"The Glorious Appearing", or the True Hope of the Child of God.
Notes of an Address at a meeting of young Christians in Brighton.
"But 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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For 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. Then 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess, iv. 13-18).
NOTICE in the 15th verse the expression, "by the Word of the Lord." We thus understand that the apostle was giving these Thessalonian Christians a direct new revelation by the Holy Spirit. It is difficult for us who have all the fuller teaching of the Word of God, which they had not, to put ourselves into their position. As they saw their relatives and friends and fellow-Christians removed by death whilst waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, they not only felt the sorrow common to all, but also that these, their dear ones, were fallen out of rank, and would lose their place in glory at the return of the Lord Jesus.
So the apostle writes by the Holy Spirit this special truth to them, and gives them a direct revelation from God upon this subject. Verse 14 states a general truth, and the next verse goes back to explain how it was that those who had fallen asleep should come with Christ at His appearing. "Prevent," an old English word meaning "to precede"—we shall not go before them—for they shall first rise, then we shall be changed, and together with them shall be "caught up." "Then shall we ever be with the Lord." So this further passage goes back upon the subject to explain how it should come to pass that those who had fallen asleep in Christ would God bring with Him. This refers to previous action, viz., the descent of the Lord Jesus into the air to take His people to Himself; raising the sleeping, changing the living, and both being caught up together in the clouds. This was a new revelation given for the first time to these Thessalonian Christians.
It is an interesting fact that every truth subsequently revealed through the apostles, you will find wrapped up in germ in the Words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should never have known they were there but for the subsequent and fuller revelation by the apostles, but I do not believe there is a single truth in the teaching of the apostles that you will not find, by careful and prayerful study, in the Words of the Lord Jesus Himself.
The Lord Jesus had already said: "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And 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 xiv. 1-3). Then also in John xi. 25, 26, where the Lord is speaking to the sorrowful sister, He gives in germ the very truth the Holy Ghost gave later through the Apostle Paul: "I am the Resurrection and the Life, he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." In the "burial service," a word is added thinking to make it clear, but which only confuses the sense; they have put in, shall not die "eternally." That utterly clouds the meaning, because there is no question at all of dying eternally for the true Christian. The Lord Jesus was giving to Martha on that occasion a new revelation on this wonderful subject: "Martha, you are sorrowing for your brother. I am the Resurrection and the Life, he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." That is, whosoever believeth and continues to live on the earth till I come in glory shall never die.
"Believeth thou this?" What did Martha say? She did not understand nor take it in, and gave, as so many do, an inconsequential answer. She did not say, "Well, Lord, I don't understand it." She said, "I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." That was not the question at all. She did not understand what the Lord said. Why did the Lord speak? For our understanding, for our blessing, that we might hear, as we are assembled here to-night, and all the millions of His people ever since. He was giving the same teaching amplified by the Apostle Paul later—I am the Resurrection for those who have fallen asleep; I am the Life for those who continue to live. To those who will be living on the glad day of His return, He will be the life, and they shall never die. So the apostle here deals with two classes of people, just as in 1 Corinthians xv., he distinguishes between the "corruptible" and the "mortal," those who have fallen asleep, and those who will be alive (the mortal).
Now, let us take a few verses in the next chapter, 1 Thess. v. 1-11. Notice "they" in the third verse; that is the world, the unsaved ones. "Ye" in the 4th and 5th verses are the saints. The contrast is drawn sharply. And also in the 6th verse, "let us not sleep as do the others.” The article is there, though it is not in our translation. "For an helmet, the hope of salvation," salvation in its fullest sense, not only of our souls, but the salvation of our bodies to be delivered out of this scene of judgment and death altogether. Thus we have here a double comfort (see 1 Thess. iv. 18; v. 11), comfort respecting the dear ones who have fallen asleep, and comfort that that day of gloom and judgment shall not overtake us. We are all children of the day, and whether we wake or sleep, we shall live together with Him.
