The Lord's Coming, Not the Saint's Departing

John 14:3  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
IT is deplorable to think that the sweet and comforting promise of the Lord to His saints before His departure is so little valued by those for whose daily encouragement it was given. “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).
One would suppose the terms of the Lord's promise are so precise, so positive and withal so welcome to those who love Him, that they would be eagerly grasped, and tenaciously held in all their sweet literalness. But on the contrary carnal imagination intrudes upon the domain of simple faith and distorts the words of the Lord into a meaning quite apart from the truth. Many godly souls persuade themselves to their own detriment that the Lord means that at the decease of the saints, He Himself will be present to convey them to the mansions above, to the place He has gone to prepare for them.1 This is only so far true in itself that there is no interval between being “absent from the body” and being “present with the Lord.” But it is only blinding the eyes and wresting the scripture to import such an idea into the words of the Lord in John 14.
If this coming is merely spiritual as misguided men will have it, then His going away was spiritual too. For the Lord links the two in an unmistakable manner. “If I go I will come again.” And the angelic testimony to the apostles on Mount Olivet was not less emphatic, nor less explicit. “This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Now none can deny that the ascension of the Lord Jesus was literal and personal. And the same One that went will return and in like manner. Is it difficult to receive these simple words of scripture? If words mean anything at all, the Lord would cheer the hearts of His desponding disciples by the thought they shall be with Him where He is. But this does not at all convey that the Lord's comfort consisted in telling them that He will be with them in all their trials. This is truly so, as the blessed Master said elsewhere, “Lo, I am with you alway.” But the apostle nevertheless declares whilst we are “at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). And here the Lord says that the result, the very object of His coming, is “that where I am, there ye may be also.”
But mark that this blissful reunion is inseparably associated with His coming “again.” He had come before to His own (John 1:11). He promises to come again for His saints. If His first coming was personal, His second will be no less so.
For a time He had been with them in the world. He was now about to leave them and go to the Father. And this period of His absence on high would after an unnamed interval be terminated by His coming again to receive them to Himself. Then they would be with Him as truly as He was with them that night in the upper room.
But the question may be interposed whether saints who have passed away are not even now with the Lord. And scripture is clear and decided in the affirmative. The Lord's assurance to the converted robber on the cross was “To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This unfailing word was undoubtedly fulfilled that very day. The disembodied spirit of the justified malefactor was blessed beyond compare in the presence of the Lord of grace.
But this was departing to be with Christ rather than the return of the Lord Jesus, such as we have in John 14 So the apostle speaks in his epistle to the Philippians, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). And later in his ministry he writes, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). Nothing short of a special personal communication from the Lord could have enabled Paul, like Peter (2 Peter 1:14), to speak so confidently of his own decease. But the very fact that he was in this respect an exceptional case confirms that the general hope of the saints was not of departing to be with Christ, but of the Lord's coming to receive them unto Himself.
It is true therefore that the saints who have put off the earthly tabernacle are even now with Christ and “far better” than when in this world. But it is not to be inferred that they are “with the Lord” in the sense of 1 Thess. 4:17, or John 14:3. The concomitant events, described in the epistle, utterly preclude any thought of its reference to passing into the separate state. Thus we read (1) the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, (2) with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God (3), and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (4) then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds (5) to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16, 17. So far from departed believers being already “with the Lord” in the sense here mentioned, they compose one of the two classes mentioned—the dead in Christ.
Further, it is evident that when the Lord spoke of the disciples being with Him where He is, He meant not the spirit only, but body, soul and spirit complete (1 Thess. 5:23). Hence the bodies of the sleeping ones are raised, and the bodies of the living ones changed at His coming (John 11:25, 26; 1 Cor. 15:51-55; 2 Cor. 5:1-9; Phil. 3:21). It should be remembered that the Lord Jesus presents Himself in the valedictory chapters of John's Gospel, as going on high as the perfect Man. It was unprecedented that a Man should be in glory. Old Testament saints were in bliss, as far as their spirits were concerned, but not glorified (which is inseparable from the body in scripture). But the same Jesus that was crucified rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, and was glorified at the right hand of God (Acts 2), in accordance with His own prayer, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me (along) with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). In consequence of His finished work, He entered the glory of God as Son of Man (Acts 7:55).
In the light of this thought, we must read John 14. It was as Man He was going into His Father's house to become an object of faith. And because He would be there as the glorified Man, they could be there also. None could come unto the Father, but by Him. He was going to the Father as the very pledge of their going also, and that not in a partial way, their bodies sleeping in the dust, but all together and all complete, possessing bodies of glory like His own (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:3), bearing the image of the Heavenly (1 Cor. 15:49). This constitutes our hope. We wait not for the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle, but for the instantaneous assumption of the house which is from heaven, which shall be ours whether we wake or sleep at His coming to take us. W. J. H.