APPENDIX 4: Loving
Thus our Lord
said that all those whom he finds watching will be welcomed into
the marriage feast (Lk. 12:37). And 2 Tim. 4:8 is
plain enough: " All them also that love his appearing" will
be rewarded along with Paul. Paul's own confidence in salvation was because
he knew the earnestness of his desire to be " present with the Lord"
Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8), such was the closeness of his relationship with him.
Is this really our attitude too? Can we feel like Simeon, that we are
quite happy to die after we have just seen our Lord with our own eyes
(Lk. 2:29)? Is there really much
love between us and our Lord? The faithful are described as "
those that seek (God)...such as love thy salvation"
(Ps. 40:16). None truly seek God (Rom. 3:11-
the context concerns all of us, believers and unbelievers); and yet we
are those who seek Him. We must be ambitious to do the impossible. Those
who truly love righteousness and the Kingdom will be rewarded with
it. Likewise Paul in 1 Cor. 8:2,3 describes the faithful man as one who
accepts he knows nothing as he ought to know, but truly loves God. Heb.
9:28 is clear: " Unto them
that look for (Christ) shall he appear the second time...unto salvation"
. Those who truly look for Christ will be given salvation. People from
all over the world, the living responsible, will see the sign of the son
of man, will know His return is imminent, and wail with the knowledge
that they have crucified Him afresh and must now meet Him (Mt. 24:30,31
cp. Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10). Their response to the certain knowledge that
His return is imminent will in that moment effectively be their judgment.
The Master is so delighted
that his servants are watching for Him that He immediately sits down and
gets a meal ready for them, doing the serving Himself (Lk. 12:37). There
is an arresting element of unreality here. Would a Master really do this,
at such an unlikely time at night, would he really serve himself, and
would he really be so glad that the servants were waiting up for him?
But these elements of unreality serve to teach the lessons: that the Lord
will have unspeakable joy at His return because of our expectancy of the
second coming, and He will surprise us by His glee and enthusiasm for
The idea that whoever
truly loves the Lord's coming will therefore be accepted by Him can easily
be abused by those who reason that anyone who has the emotion of love
towards Christ will be rewarded by him. We know that true love involves
both having and keeping his commands. But for those of us in Christ, these
verses are still a major challenge. If we truly " look for"
Christ's second coming, if we " love his appearing" , this will
lead us to acceptance with him. So the point is surely clinched: our attitude
towards the second coming is an indicator of whether we will be saved.
Time and again in the Psalms, David expresses his good conscience in terms
of asking God to come and judge him (e.g. Ps. 35:24). Was this not some
reference to the future theophany which David knew some day would come?
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 bridegroom (cp. Jesus) knocks at
the door of the bride. But 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]
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
Her heart is moved with
desire for him [the rejected still call Jesus 'Lord, Lord'; they love
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.
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
" 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
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
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:-
- 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.
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.