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That Blessed Hope





"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the glory
of our great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," Tit. ii:13.


"That blessed hope" of which the Apostle writes is an exclusively New
Testament revelation. The appearing of the glory of our great God and
our Savior Jesus Christ is fully revealed in the Old Testament
prophetic Word. The Prophets had visions of the day of the Lord, a day
in which the Lord will be manifested in power and glory; a day which
will bring glory and peace when the Lord is enthroned as King of kings
and Lord of lords. The Spirit of God has shown through the prophets
what the appearing, the visible manifestation of the Lord will mean,
for the people Israel, for the nations and for groaning creation. But
nowhere do we find "that blessed hope" made known by the prophets. The
Jewish Saints knew nothing of it as it is revealed to the church of
God. True they had now and then a glimpse of the future. One of the
greatest sufferers was Job. His darkest night was illuminated by the
assurance of hope when he uttered his great testimony: "I know that my
Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the
earth. And if after my skin this body shall be destroyed, yet in my
flesh shall I see God. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes
shall behold, and not another" (Job xix:25-27). But this is not "that
blessed hope" the Lord has given to us His people.

Old Testament Saints knew of the resurrection of the dead. They knew
nothing of a resurrection from among the dead. Yet Enoch and Elijah
were taken to glory without dying. No prophet knew the typical meaning
of their experience as we know it through "that blessed hope."


For the First Time

"That blessed hope" is for the first time mentioned by our Lord. But
where in His earthly life did He give it to His disciples? It is not
found in the records of the three first Gospels, generally called the
synoptics. In these records He spoke often of His Return. He promised
a Second Coming of Himself in the clouds of heaven with power and great
glory. He revealed what should take place before His return. In His
prophetic Olivet discourse (Matt. xxiv-xxv) He gave the signs of His
Coming, the preceding great tribulation, the physical signs
accompanying His visible manifestation, the regathering of His elect
people Israel by the angels. He revealed how some would then be taken
in judgment and others left on the earth to enter the Kingdom (Matt.
xxiv:40-41). He also spoke in parables of how the conditions in
Christendom would be dealt with by Him. And finally He gave a prophecy
concerning the judgment of the living nations in the day of His
appearing. But nowhere in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke did He
speak of "that blessed hope."

It was in the upper room discourse that He spoke of it the first time.
His eleven disciples were gathered about Him. Judas had gone out into
the night to betray Him. For him of whom the Lord said it would have
been better had he never been born, there was no blessed hope. The
Lord had announced His imminent departure from them. He would leave
them. When Peter said "I will lay down my life for thy sake" (John
xiii:30), the omniscient One told him, "the cock shall not crow till
thou hast denied me thrice." How sorrowful this little company must
have been! Despair was probably on all their faces. Their hearts were
greatly troubled.

Then His beloved voice broke the silence and uttered the never to be
forgotten words, "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God,
believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were
not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you; and if
I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you
unto Myself that where I am ye may be also" (John xiv:1-3). In these
words "that blessed hope" is mentioned for the first time in the Bible.


What It Is

Only those who belonged to Him heard this promise. It is therefore a
promise not given to Israel, or to the world, but only for those who
know Him as their Savior and Lord, who have believed on Him and are His
own. The promise is twofold. He would come again and receive them
unto Himself; and that He would take them to the place where He is.
And this is "that blessed hope." His coming for His own to be with Him
in the Father's house to occupy the mansions He has prepared by His
atoning work.

The contrast of this promise of His Coming for His disciples with the
promises of His visible return as given in the synoptics is striking.
He does not say a word about any signs. He does not mention the great
tribulation. Nor has He anything to say about judgment. He only gives
the assurance that He, in person, will come again and then receive them
unto Himself. They were not to look for certain signs and events as
predicted in Daniel's prophecy, or wait for the great tribulation and
the manifestation of the man of sin. His promise told them to wait for
Himself.


His Prayer

A little while later after He had given this promise of His Coming for
them they heard Him pray. This prayer is found in the seventeenth
chapter of John. What a prayer it is! As they listened to His voice
addressing the Father they had new glimpses of His great love wherewith
He loved them. He prayed for their sanctification, for their
preservation and finally for their glorification. He made a demand of
the Father which confirmed the promise He had previously given to them.
He prayed, "Father, I will that they, whom Thou hast given Me be with
Me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given Me,
for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" (John xvii:24).
In these words He asks the Father to do what He had promised His
disciples. His own are to be with Him where He is, to behold His glory.


