THE DEFENCE OF THE FAITH
THE SIMULTANEOUS ASCENSION
OF THE SAINTS
By Adolph E. Knoch
THE ascension of our Lord was an actual, visible event. He left the earth from the mount of Olives and ascended into heaven. As His disciples were still gazing, they were assured that His return to the Circumcision shall be in the same manner. He will come in the clouds of heaven, and every eye will be viewing Him, and His feet shall stand on the mount of Olives, whence He ascended. Afterward Paul was given a later revelation. Before Christ comes thus to establish the kingdom, He descends from heaven to the air (not the earth), and we shall ascend to meet Him there. We are asked to believe that He will not descend from heaven at all, for there is no need! But we may as well deny that He ascended into heaven, for that was just as unnecessary. Indeed, if His presence is the same as His absence, if His "I will come again" is not literally true, we are of all men most deluded.
The denial of Christ's future descent from heaven is a most serious and solemn departure. Such an apostasy could not be foisted on any company of people who had not already become accustomed to the denial of the plainest statements of the Scriptures. It can flourish only in previous error. The denial of Christ's resurrection, that He has flesh and bones, as He solemnly averred, leads, not only to philosophic speculations as to the powers of a spirit being, but to direct and definite denials as to His future appearing. Scripture says He shall descend! No, says philosophy, He does not need to come back. He can manage very well from where He is. Whom shall we believe, God or man?
The coming to the Circumcision is timed for us by the Lord Himself. He warned against false Christs and false prophets who would teach a secret presence, or put it before the time of tribulation. It is to occur after the afflictions of the end time. It is to be attended with great glory and power, visible to the whole land (Matt.24:23-28). That such an event has not yet occurred is beyond question. We longingly, yet urgently, beg all to test their position by the infallible Word of God, and reject all which is the result of false reasoning, though it appears to be based upon the Bible.
Our Lord taught distinctly that wars and rumors of wars were not the sign of His presence, and warned His disciples not to be deceived by those who would teach so. He warned them to beware of false prophets, whose predictions do not come true (Deut.18:21, 22), for there would be many such before His presence. The very ones who have insisted on the presence of Christ during the past forty years are ample evidence that He has not come. Their prophecies, made in the name of the Lord, were their credentials. Such prophets were to be found before, not after that parousia of Christ which He foretold.
Moreover, the coming of Christ for us is quite a different matter from that revealed to the Circumcision. When Paul makes known the truth as to the presence of the Lord to the Thessalonians, he prefaces his statement with the solemn formula: "by the word of the Lord" (1 Thess.4:15). It was a new and distinct revelation, not made known before. In it the Lord comes to the air before the time of indignation, instead of to the earth after the indignation is past. When revealing it to the Corinthians he calls it a secret (1 Cor.15:51). It leads to the utmost confusion to confound Paul's teaching concerning Christ's presence in the air for the nations, and His subsequent appearing on the mount of Olives to the Circumcision.
Historically, one of the first intimations of the destiny accorded us in the present secret administration of God's grace, was given in the writing of Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians. After his separation (Acts 13:2), after his Macedonian call, he goes to Thessalonica. There he persuades some of the Jews. In contrast with this, a vast multitude of the reverent Greeks and many of the foremost women believe (Acts 17:4). In his epistle he ignores the small number of the Circumcision and speaks of them as though they all had turned to God from idols, to be waiting for His Son out of the heavens, who is rescuing us out of the coming indignation (1 Thess.1:9,10).
It is to these suffering Thessalonians that Paul first reveals that eclectic resurrection for which the body of Christ is waiting. The Circumcision saints must go through the afflictions before the descent of Christ. But this is not in accord with the grace dispensed to the nations which follows Israel's rejection of the evangel. Hence they will escape it, and will be raised out from among the Circumcision saints to meet the Lord in the air. He cannot descend to earth until later, so they are caught up to meet Him there.
