The Double Phase of the Second Advent

1 Thessalonians 4:13‑15  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
1 Thess. 4:13; 5:1113But 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
11Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
. These verses form a very distinct section of this instructive and valuable epistle, in which the inspired apostle sets forth the two great phases of the second advent of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, viz.: 1st, That phase of it which bears upon a sorrowing Church; the 2nd, That phase of it which bears upon a rejoicing world.
The Holy Ghost makes use of the same grand truth, at once to comfort the heart of a weeping saint and to warn the heart of an exulting worldling. The tears of the former, and the boastings of the latter, are both met by the same all-important and most influential doctrine.
Now, it is usual to ascribe to death what the apostle here ascribes only to the Lord's coming. We frequently hear it said, when a christian friend has departed, " We shall soon follow him." This is not what the apostle says; but quite the reverse. " I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that have fallen asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope." And why not? Is it because they were so soon to follow them? By no means. This would be put to death in the place of a returning Christ. The comfort which the Holy Ghost had to offer to the bereaved heart of a saint, rested on a totally different ground. " For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again even so also them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." The coming of Christ was so near to the apostle's heart—so vividly and so naturally before his soul, as the proper object of hope, that he can say, " we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord." The worldly heart would say, " My Lord delayeth his coming;" but the true attitude of a saint, in reference to the second advent of Christ, is set forth in the expression, " we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord."
The two great boundaries of the Church's existence, down here, are the cross and the coming of Christ. In the cross, death and judgment are forever set aside, as regards the Church; and, instead thereof, the whole scene is filled with glory. " It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and after them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation." (Heb. 9:27, 2827And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:27‑28).) Christ's coming in glory, without any reference to, or connection with, sin, is the distinctive hope of the Church. " He hath appeared once, in the end of the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" and, hence, He has nothing more to say to sin; but when He comes again, it will be unto salvation.
Now, it is important to see with distinction the double phase of Christ's second coming, as set forth in Thessalonians, by the two expressions, "the coming of the Lord;" and " the day of the Lord;" the former has distinct reference to the Church: the latter to the world: the former has nothing to do with "times and seasons;" the latter has: the farmer is unconnected with events amongst the nations; the latter is not.
The great burden of the prophets is the moral government of God amongst the nations of the earth, including His dealings with that peculiar nation, Israel—a subject of immense interest to the saint, not because of his personal connection therewith, but because it involves the counsels of God, and His ways with man on the earth. But we may look in vain, throughout the pages of Old Testament prophecy, for any enunciation of the doctrine of the Church's position, her calling, or her hope. These things " were not in other ages made known to the sons of men, as they are now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets, by the Spirit." (Eph. 3:55Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; (Ephesians 3:5).)
Such being the case, it is evident that the hope of the Church cannot be affected by those events which form the more immediate subject of the Old Testament prophets "That blessed hope" shines out in all its peculiar brightness, without so much as a single intervening cloud. "The bright and morning star" glitters on the Church's horizon, and the fondly cherished hope of seeing it cheers her heart and animates her spirit during the dreary watches of this dark night. " I will give him the bright and morning star," is Christ's own promise; and He Himself is that star.
The Holy Ghost, by the prophet Malachi, presents Christ to the hopes and expectations of the pious remnant of Israel, as " the Sun of Righteousness" who shall "arise with healing in his wings;" but " the bright and morning star" awakens an entirely different train of thought in the soul. The Church will have been in the enjoyment of her morning star before the beams of the Sun of Righteousness cheer the sorrowing heart of the remnant of Israel. It is only those who are on the watch during the night who are favored with the sight of the morning star; when the Sun shines forth over the earth, at the opening of the millennial morning, the God-fearing remnant shall catch the first glimpse of His beams; and when He comes to His meridian height " every eye shall see him."
The moment Christ rises up from the Father's throne, the Church rises from earth to meet Him in the air. For that moment the Church waits. Till then, the Holy Ghost works, in connection with the gospel of Christ, for the purpose of gathering out the remainder of God's elect. Till then, He also works to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. But when the time, arranged in the divine counsels, has fully come," The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God." This is the Church's special hope, and in full keeping with Christ's gracious promise in John 14 "I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." Observe the peculiar grace of the words " I will come again"—" the Lord Himself shall descend." He will not send an angel, nor a legion of angels; no; He will come Himself. Such is His grace -such, too, the dignity put upon His beloved bride.
And all this is founded upon the truth, that " Jesus died and rose again." “If,” says the inspired apostle, " we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." The Lord Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; and all who sleep in Jesus, being part of His body, shall be raised up, and presented with Him in His coming glory. God raised Christ from the dead; and, if we believe that, we can, in like manner, believe that all who sleep in Jesus shall be raised up and brought with Him, at His glorious appearing. "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Rom. 8:1111But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11).) All is founded upon our connection with Christ. The head and the body, being one, shall appear together in glory. " For this we say unto you, by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them that are asleep; for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together 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." Similar is the teaching in 1 Cor. 15 "Behold I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
Here we have the hope of the Church very clearly and simply enunciated; and most needful it is that the saints should receive it as clearly and simply as it is here laid down, seeing that the enemy has sought to encumber it with a variety of other things, which however interesting as subjects of study, are nowise attractive as objects of hope. For example, some would teach the saints that they must be trampled down under the feet of the beast, ere their hearts can be gladdened by the sight of the morning star. Where do I find this in 1 Cor. 15, or 1 Thess. 4? And yet these scriptures do, as we have said, clearly set forth that which constitutes the Church's hope. So also in chap, 1, we read, " ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living God, and to wait"—for what? The beast? No. The man of sin? No. The false prophet? No. The full development and final destruction of Nebuchadnezzar's image? No. What then? " To wait for his Son from heaven." This is simple and conclusive enough for any mind that is desirous of being subject to the authority of holy scripture.
