Sequence Of Events At Christ's Return
The fact is, our attitude and response in the split second when
we know 'He's back' will effectively be our judgment. When the Lord
speaks about knocking on the door of our hearts and our response
(Rev. 3:20), He is picking up the language of the Song of Solomon
5:2-8, where the voice of the bridegroom (cp. Jesus) knocks at the
door of the bride. The Song of Solomon appears to refer to a hopeless
romance between King Solomon and a dark skinned Egyptian girl. Despite
the passionate expressions both make to each other, there is a tension
in the Song, something unsatisfactory in the relationship. They
meet in secret, keep disappearing, the Jerusalem girls mock the
Egyptian girl, the girl wishes that Solomon was an Egyptian like
her so that they wouldn't be despised; and rather than the Song
culminating as we would expect in a wedding, instead the couple
part from each other. There are some New Testament links which suggest
that the girl can be seen as a type of the ecclesia [e.g. Song 4:7
= Eph. 5:27]. But Song 5 seems to give insight into the unworthy
elements of the potential bride of Christ.
Notice the sequence there:
While she sleeps at night, the bridegroom comes and knocks [unworthy
virgins sleeping instead of being awake; the Lord Jesus comes; Lk.
12:36 uses the same figure, of the Lord's return being like a knock]
She replies that she's not dressed properly, makes excuses about
her feet, she can't come and open [the unworthy don't respond immediately]
He tries to open the door from the outside, putting his hand through
the latch-hole [by grace, after the pattern of Lot being encouraged
to leave Sodom when he hesitated, the Lord will be patient even
with sleepy virgins in His desire for their salvation]
Her heart is moved with desire for him [the rejected still call
Jesus 'Lord, Lord'; they love Him emotionally]
She starts dressing herself up, and then is overtaken by desire
and rushes to the door, her hands dripping all kinds of perfume
and make up over the lock as she opens it [cp. the virgins going
to buy oil, the unworthy trying to prepare themselves all too late,
not trusting that their Lord loves them as they are at the moment
of His coming]
But he's gone , he withdraws himself [all too late, the
door is shut, He never knew them]
Her soul fails [the shock of rejection]
She seeks him but doesn't find him, calls but he doesn't answer
[Prov. 1:28; the rejected call, but aren't answered; they seek the
Lord early, but don't find Him. Hos. 5:6 is likewise relevant: "They
shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the
LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself
from them". ]
She feels tired of her relationship with him ("sick of love").
She is persecuted by the world around her ["condemned with the
The basic point is that if we don't immediately respond to the
Lord's knock, we show ourselves to not love Him enough. If we don't
open immediately, it's as if we didn't open at all. The Lord wants
us as we are, bleary eyed and without our make up, but with a basic
overriding love of Him , and faith in the depth of His love, which
will lead us to immediately go out to meet Him . This will be the
ultimate and crucial divide- between those who believe in the Lord's
love for us, who have known the humanly unknowable love of Christ;
and those who think they need to prepare themselves to make
themselves good enough for Him. Solomon called to the girl through
the keyhole: "...my undefiled...". But she doesn't want to immediately
come to Him because she doesn't want to meet him with 'defiled'
feet (Song 5:2,3). She couldn't believe his words, that in his eyes,
she was undefiled. And the enormity of the passion of Christ
for us is likewise so hard for us to accept. In Song 3:1 we find
the girl again at night, dreaming of having Solomon with her. But
when one night he does actually come, she doesn't go to meet him
immediately. And there's a warning for us. Like Israel we may 'desire
the day of the Lord', study prophecy about it, write about it, enthuse
about it. But when He comes, to what end will it be to us? Will
we in a moment drop everything and go to Him, believing that
He loves us just as we are? Or will we run off to buy oil, slap
make up on...? The tragedy of Solomon's girl was that she started
putting her make up on, and then her heart smote her and she opened
the door, her hands dropping perfume all over the bolt (Song 5:5
RV). She finally realized that he had loved her for who she was,
how she was. But it was tragically too late. He'd gone. We need
to learn that lesson now, to know the love of Christ... so
that in that moment when we know for sure 'He's back!', we will
without hesitation go to Him with that perfect / mature love,
that casts out fear.