Many a mistake has been made in identifying the tribulations of the end time. The Thessalonians thought that they were in the midst of the afflictions which precede the kingdom. The apostle proved the fallacy of this by revealing the great truth that Christ's presence in the air precedes the time of trouble. When that comes we shall be at ease with Him (2 Thess.1:7). It is evident that the world war was not the great tribulation, for this cannot come so long as the body of Christ is on the earth. The bowls of wrath cannot be poured out on us, who are the grantees of unadulterated grace. Whenever the time of trouble may be, we will not be present. We have been rescued from coming indignation (1 Thess.1:10).
The presence of the Lord is identified with our resurrection. The only valid evidence that can be offered to prove that the Lord is present is our own presence with Him. Then no proof will be necessary. As the Lord's presence is the signal for our resurrection, we must prove that the saints have been raised from among the dead. As the raising of the living is simultaneous with the rousing of the dead, we must prove that we ourselves are raised! It is impossible to teach that the Lord is present without teaching that the resurrection has already occurred.
Some such teaching crept in very early. Paul wrote to Timothy about it. His words are, "Endeavor to present yourself to God, qualified, an unashamed worker, correctly partitioning the word of truth. Yet stand aloof from profane prattlings, for they will be progressing to more irreverence, and their word will spread as gangrene, of whom are Hymeneus and Philetus, who swerve from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and are subverting the faith of some" (2 Tim.15:18).
It is evident from this passage, that any teaching concerning the time of the resurrection is vital. Error here is most unwholesome. It is compared with that dread disease, gangrene, which not only causes distress and pain, but spreads decay and corruption and death. It is called profane prattling, and irreverent, and is subversive of faith. The question is, Does this passage apply now? Is present day teaching in the same class with that condemned by Paul?
The apostle does not stop to give any reason why the resurrection had not occurred in his day. He did not deem it necessary. It seemed so self-evident, so utterly without Scriptural foundation, that he does not pause to explain. He did not guard his statement so that, when the time after the resurrection actually arrives, there will be no misunderstanding. Consequently, no one can say that the resurrection is now past without being in error, unless it is so certain that no one can deny it. The reason for this is that the living will be changed and be caught up to meet the Lord at the same time as those who are asleep.
The Thessalonians did not know that the dead would rise when the living are caught up. So he assures them that we, the living, who are surviving unto the presence of the Lord, shall by no means outstrip those who are reposing. The dead, indeed, will be rising first. But thereupon, we, the living, who are surviving, shall AT THE SAME TIME be snatched away TOGETHER with them in clouds, for meeting the Lord in the air (1 Thess.4:13-18). There is no appreciable time between the rising of the dead and the change of the living. Both ascend simultaneously.
The time expression used here is accurately rendered SIMULTANEOUSLY in the sublinear of the CONCORDANT VERSION. But, to satisfy all that this is correct, we will give a list of all of its occurrences and its renderings in the version. The Authorized Version is very inconsistent. It omits it once (Matt.20:1). Once it has with (Matt.13:29), once also (Acts 24:26), once and (Acts 27:40). thrice together (Rom.3:12; 1 Thess.4:17; 5:10), and thrice withal (Col.4:3; 1 Tim.5:13; Philemon 22). All of these words, except withal, which is obsolete, are good translations of other Greek terms. Meta demands with, kai needs and and also, sun must have together. The only consistent and accurate English equivalent is SIMULTANEOUS, or, idiomatically, at the same time.
hama, SIMULTANEOUS, at the same time
you should be rooting up the wheat at the same time with it.
20: 1 who came out with the morning
Acts 24:26 at the same time expecting also that money will be given
27:40 at the same time slacking the lashings of the rudders,
Rom. 3:12 at the same time they were useless.
Col. 4: 3 and praying at the same time concerning us.
1 Thess. 4:17 shall, at the same time, be snatched away together with,
5:10 We should be living at the same time together with Him.
