Our Happy Expectation
by Donald G. Hayter
ANTICIPATING OUR EXPECTATIONWE have an expectation, a certain and sure future, which begins with the descent of our Lord from heaven and our assembly to Him in the air, and thence on to glories greater than we are now able to fully realize. But if we do not know what lies ahead for us, how can we anticipate it? It is good to know that the Lord is coming, but better is it if we add to this a knowledge of the details and circumstances of His coming and the events that follow it.
Many questions should arise in our minds as to our expectation. How will the Lord come? Will He come alone? What happens when He comes? What sort of bodies shall we have? What happens after we are assembled to Him in the air? Where do we then go? All of these questions are answered in the Scriptures and much more besides. It is the greatest event that lies ahead for us. It is the beginning of real life, the start of a fresh chapter, and one which is a climax to all our present experiences. The present will then be as a dream to be forgotten, its lessons having been incorporated into the fabric of our spirits. No more will the troubles and heartaches of this life be remembered to darken the happiness of that day.
To anticipate is to realize beforehand a coming event, prepare for it and place oneself in an attitude of readiness. The Lord Himself gave the best explanation of what anticipation is when He told His disciples to be like men anticipating their own lord. He gave them a brief parable of a lord who was at wedding festivities, whose servants were at home. They were ready at the door of his house, waiting for his return, and in such a state of anticipation that immediately when he knocked at the door they were fully attentive and responded at once to his presence to let him in. This is anticipation. Such should be our attitude to the coming of the Lord; looking, waiting, eager and ready to respond immediately to His presence in the air as soon as we are aware that He has arrived.
The brief articles that follow are an effort to set the scene, describing the circumstances of His coming and so providing the means of enlivening our anticipation of this happy event, the advent of the glory of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
THOSE WHO ARE REPOSING
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)
The Thessalonians were concerned about those of their ecclesia who had died, for they had no word in the Scriptures as to their resurrection. They would have known of the resurrection at the time of the great white throne, but no promise had been given them, of the nations, as to a resurrection prior to that, so that they might participate in the Kingdom of the heavens. That resurrection for Israel, taking place at the beginning of the thousand years, had no provision for them. Thus Paul was concerned that they should not be sorrowing as the others who had no expectation. And he gave them this wonderful word of consolation in the fourth chapter of the epistle, and revealed the first installment of the truth as to the future of the celestial saints and of the coming of the Lord for them.
He therefore concerns himself first with those who are reposing. The basic idea inherent in the word reposing is that of the position of the body, for in the Greek it is koimaoo, LIE, and is given this standard in the Concordant Version sublinear. Complete repose can only be obtained by lying relaxed and unmoving, and usually therefore repose is taken in sleep.
The word is used of the repose of sleep in several contexts. The chief priests told the soldiers to explain the resurrection of Jesus by saying, "His disciples, coming by night, steal him as we are reposing" (Matt.28:13). The Lord found the disciples reposing from sorrow when He came to them after His agony of prayer (Luke 22:45). When the Lord said to His disciples, "Lazarus, our friend, has found repose but I am going that I should be awakening him out of sleep," they took what He said quite literally, instead of realizing that He was speaking of the repose of death. The Lord was talking in a figure, but one with deep undertones of spiritual truth. We may term it the figure euphemy, that is one in which a word or expression that is pleasant is used for one that may be harsh or disagreeable. It is a consoling thought to remember those who have died as reposing in peace and tranquility after a life that may have been wearisome and hard. The harsh reality of death needs to be remembered, but we can also think of it as a time of rest, cessation and repose from all the rigors of experience with evil.
The word is used of death some fifteen times. Many bodies of the reposing saints were roused after the Lord was roused and were disclosed to many. That it is not merely a euphemistic way of speaking of death is shown in Acts 13:16 where David's death is mentioned in three ways; he "was put to repose and was added to his fathers and was acquainted with decay." The plain fact of his condition in death is clearly stated in the final phrase, "acquainted with decay." But he was also reposing from his labors.
