Blackrock Lecture 5: Our Present Condition and Our Hope

Acts 17:1‑7  •  33 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
“But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”
It may seem strange that I have read this account of the historic narratives of the Acts with the Epistles afterward ministry of the apostle Paul, during the three sabbath days in written to the saints in the same places. Thessalonica. But it is extremely instructive to compare the historic narratives of the Acts with the Epistles afterward written to the saints in the same places.
I have read these verses for the sake of two special thoughts contained in them: lst, that there was a crucified, dead, and risen Christ preached by the apostle to them; and, 2nd, that there was to be a reigning Christ by-and-by; “another king, one Jesus.” This we may gather from verse 7. Its suitability too, is apparent when we think of those whom he addressed; namely, Jews who were familiar with the hopes of a glorious reigning Messiah, and who were instructed in the scriptures which so spake.
The basis then, of the thoughts I desire to present this evening is, as to the past a suffering, dead and risen Christ; as to the present, the association of the people of God with Him in a pathway of suffering and rejection; and as to the future, His Coming again in glory, and taking to Him His great power to reign, and our association with Him in His glory.
Now there is an immense reach between the first and the last of these thoughts; He has suffered, died and risen again, and gone on high, “to receive for himself a kingdom,” and He will return to take it in power and great glory; you will find that the two Epistles to the Thessalonians fill up the great gap, if we may so term it, between the past sufferings of Christ and His future glory.
You will anticipate from this, that I am about to speak a little this evening about the coming of the Lord, as the great event which will bring about all this glory for which He waits and we wait. It is near, beloved brethren; the heart feels conscious that it is so; and the present action of the Holy Spirit marks it as very close at hand.
You will find that when redemption is accomplished, and the Holy Spirit is dwelling here, there are two thoughts brought before us very prominently in the New Testament; both very different in character, yet very closely allied; that is, the “coming” and the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus.
I may remark as to the expression, the “coming” of the Lord, that it means His presence in contrast with His absence; and it is a large and comprehensive word as so used, reaching from what is known to many of us as the “rapture” of the saints, to be “forever with the Lord,” and continuing through the interval which follows, till His appearing with His saints in glory. The word “coming” (παρουσία) embraces both thoughts; while the “appearing” (ἐπιφανεία) is the shining forth of His coming when He will be displayed in glory to the world. That word “coming” is often used for this event, the “appearing”; but this last word is never used for the “coming: His “coming” or presence in contrast to His absence, embraces many details which He will accomplish in the interval, till His open manifestation to the world, when “every eye shall see him,” coming with “ten thousands of his saints.”
Many of my brethren whom I address know, that Christ is presented in the gospel narratives in four distinct ways. In Matthew He is seen as Jehovah-Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham, presented to His people and rejected, and in consequence passing to His higher glory as “Son of man,” over all the works of God’s hands (Psa. 8), through death and resurrection; then coming back as Son of man, in judgment, with the ensigns of Jehovah power and great glory.
If you examine Matthew 24, you find the Messiah rejected by His people and cast out, then returning as Son of man in judgment, and delivering His people Israel. First dealing with Jews, in the land of Judea (Matt. 24:15-3115When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: 17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. 23Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25Behold, I have told you before. 26Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:15‑31)), and appearing for their deliverance. Then gathering the “elect” of Israel from the four winds, from amongst the nations of the earth (compare Isa. 27:12, 1312And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. 13And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12‑13); Zech. 2:66Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the Lord. (Zechariah 2:6)).
Before that day comes, there is an immense heavenly interval, during which Christians are in relationship with Christ. We have this presented under three parables: The good and the evil servant; the wise and foolish virgins; and the faithful and the unfaithful use of the spiritual gifts (perhaps, rather, responsibilities) of Christ, as ascended and gone away for the time from Israel, until He comes and reckons judicially with His servants. And then, when the time we are passing through is past and gone, you find that after having come and delivered Israel (Matt. 24:15-3115When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains: 17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: 21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. 23Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25Behold, I have told you before. 26Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 27For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 28For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:15‑31)), and dealt in the true appraisal of the work and watchfulness of His servants (Matt. 24:44-51; 25:1-3044Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. 45Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? 46Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:44‑51)
1Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. 2And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: 4But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. 6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. 7Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. 9But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 10And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. 11Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. 14For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 16Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 17And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 18But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. 19After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 24Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:1‑30)
), He sits upon the throne of His glory, and before Him are gathered the Gentiles or nations, and His “brethren” after the flesh, the Jewish remnant of that day; and the former are judged, as to how they had received the message of His coming kingdom and glory through the latter. Believing and bowing to it, constituted them the “sheep,” as the rejection of it, the “goats.” It is the judgment of the “quick,” which introduces the millennial kingdom, the thousand years of earthly blessing. It will be seen that there are three classes of persons in this scene; the sheep, the goats, and His “brethren.”