An Unfulfilled Promise and an Unanswered Prayer

The promise of "that blessed hope" given so long ago is still
unfulfilled; the prayer He prayed is not yet answered. Some say that
when our Lord said "I will come again and receive you unto myself" He
meant the death of the believer. This is positively wrong. When the
believer dies the Lord does not come to the individual believer, but
the believer goes to be with the Lord. "Absent from the body present
with the Lord." When the believer dies his body is put into the
ground, while the disembodied part goes straight into His presence.
But the body is also redeemed and must be fashioned like unto His
glorious body. The disciples died and generations upon generations of
believers passed away and the promise is still unfulfilled and His
prayer not yet answered.


The Full Revelation

The disciples, though they knew the promise of "that blessed hope" had
no knowledge whatever how the Lord would come again and receive them
unto Himself. He did not reveal the manner of His Coming when He spoke
to them. The Lord singled out the Apostle Paul to give to him the
special revelation as to the manner of His Coming for His Saints and
how "that blessed hope" would some day be fulfilled. The Apostle Paul
is the instrument through whom the Lord was pleased to give the highest
revelation in the Word of God, so that he could say that it was given
to him "to fulfil (complete) the Word of God." To him the full glory
of the church, the body of Christ, was made known, and through this
chosen vessel, who called himself less than the least of all the
Saints, the full revelation of "that blessed hope" is given.

The first Epistle he wrote was the Epistle to the Thessalonians. The
great revelation of the blessed hope is found in the first Epistle.
"But we do not wish you to be ignorant concerning them that are fallen
asleep, to the end that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also God will
bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For this we
say to you in the Word of the Lord, that we, the living, who remain to
the coming of the Lord, are in no way to anticipate those who have
fallen asleep: for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with an
assembling shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of
God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living who
remain, shall be caught up together with them in clouds, to meet the
Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore
comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess. iv:13-18,--corrected
translation). These words, so unique and precious, give the full
revelation about "the blessed hope." Some of the Thessalonian
believers had died and those who were left behind feared that their
departed ones had lost their share in the coming glorious meeting with
the Lord. On their account they sorrowed like those who have no hope.
And so the Lord gave to the Apostle this special revelation to quiet
their fears and to enlighten them as to the details of the coming of
the Lord for all His Saints, those who had fallen asleep, and those who
live when He fulfills His promise. The little church of Thessalonica
with these sorrowing Saints was made the recipient of this great and
comforting message which is for the whole body of Christ as well.

Let us examine it. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through
Jesus." Here is first the blessed fact that "Jesus died." Of the
Saints it is said that they fell asleep; but never is it said that
Jesus slept, when He gave His life on the cross. He tasted death, the
death in all its unfathomable meaning as the judgment upon sin. For
the saints the physical death is but sleep.[1] And He who died rose
again; as certainly as He died and rose again, so surely shall all
believers rise. God will bring all those who have fallen asleep
through Jesus with Him, that is with the Lord when He comes in the day
of His glorious manifestation. It does not mean the receiving of them
by the Lord, nor does it mean that He brings their disembodied spirits
with Him to be united to their bodies from the graves, but it means
that those who have fallen asleep will God bring with His Son when He
comes with all His saints; they will all be in that glorified company.
When the Lord comes back from glory all the departed saints will be
with Him. This is what the Thessalonians needed to know first of all.
Before we follow this blessed revelation in its unfolding we call
attention to the phrase "fallen asleep through (not in) Jesus;" it may
also be rendered by "those who were put to sleep by Jesus." His saints
in life and death are in His hands. When saints put their bodies
aside, it is because their Lord has willed it so. "Precious in the
sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Ps. cxvi:15). When our
loved ones leave us, may we think of their departure as being "put to
sleep by Jesus."

