The Return of Christ, William Mealand
THE RETURN OF CHRIST
HOW RARELY in the pulpits and rostrums of Christendom is the theme of the Lord's return dwelt upon! The earthly life of Christ is stressed, and maybe the potency of His sacrifice in its blessedness for mankind. Yet, somehow, the fullness and completeness of redemption is not set forth as it could be in the grand truth of Christ's coming again.
There seems to be a marked silence on this moving theme. And yet it is the very truth which, in its profound implications, stirs the heart and mind of all who have realized salvation by grace. For, does it not bespeak the glorious ultimate of all our longings, as the seal and promise of greater things to come?
Christ's coming to the air, in its vast resplendence, will inaugurate a marvelous train of events in which we are not only spectators, but in a most blessed sense, participants. Now, indeed, are we sons of light, and in the presence of Him in Whom is no darkness at all. Wonderfully changed and transfigured, we embark on our wondrous course as citizens of celestial realms. And what a contrast to our earthly pilgrimage! Gone are the things which pained and perplexed, for not only the body, but, the mind also is free from all which hitherto had bound it to the earth.
"For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself" (Phil.20,21).
How sublime a thought! Wondrously changed in an instant of time. "For the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord" (1 Thess.1:16-18).
How vividly clear are these words to spiritual understanding! One moment we are in "the body of our humiliation," and the next in a body celestial, exultant, immortal. Or, should we have been reposing, a body incorruptible. For, beautiful indeed is that expression of longing and expectation, "We all, indeed, shall not be put to repose, yet we all shall change" (1 Cor.15:52).
How mightily and delightfully inclusive the words are, and how impressive the whole chapter. "We all shall change." That is the great outstanding truth. Whether we have been reposing for years, or are living when our Lord appears. It matters not which. "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality." Descriptive words these of precious truth. An instantaneous and most desirable change. For then, and not before, we enter upon a true fullness of life.
A spiritual body. All that this will mean is beyond our comprehension, but we do know that such a body will be in ideal contrast with our former bodies of humiliation. A frame serene and sinless, with an ability to think and put into effect things perfectly pleasing to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God, and how vast and varied it will be! The ordering of it, and our whole environment will be of God. And since "we should be wearing the image also of the celestial," we can well understand how surprisingly wonderful our immortal bodies will be.
How easily and how quickly will they respond to the directive spirit of God! Thus, led by that spirit, we shall be in the fullest meaning of the rare title "sons of God." We shall be what we long desired to be when but pilgrims on earth. And, far from feeling loneliness or isolation, or it may have been a sense of frustration, at times, we shall be in company with God's great ones down the earthly years.
Then, our eyes and ears, ever and anon towards Him Who made all this grandeur possible, we shall joy and rejoice with kindred spirits. A sight even of Paul, through whose writings, when on the earth, we were led to learn so much, should be also possible. An ambassador of God indeed who so clearly unfolded to our hearts the secrets of grace and glory.
In view, then, of so glorious a hope and expectancy, we may wonder why so few preachers mention the theme, let alone enlarge upon it in the unfolding of its grandeur. Is it not because of the traditional teaching on death and heaven? For the general conception has been, and still appears to be, that when believers die, they go straight to heaven. As even quite an evangelical preacher said to the writer who inquired after a Christian friend of his. "Gone to heaven!" And the words were uttered with startling emphasis. Yet, do we not see that such an idea puts the point of victory and triumph on death, rather than upon the Lord's return? It also stresses man's blessing almost to the exclusion of a wonderful demonstration of Christ's power.
The heart of the matter, especially in the viewpoint of Paul, as so vividly set forth by him, lies in the apostle's stirring enunciation of the Lord's return. Not one by one, but in multitudes will the members of His body ascend to their true bourne. Then, and then alone, will they be truly and fully equipped for life and service in celestial realms.
Christ is coming to the air for us prior to His coming to the earth as its triumphant Monarch. Then will He inaugurate His great reign of victory and peace. For the government being upon His shoulder a wondrous equity will distinguish the millennial order of things in accord with justice and righteousness.
Let us remember, however, that Christ is to be the Head of the entire universe. The highest honor is supremely His, "Who is the Image of the invisible God, Firstborn of every creature, for in Him is all created, that in the heavens and that on the earth, the visible and the invisible whether thrones, or lordships, or sovereignties, or authorities, all is created through Him and for Him, and He is before all, and all has its cohesion in Him" (Col.1:16,17).
Surely, such words should inspire longing and expectancy to meet so great and august a Deliverer, should strengthen our hearts as we await His coming.
"A little while, and He will come,
The hour draws on apace--
The blessed hour, the glorious morn,
When we shall see His face.
How light our trials then will seem!
How short our pilgrim way!
The life on earth a fitful dream,
Dispelled by dawning day."
We have seen how wonderfully Paul unfolds the coming of Christ for the people of God's choice. And how his writings invest such a coming with great events. A sequence, indeed, of rare happenings which carry forward God's purpose, not only for the saved in the era of His grace, but for the whole universe. For, stage upon stage, the divine purpose widens and extends, until the conquering Lord of life and glory is rewarded by its perfect fulfillment.
It is well to remember that immortal life is a pure gift, only to become ours when the great and much to be desired change is brought about by our Lord's coming to the air. Then, and for this we ardently wait, our full deliverance comes--comes in God's time and manner. True, our bodies are the repository of God's spirit even now, being His temple, but they will need a vital change ere they are really fit for the celestial realms.
Hence, our bodies require that change Paul so impressively stresses. "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality." And how mortal we are every believer should know from experience. It is borne in upon us almost every day, showing us how very far we are from being immortal.
A wondrous momentous change will be ours, when the Lord from glory cometh. Even so, and in the words of a lovely hymn our thoughts are well phrased.
"Some days He'll change our house of clay,
Transfigured to His form so fair;
More dazzling than the orb of day,
His lustrous likeness we shall wear!"