You must quite set aside the human thought of this scene being a “general judgment” — there is nothing so foreign to scripture. God does not confound together the saved and lost in “that world,” when by the truth He has wrought to separate them here, much as man has blotted out the distinction. In the judgment of the great white throne of Revelation 20, after a thousand years there is not a living man seen; in that of this chapter not a dead man is seen! Besides all this, the ground of judgment in this solemn scene would embrace but a small proportion of the population of the world. Comparatively few will have had the testimony addressed to them, which forms the ground of judgment here, or any testimony from God: they will be judged according to their works — a totally different ground of judgment. This precludes the thought of its being a general judgment. Nothing but most careless reading, or the bias of human thought, could have so interpreted the passage. With this judgment of the living nations, the Jewish mind was most familiar; with a judgment of the dead but little. To us as Christians, the judgment of the dead is a familiar thought and the judgment of the “quick” (living) very little known.
In the Gospel of Mark, the Lord Jesus is presented as God’s servant in testimony, in His holy mission of service of love; at the close of it when ascended and in glory, it is said, even then, the Lord working with His servants whom He had left to carry on His heavenly mission here below. He is still the worker as gone up. In Mark 13 you find Him as one who has gone away, and set “every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch”: then He comes back to see if each is at His post of service and watching; whether at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning. Thus, is the Lord’s coming presented in keeping with the gospel of His service — His own work, or that of His servants. He comes back to see if each servant is at his post.
Beloved friends, here let me say to you that it is a very solemn thing for every soul to inquire, Am I filling up the little niche of service that He has given me? There are not only great gifts, but joints and bands; and the body of Christ is said to increase by the joints and bands; every joint supplying that which belongs to itself in the mutual and effectual working of the measure of each one part. It is a great thing if each has found out his own path of service for the Lord.
It may be by earnest prayer in one; by the use of his temporal means in another; of the spiritual gifts in a third. In one way or another, He has given us something to do for Him, and He is coming back to ascertain how each is discharging the duty given him, and “at an hour ye think not.” Therefore, after giving to each his work, and commanding the porter to watch, He says, “What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”
Now in Luke, who is the great moralizer, presenting things morally to men’s souls, and looking for a moral state in them, we find another thing. If Matthew gives us the official glory of the Messiah, and Mark the mission of service of One who “went about doing good”; Luke gives us Himself — Jesus, the Son of man — dealing morally with man. What then, will he look for, as he presents to us the Lord’s coming? A moral state of soul in those whose is such a hope. In Luke 12, “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning” — that is not resting here; “Arise, depart, for this is not your rest, it is polluted.” If you compare every place in scripture where you find girded loins spoken of, you will find the characteristic of the place is toiling and journeying on in a scene where your heart and affections must be braced up, they must not flow out here; it is a place of conflict and toil of some sort or other.
He speaks here of a “little flock.” He says, I have charged myself with your circumstances, you need not be of a “doubtful mind.” Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves “like unto men that wait for their Lord.” Notice the word “like”; that the world might take knowledge of them. Nothing tests the heart like it. I say there is nothing in scripture that has such testing power with souls. If the Lord’s coming be the horizon of the soul, see how little you will care for this scene. How little laying up for the future. The world would say, Well, it is plain what the man is doing. His hope is imprinting itself on his life, and acting itself out in all his ways. Of what value is this blessed hope if it be only held as a doctrine?
What is so blessed is, that it brings a divine person before the soul, and the heart is drawn out after Christ: it cultivates intimacy with Christ as we pass through this scene. Your heart is in the very condition that will welcome His return; it enjoys and cultivates a deepening intimacy with the one for whom it waits. Nothing brings Christ so personally before the soul as the hope of His coming.