Paul states that "We all, indeed, shall not be put to repose." All of us now living ardently hope that we shall be among those who will survive to the day of the Lord's appearing. And some will, indeed survive, though many more are reposing to await the Lord's shout of command.
THOSE WHO SURVIVE
(1 Thessalonians 4:15)
Survive has the meaning of remaining alive through threatening circumstances. It is to live after others or after an event. It is helpful to consider what other words might have been used in 1 Thessalonians 4:15,17. It could have read, "remaining to the presence of the Lord" as in 1 Corinthians 15:6 where we read of saints who have died and others who are "remaining hitherto." Left could have been used as in Acts 15:17, those "left of mankind." But "surviving" is the word used, and in it there is a sense of coming through danger and threatening circumstances.
This thought is supported by the use of the word snatch later in the chapter, we shall simultaneously together with them be snatched up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Snatching is a quick, urgent taking of someone or something, and usually in dangerous circumstances.
While we do not believe that the saints of this dispensation will go through the great affliction, for we are assured that we are saved from it, yet it seems to indicate conditions threatening and dangerous. And if we consider the world today, political and religious, is it not a miracle that the faithful survive at all? And these conditions will worsen if the Lord tarries. Calamities such as earthquakes, revolution, warfare and the increase of wicked men, all threaten both believer and unbeliever.
In the religious world there is more danger to the faithful than in any other sphere, for this is the realm in which Satan and his hosts are most active. They are against the faithful, scheming their downfall. It is a miracle indeed that true faith survives at all in these days.
The use of the word survive in 1 Thessalonians 4 has undertones in it hinting at conditions such as are present today and will get worse. Survive in the Hebrew (shrd) is used of surviving battle and smiting and danger as in Isaiah 1:9, "Unless Ieue of hosts reserves for us a few survivors as Sodom would we become...."
May we be among the survivors who are kept alive and faithful in the midst of these tragic days till the Lord comes.
THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD
(1 Thessalonians 4:15)TO BE in the presence of a person is to be immediately before him, in his personal vicinity. It is the contrary of absence. The Lord is absent now as to His person; we long for His presence, to actually be with Him and before Him.
The Lord's presence was in a limited sense in Moses' tabernacle and in Solomon's temple, for He had placed His name there and His glory filled the holiest place in each. But His presence in its fullest sense is now in the highest heaven, in the perfect tabernacle in the celestial Jerusalem. His presence is where He is. If He leaves one location and goes to another His presence goes with Him, for it is where He is in bodily form.
Thus we must distinguish the different occasions when His presence is referred to. For instance the disciples asked what would be the sign of His presence and of the conclusion of the eon (Matt.24:3). And the Lord answered and told them of the events that would precede His coming again for them. He described it as being like the lightning that flashes across the sky from east to west, its brilliance apparent to all. So will it be for Israel when He descends to the mount of Olives to inaugurate His Kingdom. This presence will be after that which is for us. For in His coming for us He will descend from heaven and remain in the air above the earth, and will assemble us to Him there, descending no further. Thereafter we shall always be together with Him, so His presence will always be our delight and exultation.
In the two Thessalonian epistles Paul mentions the presence of the Lord seven times, a complete number. They were not clear as to the presence of the Lord for them, expecting first the day of the Lord which introduces the next eon. But he assured them that they would not have to endure that day, for the man of lawlessness must first be unveiled, and this was held back by the very presence of the saints on earth. When the detaining element was withdrawn then would be unveiled the lawless one, who would subsequently be dispatched by the advent of the Lord's presence when He returns to the earth.
