On the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ From Heaven to Meet His Saints in the Air: No. 4

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1 Cor. 15:2323But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:23). On the authority of this verse, some have concluded that the Lord will not come till all who are His, and are children of resurrection, are brought to know Him, and are ready to rise together to meet Him in the air at one and the same moment. I admit the apparent force of this. But I believe it is but apparent, and will not abide the light of the whole scripture. Because, if we have nothing further, we have the ascension of the two witnesses, after the quickening of their dead bodies in Rev. 11—ground, may I not say, for denying that this verse includes all that are Christ's. This would be enough for checking confidence in the unimpregnableness of this conclusion. But I believe, further, that the Apocalypse teaches us that there will be other saints taken up at other times than that contemplated in this passage. For instance, in chap. 41 there appears to be a remnant who are heavenly in their destiny, after the man-child has been caught up; and there are companies seen at times, through the action of that wondrous book, apart from the living creatures and crowned elders, and yet in heaven—such as the slain ones on the sea of glass in chap. 15 as, at the close, distinction is still preserved in chap. 20:4. And, again, I observe, this is not disturbing scripture. It leaves previous revelations untouched. It does in nowise break 1 Cor. 15:2323But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:23). But it again shows us that, in His perfect method, the Lord so orders and fashions His word under His various “ready writers,” if I may so call them, as to provide that the earlier light should let in, not the rebuking or disturbing, but harmonizing light of His further revelations.
And to help our apprehensions of the heavenly position of Israel joining “the fullness of the Gentiles,” now gathering in the heavens, I might remember such ones as Hobab and Rahab. Canaan had been espied by the Lord as the portion of the twelve tribes. But at least these two strangers sit down in that inheritance with them. This, however, was no disturbance. It involved no infraction of the family settlement. It was not a new thing, or an after-thought, with God. Our exactness may be offended, but God's provisions were quite ready for those things. But I by no means speak of this as a type, but only as a little helping of our thoughts.
Rev. 16:1515Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15). This verse has been read as marking the moment of taking the saints into the air. I would therefore consider it a little, desiring ever to do so in fear and yet delight before Him. There is a promise that the day of the Lord shall not overtake the saints as a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5) A question may arise, in what way will this scripture be fulfilled? for, like every other, it cannot be broken. There are two ways in which the goodman and his household might be secured from a nightly thief. They might be either removed previously from the house, or kept from their guard in it. Both of these ways will, I believe, in the varied and perfect doings of the Lord, get their illustrations. For when His day comes, and in the majesty and power of judgment He touches this rebel earth again, He will find His elect Israel ready. “Blessed is he that cometh” they will be prepared to say, or have already said, like a guarded watchful household; though they know neither the day nor the hour, they will be in readiness. They will not be injuriously surprised by the solemn visitation which is to destroy the wicked. But in that hour, the saints of the heavenly places will be seen in the train of Him who comes as the thief. As the heavenly army they will then accompany Him (Joel 3:1-111For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 2I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. 3And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. 4Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head; 5Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: 6The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border. 7Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head: 8And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it. 9Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. 11Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. (Joel 3:1‑11), see ver. 9). For we are abundantly taught that to exercise the power of that day in company with the Lord is part of their promised honor. (Col. 3:44When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4); Rev. 2:26, 27; 17:14; 19:1426And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. (Revelation 2:26‑27)
14These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)
14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:14)
.) Two distinct companies, therefore, exhibit these two things. Israel will be delivered from the judgment of “the day of the Lord,” by being prepared for it in the place where it enters; and the heavenly saints, by being taken away from that place, belonging, as children of the day, to that sphere out of which the day is to pour down its light and terrors. I say not how long this previous removal may have taken place. Other scriptures may lead to that inquiry. I speak here only of the fact of that removal, and thus of the mode of the security of the heavenly saints against the day of the Lord. But I may add, that it is morally, fitting, I judge, that “the more excellent way,” so to call it, should be prepared for them.
And these two modes of deliverance can scarcely fail to remind us of Enoch and Noah. Enoch knew that a day of the Lord was coming, for he prophesied of it (Jude 1414And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, (Jude 14), 16). So did Noah, for he was told of it (Gen. 6), and that day did come. (Of course I know that it is still to come, in the full sense of Enoch's prophecy.) But Enoch had been previously removed (Gen. 5). And Noah was prepared for it in the place it visited. And all this, I quite believe, has mystic or typical meaning for us. Now in reading 1 Thess. 5 I do not at all doubt that the fear of being kept here on the earth, for the hour of the thief, might arise in the mind of the disciples. And I believe that it did, for that fear, as I judge, becomes, in its season, the occasion of the second Epistle, in which the apostle sets himself to correct the error which sprung from that fear. For as I observed under another meditation, he separates the coming of the Lord from the day of the Lord, attaching our gathering to His coming, and the exercise of judgment in the earth to His day. And in this way their minds, which had been in fear, would be fully relieved. Their fear had come from an imperfect reading of the first Epistle, or from some source which would have worked in the same way, and that epistle at least had not given them ease. But their relief would come from the second, telling them that they should be separated from the house ere the thief enter it. And let me add that the coming of the Lord in the character of a thief in the night, is always (if I judge rightly) connected with this return to the earth, or the coming of the Son of man, i.e., the day of the Lord (Matt. 24; Luke; 1, Thess. 5; 2, Pet. 3). It is connected with the manifestation of judgment, and not with the Lord meeting His saints in the air, or with His coming again to receive them unto Himself.