Now John presents to us the divine Word manifest in flesh; the only begotten Son of the Father, the Son of God. And instead of a coming in power and glory, or in scrutiny of service, or as expecting a moral state of soul and heart to answer His own, He says, “I go”! (John 14). I must take your heart and affections out of this place and all earthly hopes. I must lead them into the Father’s house, where there are many mansions. David’s kingdom and Messiah’s glory must now fade away in your hopes and hearts. The day will come when all that earthly glory will be consummated. But your hopes are in another sphere. I am about to enter the Father’s house as man. I have wrought out your title to be there, on the cross. I enter it myself in the title by which you will enter into it. Then “I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Thus His instruction deals with and supersedes the hopes of the Jewish hearts around Him, and, as a consequence, suits our hearts, which have had no such hopes at all.
How blessed, beloved friends, to find, the moment I am free in heart and conscience before the Father, in the knowledge of His grace, that there was an abode in His house on high for me before ever the world was! Why is it that we never find any description of the Father’s house in scripture? You have the heavenly Jerusalem described in her wondrous glory and displayed as His bride — but never the Father’s house. Because you are supposed to be familiar with the Father’s Son, the Father is revealed in Him; and then it is sufficient to know that He is there, and the heart rests content in peaceful joy in the sense that where Jesus is, it is enough! “That where I am, there ye may be also!”
There is but one other passage in John that brings you thus into heaven and the Father’s house. This is suited to him because he is occupied in unfolding God on earth in Christ — not as Paul, who rather shows us Christ as man gone on high, and our place in Him in glory. The other passage I allude to is John 17:2424Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24).
So far as to the general truth of the Lord’s coming in the gospel narratives. He had come and presented Himself to bring in, in grace all the glories that the prophets had spoken of, but was rejected. When He comes again He will bring in, in glory, what was refused in grace. We will turn now to the two epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians. In them we shall find that the pathway entailed on the saints, and the circumstances which occur between the two great points I have before named, all come out. These epistles fill up, as it were, the gap between. So needed and suited too, to perfect that which was lacking in the faith of those saints at Thessalonica.
I might remark in passing, as to this chapter (Acts 17) that it illustrates the word of Paul, so frequently misapplied to cover worldliness, and mingling in the world. I allude to, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:2222To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22)). Acts 17 explains or illustrates his statements. If he goes into a synagogue in Thessalonica to speak to instructed Jews, he takes up the scriptures they knew and profess to believe: if to Athens, amongst the wits and philosophers of that city, noted for learning and human wisdom, he takes his text from one of their altars, on which was the inscription, “To the unknown God,” and quotes from one of their own poets a sentence which judged all their idolatry, “For we are also his [God’s] offspring” (Acts 17:2828For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:28)). Then, again, when He passed into the cities of Derbe and Lystra, where the grosser and more superstitious forms of idolatry prevailed, he preaches that they should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15-1715And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: 16Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 17Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:15‑17)).
He adapted himself to the turn of mind and religious thoughts of men — keeping his own liberty with and in Christ all through, and thus becoming all things to all that he might win the more.
Now in Thessalonica he took up in the synagogue their own scriptures, and unfolded what had happened to their Messiah as foretold there — “Opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ (Acts 17:33Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. (Acts 17:3)).” Then, when we examine what he wrote to them afterward, he alludes to the fact that this rejected Jesus, who was their Deliverer from the wrath to come, had not saved them from a path of suffering, but that His path was theirs. “Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith; that no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we were appointed there unto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know (1 Thess. 2:1-41For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: 2But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. 3For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: 4But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:1‑4)).” Thus the path of this suffering, dead, and risen Christ was shared with those whom His love had called to inherit with Him His future glory! How sad the mistake the Corinthians made in this. They had “reigned as kings” without Paul. “Would to God,” he says, “ye did reign”; for Christ would be reigning too (now He is “expecting”); and Paul then would “reign with you” (see 1 Cor. 4:88Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. (1 Corinthians 4:8)).
You will remark too, how bright and beautiful was the state of these freshly converted saints. “Ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves [the heathen] show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his son from heaven, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:7-107So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. 8For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:7‑10)).” Why was it that their Christianity was so bright? Because, whenever you find Christianity so, depend upon it, it is very objective. That is, Christ, as a living person, is so thoroughly before the heart, that the saints are lifted out of themselves, and every eye and heart is filled with Him.
In the first chapter (ver. 10) we find how this suffering, dead and risen Jesus had gone on high to His Father’s house; and how these beloved saints were waiting for God’s Son from heaven. It is not as “Son of man” we have thus to do with Him, but as “Son of God.” Paul was the first who preached Jesus, “the Son of God” (Acts 9:2020And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)). The Father had raised up His Son from the dead; and He is our deliverer from the wrath to come.” “To serve” and “to wait”: “to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven,” was their blessed occupation here.