Look at Ephesians i. 18; "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." And in the verse we have already read—1 Thess. iv. 13—"Even as others which have no hope." I think I may say this to you, that in every passage in the New Testament where the word "hope" occurs, it relates directly or indirectly to the return of Christ—to His second coming. This is one of the keywords the Holy Spirit gives us whenever we see the word hope. Look at Romans viii. 24, "We are saved by hope." I have heard that Scripture quoted by those who try to make out it is not possible to know our sins are forgiven—to know that we are saved. It shows the need of rightly dividing the Word of Truth. These words refer to glory and resurrection. We are saved in hope. The apostle is speaking there of resurrection glory at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will find that many persons have the idea in their mind that death is held out as the goal of the Christian. Now in the New Testament Scriptures, death is never held out to the Christian as that which he must expect. It is true, the Apostle Peter speaks of his demise, but then he was expressly told by the Lord Jesus that he must die—that explains it. In all the teaching in the Epistles, you will not find in a single case that death is put before the Christian as that to which he is to look forward. I hear people say, "Death is most certain of all things." It is not so; for the believer, it is very uncertain. What is put before us in the Word of God, and the hope of the Church is, the personal return of the Lord Jesus to take His people to be with Himself in glory.
In death, the Christian believer goes to be with Christ, not Christ coming for him; and even then, though it is very far better to be with Christ, don't make the mistake that many do, and say that those who have died have gone to glory. They have not. Glory is always connected with resurrection, and glory does not take place until the coming of the Lord Jesus. And this is not hair-splitting, mind; we cannot be too accurate in speaking about divine things. It is the inaccuracy of thought and expression, and misquotation of Scripture amongst the bulk of Christian people, that has paved the way for the infidelity that is flooding the Church. Then take the words we see so often in the papers—"was translated," "is gone to glory." They are unscriptural expressions. We are never safe if we go outside the Word of God. If the child of God falls asleep, the Scripture says, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." It is not unconsciousness, as the "sleep of the soul" theory would put it; it is rest in the presence of Christ. You cannot conceive of Paul—an intelligent man rejoicing in the truth—a man who "walked with God," and served Him as no other man has served Him—you cannot imagine such a man saying it would be far better to go into a state of unconsciousness. Those that are with Christ, although disembodied spirits, are hearing those "unspeakable words" which the apostle says it was "not possible for man to utter." But still they are, as we are, waiting—if you like, they are in the first-class waiting-room and we are in the second-class. They wait for the time when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come forth, and when the dead in Christ shall rise and the living shall be changed, and in the twinkling of an eye they shall be in glory forever. So, you see, many current expressions convey wrong thoughts, and must be guarded against. It would take hours to speak of the rubbish commonly spoken on this subject. For instance, "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh," could never be referred to death. It is used in a special connection. The expression "Son of Man" is always connected with His coming in judgment to the earth. You may hear others say, "This is not a subject for young Christians; this is for old Christians, to get all round a table and get out their lexicons and their Greek grammars and study up." You make a great mistake. Take the First Epistle to the Thessalonians; it was written to a young Church, and yet in every single chapter, the apostle brings forth this subject.
In the last verse of the first chapter, he tells them, "Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven." So that you see, it is a glorious subject for young Christians. Talk of "Second Conversions." If a Christian has been under faulty teaching, whenever the truth of the Lord's personal pre-millennial advent is preached, it will seem like a second conversion. I am sorry for much of the teaching and preaching of the present day. I knew immediately after my conversion at eighteen that I was to wait for the Lord's coming. I am not looking for the improvement of this world. I am not engaged with nostrums to try and improve mankind, but I am waiting for the Lord Jesus to come and take me out of this scene altogether, and I want you to see this precious truth, that the Lord Jesus Christ has given you the promise that He will come again. You don't know when. Watch for Him, wait for Him, abide in Him, and in that blessed day, you shall see His face, and then you will be rewarded by Him according to the faithfulness of your service whilst here on the earth.
WE might ask three questions—(1) Who is coming again? (2) When is He coming again? (3) What is He coming for?
