The Coming and the Day of the Lord: Part 6

2 Thessalonians 2:1‑2  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Now no Pope ever wrought a miracle, nor even, for aught one knows, pretended to it. What strange exaggeration then to ascribe this awful power of Satan to the Pope! What equally strange prejudice to deny it to the man of sin, whom the Lord at His appearing is to annul! The apostle gives the moral reason for a judgment so stern. “And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error that they should believe the falsehood, that all might be judged that believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (ver. 12). God's sending a working of error is judicial hardening at that crisis; and Satan follows with his deceiving marvels of power to drag down all its votaries to perdition. It is divine retribution at the last. They renounced the truth and salvation with it; they loved the lie, and must perish. But the heights and depths of Satan far transcend Popery and belong only to the consummation of the age. The elect of that day solely escape by divine grace, as this is at bottom true of all the elect in any day. How strikingly portrayed in contrast with the perdition of that awful time are the position and privileges of the Thessalonian saints, as the apostle depicts! “So then, brethren, stand, and hold fast the traditions ye were taught whether by word or by our letter.” As all scripture was not yet written, they were called to heed what they had been orally taught as well as by the apostolic letter. They were beloved by the Lord, chosen of God unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and faith of the truth, whereto He called them “by our gospel” to obtaining our Lord Jesus Christ's glory. “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father that loved us and gave everlasting comfort and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and stablish [them] in every good work and word” (vers. 13-17). The judicial hardening, the energetic action of the enemy, and the day of the Lord were to fall exclusively on those who despised Christ and renounced the gospel; everlasting comfort and good hope through grace, were the portion of those who believed; and present establishing in every good work and word were besought on their behalf.
It may interest and profit some if we here notice a scripture, which is adduced more frequently perhaps than any other to oppose the rapture, at least before the day of manifestation. We refer to the parable of the wheat field, and the Lord's explanation, in Matt. 13. We refer to the only similitude in the chapter that is historical (ὠμοιώθη, “likened,” not merely “is like"). The bondmen of Him that sowed the good seed proposed to root up the darnel of the enemy's sowing. But no: their work is that of grace. “The field is the world,” let commentators say what they may. It is not the church, where discipline is essential; but the kingdom where they must be left for judgment at the end, when it is no longer in patience but comes in power. “Suffer both to grow together unto the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers (or harvesters), Gather first the darnel, and bind it in bundles to burn it; but the wheat bring together into my granary.” The crop was spoiled; and no effective remedy can be, till the end of the age arrives, and its judgment.
The harvesters, unlike the bondmen, are angels. It will be for these, not for those, to bind in bundles the sons of the evil one, at the fit moment for their activity, and as their first revealed act; for the time of harvest is not an epoch, but a period. The angels are instruments of divine providence; and at that season they will be employed in a measure, even before the sons of the kingdom are translated to the granary above. The wicked in the field will, by this instrumentality or means, be brought into close association, with a view to burning them (πρὸς τὸ κατακαῦσαι αὐτά). It is not yet the penal execution that awaits them, but the preparatory act of God's providence which disposes them suitably for their doom. Nobody, one hopes, can be so ignorant as to conceive such a work by visible angels before Christ takes to Himself the saints on high. Probably most persons have no definite judgment about it.
Not indeed that anything transpiring at present is the accomplishment of this act: it will devolve by-and-by on His angels. But it is a grave thing to recognize in the actual combinations of our day; rife all over the world as never in the past, how the, coming event casts its shadow before. For men, without the fear of God confederate by all sorts of unions, to overawe or embarrass, and thus effect their selfish ends. The Lord will employ His angels (for the saints are still on earth), evidently before He appears to do this work perfectly with a view to His further aims. At present real Christians are mixed up in these fleshly and worldly combinations. But when the harvest season begins, it will not be so. The bundles will be made up exclusively of the guilty objects for His judgment. None but the wicked will be collected and bound for the purpose: this the angels can effect, as man could not, and saints are forbidden. It might be providentially at any unknown moment.
