This may be regarded as a kind of appendix to this sombre series of articles dealing with the grim and gory events of the most dreadful 3½ years in the whole of human history. It does not really fit into the pattern of the general subject-title of the series, but it is appropriate to conclude by glimpsing some of the brighter and more blessed things connected with our Lord’s second coming.
The overall title of the preceding papers, “The Last Week”, does not apply to the earthly history of the Church of God, which will have been translated in its totality to its heavenly and eternal environment. The 70th prophetic “week” will not have its beginning until the removal of the Church from earth has taken place. After this, God will resume His dealings with His earthly people Israel, and that nation will again fill the middle foreground of the terrestrial scene.
In arriving at the true interpretation of Scripture, it is essential to distinguish between the things that differ. Failure on the part of some rightly to divide the word of truth in respect of prophecy is responsible for the great amount of misinterpretation which seems to obtain in these days.
Thus, promise and prophecy must be distinguished. The blessed hope of the Church must not be confused with the appearing in glory of the kingly Christ.
Indeed, our “blessed hope” lies entirely outside the ambit of the prophetic scheme which forms such a large portion of Holy Writ. The Church of God is something “out of this world” altogether—its calling, character and destiny are heavenly. A key-point to grasp is, that the Church is the subject of revelation and not the burden of prophecy. Prophecy, precisely speaking, has to do with the earth and with the nation of Israel as the centre of God’s earthly ways. If this distinction is carefully observed, it will provide a correct premise upon which to base our interpretations.
Let us, then, analyse under several headings, this commonly used expression “The Blessed Hope of the Church”:
1. Its Definition. We must, of course, be clear in our minds what the expression “the blessed hope” really means. Well, it is the expectation that we Christians have of the personal descent of the Lord into the atmospheric heavens surrounding this globe, to meet us there, and escort us into the Father’s house situated in the third heaven.
It is an heavenly hope, and it is called a “blessed hope”, a happy hope, for, if it is firmly held, it will generate a sense of holy joy in the soul.
The term “hope”, moreover, as used in Scripture, does not denote any uncertainty about the matter. It is not something which may or may not occur, as the connotation of the word in its present-day usage implies. On the contrary, it means simply the expectation of something future, and it embodies the thought of actuality as well as anticipation.
2. Its Distinction, the exclusiveness of “the blessed hope”. Consider, now, the distinction between the heavenly hope of the Church and the prophetic scheme of Scripture. As has been already stated, prophecy concerns the earth. It has to do with the sovereign rights of Christ with reference to things here below. It relates to Christ’s coming to this world in power and manifested glory.
The distinction between those two things which differ the one from the other is brought out in the two very important discourses which Christ gave on the two days immediately before His crucifixion—the discourse on the mount and the discourse in the room, respectively.
(a) The Discourse on the Mount of Olives. This contained the last words of the Lord’s earthly ministry in the character of Messiah of Israel. He addressed a group of men who at that time represented the godly remnant of Israel, Matt. 24. 3.
(b) The Discourse in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. How different was the import of His words on the day following the Olivet prophecy! He now spoke to His band of disciples, no longer as men who were eagerly looking for an earthly kingdom of glory and power to be established by Israel’s King, but to men whose vision He desired to fill with new hopes of heavenly blessing and glory. The Lord in the upper room was communicating to them a new revelation—something they never knew before. He informed them that He was going away from earth into His Father’s house, and that (among other things) to prepare a place there for them. We can readily see that the whole tone and substance of the Lord’s discourse in the upper room was quite distinct from that delivered while sitting on the slopes of Olivet overlooking the doomed city of Jerusalem.
The public appearing of the Lord in His judicial and kingly role has been forecast from the earliest years of human existence in this world. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied concerning it. But the heavenly hope of the Church, the blessed expectation of the Lord’s coming to receive from the world His own, is not revealed until New Testament times. The fulfilment of our great expectation is described in the most positive terms in the first of Paul’s Thessalonian Epistles. He tells us that all who believe in Christ are going to live together with Him—and eternally so—in the Father’s house in the third and uncreated heaven. What a glorious and perfect prospect!
And thus the Christian should be looking for and awaiting “that blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, Titus 2. 13 J.N.D. These two expressions together comprise the one notable event of the second coming of Christ, albeit an interval of at least seven years will elapse between them. The hope is the prelude to the appearing; and although Paul links them closely together, he makes a clear distinction between them. The first phase is Christ’s coming for His saints to the air, and the second stage His coming with them to earth. These then glorified humans are seen in His royal train as He comes forth from heaven and rides down to Olivet’s mount at the head of heaven’s army, to execute judgment on God’s enemies and to reign over the earth in righteousness for a thousand years.
3. The Details of the Blessed Hope. When in the room in Jerusalem the Lord intimated to His disciples that He was going to the Father’s house to prepare a place for them and then to come again to receive them unto Himself, He did not fill in the details of this wonderful new revelation. In the state of their spiritual development at that period, it would have been truth beyond their ability to assimilate. It was left, therefore, until the descent of the Holy Spirit who, through the apostle Paul, disclosed the fascinating details associated with the translation of the saints to glory. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, as a result of a direct revelation from the Risen Christ, Paul describes the mechanics of the matter, so to speak.
In the short parenthesis, I Thess. 4. 15-18, he reveals that two different classes of saints will be affected by the first stage of Christ’s second coming: (i) “the dead in Christ”, and (ii) the saints who are “alive and remain”. Outside of these two companies no other human beings will be involved. The “sleeping” saints (who were causing the Thessalonian believers so much sorrow) will be raised and, simultaneously with the living saints the world over, will be caught up in a myriad mass of glorified humans, to meet the Lord in the air. What an ecstatic moment!, and what a comforting disclosure to alleviate the deep sorrow of the Thessalonian saints, who erroneously thought that their departed fellow-Christians (the “sleeping” ones) would miss out in the inaugural splendour of Christ’s coming kingdom. As yet they were unaware of what we have been emphasizing in this present article—the need to distinguish between the Lord’s coming for His saints and His subsequent coming with them.
4. The Devotion Evoked by the Blessed Hope. These wonderful truths are revealed to us in God’s Word, not merely to satisfy the natural curiosity of the mind, nor even to establish us in the doctrine concerning this coming event, but they are intended to draw out the affection of our hearts to the soon-coming Bridegroom. They ought also to produce a moral and sanctifying effect in our lives, 1 John 3. 3. If the truths are having their proper reaction in our souls, the outcome will undoubtedly be a deeper devotion to the One whose arrival we ardently await. For Him we shall be watching, and at the same time—we shall be working for Him until the moment of His coming, when we shall be caught up to be forever with the Lord. He may well come in our lifetime! Are we ready to meet Him?
Conclusion of the series
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