Now, while they were thus serving and waiting, some had fallen asleep. You do not find in the doctrinal parts of the New Testament that a saint is said to die. No; he has been laid to sleep. “Death is ours,” and Jesus had taken it out of the hands of Satan; it was no more wielded by him who had the power of death, as the “wages of sin,” over the saints of God. Some amongst them had “fallen asleep,” and those who remained were troubled. They thought those who had thus gone would lose the blessing for which they waited, and they sorrowed for their loved ones who had gone. It was needful, then, to come in and reassure their hearts, and Paul is given an express revelation to do so. Suppose one whom we loved had fallen asleep, what comfort would be given to us now-a-days? Would it be, Be comforted, God will bring them back? Rather would it not be, Ah, you will go to him? Would it not be something like that by which David comforted his soul when the child died: “But now he is dead wherefore should I fast. Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:2323But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (2 Samuel 12:23)).
Nay; the hope is for Jesus to come for us, and bring with Him those who have gone before. Now Paul says, at the close of 1 Thess. 4, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which are laid asleep through Jesus will God bring with him.” It is not “them which sleep in Jesus.” Jesus, the true David has taken Goliath’s sword. He has disarmed Satan, who wielded the power of death, by going down into his domain of death. Therefore says Paul, “Death is ours.” It is not now the wages of sin to the believer: that which leads sinful man to the judgment which lies beyond. The Lord has taken it into His hand, and if a saint who has waited for Him here below, has rather to wait with Him on high, he is “laid to sleep through Jesus and God will bring them with him” (when He appears in glory).
The terms of the last clause of 1 Thess. 4:1414For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (1 Thessalonians 4:14) would apply, I apprehend, to the saints who have slept from Stephen and onward. Only such are before the apostle’s mind, though not of course excluding any: Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” Because the Son of God had first to take a personal name — “Jesus.” He did so when He became a man. “Jesus” is His personal name. Then He had to die and rise again, and disarm the enemy, taking death into His own hands. It does not say, Laid to sleep by Christ, but “through Jesus.” It is His action now. He has hushed the saint to sleep, as the mother has hushed her child! The spirit of the departed one is with Him; his body in the dust. When Jesus comes they will be re-united. The power God in resurrection will glorify the saint who has been fitted for the glory by His blood.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord.” (Paul is about to give a special revelation. When he does this, he marks it strongly, as, “Behold I show you a mystery,” and the like). “That we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent [that is, anticipate, or, go before] them which are asleep.” If there is any advantage as to time they have it. “For the Lord himself”; it is not merely “The Lord,” but “Himself shall descend”; as He had said, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself” (John 14:33And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:3)). He will leave His Father’s throne and descend from heaven “with a shout.” The shout is one of relationship with His own. His voice once called us out of darkness to Himself. The same voice gave forth the bitter cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” when under the hand of God as made sin for us. It is the same voice which now speaks in the accents of divine grace from heaven in the gospel (Heb. 12:2525See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: (Hebrews 12:25)). This voice of the Good Shepherd which we have known in our inmost souls, but which the world discerns not, will speak once more to those who are His, by this shout of relationship. Then the “voice of the archangel” carries it on, and the “trump of God” gives its sanction to all. Then the “dead in Christ shall rise first.” If there be a moment of precedence they have the advantage of those who are “alive and remain.” You will mark that it is the “dead in Christ” for it embraces all the saints of God.2 When this wondrous rapture takes place there is no distinction between the OT and the Church of God. “In Christ” marks a state or condition; they have not died “in Adam,” but in Christ.” Just as you cannot speak of a person being in Jesus — that is a personal name but “in Christ.” “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up,” [or snatched up] “together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” This is only one stage. The Father’s house is more than meeting Him “in the air.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions (abodes)... that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:22In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)). That is, the Father’s house. It is there He presents His saints as the fruit of the travail of His soul. This is ever the order, “First children, then heirs.” As in Ephesians 1, “Predestinated to sonship through Jesus” (vs. 5): then “ In whom we have obtained an inheritance.” The highest relationship we have is sonship to the Father.
Thus we have (Eph. 3:1818May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; (Ephesians 3:18)) “To the end that he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” Now you find that time apostle will unfold the evil that is to be manifested, while the saints are on high, before their shining forth in glory with Christ; before the “Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints.”
This rapture of the saints of God is a positive necessity in the completion of the grace which has taken up our cause. One feels that scripture would be incomplete without it. It is the consummation — the finish of the grace. It is power putting them into the glorious place for which His precious blood has fitted them the positive result of the meetness in which they now stand.