The Church is not taught to wait for any movements amongst the nations, for the restoration of the Jews, for the development of the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image, for the consolidation of the Roman Empire, for the drying up of the river Euphrates, in order to prepare the way of the kings of the east; in short, she is not to wait for any earthly event whatever, but simply for the Son from heaven- "the bright and morning star." True, all these things are the direct subject of prophetic testimony, and, as such, profoundly interesting to the spiritual student of scripture, just as the destinies of Sodom were interesting to Abraham, though, personally, he had nothing whatever to do with them.
Every Christian, whatever may be the measure of his prophetic knowledge, should take an interest in the study of prophecy, not that he may build up a system, or defend a theory, but simply that he may be more or less acquainted with the ways and counsels of God, and the destinies of this lower world, But his specific hope is a totally different thing. He will not find that in the pages of Old Testament prophecy. There is nothing there about the Head and the body, the Bridegroom and the bride meeting in the air. He will read of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Tire, Gog and Magog; and the connection of all these with the city of Jerusalem, and the land of Israel. But these have naught to do with the outlining of the "bright and morning star." That star is the emblem of a celestial glory, far removed from this dark and stormy world—a glory which shall appear to the Church while a Christ-rejecting world is still wrapped in profound slumber, or intoxicated with its own proud and godless schemes.
Now, when we turn to the second phase of the advent, as presented in 1 Thess. 5:1-111But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. (1 Thessalonians 5:1‑11), we find something entirely different. We here come to " times and seasons," concerning which the apostle felt he had no need to write to the Church, because she had nothing to do with such, so far as she herself was personally concerned. The Church belongs to the day and to the light, and therefore has no need to be guided by " times and seasons," or " the signs of the times." Such things have direct reference to those who shall be involved in the terrors of the "day of the Lord," and by no means to those who have to do with the morning star—those who shall have met Christ as a Bridegroom in the air, before the revelation of the day.
It must be evident, to every reflecting mind, that there is a vast difference between the appearance of the morning Star, and the revelation of the sun's full brightness. Nor is the difference less striking between the coming of a bridegroom to an expecting bride, and the bursting in of a thief upon an intoxicated or a slumbering household; and yet the two phases of the advent are thus strikingly contrasted. "Yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night; for when they (not ye) shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them (not upon you) as travail upon a woman With child, and they shall not escape." This is peculiarly solemn, and eminently calculated to strike terror into a worldly heart. Indeed, the coming of the thief is as terrifying, as the coming of the Bridegroom is attractive. But the two things are as distinct as they can be, and they cannot be confounded without serious damage to the mind of a saint.
It would seem as if the Thessalonians had suffered from having so confounded them. They seem to have, at first, feared lest their departed friends should not participate in the joys of Christ's return; and when corrected as to this, they would appear to have run into another error; namely, that of fearing lest they themselves should be involved in the terrors accompanying " the day of the Lord." This latter thought is fully corrected in the second epistle; and, in the apostle's mode of correction, there is, if possible, a still fuller and clearer presentation of the double phase of the advent. He say-, " We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind neither be troubled, whether by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand," or had actually set in. Here the two things are brought into direct contrast, and the saints are exhorted, on the ground of their participation in the joys of the former not to dread being involved in the terrors of the latter. This is most conclusive. The coming of the Lord is the Church's hope, the day of the Lord is the world's dread; the former will be the consummation of the saint's joy; the latter will be the death-knell of the worldling's happiness.
" The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night." It is never said that the morning star shall so come as a thief in the night. True, the Lord says to the angel of the church, in Sardis, " If, therefore, thou wilt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." (Rev. iii. 3.) This passage, so far from presenting any difficulty, rather affords a strong confirmation of the truth on which we have been dwelling. The Church of Sardis had a name to live, and was dead: it had sunk down, very much to the level of the world, and therefore it is that the Lord presents to it that phase of His advent which properly belongs to the world. If the saint mingles with the world, he must expect to be threatened with the world's portion. If Lot goes down to Sodom, he must participate in Sodom's woes. But we know full well, that " a thief" is not Christ's proper aspect to the Church. " Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." We, properly, belong to the day; but if we, through ignorance or unfaithfulness, get out of our proper position, we cannot expect the Spirit to animate us with our proper hopes. If we sink to the world's level, we shall look at the future from the world's point of view. " Ye are all the children of the light and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness. Wherefore, let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night; but let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation; for God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him." Such is our proper position -our proper hope. And be it observed, that our living together with Christ is founded on the fact that Christ died for us. His dying for us secures our living with Him, whether we wake or sleep.
It is well to note this. It sweetly reveals the grace of Him with whom we have to do, whose death for us secures, infallibly, our being linked with Him in that eternal glory for which both He and His saints now wait. By this gracious assurance, and not by any feeling of dread or uncertainty, would the blessed Spirit superinduce a watchful condition of soul. And, assuredly, the heart that could use such a truth as an excuse for not watching, can know but little of the real power of either grace or glory. Such an one would say, " Let us continue in sin that grace may abound."
Ϊ would only observe, in conclusion, that the apostle closes his view of both phases of the advent, with the same sweet exhortation, " comfort yourselves with these words."