The Rapture and the Appearing
It is an actual fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again! Yet many people, even true believers, seem hardly to believe it. It seems to them a dreamy, visionary, mystical idea, and they cannot help thinking that the enthusiasts who announce it must be mistaking figures of speech for sober facts.
But, after all, why should you be surprised? You believe that He has been here once. Then why not twice?
Consider for a moment what happened when He first came. He was rejected, and His life was cut short. His public mission of three and a half years closed in His sudden death. But being God manifest in flesh, in dying He wrought redemption for His people; He rose again. Is it likely that the story ends there as far as this earth is concerned? Shall the ejection of the Creator from the world by the creature be the last word? By no means. Men despised Him in His humiliation. He will surely return in His glory.
We are not left, however, to consider what seems likely or reasonable. The doctrine of the Second Advent is one of the commonest themes of Scripture. The Old Testament frequently refers to it. In the New Testament the full truth of it is plainly revealed. From the great mass of texts that might be quoted, let us select one which is singularly explicit.
"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
This message has about it almost the sound of a legal document. Lawyers write a very simple statement in a rather lengthy way because they find it needful to hedge about their words from possible misinterpretations. So here there is a fulness and almost a redundancy of expression, especially designed to foil any attempt to evade or mystify this great fact.
It is evident from this verse that the Lord Jesus is Himself coming just as He went. How did He go? Personally; then personally He will come. He went actually as a living Man - it was no spirit manifestation. Then actually as a living Man He will come. He went visibly; visibly He will come. He went from the earth. Then to the earth He will return.
The attentive Christian reader, however, is often puzzled as he pursues his studies into this great truth, by seeming discrepancies between different passages, and he needs to have placed in his hands the key that unlocks the door of difficulty.
That key is an understanding of the difference between the two stages of the Second Advent, which for the sake of brevity we term "The Rapture" (i.e., "the catching-up") and "The Appearing."
Take the trouble at this point to thoughtfully read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thess. 5:3. Notice that the Thessalonian believers were troubled because some of their number had died, and they thought that they would therefore miss the glory of the appearing and reign of Christ. Paul tells them not to sorrow, because as certainly as Jesus died and rose again, God will bring WITH Jesus all such when He comes (v. 9). Then the Apostle explains how this is to be brought about, by what means the formerly dead in Christ are found with Him in bodies of glory so as to be able to share in His glorious appearing.
This explanation is prefaced by "this we say to you by the word of the Lord," indicating that what follows is not something which had been previously made known, but something newly revealed: his authority for stating it being not Old Testament scripture, nor any previous utterance, but the direct revelation of the Lord.
And this is the explanation: "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout . . . 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."
Now compare these words with what is written in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and you will find an additional fact stated. "The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
In the light of these two scriptures we gather that:
(1) The Lord Himself shall descend into the air with an assembling shout.
(2) His shout will awaken the sleeping saints and raise them in bodies of glory.
(3) We, the living, will then undergo a corresponding change into a glorified condition.
(4) All believers, whether previously dead or living, will be caught up together, to be for ever with the Lord.
Oh, most blessed hour, the fruition of our long-cherished hope!
All this, however, leaves the great world untouched, save as the sudden disappearance of multitudes of saints may affect it. But the hour of retribution follows on. Hence 1 Thessalonians 5opens by drawing a distinction between the coming of the Lord for His saints with which chapter 4 has dealt, and "the day of the Lord." That comes, not as a bridegroom for his bride, but "as a thief in the night."
When the Lord Jesus in humiliation was led as a lamb to the slaughter, He said to His enemies, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). But the tables are to be completely turned. He comes not in humiliation, but in glory; not as a lamb to the slaughter, but as the Lion of the tribe of Judah; not solitary and alone, but "with ten thousands of His saints"; not submitting to the will of His enemies, but that His enemies may be made His footstool. It is not man's little hour, and the short-lived triumph of evil; it is the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
"The day of the Lord" is not a day of twenty-four hours, but an interval of time like "the day of salvation." It is a period in the cycle of "times and seasons" marked by the absolute supremacy and authority of the Lord. It starts with His public manifestation in the clouds of heaven - His appearing with His saints.
It is to this public appearing that Old Testament prophets so frequently refer, being the consummation of God's ways with Israel and the earth. It ushers in a short, sharp work of judgment whereby the earth is purged of its dross before the shining forth of glory in the millennial reign of Christ.
Before this public appearing certain things must take place as foretold in Scripture. The Lord Jesus Himself plainly predicted certain things (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Again 2 Thessalonians 2 shows us that before the day of Christ comes there must first be "a falling away," an apostasy, and connected with that, the revelation of the man of sin, commonly called "antichrist." In him sin will find its culminating expression. He will be its very embodiment.
When the iniquity of man rises then to its full height God will smite in judgment. The Lord Jesus, who once bore judgment for our sakes, is then to be its Executor, and that oldest of all prophecies given through the lips of a man will be fulfilled: "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14, 15). Previously the saints will have been "changed" according to 1 Corinthians 15, and "caught up" according to 1 Thessalonians 4, hence they are with Him in a glorified condition, and when the heavens open and reveal Him in the "flaming fire" of judgment, they are with Him, and He will be "glorified in His saints" and "admired in all them that believe . . . in that day" (2 Thess. 1:7-10).
Meanwhile our business is "to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1:9, 10).