It has been said, but mistakenly, that it is only those who are actually waiting for Christ who will be caught up when He comes (partial rapture notion). But scripture never supposes that a saint is not waiting for Him. It always gives us the normal condition of Christians; our common level as to standing and hopes; though degrees of apprehension and joy are no doubt fully recognized. Consequently you never find in scripture that a saint is not waiting for Christ. Many, alas! have sunk into the abnormal state; many have never had the hope — never have had bridal affections awakened. Does this set aside this blessed hope? Does it change His sovereign grace? No! blessed be God, and the rapture of His saints is the fruit of sovereign grace; and waiting or not, all will be included in that wondrous army — for He must see the fruit of the travail of His soul.
Now the word for “coming” is a large and comprehensive term in scripture as we have seen. It embraces in its scope the interval from the catching up of the saints (the rapture), till their shining forth in glory (the appearing) — their manifestation with their Lord to every eye. The Lord will do many things during that interval. His first action will be to move from His present seat on His Father’s throne to meet them in the air. His voice is heard, “And the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive [the remaining ones] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16, 1716For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17)).” We gather another step from 1 Thess. 3:1313To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:13). He presents them to His Father, in His Father’s house on high. “First children, then heirs,” is the divine order. We shall then taste the joys of the Father’s house, already become the home of our hearts, amid its many mansions (abodes). In this passage we find the “coming” looks on to a moment beyond their presentation in the Father house; and this because he had introduced the thought of responsibility and holiness. Hence it runs on to the moment when they appear with Him; and all responsibility as to their path and ways of holiness has passed under the scrutiny of His eye.
When the saints are thus safely housed on high, the complete unfolding of the evil on earth takes place. These epistles go on to develop that; so you see, we are finding in these scriptures the steps between our two points in Acts 17. The world goes on saving “Peace and safety” on the eve of her “sudden destruction” out of which “they shall not escape.”
Nothing can be more solemn than the state of things at the present hour. The cry from the infidel heart of many is, The world awaits a man. You, beloved brethren, are informed of what is coming. Like “the prudent man” who “foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself,” while “ the simple” — the foolish — “pass on and are punished” (Prov. 22:33A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished. (Proverbs 22:3)). You are trimming your lamps, and going forth to meet your Lord. People tell you that the coming of the Lord is death. What folly! Who ever heard of death being our Lord? And His own lips have told us to be “Like men that wait for their Lord.” Jesus is this. He is our Lord and Savior, and He looks that our hearts may indeed, with unworldly joy, wait for Him.
In 2 Thess. 2 he recalls their hearts, and exhorts them by their proper hope, “The coming of the Lord, and our gathering together unto him,” not to be shaken by the false letter, “as from us” (vs. 2), that the “day of the Lord had come.” The open manifestation, or “day” of the Lord, would not come while they were here, and before that day, the lawless one the man of sin — would be revealed. The mystery of iniquity was then at work; the apostasy would come, and then he who would sit in God’s temple as God, would be there. The Lord would then appear in glory with those heavenly saints, who come with Him from the Father’s house on high. The day that would “burn as an oven,” when the brightness of the glory of the Sun of Righteousness would consume the wicked to ashes, and bring in healing and refreshment to the now cleansed and prepared millennial earth! This willful king — this lawless man would meet his doom, as those too who were deceived and who willfully followed him, not receiving the love of the truth that they might be saved.
You have often noticed the “wings” of “the Sun of Righteousness,” when reading Mal. 3. I believe they allude to the saints previously caught up, who wait for Jesus, the morning star, before the dawn; before He appears as the “Sun” of that day of glory. This is hinted too in Matthew 13:41-4341The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:41‑43). “The Son of man” cleanses His “world kingdom” from all things that offend and them which do iniquity; and then the glorified saints shine forth as the sun — His wings — in their Father’s kingdom on high. When He does arise, to bring in that glorious day, it is with burning as an oven, which consumes to ashes the wicked, and with “healing in his wings” for others. If He consumes the lawless one with the Spirit of His mouth and destroys him with the shining forth of His coming (2 Thess. 2), the glorified church becomes then the channel of grace to the renewed earth. Through her, and out of the throne of God and the Lamb in her midst, comes the living stream of the water of life, to a world where healing of nations is yet the service of His redeemed. (See Mal. 3 and Rev. 22:1, 21And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1‑2).)