The wheat, the sons of the kingdom, are not left like the darnel on the field, but next brought together into Christ's granary. This, we all surely agree, means and must be to meet the Lord, who deigns to descend into the air; when at His call all the saints, dead and alive, are changed in a moment, and caught up to join Him, “and so shall we always be with the Lord.”
The Lord's explanation as usual adds to the original parable. Here the very momentous information is given of what will be manifest to all eyes. In the providential action the bundles were not said to be removed from the field; according to the figure they were left there to await their awful end. But later on during harvest “the Son of man shall send His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all offenses and those that do lawlessness, and they shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” The other side of glory is equally clear: “then (not before) shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear let him hear.” It is not the rapture to heaven but the revelation from it. This may wound many a prejudice; but the truth is well worth it. It is the display of His presence, the appearing of His coming, His day, when the saints are beheld with Him in the heavenly glory. Christ and they are manifested together: they already with Him, not He alone before them, nor yet coming for them.
Thus, as it quite appears, on a closer study than is usually given to this most instructive parable and the Master's explanation, everything here is consistent with that later word which the apostle divulged in 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)). As both are parts of the truth of God, they harmonize perfectly; while each contributes its own portion suitably to the divine purpose on the appropriate occasion. No doubt it is the future that we await in a perfect peace that rests on the blood of His cross; and in a fullness of joy created by His love which is as rich in grace and glory, as it is altogether beyond the mere creature, and as sure as God's word can make its revelation.
So, in the parable of the seyne or sweep-net (Matt. 13:4747Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: (Matthew 13:47)), we have the distinction kept up between the angels who executed the judgment, and the fishers, who drew it to shore and sat down and gathered the good into vessels but cast out the worthless, a work peculiarly suited to closing scenes. The Christian laborer is occupied with the good; he is an agent of that grace which saved himself. The worthless he leaves aside for those who excel in might, whose function it is to deal with them individually. For it is no more a question of discipline with the fish than with the darnel. And all the talk about wheat becoming darnel, or vice versa, is outside the word of the Lord. There is no question of a good fish turning worthless, or of the worthless rising to good. The bondmen like the fishers have a charge only to secure the good. This was a right and intelligent work: the contrast of the bondmen's readiness, ignorant of self and of God's ways, to uproot.
Here commentators are either silent or no less mistaken than as to the darnel. It is the kingdom again, not the church. Who can fail to see that they are plainly distinct? The kingdom was a familiar truth, though it took the form of “mystery” now. The church is first announced in Matt. 16:18, 1918And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18‑19). The confusion of the two is not only a doctrinal blunder in theologians generally, but it has wrought great practical havoc in all ages to this day. Thus in the church we are bound to judge evil (1 Cor. 5); in the kingdom we are forbidden (as in ver. 30 of this chapter). Punishment is a work for angels' hands; not for Christians, who are called not to resist evil but to suffer, giving God thanks. Donatists and Catholics were utterly astray, understanding neither what they said, nor whereof they confidently affirmed. The truth of both kingdom and church was lost since apostolic days, as all may see who have light from God on these things. How far is it recovered to-day?
But here again we find that “in the end of the age the angels shall go forth and sever the wicked out of the midst of the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” As there was a providential gathering of the darnel before the execution of the judgment, so there was a spiritual work by saintly men in sorting the good into vessels, before the execution of the judgment to clear the wicked out of their midst. There is the great common principle that this judgment belongs to the angels, not to the saints; but there is a marked difference in that the gathering of the wheat was immediate into the heavenly garner, but the darnel were subjected to a longer process, with the same sad end as the worthless fish. Only it is the inverse now; for these wicked ones are severed from among the righteous there, as the worthless were taken out for the terrible judgment of everlasting fire. In vain can one search for consistency of interpretation as to either of these parables in the moderns any more than in the ancients. Even the best vacillate strangely, partly through lack of duly distinguishing the kingdom and the church, partly through no less lack of discernment between the coming of the Lord for the saints, and His day with its terrors and destruction, when His own shall be manifested together with Him in glory.