BY NO MEANS OUTSTRIP THE REPOSING
Outstrip is a word used in running or competition of the one who goes ahead of his competitors and passes them in the race. It has in it the thought of leaving behind, going beyond and overtaking. Paul uses it in Philippians 3:16 of the mature, who because of their knowledge and spiritual attainments might outstrip others in their pursuit of the goal. He also uses it once before in 1 Thessalonians, of the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and forbade even speaking to the nations; to them the indignation of God, which would be theirs in the judgment, already outstripped or overtook them. The Lord used it in a similar sense in Matthew 12:28 of the Kingdom of God, because His miracles of casting out demons displayed one of the essential characteristics of the Kingdom before its time, and therefore in this sense it outstripped in time before it was due.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:15 Paul asserts that, in our entry into the presence of the Lord, we the living shall by no means outstrip those who are reposing. For we all shall simultaneously together be snatched up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. It is not thus for Israel at His presence for them. Then the living who survive the afflictions of those days up until His presence on Olivet's mount will indeed outstrip those who have died, for the dead are not roused to join their brethren for some time afterwards. It seems from Daniel's account (12:12) that it will be some 75 days after that they will stand vivified in His presence.
It is evident that the Thessalonians were not clear as to what would happen to the reposing saints and needed these emphatic assurances from Paul by the word of the Lord. We must remember that all truth has been revealed in installments and especially that for the present through Paul. Isaiah wrote of this when he said, "When the word of Alueim comes to them, instruction is added to instruction...a bit there, a bit there." Paul expresses a similar thought in 1 Corinthians 13, "Out of an installment are we knowing." Thus this truth of the Lord's coming for us has been given in installments, 1 Thessalonians 4 being the first of these, followed by 1 Corinthians 15:35, and finally Philippians 3:20, though other scriptures add more to what is said in these.
THE LORD HIMSELF
1 Thessalonians 4:16 might have read, "The Lord will be descending," and still convey the fact that the Lord will be coming down from heaven. The addition of "Himself" adds something to the sense as well as giving emphasis. It is a form of phrase that occurs a number of times in the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 15:28, in the great passage on the consummation of the eons and subjection of all to God we read that "Then the Son Himself also shall be subject to Him." The emphatic "Himself also" adds the sense that even the Son will be subject to His Father.
The construction is used five times in the Thessalonian epistles. In 3:11, for example, we read, "Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus Christ be directing our way to you!" It seems that when others are involved in what is said they are particularly mentioned. The phrase "our God and Father Himself" without any addition would indicate He alone.
When the two disciples were walking on the Emmaus road discussing the events of the previous few days in Jerusalem, "Jesus Himself drew near." He was alone as He approached. This is indicated in the words "Jesus Himself." Thus we may be confident that when the Lord comes for us, descending from heaven, He will be alone. No other will distract our attention. We shall have eyes only for the Lord. For this will be our first sight of Him. We may have endeavored to conjure up a vision of the Lord as He is now, but it is impossible. Then His glory, magnificence and loveliness will burst upon us in all its solitary splendor. O that we might capture in our meditations something of the aura of that moment.
It will not be the same for Israel, when He returns for them, for then He will be accompanied by many messengers. The words that tell of it are different, "For the Son of Mankind is about to be coming in the glory of His Father with His messengers..." It will be the messengers who will assemble Israel to the Lord from the four corners of the earth. All of those messengers who are concerned with Israel will come with Him, and this may be the same company that John saw assembled around the throne (Rev.5:11) who numbered one hundred million and one million, two immense assemblages of glory and power. And we shall be there also, for shall we not always be together with the Lord? For us when the Lord comes it is His voice and His own trumpet blast that calls us away to Him. He Himself will snatch us up to meet Him in the air. Let us exult in this fact and that no other comes for us.
WILL BE DESCENDING
To descend is to move downwards from a higher to a lower place. It may be a long distance as when the Lord first descended from heaven's heights to the lower parts of the earth. He subsequently ascended up over all who are of the heavens. But it may also be a short distance as when Zaccheus descended from the tree in response to the Lord's summons, "Zaccheus! Hurry! Descend!"