The duty of watchfulness, most surely, is a moral duty of common enforcement. “What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.” Nothing that could be said as to the strict prophetic application of the Lord's coming as a thief in the night, should, for a moment, be allowed to weaken the sense of the common duty of watching. It is, therefore, in the full spiritual power of this, as being of common concern that it is said, “If therefore, thou wilt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief.” But still I say, that as prophetic of a given step, or action in the divine purpose, the coming of the Lord as a thief in the night intimates His surprising the earth in the day of His judgment of it. “As a snare shall it (the day of the Son of man) come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.”
According to this, I read Rev. 16:1515Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15). I find the coming of the Lord there spoken of under this figure, and announced as belonging to the time when that faction has been formed on the earth which is to bring Him back. And the reappearing of this figure “the thief in the night,” at this place of scripture, is evidence to me that this word of scripture contemplates an earthly action. And let me ask, let me put it to the thoughts of brethren, does it suit our minds or our hearts to speak of the Lord's coming to meet His saints in the air under such a figure as this I Jesus then comes, and His reward is with Him, He comes as the bright and morning star. He comes again to receive us to Himself, having prepared mansions in heaven for us. He comes with the voice of the archangel. Our conversation is already in that very place from whence He comes, and the bride is ever in spirit bidding Him welcome. Is a coming, thus variously and gloriously spoken of, to take its likeness from the coming of a nightly thief? Never, I believe, does the Spirit give it such. “That day shall not overtake you as thief.” His day will surprise all who dwell on the face of the whole earth after that pattern; but He meets His heavenly ones, already in the spirit of their minds there from whence He comes, with other thoughts altogether. If we, therefore, consult all the scriptures which speak of “the thief in the night,” we shall find, I think, that such a coming of the Lord does not connect itself with the mystery of His meeting the saints in the air, though it most surely addresses our souls in the power of an exhortation to watchfulness. Rev. 16:1515Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. (Revelation 16:15) is not, I therefore in submission suggest, a note of the time at which the saints of the heavenly places are borne upward to meet the Lord. On 2 Peter 3 where the same figure, as we know, is used, I would just add a word——that, in the brilliant and distinguished prophecy which occupies that chapter, the apostle clusters objects together (not confusedly, most surely, but still together) very much in the style of the prophets. It is as though the mantle of the prophets of the circumcision had fallen upon the apostle of the circumcision when he prophesies. But of course I say this, as remembering that all was but the penmanship of the Holy Ghost; believing, however, that this style is to be observed as a help to a right interpretation of that grand prophetic scripture.
Here, I will now leave this deeply interesting subject, desiring I trust unfeignedly, that the light of His own word may either rebuke or sanction all our thoughts as they need.
2 Peter 2, &c., &c. It has been observed, that in the epistles, we get constant warning of certain things which were to happen in the course of the present dispensation, which is sufficient notice to us of delay being put on the coming of the Lord. I grant that we have this warning again and again. “Latter days” and “latter times” are marked by strong moral characters. Grievous wolves also were to enter. Perverse things were to be spoken, and thus both from without and within danger and evil were to come. False teachers were to appear, as in Israel there had been false prophets. These and more than these are announced. The deep and deadly shadows of many corruptions are definitely forecast. I grant all this most surely. How could it be denied? And further, I grant that the history of the dispensation has already been making good, and, as long as it lasts, will continue to make good all these notices, and reveal the substances and terrible forms of these appalling shadows. But the apostles, who severally declare these things, attach them to that present generation, warning those to whom they ministered personally about them, and giving them instruction as to the security of their own souls against them. And at length under the ministry of one of them, the crisis of the churches or candlesticks arrives, the lights of the sanctuary are all gone out, and in the next moment the scene is changed from earth to heaven, and the elect are there (Rev. 1-4). The longer, however, the time of the present gathering from among the Gentiles goes on, and with it the unjudged field of wheat and tares, all these awful notices, I quite admit, will only be the more and more realized, as they hitherto have been. The only thing I suggest here is, that this has not made a necessary delay to our passing upward to meet the Lord, since that great crisis of the candlesticks. Certain things were to be, surely, but the saints of that day are counseled as though they were, even before that crisis. But after that crisis, the heavens are opened and the elect are seen there, as it were like Enoch, without any necessary passage through either evil or sorrow any farther, and without the needful measuring out of days and years.
(To Be Continued)