We can so easily like the idea of Christ’s return, and yet when He
comes, will we be ready? This was Malachi’s theme, when he warned
Israel that they desired the day of the Lord, and yet to what end
would it be for them when it came? The unworthy virgin of Song 5:3
sums up the attitude. She had been assured by Solomon-Jesus that he
saw her as “undefiled”- and yet when he finally came to her, a
coming she had dreamt about, she wouldn’t go to meet him immediately
because she feared she might be “defiled” (Song 5:2,3). She didn’t
believe enough in his love to go and open immediately to him. She
‘seeks’ him in her dreams and desires and words (Song 3:1), then he
does actually come to her one night, but she doesn’t open to him in
time, he ‘withdraws himself’ from her, and then she is left in her
rejection with the same feelings she had before- seeking him but not
having him (Song 5:6). All this is a powerful warning to us, who
claim to be eagerly awaiting the Lord’s coming.
Meeting the Lord
The same Greek word translated "meet" in Matt. 25:6 concerning
the wise virgins going out to "meet" Christ occurs also in 1 Thess.
4:17: "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up...in the
clouds to meet the Lord in the air". The picture is therefore
presented of the righteous obeying the call of their own volition,
and then being confirmed in this by being 'snatched away' to meet
Christ in the (literal) air. We will then travel with Christ "in
the clouds" (literally) to judgment in Jerusalem. In no way, of
course, does this suggestion give countenance to the preposterous
Pentecostal doctrine of being 'raptured' into heaven itself. Every
alternative interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:17 seems to run into trouble
with the phrase "meet the Lord in the air". 1 Thessalonians
is not a letter given to figurative language, but rather to the
literal facts of the second coming.
It is necessary to side-track in order to show that Paul is speaking
of the faithful believers in 1 Thess. 4 and 5 rather than all the
- He comforts them that the dead believers really will be rewarded
with immortality, and that they can take comfort from the fact
that they would live for ever (1 Thess. 4:13,14,18). Paul is therefore
assuming their acceptability at judgment.
- "Ye are all the children of light" (1 Thess. 5:5) as opposed
to the unworthy within the ecclesia, who were in darkness. This
suggests that Paul wrote as though his readership were all faithful
and assured of eternal life.
Those wise virgins who go forth to meet Christ immediately are
therefore those who will be "caught up together" with the faithful
believers who will have been resurrected. Just as eagles mount up
into the air and come down where the carcass is, so we will come
to judgment. This will be when the Angels "gather together his
elect" (Mt. 24:31). They then "meet the Lord in the air" literally,
perhaps connecting with Rev. 11:12: "They (the faithful, persecuted
saints of the last days) heard a great voice from heaven (cp. "the
voice" of 1 Thess. 4:16) saying unto them, Come up (cp. "caught
up...") hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud (cp. "caught
up...in clouds"); and their enemies beheld them". It may well be
that Rev. 11:12 is speaking of the faithful Jewish remnant of the
last days, who will be snatched away along with us.
"So great a cloud..."
This cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) will then go with Jesus to
judgment, which must be located on earth for the glimpses of the
judgment seat which we are given to be realistically fulfilled.
The Lord Jesus comes to judgment with His saints with Him (1 Thess.
3:13; Zech. 14:5; Jude 14). It is reasonable to guess that this
assembly of faithful believers will visibly reflect God's glory,
giving the impression of a 'shekinah' cloud. This may be due to
the physical presence of the Angel with us during our time in this
cloud. Such a picture is presented in Dan. 7:9-14; Jesus comes with
the faithful, symbolized as clouds, along with the Angels, to the
judgment seat. It is at this stage that the responsible from all
nations come to the judgment (Matt. 25:32) so that there can be
a separation of sheep and goats. The 'coming down' of the righteous
responsible to Jerusalem will be at the same time as the judgment
of the wicked nations in that same place: "Thither cause thy mighty
ones to come down" (Joel 3:11) occurs in the context of Armageddon.