The Lord's descent to the earth in His humiliation was not His first, for as the great Ieue of the Hebrew Scriptures He descended on many occasions. He came from heaven to mount Sinai to meet and talk with Moses (Ex.19:11). Nor is He the only one who has descended from heaven. Messengers have come down on many occasions to carry out their appointed tasks, and will do so again in the future. The New Jerusalem, that marvelous city of the new creation, will descend out of heaven and come down on to the new earth as the capital city of the Kingdom of that final eon.
The Lord will descend from heaven with His messengers when He comes to establish His Kingdom on the earth, and will then descend further than when He comes for us, for it is only as far as the air above the earth that He comes when assembling us to Himself.
The Lord is at present in the highest region of the universe, in the loftiest part of the heavens. When He went up from Olive's mount in the sight of the apostles He ascended up through the solar system, past all the galaxies that fill the heavens, passing through the heavens till He came to the most glorious of the heavens. Then passing still upwards He came to its uppermost heights, to the celestial Jerusalem, the city of the living God. There He is now. But we look for Him to descend from His glory there and come down again through the heavens, past all the stars, till He arrives in the narrow strip of air that stretches upwards from the earth for a few miles. There He will assemble us, and we shall meet Him there.
WITH A SHOUT OF COMMAND
(1 Thessalonians 4:16)"Shout of command" is a single word in the Greek keleusma and only occurs this once (in 1 Thess.4:16). Other versions have "word of command" and "cry of command" and some merely "command" or "a shout." But it is more than merely a command as in Matthew 8:18, where it is a form of the verb keleuoo, to ORDER. This word is used in many contexts; four times when Jesus gives orders to others. He orders the throngs to be seated on the grass (Matt.14:19). He orders the disciples to come with Him away from the throng to the other side of the water (Matt.8:18). And He orders the blind man to be led to Him (Luke 18:10). All of these were specific commands to do something, and were obeyed by those to whom they were addressed. But the word we are considering is something more than an order, it is the effect or result of an order. However it has in it the basic meaning of command.
An order or command is a direction expressed by one in authority toward others. It expresses the will of the one ordering. A master gives orders to his servant. Orders are usually terse and clear, as when the Lord ordered Peter to come to Him on the water. He said, "Be coming!" When He roused Lazarus from the dead He said, "Lazarus! Hither! Out!" It was a clear instruction that could not be misunderstood.
The word keleusma occurs only in the LXX in Proverbs 30:27 in a reference to locusts who have no king, "yet march orderly at one command." Here the word is translated "command," for it could not here be translated "shout of command." It seems that the word has in it the effect of an order, that is the response, as well as the expression of what has to be done. The order to the locusts is not given by a leader, but would seem to be an innate understanding in all of them to move in a particular direction and in divisions also. An order does not necessarily agree with the wishes of the one ordered, but an ORDER-effect (which is the standard for keleusma) seems to include in its meaning the ready response from the one ordered.
Having established the meaning of this word we need now to understand its implications in the phrase, "The Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command." Can we know to whom the order is addressed and what the order is? Firstly, it is given as the Lord is descending from heaven. That is, He is coming down towards the assembly point in the air above the earth. It is the first of the three specific sounds that will be heard by us. First the command, then the message of the Chief Messenger and finally the trumpet blasts.
To whom then is the order addressed? It seems to me that it must be directed to the saints who are reposing, and that it will be the authoritative word to them to rise from among the dead. The dead will be rising first. They are not changed to incorruptible celestials until the last trumpet blast sounds forth, when we too shall be transfigured. We cannot be certain what the command is, but if it is directed to those reposing it could be such as was shouted to Lazarus, "Hither! Out!" Not one of those who are in Christ will fail to respond.
