What the Watchful Christian May Expect.
I. The first glorious experience which lies before the redeemed, collectively, is Resurrection; and, along with this resurrection of the sleeping saints, the transformation of the living. The Bible is full of this; even nature is full of it. The very ground on which you walk speaks about it. The leaves fall, and with them seeds which spring again. The insects have their transformations, and the most beautiful of God's terrestrial creations are those which have passed through some of the most wonderful transformations. I have sometimes thought that fairer than the beauty of any bird is the beauty of the perfect butterfly—some especially with their lustrous loveliness. Yet you know what they pass through—three stages—first, the life of the crawling worm; then death, so to speak, of the chrysalis, and then the perfected, beautiful creature that floats upon the air, and in the sunshine. Now our lives, or our experiences, are triple. There are the three stages—the stage of life, the stage of death—the intermediate stage—and the stage of resurrection. You will find, if you study this Book, that this three-fold order is stamped upon it from beginning to end, and most markedly upon the experience of our Lord, as Him Who lived, Who died, Who rose. We know the first of these experiences, the low and terrestrial. If the Lord tarry, we shall know the second; we shall sleep in Jesus. And when He comes again, then will follow the third experience—that of resurrection.
II. Then the second stage in that wonderful experience is this: after the resurrection---
Now we are confined to earth; then, when we are fitted for heaven, we shall be set free to enter it, the earth being still the place for graves, as it will be then, and more or less of imperfection, and, indeed, the scene of judgment—the Church is to be taken out of it. When Jesus comes, He will not wait to descend to this earth to remove His people. He will remove them before He reaches the earth. Let us try to be as clear as we can upon this. The air—what is that? People tell us that the atmosphere may be perhaps some two hundred miles in height; an enormous height when compared to our highest mountains, and it may be higher than that. There is plenty of room for the Church to meet Christ in the air. It may be, the Church will meet Christ beyond the boundaries of that physical envelope of the world. The Church, when Jesus comes, is to ascend; when He descends, she ascends. He is free of that upper heaven. When He rose from the dead, after lingering a certain season on earth, He visibly ascended, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
In earlier times, in the Jewish dispensation, Elijah ascended; and in earlier times still, in the patriarchal age, Enoch ascended. So, in connection with each dispensation, patriarchal, Jewish and Christian, there is a rapture. In patriarchal times, the rapture of the seventh from Adam; in Jewish times, the rapture of Elijah; in Christian times, the rapture of the Church. What will it be? Is it any use for me to try to say? Still, thought travels on. Oh, what will it be in this perfected form to be set free from this terrestrial lite, and then swiftly to ascend, and ascend, earth fading beneath us, and the whole Church gathered and glorified!
III. The next experience is clear. What is it? After the rapture---
The rapture is in order to the meeting. Jesus says, "I will come again. I would not do otherwise. I would not leave you, but to return. If I depart, I will come again and receive you unto Myself." "Caught up to meet the Lord in the air." What will it be for the Church to meet the Lord? And Who is the Lord? He is the express image of God. He is One filled with all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He is One in Whom all power and perfection dwell. He is the brightness of the Father's glory. He is full of tenderness; His inclinations are to intimacy with His people. Wondrous condescension! Therefore it is written, "He that sitteth upon the throne shall dwell among them."
IV. Then, what lies beyond? Because it is wonder beyond wonder, and vista beyond vista. Beyond the meeting---
What will that marriage be? There has been a marriage already. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. George Whitfield said that the clearest idea he could get of true religion was that of union of the heart with God. I have often thought of that. Our personal experience, as far as it is what it ought to be, has this for its very core—he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. What will the marriage of the Lamb be, then? I cannot describe it. I can merely give some faint glimmer of its meaning and glory. The marriage of the Lamb must involve this. First, the gathering of the whole Church into unity, and then its association with Christ in publicity, before an assembled universe. There will be a manifest donation of Himself to the Church, and of the Church to Him—a publication and celebration of their oneness. It will be the commencement of a life of association with Christ, of co-operation, a union of perpetual friendship and ceaseless intimacy in the deepest oneness of mind and heart; perfection of friendship, perfection of trust, perfection of love. Oh, measureless vision! this union of the Church with Jesus Christ! The heart is overwhelmed, that contemplates fairly what that oneness is, expressed by the marriage of the Lamb. It will be the joyful, blissful and unspeakable entrance of the Church, as a whole, into an experience of oneness which is never to have an end.
V. Then, beyond the marriage, lies---
---in glory. There will be the shining forth, the rising of the sun, the rising of the splendor of a day which shall never set; the revelation of the Church in that glory in which Christ Himself shall be revealed; because He shall be manifested, we shall be manifested as the sons of God, as the Bride of Christ, as the associates of His glory, as the heirs of immortality. The manifestation will not only be for the glory of the Church, and Christ in the Church (because He shall come to be glorified in the Church), but it will be for the purification of the world. It will be for the purification of the temple—the terrestrial temple; it will be for those judgments which will usher in His reign. In that Church, is to be associated with Christ. If we are His, when He comes in that triple glory, we shall come with Him.
VI. What lies beyond this manifestation? There lies---
This is but the porch, the entrance to the kingdom. Do not imagine that you can easily fathom the depths, or measure the heights, or analyze the real nature of the kingdom. Do not run away hastily with superficial views upon the subject. Study the Word of God, and you will get more light. What says the Scriptures concerning that kingdom? It will be doubly double. Among the stars of heaven, there are many stars which seem one to the naked eye; but apply the telescope, and you see that they are binary. So as regards certain truths. They seem one to the uninitiated, but those who study more deeply, find single truths divide into binary glories. This kingdom is doubly double. It is double in sphere, and double in time. There is an earthly and a heavenly kingdom; a millennial and an eternal kingdom.
VII. Try to realize this, in conclusion, that---
The Great Inaugural Event.
—the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ—is distinctly placed in Scripture in a certain historical position. It is so placed by Daniel and Paul and John. It is the close of the fourth Empire at the destruction of Antichrist. Everything indicates the nearness of the termination, that we are on the eve of it now. How things ripen; how the chariot rolls; how He is moving heaven and earth. With what haste, that He may gather in His redeemed, complete His work, and clear the way by the Gospel being preached to the uttermost parts of the earth; that He may come to take His people to be ever with Him? Are you all in Him, and are you looking for that Advent? By all its exceeding and eternal weight of glory, compared to which all earthly glories are the merest vanities; by all its powers, before which all other powers wither and perish; by its eternity and perpetuity; by its height, its depth, its length, its breadth, and its divinity, I beseech you, I conjure you, count everything else but loss and dross, in comparison with this.