the heart?
The gospel was sent to save sinners and to associate them when saved with Christ, the glorified Head, and thus to constitute them a heavenly body, His body. Its aim is not to gather into one the world, but the children of God who were scattered abroad. The gospel was to be preached everywhere as a testimony, but with no such thought as winning all Israel or the nations while He is on high. It is reserved for the Lord, not for the Church, in judicial authority to take His great power and reign when His world-kingdom is come: a future and total change from His present seat on His Father's throne. That occurs at His appearing and His kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1). It is “the blessed hope” of what God will do for man and the world, and we rejoice anticipatively. There will be no general blessing for the human race till then. We await it with assurance and love it as redounding not to the blessing of man only, but to the glory of our Saviour God. In the Pastoral Epistles, Christ's appearing alone is pressed because responsibility rather than distinctive privilege is the point, and then, not before, “that day” will the issues appear of fidelity or of failure.
Before that day of manifestation the awful apostasy must come, as well as the audacious uprising against God of the man of sin whom the Lord Jesus will destroy by His appearing (2 Thess. 2). Before that day, as is made evident in Revelation 19, the predicted blows of divine chastisement must be fulfilled as revealed from the seals of Revelation 6 to the last vials of God's wrath in Revelation 16, of which the judgment of Babylon in the descriptive appendix of Revelation 17-18 is a concluding part and explanation. Then follows the day of the Lord in Revelation 19 when the glorified saints follow Him out of heaven to the destruction of His enemies, the binding of Satan, the thousand years' reign of Christ and the risen saints over the earth, as in Revelation 20. God's Word makes all this clear, whatever the doubts and difficulties of the learned, or the unbelief of the worldly-minded.
But the still more intimate and proper hope of the Christian is Christ's coming for those who love Him and watch during the night for Him as the Morning Star, before the day.
As the apostle corrected the errors of the Thessalonian saints, yet confirmed the constant waiting for Him, carefully joining himself with them and all saints in the same attitude, so here does the Lord guard us from confounding His coming with that day, and God's necessary antecedent dealings of infliction or of mercy on Israel or the nations.
Meanwhile may “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”