Judgment To Come Duncan Heaster  
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Sequence Of Events At Christ's Return

Solomon's Girl

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 world"]

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 responsible:-

- 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.

"Caught up"

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 Jerusalem.

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.