But it is plain that not a word implies any visible act in the binding of the darnel into bundles first, and then of the sons of the kingdom, the wheat, gathered at once into the garner. No doubt the Lord comes down into the air and the changed saints are caught up to meet Him there. The garner is not on earth or in the air but in heaven. Thence in due time, the saints follow Him out of heaven (as Rev. 17:14; 19:1414These 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)
, distinctly teach) for the day of the Lord and His judgment of the Beast and the False Prophet, the kings of the earth, the darnels too, and every other object of divine retribution, the judgment of the quick or living. This quite falls in with the added explanation of both parables: on one side the display of the glorified saints, shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father; and, on the other, of the Son of man through His angels clearing out of His kingdom all offenses, and those that work lawlessness, into the furnace of fire.
The day of the Lord is the open introduction of the age to come by terrific judgments, and never in scripture mixed up with His coming to receive His saints to Himself for the Father's house. And hence we saw, that the apostle appealed to His presence to gather the saints to Himself, as their bright hope, against the false and foolish notion, introduced by fraud, and calculated to agitate and alarm, that the day of the Lord had actually arrived. Its imminence was not the error; for it is an indisputable truth, often taught in scripture, and by Paul himself, of no small moment practically for souls. But people, fancying that this was too strange a delusion to enter, gave the verb a sense which it never bears, and thus lost all real understanding of the passage, by adopting a false rendering which has plunged men into mistake ever since.
A favorite argument among some is that the church must be on earth till the Lord appears, because Timothy is, exhorted to keep the commandment spotless, irreproachable, until the appearing of our Lord. This however has been already shown to be a mere fallacy. Scripture connects responsible service, and also the walk of all saints with the day or the appearing, never with His coming as such or our translation to meet Him on high which is a matter of nothing but sovereign grace. But responsibility attaches to His appearing because, when we come with Him, our place is decided according to our measure of fidelity. To confound the two things is to lose the distinct truth and the special blessing of each to the soul. We are called to wait for Him with unclouded joy; but we are also bound, each to his particular work, and all of us to watch, abounding in mutual love, in order that our hearts be confirmed blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.
It might have been hastily anticipated that this would be when He comes for us. Such however is not the teaching of 1 Thess. 3:1212And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: (1 Thessalonians 3:12), any more than of kindred scriptures. It will be at His coming with all His saints. Infinite love gave us the holy nature capable of so walking, in giving us Christ as our life even now, to walk in love accordingly. This will have its consummation in that day, and in the communion of all who share it when the Lord comes to be glorified in all that are His in the fullest and most evident way. The establishment in holiness by love of the saints toward each other would go on and stop not short of that glorious day when the Lord is wondered at in all that believed; and this is only by their manifestation with Him in glory. How admirable is scripture in thus binding up every day's walk as saints with Christ's appearing in glory and of us together with Him in it!
Thus the argument betrays a want of spiritual understanding and right use of scripture. Besides, when looked into, it is quite inept. For employed as it is, it would deprive of its profit not only Timothy but all other men of God who pass hence before the Lord appears, and confine it to such as then remain on the earth. Whereas according to its real bearing it applies fully to him and all that follow in the same path of devoted obedience to the end. Asleep or alive when He cones, they will have their due place in the day of His appearing. And if this is true manifestly of the responsible servants in the word, still less can the mistaken notion apply to the church. In short it in no case implies remaining on earth till that day, which directly contradicts Col. 3:44When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4), and is quite inconsistent with other scriptures which reveal the glorified saints accompanying Christ, and out of heaven too.
It is remarkable, and apparently little known, that the late Mr. B. W. Newton, the keenest advocate for identifying Christ's coming with His appearing or day, was in effect compelled to bow to the evidence of Rev. 19, and to confess that it “opens with one of the great results of the resurrection of the saints” (Thoughts on the Apocalypse, p. 297). Again (p. 290), “The saints have joined Him and fall into the train of His glory.” He does not contest that the marriage of the Lamb is in heaven, and the bride there before then. But this assuredly surrenders the principle, for which his disciples vainly contend with no small outcry. It is the grossest error therefore to look for the resurrection of those that compose the church, or of the O. T. saints in Rev. 20:44And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4). Both are there undoubtedly, but already changed, in those seated on the thrones, to whom judgment was given. The raising from the dead which then follows is exclusively of the Apocalyptic sufferers, slain after the first general class of the glorified were caught up to be with the Lord. The two classes of martyrs (for there are two) are now seen to be raised, in order to share the reign with Christ for the thousand years. On all this the views commonly held are vague and erring. But the light conveyed by the scripture is as bright and simple as possible.