So here in Thessalonians, He comes to consume some in judgment and to be admired in those that believe in that day (2 Thess. 1), when the Lord will make good all that has been ruined by the first or responsible man. He takes His great power, and reigns for the thousand years.
Now, beloved brethren, what has been the great sin of the professing church? It has been the giving up of the constant, immediate hope of the Lord’s coming. I would beseech you, whenever you find the faintest thought introduced of something yet to be accomplished between this moment and the Lord’s coming for His people, treat it as it deserves — as the voice of the evil servant who said in his heart “My Lord delayeth his coming”! You may not be able to interpret scripture to any great extent; you may be a plain man, but one whose heart is true to Christ. I pray you hold fast what you do know — that His coming for His saints is your hope; and do not let what you do not know disturb your hope — do not allow the evil servant’s voice to find an entrance into your soul. Treat it as His voice, even if it come clothed with all the veneration of antiquity, with the opinions of centuries, the learning of divines the piety even of men who have lived and died for Christ. Treat it I say, as the evil servant’s teaching, and refuse it if you would be faithful to an absent Lord.
See what the evil servant’s teaching (Matt. 24:45-5145Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? 46Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:45‑51)) produced in the ten virgins who had gone forth at the first to meet the Bridegroom (Matt. 25:11Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1), &c.). “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins,” &c. At a certain moment then before the eye of Jesus when He uttered the parable, the profession of Christianity about to be set up, would assume a certain character; all who had gone forth would give up the hope, and would go in again to rest; “they all slumbered and slept.” The hope of His coming was soon treated as heresy. Then the midnight hour came, and at that solemn moment the cry was revived. His heart desires not to find His people sleeping amongst the dead. He has revived the hope which lay dormant for centuries. He has given His one awakening cry! He never repeats it! It may wax louder and louder — God grant it while He tarries. It may find a response in many a heart sunk down in dead formalism: but remember, He never repeats it. Where do we now stand in this time of the breaking up of everything? In the little interval between the midnight cry and the, dawning of the day. The exercised eye sees in the confusion of the present moment the action after the midnight hour. But mark the calm and peaceful attitude of those five wise ones. They are beautifully conscious that they have their title to go in. There is no hurry — no hesitancy as to this. Mark, too, their active state. They are trimming their lamps, and there is oil (the Holy Spirit) in their vessels. The foolish, poor things! are on the search for it. See the crowds around you at present. Some deluded into Ritualism; some into Popery, with her pretentious claims; some turning to one thing; some to another. All seeking for the oil which the wise possess. They know not where to procure it. And in their search — in the active state, too, of the wise — they are sundered. God is separating “the precious from the vile”! They had started together some time before, awakened by a cry they may not have understood. But in their search they are parted from the wise. The wise do not follow them; but the foolish have to come and seek counsel from the wise. Mark, too, when the door was shut, the despairing clamor for admittance. But the day of grace was past, and hope was gone forever! I can conceive nothing more deeply solemn than the cry, “Lord, Lord, open unto us.” And the calm righteous answer of One whose heart is still open to welcome the lost ones in the day of grace, “ Verily, I say unto you, I know you not.” Does not this convey to us the thought that a day is coming, when the careless, the procrastinator, and the professor, will awaken to the awful reality that the door is shut, never more to be open to them; and that a cry of despair and conscious ruin will echo through the length and breadth of these lands, so long favored with the light of Christianity? Oh that sinners would be wise — would consider the solemnity of the moment we occupy in the history of things around us. How soon that door may be shut, and hope a thing of the past. How little response too, has the cry found in the hearts of His own; still, before the judgment of the professing body comes, He would warn His people, and awaken them, that their well-trimmed lamp may light Him in, and throw back the darkness which grows more dense, as the moments, precursor of the dawn, speed on their way!
May our hearts watch and wait for Him the bright and morning star. To be found watching and waiting when He comes, will repay the heart that mourns His absence, and lives here, by, with, and for, an absent Lord!
 
1. This paper, as will easily be seen, does not pretend to unfold in detail the various features of the Lord’s coming. Being one of a series of lectures, the subject was treated more as filling up the line of thought presented to those who heard them. This will account for the manner of its presentation to the reader.
2. “The dead in Christ” in this passage refers to Christians. When the rapture takes place, this will be a stage of “the first resurrection,” that is, “the resurrection of the just.” The OT saints will be raised at this stage of “the resurrection of the just,” as Heb. 11:4040God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:40) shows.