The bride comes down out of Heaven as a prepared bride. "Saviours
shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau" (Obad. v
21), i.e. Israel's Arab enemies. The apparent confusion between
our gathering to judgment in Jerusalem and the judgment of the nations
there at the same time is explicable if we accept that the meaning
of time will be collapsed around the second coming. The sequence
of events here suggested chimes in with the thought so often expressed
by generations of believers - that our initial reaction to the knowledge
that our Lord is back will effectively be our judgment, although
this will be formally confirmed at the judgment seat before which
all the responsible must appear (2 Cor. 5:10).
With Jesus To Judgment
The key passage in our reasoning, 1 Thess. 4:15-18, begins with
"For...". This is explaining 1 Thess. 4:14, which states that "them
also which sleep in Jesus will God bring (up) with him". This will
thus be true both spiritually, in that they will share His victory
over death, and, literally, in that they will come with their judge
to judgment. John 14:3 may also become easier to handle with this
understanding: "I will come again, and take you to be with me" (N.I.V.).
Initially, this will mean a literal ascent into the sky, followed
by a return to earth to be with Christ eternally in the Kingdom.
"That where I am, there ye may be also" may be the spirit's basis
for 1 Thess. 4:17, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord". Rev.
14:4 may be relevant here: "These are they which were not defiled
[past tense] with women... they which follow the lamb [present tense]
withersoever he goes. These were redeemed [past tense] from among
men...". My point is that the faithful are described in terms
of what had happened to them in their mortal lives, but the present
tense is used about them following the Lamb wherever He goes in
the present tense- as if as they stand in glory at judgment day,
they are there by virtue of their present following of the Lamb
wherever He went, which in this case is to Jerusalem.
The idea of literally travelling through the sky to the judgment
seat was plainly taught by our Lord in His explanation of how "one
shall be taken (literally disappear) and the other left" at His
coming; "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered
together" (Luke 17:36,37). The point of this allusion is to show
that as the eagle travels through the air with a natural homing
instinct, without fear or worry as to correct direction, so there
should be no apprehension in the mind of the believer concerning
the mechanics of how he will be taken away to meet his Lord. The
objection that a carcass is an unseemly figure for the Lord Jesus
surely becomes insignificant once it is recognized that the Bible
often speaks of God and the things of His Truth in what we would
consider inappropriate language (e.g. Mt. 13:33; Ps. 78:65). The
Lord comparing His teaching to “dung” is another one (Lk. 13:8).
The chronology we have suggested can now be summarised:-
- Persecution of believers.
- The Lord is revealed; the resurrection.
- An Angel invites each of the responsible to go and meet Christ.
- The unworthy delay, whilst the worthy go immediately.
- The worthy are snatched away into the air, forming a cloud
of glory which is visible to all. They are physically with Jesus.
- Along with Him they come to Jerusalem.
- The unworthy are then gathered there.
- There is a tribunal-style judgment. The sheep and goats are
together before the judgment seat. They are then finally separated
by Christ's judgment, and receive their rewards.
- The wicked are destroyed along with the nations then surrounding
The time scale for all this is unimportant - it could well be just
a few seconds, if the meaning of time is to be collapsed, although
there presumably must be a period of time for the cloud of witnesses
to be beheld, and for the unworthy to desperately try to slap themselves
into spiritual shape. The collapsing of time which it seems there
will be around the judgment is discussed in Appendix 1. The tremendous
encouragement offered by the scenario here presented should not
be missed: we will come with our judge, possibly already reflecting
His glory, to the judgment. This in itself should give us a sense
of humble certainty as we come before His tribunal. So much will
depend on our reaction to the Angel's coming - our faith in acceptance,
our degree of concern for the things of this life - all will be
revealed in that instant.