But blessed as this answer to their question is, it produced another
difficulty. Hearing that the saints who had fallen asleep would come
with the Lord on the day of His glorious manifestation, they would ask,
"How is it possible that they can come with Him?" Are they coming as
disembodied spirits? What about their bodies in the graves? How shall
they come with Him? To answer these questions the special revelation
"by the Word of the Lord" is given, by which they learned, and we also,
how they would all be with Him so as to come with Him at His appearing.
"For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord, that we, the living,
who remain unto the coming of the Lord, are in no wise to anticipate
those who have fallen asleep." He tells them that when the Lord comes
for His saints, those who have fallen asleep will not have an inferior
place, and that, we, the living, who remain to the coming of the Lord,
will not precede those who have fallen asleep. When Paul wrote these
words and said "We, the living, who remain," he certainly considered
himself as included in that class. The two companies who will meet the
Lord when He comes, those who have fallen asleep and those who are
living, are mentioned here for the first time. How the living saints
will not precede those who have departed and the order in which the
coming of the Lord for His saints will be executed is next made known
in this wonderful revelation.

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with an assembling
shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and
the dead in Christ shall rise first, then, we, the living, who remain,
shall be caught up together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in
the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one
another with these words." This is the full revelation of the blessed
hope in its manner of fulfilment. Nothing like it is found anywhere in
the Old Testament Scriptures. In writing later to the Corinthians Paul
mentioned it again: "Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all
sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of
an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead
shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor.
xv:51-52).

The Lord Himself will descend from heaven. He is now at the right
hand of God in glory, crowned with honor and glory. There He exercises
His Priesthood and advocacy in behalf of His people, by which He keeps,
sustains and restores them. When the last member has been added to the
church, which is His body, and that body is to be with Him, who is the
head, He will leave the place at the right hand and descend from
heaven. He will not descend to the earth, for, as we read later, the
meeting-place for Him and His saints is the air and not the earth.
When He comes with His saints in His visible manifestation, He will
descend to the earth. When He comes for His Saints He comes with a
shout. It denotes His supreme authority. The Greek word is "Kelusma,"
which means literally "a shout of command," used in classical Greek for
the hero's shout to his followers in battle, the commanding voice to
gather together. He ascended with a shout (Ps. lxvii:5), and with the
victor's shout He returns. The shout may be the single word "Come!"
"Come and see" He spoke to the disciples who followed Him and inquired
for His dwelling place. Before Lazarus' tomb He spoke with a loud
voice, "Come forth." John, in the isle of Patmos, after the throne
messages to the churches had been given, saw a door opened in heaven
and the voice said "Come up hither" (Rev. iv:1). "Come" is the royal
word of grace, and grace will do its supreme work when He comes for His
own. But there will also be the voice of the archangel (Michael) and
the trump of God. The archangel is the leader of the angelic hosts.
As He was seen of angels (1 Tim. iii:16) when He ascended into the
highest heaven, so will the archangel be connected with His descent out
of heaven. All heaven will be in commotion when the heirs of glory,
sinners saved by grace, are about to be brought with glorified bodies
into the Father's house. Some teach that the voice of the archangel
may be employed to summon the heavenly hosts and marshal the
innumerable company of the redeemed, for "They shall gather His elect
together from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other"
(Matthew xxiv:30-31). But this is incorrect. The elect in Matthew
xxiv are not the church, but Israel. Dispersed Israel will be
regathered and angels will be used in this work. Furthermore the
angels will do this gathering after the great tribulation and after the
visible manifestation of the Lord with His saints. The coming of the
Lord for His saints takes place before the great tribulation.

