The hope of the church is the coming again of her Lord for the consummation of the salvation He secured for her on the cross. This hope is based on the promise of Jesus to His disciples, ‘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. This promise is exclusively to the church and is basic to all the subsequent New Testament teaching regarding the relation of the church to the second coming.
Christ’s public ministry had ended and His earthly life was fast drawing to its close. Calvary, with all it would involve for Him, was only a matter of hours away. He was with His disciples in the upper room giving them His farewell address, the contents of which are recorded in John 13 to 16 and supplemented by His priestly prayer, chapter 17. His address disclosed things that would happen to them during His absence at the Father’s right hand. The outline of the present church dispensation can be traced in it; its commencement, its course and its end. Christ’s love for His disciples and theirs for Him was such that their hearts were filled with sorrow by His words concerning His departure. It was from these circumstances emerged the promise quoted above which has become so important and precious to the church.
The church not only has the promise of His coming but a ‘description’ of its fulfilment as well. The apostle Paul writing to the Thessalonian church ‘by the word of the Lord’, 1 Thess. 4. 15-18, describes what will take place when the Lord comes for His own and in particular the transformation of the living saints.
An important factor of Christ’s address in the upper room, was the promise of the Holy Spirit to continue the work of grace He Himself began. There were still things to be revealed that the disciples were unable at the time to receive. The Spirit of truth would guide them into those things, teaching them and enabling them to understand. Paul’s description of the rapture is a case in point. It was by the Spirit that the mystery of the church, that sacred secret, which had been hidden in God until the appointed time, was revealed to him and his fellow apostles and now to all the saints. The removal of the true church from the earth is the next major prophecy to be fulfilled. What a wonderful event the rapture will be when it takes place. Meanwhile, may we, like the Thessalonian saints, turn away from the ways of the world and serve the living and true God while we wait for His Son from heaven, 1 Thess. 1. 10.
The Holy Spirit has also given the church an insight into the ‘nature’ of the fulfilment of Christ’s promise. In Paul’s classic chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, we have God’s programme of the order of the resurrection, vv. 23-26; and in verses 42-44, the nature of the resurrection bodies of the saints who now sleep through Jesus; and in verses 51-53 the bodily changes of the living saints at the rapture. The entry of sin into the world brought immediate spiritual death and ultimate physical death. Thus, ‘In Adam all die’. As this is not the day of salvation of the body, present day conditions are contrasted with the conditions that will characterize the redeemed in the day of Jesus Christ. Now, because of sin, our bodies die in corruption but they will be raised incorruptible; incapable of decay. We die in dishonour, we shall be raised in glory; in heavenly brightness, spiritual excellence and perfect holiness. We die in weakness but we shall rise in power; animated with might. We die in our natural mortal bodies, we shall be raised in a spiritual body; one adapted to the spirit world.
By His resurrection from among the dead, the Lord Jesus has become the prototype of the glorified believer. In that connection, it is to be observed that certain changes took place between the time His body was placed in the tomb and when in that body He rose again. It was no longer a perfect, natural body capable of dying, but one that was adapted to the spiritual realm of the kingdom of God in which His existence and future activities lay. His post-resurrection appearances recorded in the Gospels, reveal some of those changes. They are supernatural, humanly incomprehensible but clearly discernable and factual. Now, at the right hand of the majesty on high He retains that triumphant humanity and will do so for all eternity. When He appears to fulfil His promise of John 14. 3, every member of the true church will be transformed into His likeness. No wonder Paul wrote, ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’, Rom 8. 18.
The church is also assured of the ‘certainty’ of Christ’s promise being fulfilled. The inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote, ‘Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry’, Heb. 10. 37.
The unknown company of Jewish Christians to which this letter was written were discouraged and backsliding because of persecution for their new faith and way of life, and were in danger of falling into a state of despair. In a doctrinal treatise on the supremacy of Christ over all other beings, institutions and circumstances, they were exhorted to steadfastness in the faith. Because of Christ’s sovereignty and veracity, ‘He is able to save to the uttermost’, Heb. 7. 25, and is ‘the same yesterday, and today, and for ever’, Heb. 13. 8. Though His ways are notour ways, Isa. 55. 8-9, and His special, gracious, providential dealings with His own may not be presently recognized and understood, John 13. 7, they were being guarded by the power of God. All was eternally well in spite of adverse circumstances.
There is a present day parallel of discouragement. Wholesale godlessness, spiritual and moral decline, even to the extent of amorality, deliberate ignoring of the righteous claims of God, whether known through the inherent law of conscience or the precepts of His word, and the neglect and refusal of the grace of God as it is presented in the gospel of His Son are some of the prominent features of life today. In addition, there is a crop of problematic evils arising from these conditions, for which neither the world authorities nor the modern religious leaders of Christendom have a remedy.
In spite of these difficulties for the true believer and the discouragements in Christian service because of the spiritual climate of our day, let us turn from the world and live for God while we wait for the coming of His Son from heaven and the sure fulfilment of His promise, John 14. 3.