Wherever they are, in whatever condition their bodies, they will stand on their feet, alive but not yet changed as to their bodies. For a brief period they will be like the Lord as He was seen during the forty days after His resurrection. It is no problem to God to reassemble them from the soil to which they had returned. Some may not have long been dead, others such as Paul would have long ago been indistinguishable from the soil. But each will rise, and each will hear the next sound that comes to our ears—the message of the Chief Messenger. Were they not first raised they would miss this message. After this come the trumpet blasts when we and those who have been raised from the dead will be changed and then snatched up to meet the Lord in the air.
A difficulty in this interpretation might be thought to lie in 1 Corinthians 15 where we read, "For He will be trumpeting and the dead will be roused incorruptible and we shall be changed." Their rousing occurs when He is trumpeting, whereas in 1 Thessalonians 4 they are raised before He trumpets. It depends on the significance of roused (Keyword Concordance cf pp.250,252). This is a term that is used as often in reference to the living as to the dead. It seems clear to me that the dead will rise first in bodies which are not yet changed, to hear the message of the Lord, and then the trumpet blasts; then at the last trump they will be changed with us to incorruptible celestials and ascend with us to the Lord in the air.
The Lord Himself is the Chief Messenger. The AV has helped to conceal this fact by translating "archangel." We should dismiss the word angel from our vocabulary, for it has accumulated so many wrong ideas that its use is a hindrance to discovering what they are and what is their place in heavenly society. The same word used of celestial messengers is often used of men. "Messenger" describes perfectly their function and work, and this is the word that should be used for them, as it is in the Concordant Version. They are bearers of messages either in word or in deed. The messengers of God are powerful and glorious, for they speak and act as if it were God Himself. They are agents and representatives of the throne of God.
The status of a messenger entirely depends on the standing of his principal. If I were to send a messenger he would have no more importance than I have. The messengers of God are among the most powerful and glorious of created beings because they are His emissaries and intermediaries. When we consider the vast extent of the universe, which is controlled by God in its every detail, we can understand why messengers are required. The carrying into effect of God's purpose in the far-flung and multitudinous parts of His Kingdom require many messengers to act for Him.
There are many, many millions of them. The scene described in the Unveiling chapter 5, where stood a vast company of messengers around the throne and the twelve elders, by no means exhausts their number. We are told precisely how many stood there, one hundred million and one million; that is in two groups, one of which numbered twice as many as the population of the British Isles. But these were connected with earth's affairs, for we must remember that almost all the activity in this book relates to the earth and the part heaven and its dwellers play in it. A. E. Knoch suggested there might be a messenger for every star. If this is so then there must be many millions for we are told by astronomers that in our galaxy alone there are one thousand million stars, and in the outer regions of space there are thousands of other galaxies with similar multitudes of stars in them. One cannot assert that there is a messenger for each of the stars, but it is a thought in harmony with the majesty of God whose universe it is.
There are several groups of messengers mentioned in the Scriptures and each would probably have its chief. There are the ten thousand messengers of Hebrews 12:22 who seem to have a special part to play in connection with the celestial Jerusalem. Twelve legions could have been summoned by the Lord to His aid had He wished (Matt.26:53); that is about 70,000 in number.
The Lord is not the only Chief Messenger, for Michael is so described (Jude 9). He is the chief of the messengers whose work is associated with the Sons of Israel. In Daniel he is said to be one of the first chiefs (10:13), and the great chief who stands for the sons of Daniel's people (12:1). Gabriel too was specially commissioned for the affairs of Israel, but he is not termed a chief messenger.