The trump of God is also mentioned. This trumpet has nothing to do
with the judgment trumpets of Revelation, nor with the Jewish feast of
trumpets. Some teach that the trumpet is the last trumpet of
Revelation. But note the trumpet here is the trumpet of God; in
Revelation the last trumpet is blown by an angel. It is a symbolical
term and like the shout stands for the gathering together. In Numbers
x:4 we read, "And if they blow with one trumpet, then the princes, the
heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee."
The shout and the trump of God will gather the fellow-heirs of Christ.
"The dead in Christ shall rise first." This is the resurrection from
among all the dead of those who believed on Christ, the righteous,
dead. All saints of all ages, Old and New Testament saints, are
included. This statement of the resurrection of the dead in Christ
first disposes completely of the unscriptural view of a general
resurrection. As we know from Rev. xx:5 the rest of the dead (the
wicked dead) will be raised up later. He comes in person to open the
graves of all who belong to Him and manifests His authority over death
which He has conquered. The dead in Christ will hear the shout first
and experience His quickening power; they shall be raised
incorruptible. What power will then be manifested! "Then we, the
living, who remain, shall be caught up together with them in clouds to
meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." All
believers who live on earth when the Lord comes will hear that
commanding, gathering shout. It does not include those who only
profess to be Christians and are nominal church-members, nor are any
excluded who really are the Lord's. The question, "Who will be caught
up into glory?" is answered elsewhere in these studies. But see 1 Cor.
xv:23 for an answer. The change will be "in a moment, in the twinkling
of an eye" (1 Cor. xv:52). Then this mortal will put on immortality.
It will be that "clothed upon" of which the apostle wrote to the
Corinthians: "For in this tabernacle we groan, being burdened; not for
that we would be unclothed (death) but clothed upon, that mortality
might be swallowed up of life" (2 Cor. v:4). Then our body of
humiliation will be fashioned like unto His own glorious body. It is
the blessed, glorious hope, not death and the grave, but the coming of
the Lord, when we shall be changed. And it is our imminent hope;
believers must wait daily for it and some blessed day the shout will
surely come.

When He descends from heaven with the shout and the dead in Christ are
raised and we are changed, then "we shall be caught up together with
them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air." It will be the blessed
time of reunion with the loved ones who have gone before. What joy and
comfort it must have brought to the sorrowing Thessalonians when they
read these blessed words for the first time! And they are still the
words of comfort and hope to all His people, when they stand at the
open graves of loved ones who fell asleep as believers. Often the
question is asked, "Shall we not alone meet our loved ones but also
recognize them?" Here is the answer: "Together with them" implies both
reunion and recognition. These words would indeed mean nothing did
they not mean recognition. We shall surely see the faces of our loved
ones again and all the saints of God on that blessed day when this
great event takes place. The clouds will be heaven's chariots to take
the heirs of God and the joint-heirs of the Lord Jesus Christ into His
own presence. As He ascended so His redeemed ones will be taken up.
Caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; all laws of
gravitation are set aside, for it is the power of God, the same power
which raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead and seated Him in glory,
which will be displayed in behalf of His saints (Eph. i:19-23). Surely
this is a divine and a wonderful revelation. "How foolish it must
sound to our learned scientists. But, beloved, I would want nothing
but that one sentence, 'Caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the
air,' to prove the divinity of Christianity. Its very boldness is
assurance of its truth. No speculation, no argument, no reasoning; but
a bare authoritative statement startling in its boldness. Not a
syllable of Scripture on which to build, and yet when spoken, in
perfect harmony with all Scripture. How absolutely impossible for any
man to have conceived that the Lord's saints should be caught up to
meet Him in the air. Were it not true its very boldness and apparent
foolishness would be its refutation. And what would be the character
of mind that could invent such a thought? What depths of wickedness!
What cruelty! What callousness! The spring from which such a
statement, if false, could rise must be corrupt indeed. But how
different in fact! What severe righteousness! What depths of
holiness! What elevated morality! What warmth of tender affection!
What clear reasoning! Every word that he has written testifies that he
has not attempted to deceive. Paul was no deceiver, and it is equally
impossible for him to have been deceived."[2]

And the blessedness "to meet the Lord in the air"! We shall see Him
then as He is and gaze for the first time upon the face of the Beloved,
that face of glory, which was once marred and smitten on account of our
sins. And seeing Him as He is we shall be like Him. How long will be
the meeting in the air? It has been said that the stay in that meeting
place will be but momentary and that the Lord will at once resume His
descent to the earth. We know from other Scriptures that this cannot
be. Between the coming of the Lord for His saints and with His saints
there is an interval of at least seven years before the visible coming
of the Lord and His saints with Him. The judgment of the saints, by
which their works and labors become manifest must take place. There is
also to be the presentation of the church in glory (Ephes. v:27; Jude
verse 24). Furthermore the marriage of the Lamb takes place not in the
meeting place in the air, but in heaven (Rev. xix:1-10). He will take
His saints into the Father's house that they may behold His glory (John
xvii:22). But what will it mean, "So shall we be forever with the
Lord!"





Next: Its Power And Blessedness

Previous: The Progress Of The Age+



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