Two words are thus translated in this discourse. One, erchomai, is the common one used of the coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven as in Matthew 24. 30 and Luke 21. 27. The words Ho-erchomenos, the coming One, became a name for the expected Messiah, as in John the Baptist’s question, “Art thou he that should come”, Matt. 11. 3, and in Hebrews 10. 37, “He that comes will come”, J.N.D. In the Olivet discourse, the word is used to denote the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and great glory at His second advent, and will be the fulfilment of the words “Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him”, Rev. 1. 7.
In the second question, “What shall be the sign of thy coming”, Matt. 24. 3, the word used is parousia, which is rendered “presence” in the margin of the Revised Version. Its meaning is given as the arrival of a person and his presence after his arrival. It is used of the coming of the Lord some sixteen times in the New Testament; of the coming of the day of God once; of the coming of various men six times, and of the coming of the man of sin once. In the Thessalonian Epistles it is used with reference to the coming of the Lord in relation to the rapture, namely our being caught up to meet the Lord in the air – our gathering together unto Him, 1 Thess. 4.15-17; 2 Thess. 2. 1. But it has a different implication in 2 Peter 1. 16, where he states that the message concerning the power and coming (presence) of the Lord was not a cunningly devised fable. They had been eye-witnesses of His majesty when they were with Him on the holy mount, indicating clearly that what they saw on that occasion was a foregleam of the day when the Lord will be manifested in glory. The word is used four times in Matthew 24, each time with reference to His coming to usher in the time when the “inhabited earth to come” will be placed under His dominion as Son of man, Heb. 2. 5 r.v. marg. It is evident that this is the interpretation of the Word in the discourse for the following reasons.
1. At the time the disciples asked the question, the truth concerning the rapture had not been revealed. The Olivet discourse even preceded what was taught by the Lord in the upper room to the eleven on the night of the betrayal, John 14-16, to say nothing of what was later expounded by the apostle Paul concerning the rapture. Naturally, they could not ask a question regarding something about which they had not heard or been informed. In the upper room the Lord told them that He had many things to tell them, but they were unable to bear them or understand them at that time. However, when the Holy Spirit was come, He would lead them into “ all the truth”, John 16. 13 R.V. Hence the apostle speaks of truth having been revealed to the apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 2. 9-10; Eph. 3. 4-5. Clearly then we are not to look for teaching relative to the rapture in the Olivet discourse.
2. The fact that the Lord speaks of the “abomination of desolation” standing “in the holy place”, Matt. 24. 15, implies that the temple, which was completely destroyed according to the Lord’s predictions, is to be rebuilt and the temple ritual restored. Then the references to Judea and the Sabbath day point unmistakably to its Jewish character and to Jerusalem again being the centre of the trouble.
3. If the sound of the trumpet and the gathering together of the elect mentioned in verse 31 are to be interpreted as referring to the rapture, then the revelation of Christ in glory must precede the rapture! This would be contrary to the plain teaching of the Epistles, namely, that we are to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air so as to return with Him, to appear with Him in glory. To introduce the rapture into verse 31 confuses things that differ.
4. Prior to the coming of the Son of man in power and great glory, there are to be signs in the heavens. The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. But when the Thessalonians were converted, they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come, 1 Thess. 1. 9-10. To the Christians in apostolic days, the coming of the Lord was held out as an imminent hope, not as something to take place after the tribulation. No such shaking of the heavens is predicted to take place before the Lord returns for His own to take them to the Father’s house.
5. The illustration from the days of Noah confirms the conclusion that the rapture is not envisaged in the discourse. At the time of the flood, all, except Noah and his family, were taken away in judgment. Noah and his family were preserved through the flood to enter a new earth purged from the sin and defilement of the old world by the waters of the flood. In Matthew 24. 40-41 a different word is used for “taken”, and as it is the word used in John 14. 3 translated “receive”, it is sometimes suggested that those who are thus taken are those who will have a part in the rapture. But the word is used with a variety of meanings, as for example the taking of Christ for scourging and for crucifixion, Matt. 27. 27; John 19. 16.
Hence the word must be given the meaning “taken” in the light of the context of Matthew 24. Moreover, as Noah and his family were spared and left, so there will be those who will be spared and left to enter the kingdom, the millennial age. Those who thus endure to the end will be saved. It is granted, of course, that in a sense the selection, separation and removal implied in the verses will also operate at the rapture. But the words must be understood and interpreted in the light of the context and the message of the prophecy. This view is supported by a consideration of Hebrews 11. 4-7, where three of the ante-deluvians are referred to, Abel, Enoch and Noah. Abel’s sacrifice silhouettes the substitutionary death of Christ and the truth of justification by faith which introduces the believer into a life of communion with God and fits him for translation to glory as illustrated in Enoch. Only after that do we read of Noah and his preservation from the judgment which overtook the world. He and his family represent those who will be spared in the coming days of tribulation.
To be concluded.
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