That the Lord is called a Messenger is not unique to Thessalonians. Jacob spoke of the Alueim as the Messenger (Gen.48:16). He is called the Messenger of the covenant in Malachi 3:1. But He is preeminent among all the messengers, the Chief of them all, and it is as such that He comes for us with a message from God. It is His voice we shall hear. We wonder now what will be the message He brings. He first issues the order for the dead to rise; then He addresses Himself to all the saints, both those who had been reposing, and those who had survived. What more welcome word could come to our ears than "Lo! I have arrived!" and thus announce His presence. He does not as yet summon us up to Him, for we have not yet been changed--our change awaits the final trumpet blast. But He makes Himself known and sets any fears we may have at rest, for the brilliance of His presence might well cause us to tremble, being acutely aware that we are still soilish and mortal. He may, as other messengers did when speaking to humans, say, "Fear not! It is I, I have arrived!" But we speculate, and each of us can wonder to himself what the Lord might say. Yet be assured that He will speak and we shall hear the voice of the Chief Messenger Himself. Thereafter come the trumpet blasts.
THE TRUMPET OF GOD
The trumpet was heard on many great occasions in Israel's history, from the days of Moses onwards. It resounded long and loud from the heights of Sinai, when Moses ascended there to meet the Alueim. Its insistent sound caused the people to tremble with fear. Later in their history the trumpet should have signaled the great jubilee every fiftieth year, its blast reverberating throughout the land. It dominated the scene at the fall of Jericho. At Solomon's anointing as king the trumpet was blown and the people acclaimed him king. It will sound in the millennial Kingdom, for the great kingdom Psalm (47) speaks of those days:It was the instrument of celebration (Psa.81:3) and of praise (Psa.150:3) and of warning (Eze.33:4). It was used to assemble for battle and other occasions of mass gathering. The assembling of faithful Israel at the coming of the Lord for them will be announced by the trumpeting of the Lord dispatching the messengers to gather His people. Trumpets figure prominently in the book of the Unveiling.Alueim is ascending with shouting,
Ieue with the sound of a trumpet.
Twice is the trumpet mentioned in connection with the coming of the Lord for us, in Thessalonians and in Corinthians. It is the sound of a trumpet that announces the change of our bodies from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal and us from infirm creatures of the soil to powerful masters of the heavens, and from soulish beings to spiritual sons of God. The Lord will trumpet a series of blasts, for it is at the last and final blast that we are changed and then snatched upwards to meet the Lord in the air. All the chosen will hear and be changed, but it almost seems as if some will hesitate to ascend, for the Lord snatches us up to Him. We do not go up in the power of our own bodies. Our change will be such that we will no longer need to be anchored to the earth but will have the ability to ascend with ease into the atmosphere and so on upwards into the highest heavens.
When the Lord comes for us He sounds the trumpet of God. Nowhere else do we read of the trumpet of God. Its use is an indication of the greatness of the occasion and its importance in relation to the rest of creation. It is indeed a great event, for it inaugurates the Kingdom of Christ, especially that part of it termed the celestial Kingdom. It is the first great event that will lead up to the salvation and reconciliation of all at the consummation. From that day when the Lord comes for us all will move swiftly toward the conclusion of the eon and the establishment of the Kingdom on earth as well as in the highest heavens. It is the occasion when Christ is united with the members of His body. Thus is it a time of great importance and calls for the use of the trumpet of God.
It is the Lord Himself Who will sound the trumpet. But why should He use this particular instrument on this occasion? It has many uses. It is the signal of impending judgment in the Unveiling. Its chief use, however, is to summon and assemble and particularly for battle. Paul mentions this as its significance. But though we are assembled by its blast it will not be for battle. We are, however, gathered in the stronghold of the archenemy of Christ, and the trumpet will alert and warn him of our presence. Then it will be that "The God of peace will be crushing Satan" under our feet swiftly. There will be no battle, for the glory and power of Christ and His ecclesia will suffice to crush the Adversary with the utmost speed. He will not attempt to overcome the glorious company of saints at whose head is the Lord Christ. Swiftly will he recognize his defeat. To him the trumpet will be a warning that his days of power are drawing to a close. For us it will be the signal of our final salvation and entry into the presence of our Lord.
THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL BE RISING FIRST
The phrase "the dead in Christ" should impress us because of the incongruity of its two parts, "the dead" and "in Christ." Christ is all that is living, vital and powerful. He is God's Executive, anointed to rectify all wrongs, the One Who is able. Death does not at all harmonize with such a One. In Him there is no death. Yet there are dead ones who are indeed in Christ. In this wicked eon some who have been called to a place in Him during their lives, are now dead. But they are nevertheless still in Christ. Their salvation and glory are just as assured as if they were alive. Their spirits are safe with God. The bodies of most of them have long ago returned to the soil. Death claimed them in many different ways. Some died violently, others fell peacefully asleep. Their bodies are scattered in the four corners of the earth, assimilated into the soil itself. But their resurrection is no problem for God. How He does it is beyond our comprehension, for such a miracle cannot be explained, but that He performs it is certain. The sort of body that the dead will have in resurrection is told in the next installment of the truth as to the Lord's coming, but here in Thessalonians it is the fact that they will be rising first before anything else occurs that is revealed.
Rising in the Greek is quite simply UP-STANDING or standing up. We rise from our beds in the morning and stand on our feet. We rise from sitting in a chair. Jesus rose to read in the synagogue (Luke 4:16). When the messenger rescued Peter from the jail he was reposing between two soldiers. He was first roused and then told to "Rise!.." (Acts 12:7). These instances give us the meaning of rising in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. It means that the dead will be brought to life to stand upon their feet. It does not mean that they will at that moment be ascending. This comes later. They rise first before anything happens to the living saints. The use of the word first indicates this order of events. First the dead rise; thereupon, that is afterwards, we are all snatched up together. The word "first" always indicates something or someone subsequent to it.
The question arises, when will the dead be rising? Will it be at the sound of the last trumpet or at the time of the shout of command? There is no doubt in my mind that it will be in response to the Lord's shout of command. This order from the Lord will be addressed to the dead in Christ who will come to life, and rise to stand upon their feet. They will thus be alive to hear the message of the Lord which He brings as Chief Messenger and also to hear the trumpet blasts. If their rising awaited the final trumpet they would miss both the message and the earlier trumpet blasts.
All of this may occupy a short space of time, but it cannot be instantaneous. The change and transformation take place in an instant, the shortest possible period, but the Lord's command and the response from those dead in Christ, followed by His Message and then the trumpet blasts must take quite a bit longer than an instant or the twinkle of an eye.
(2 Thessalonians 4:17)It is a help sometimes when seeking to understand why a certain word is used in a particular context to substitute another. It highlights the significance of the word that is used. Not that we can replace any word in the Scriptures, for they stand supreme among all literature in that the words are used with the utmost discrimination and exactitude. Seven times are they refined.
Consider this phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4. We might have read instead of snatched away, that we are taken up or that we ascend or go up. But each of these latter words conveys a different thought which was not intended by the holy Spirit. We are snatched up. That is, our departure is an urgent, swift, sudden plucking up, which thoughts the other words do not convey. The word "snatched" is used elsewhere in the Scriptures and its sense can be intensified in our minds by considering some of these other contexts.
Philip was snatched away from the eunuch (Acts 8:39). It was a sudden, abrupt departure. When Paul's safety was threatened by the throng (Acts 23:10) the captain ordered the troop to descend and snatch him out of their midst. There was an urgency in the circumstances surrounding Paul. On another occasion in one of the most miraculous and amazing events of Paul's life, he was snatched away to the third heaven and into paradise (2 Cor.12:4). He had then an experience similar, in this one respect, to that which will occur again to him when, with us, he will be snatched up into the air. These examples if we consider them will help us grasp the significance of the word "snatch" when it is used of our introduction into the presence of the Lord at His coming.
When the Lord comes He will snatch us all up to Him with urgency and speed. We shall not rise of our own volition, though we shall be fully capable of doing so. Perhaps we hesitate, not realizing our new power, or perhaps awed by the presence of the Lord, fearful to approach Him. But we are not left a moment longer.