1 Tim. 5:13 Yet they are learning at the same time to be idle,
Phil. :22 At the same time, make ready also a lodging for me,
The first occurrence is most graphic. The very action of weeding out the darnel might prove to be the uprooting of the wheat. Until the plants are mature it would never do to destroy the noxious intruders. Then, however, the character of each will be apparent. The second occurrence is interesting. In the East it is the custom to start harvest work with the dawn. There were twelve working hours in their day, and these hours varied in length with the season. Hence it was quite necessary to hire laborers early. The householder came out SIMULTANEOUSLY, or at the same time with the morning. As English idiom conveys the idea without the full phrase, it is omitted.
The next occurrence of hama, SIMULTANEOUS, is a confirmation of the truth that, in the resurrection to which Paul refers, all will be affected at the same time. Christ dies for us that "whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him" (1 Thess.5:10). This deals with the living alone. Many attempts have been made to segregate them into those who are watching, who will be caught away, and the drowsy ones, who will be left behind. No! says the apostle. This is a matter of grace, and depends on the death of Christ, not on the watchfulness of the believer. He will give eonian life to all the living, at His presence.
But we must note that the word hama is not alone in these two passages. It is used to strengthen the word together. The meaning is clear enough without it. If the saints are to ascend together, that alone should suffice to settle the point. But, with divine prescience, the spirit of God seems to anticipate this departure from the faith, and forces the point into great prominence by adding the more specific and precise word simultaneously to the connective together. At the same time together is redundant, we admit, yet it is intended to be so, in order to impress upon us the essential synchronism of the events.
If further evidence were needed it could be found in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. There this word hama is used over forty times to translate the Hebrew yaghad, which means together, and comes from the root ONE.
The Emphatic Diaglott translates hama "at the same time" in six of its occurrence in both interlinear and version (Acts 24:26; 27:40; Col.4:3; 1 Thess.4:17; 1 Tim.5:13; Philemon 22). Elsewhere it is rendered more loosely "with" (Matt.13:29; 20:1) and "together" (Rom.3:12; 1 Thess.5:10). In the first epistle to the Thessalonians (4:17) there is no possibility of evading the full import of the word, so it is fully phrased, "at the same time."
The same truth is taught by Paul to the Corinthians. It is not emphasized, but is clearly implied in the revelation of the secret of the resurrection (1 Cor.15:51-54). Two classes are in view, the dead and the living, the corruptible and the mortal. Both are to be changed, "in an instant, in the twinkle of an eye." Surely this must be "simultaneous!" In far less time than it takes to tell it, "the dead will be roused incorruptible, and we shall be changed." Only then, and not till then, shall we all know that the resurrection has occurred! Then it will be a wholesome, glorious experience, enjoyed in the very presence of our Lord. Meanwhile may we be kept from wrecking our faith on human philosophy, which denies the simultaneous ascension of the saints!
ASCENDING INTO HEAVEN
By Adolph E. Knoch
THERE is an apparent contradiction, in our versions, between the statement of our Lord that "no one has ascended into heaven except He Who descended out of heaven" (John 3:13) and the story of Elijah, who "went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11). Our Lord's statement is explicit and correctly rendered, hence must stand. Heaven, in this case, must be defined according to the preceding context, the celestial regions which are in contrast to the earth.
Heaven is used in a twofold sense in Scripture. It is applied to the vast regions of interstellar space and it is used of the atmosphere immediately surrounding the earth. Birds fly in the heavens. Tempests do not rage beyond the air. Elijah ascended in a tempest (rather than a whirlwind). This could not take him to celestial regions. Indeed, his destination is not revealed. The word into is supplied without warrant in our version. There is no preposition in the Hebrew. It was not into heaven, but heavenward. The LXX makes it "as into the heaven." Our Lord's statement assures us it was not into the celestial regions. Many explanations could be suggested, as to how this could be done, but it has not pleased God to reveal the method or the succeeding experience of the prophet. One thing is clear. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that he was translated to a celestial sphere.