1. WHO IS COMING AGAIN? Here we must be very careful to go according to Scripture and Scripture teaching; it doesn't say that Jesus is coming again; it doesn't say that the Son of Man is coming again, but it says here, "to wait for God's Son from Heaven." Of course, our blessed glorious Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, of that there is no doubt, as well as the Son of God, as well as the Son of David, as well as the Messiah of Israel, as well as King of kings and Lord of lords; but all these different titles link Him in different relations to different classes of people. The special coming again of the Lord Jesus for His Church you will never find connected with the expression, "Son of Man." Therefore, every Scripture in which you come upon the expression "Son of Man," you will know does not refer to the special truth we are talking of this evening. That bars out the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, altogether, for the Lord Jesus Christ is not spoken of there as the Son of God coming for His Church, but subsequently with His Church in power and great glory. Therefore, such Scriptures ought to be taken by us as referring to His coming to the earth in judgment, not into the air for His people. When He comes as the Son of God, He comes to the air, and takes His saints up in the air that they may be with Him when He subsequently comes with His saints and angels to the earth in glory manifested to all. He could not come with His saints unless He had previously taken them to be with Him. It is as the Son of Man that He comes to the earth in judgment. "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John v. 22); "and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man" (John v. 27). That will help you a good deal. Therefore, don't look in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke for the coming of the Lord for His Church, for you will not find it there.
WHO IS COMING? The Head of His Body, the Bridegroom of His Church. The Head of the Body is in Heaven, the Body on the earth. The two are united. That disposes of the idea many have that it is only faithful and watching Christians who will be "caught up" when He comes. It is impossible to entertain such an idea. How could there be a mutilated body—a mutilated Bride? More than that, this blessed coming again of the Lord Jesus is the completion of my salvation. I am only partly saved—I mean in a full sense. If asked the question, "Are you saved?" you could give three different answers, all quite true; you could, but don't do it, for it would puzzle those who asked you. First, "Praise God I am hoping to be saved." Second, "Praise God I am being saved." Third, "Praise God I am saved." All would be true—I am saved, "receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." I am saved, I have eternal life and eternal peace. I am being saved in the sense of being saved from the power of sin. "Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." There is that continuous aspect of salvation. I am hoping to be saved. This blessed hope of the return of the Lord Jesus when this poor body that I have inherited from Adam—this body of humiliation—shall be fashioned like unto His Body of glory—that will be a full salvation. It is "whether we wake or sleep." Whether we are watchful or whether we are slumbering, "we shall live together with Him" (1 Thess. v. 10). The Bridegroom of the Church comes and takes His people to be forever with Himself, and this "salvation" in all its aspects is of grace and not of works.
2. WHEN IS HE COMING? Don't be perplexing yourself about dates, and years, and days, and chronological calculations; they have nothing to do with this subject at all, they relate to this world. But you don't belong to this world; the Church does not belong to this world—it is a mystery not previously revealed, and occupies the parenthesis of the present dispensation which has come as a surprise even to the angels; this present dispensation came in without chronology, and will go out without it. The very phrase, "times and seasons" is entirely earthly. Look it out, and you will see that "times and seasons" do not stand related to the Church, which is Christ's Body, but to Israel and the Gentile nations. The Old Testament Scriptures are full of "times and seasons."
WHEN IS HE COMING? We don't know the moment. He has purposely left it uncertain that we may be faithful to Him, our absent Lord. You may be perfectly sure when the last stone is quarried out for the spiritual temple, when the body has reached its true proportions, when the last one known to God has been gathered in, you may be quite sure the Lord will rise from the Father's throne, and with one mighty swoop, will come through the air and take His sleeping and living saints with a great shout. We know not the time, but—
"I can almost hear His footfall
On the threshold of the door."
I do not know, of a single event that must take place before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to take His heavenly people to be with Himself.
3. WHAT IS HE COMING FOR? He is coming to complete the great work of salvation. He is coming that our bodies may be changed—that there may be no more indwelling sin to trouble us. When you are changed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus, good-bye to the flesh and the old man. Oh! what bliss that will be! to love Him with an unsinning heart, and praise Him with unfaltering lips. He is coming again to fulfil His Own promise: "I will come again and receive you to Myself." Oh! let us get our hearts engaged with the Lord Jesus; let us get to love Him better; let us get an intense, real personal affection for Himself, so great that it will keep us watching, that it will keep us in holy separateness from all that is contrary to His will. He is coming to take account with His servants, and to reward each according to his faithfulness; this will take place at the "Judgment-Seat of Christ."