It is useless to search the Reformers any more than the Puritans for any real grasp or right estimate of sovereign grace in its heavenly portion. Their hearts did not dwell on or even turn to the rapture. Take the learned John Jewel, who wrote expressly on the Epistles to the Thessalonians (the only Exposition in his Works), edited by the Parker Society. But he never seems to rise beyond the Lord's coming to judge the quick and the dead. His descent in 1 Thess. 4:1616For 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: (1 Thessalonians 4:16) only draws out for comment, “Here is laid for us the true manner of the terrible judgment of God”... “Such shall be the show and the sight of the Son of God: He shall come down with majesty from heaven; the trumpet of God shall sound, and be heard from the one end of heaven to the other; and whosoever shall hear it shall quake with fear. [What! the bride at the Bridegroom!] Then shall He be the Judge over all flesh. Then He shall show Himself to be King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Even on ver. 17 he can only say, “We which shall see all these things shall also be caught up ourselves. But here you must notice that Paul speaketh not this of his own person, and of them that lived in his time, as if they should continue alive unto the end, or that the world should have an end before they should die; but he showeth what shall be the state of such whosoever shall then remain alive.”
Now this is to miss the beautiful intent of the Spirit through the apostle's words. If the meaning the then Bp. of Salisbury put into them had been intended, it would have been easy and alone correct to have written, We that must die shall rise first; then the living that remain shall be caught up together with us in clouds to meet the Lord in [or into] the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Surely those caught up should not be confounded with “all flesh.” The apostle (even in correcting the unfounded fancy that the deceased saints of their company must miss their part in that hour of unmingled joy) takes pains to confirm them in constant waiting for His coming. The bishop's view loses sight of the Holy Spirit's care to keep the saints in habitual expectancy, and therefore left, always uncertain when He might come, to look for Him day by day, hanging evermore on His assurance of love, “I am coming again” (John xiv.), without one word to fix a date, or cloud the heart, or delay the hope. To begin to settle that it cannot be in our time, is it not to say in the heart, “My lord delayeth,” the inlet to self-seeking and overbearing? Certainly not a hint was ever given by an inspired man that he or others then alive must survive to the Lord's coming, still less to the world's end. But the Christian was expressly set to wait and watch for Him as his most cherished object, and expressly kept always so looking, because he knows not the moment. It was in divine wisdom for the best good to be so ordered.
On 2 Thess. 2 the learned bishop starts off to warn against Popery, says not a word on the weighty opening verse, and on the second gets into the theme of “crafty and false teachers.” When he does speak of the advent, beyond quoting words of 1 Thess. iv. he looks for judgment and the passing away of heaven and earth, without any adequate sense of the revealed blessedness of our gathering together unto the Lord.
Nor is there in Protestant writers any more than Popish a sound conception of the awful revolt that is to befall professing Christians at the end of the age, or of the still more audacious rising up that follows of both the civil Beast of Rome, and the quasi-religious Beast of Jerusalem, in the power of Satan. For it will be a travesty of the three persons of the Godhead, and arrogate divine power and glory to the exclusion of the only true God, especially of the Father and the Son, through the energetic, and no longer checked, working of the evil spirit.
The exaggeration of truth is never the truth; and the exaggeration of the evil that now exists, whilst the mystery of lawlessness works, exposes souls to shut their ears against the divine warning, that the time hastens when the unconverted of Protestantism and of Popery will join the ever-growing host of open skeptics, all of whom will form Satan's human array in the last daring denial and defiance of Jehovah and His Anointed.