SIMULTANEOUSLY, TOGETHER IN CLOUDS
The dead in Christ (who have been raised from the dead) and the living will be snatched up in clouds simultaneously, together. These two words are not synonymous. One refers to the time of the snatching, the other to the proximity in space of the two parties. The snatching upward will occur at the same moment for all in Christ. Wherever they may have died, in whatever region of the world, their swift transfer from the earth to the air will happen at precisely the same moment. There will not be some who will approach the Lord more slowly. With speed and urgency the Lord will snatch us to Himself.
Also the movement upwards will be together. We shall not be spread over the expanse of the skies singly or in scattered groups, according to where we were located in life or in death. We shall be assembled and rise as one company to meet the Lord. It will not however be a massed throng, that is a single assembly, for we are snatched up in clouds. Now this does not mean that we shall ascend in the clouds of the sky, but that we shall be assembled like clouds and so ascend to the Lord. This is not an unusual figure of speech, for a massed assembly is often referred to as a cloud. We read of a vast cloud of witnesses. In Ezekiel 38:16 Gog goes up against Israel a great assembly, as a cloud to cover the land. Again in Isaiah 60:8 those who bring the sons of Israel from afar to their land as a thick cloud are flying. There are other examples. A very apt example of its use is by astronomers who refer to large groups of stars as star clouds. The photographic plate shows this most distinctly.
Just how the saints will be grouped we are not told. It may be according to the generation in which we have lived, or according to our place and function in the body of Christ. It is enough to know that the vast assemblage of saints will cover the sky as clouds in the vault of heaven. And thus we shall always be together with the Lord.
TO MEET THE LORD IN THE AIR
The contrasts between the coming of the Lord for the ecclesia with a celestial destiny and His coming for Israel are great.
To the earth He comes as Son of Mankind. For us He returns as Lord and Chief Messenger. When coming to Israel His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives; for us He descends no further than the air. He travels alone from heaven's height for us, but for His earthly people He is accompanied by His holy messengers. These may be the vast array seen in the throne scene of the Unveiling, numbering two great groups of a hundred million and one million. The glory of His presence will differ on each occasion. For Israel He will appear as He was on the mount of transformation, His face shining as the sun. The brilliance of His glory will not be greater than His terrestrial saints can endure. For us He will come as the Celestial One with a different glory, one exceeding in brilliance the brightness of the noonday sun. But we shall be able to look and live, for we too shall be celestials, changed into beings with a glory similar to the Lord's. He Himself assembles us with His own voice and His own trumpeting and His personal snatching upward. Israel will be gathered by His messengers. We shall meet the Lord, a personal face-to-face encounter. Israel is assembled to Him; the intimacy indicated in the word meet is absent from the record of that assembly.
The grace shown to us transcends anything that Israel has.
Where then is the air in which we meet the Lord? In this context it is the same as we understand it in general conversation. It is that part of the atmosphere which contains the mixture of gases essential to life on earth. It stretches upward for a few miles. Even at the top of the highest mountains the air is very thin. At ten miles up we could not live without artificial aids, for the air is almost absent. So it is certain that we shall meet the Lord in the blue expanse above, within a few miles of the earth's surface, within sight of our erstwhile home.
One most important feature of this meeting place is that it is the territory of the Adversary, Satan, for he is the chief of the jurisdiction of the air. It is from the air that he controls earth's affairs. To him have been given all the kingdoms of the earth, and the affairs of mankind are under his sway, political and religious. He is a spirit making his headquarters in the air above us. And it is here that we shall meet the Lord, in the heart of the enemy's kingdom. But this is for a purpose, for it will be the role of the ecclesia to display to the archenemy of God and His truth, the power and glory of the sons of God. Then will be fulfilled the words, "The God of peace will be crushing Satan under your feet swiftly." It will not be by battle but by the power of the presence of Christ and His ecclesia.
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