THE COMING TRANSLATION OF WATCHFUL CHRISTIANS
G. H. Pember, M.A.
The world will one day be surprised by the sudden and unaccountable disappearance of many persons in the midst of their ordinary occupations. Two men will be working in the field in the middle of the day: one will instantaneously vanish. His bewildered comrade may still see upon the ground the garment which had been put off for labour, but the man will be gone. Two women will be grinding the daily supply of corn in the early morning; the hand of one will fail: her companion will look up and see that she is no longer in her place. Two persons - the reference is evidently to a man and his wife - will be in the same bed at night: the one will be taken away, and the other will awake to solitude and bereavement (Matt. 24: 40, 41; Luke 17: 34).
As soon as this sign is given, then woe for the earth and the sea! Those who shall be accounted worthy of escape - [ N.I.V. translates: "may be able to escape."] - will have been removed from the world: the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain the mystery of lawlessness, nor will the judgments of God be delayed.
With regard to the meaning of the words, "One shall be taken", an error has sometimes been made through ignorance of the original. Comparing the clause with that of Matt. 24: 39, "the flood came and took them all away," some have interpreted "the one shall be taken away in judgment, the other shall be spared in mercy." But an examination of the Greek immediately dissipates this idea. In the 39th verse the verb used means "to take away by destruction." But in the 40th and 41st verses we find a very different word, which properly signifies "to receive", or "take alongside", and then sometimes , "to take with one as a companion". Thus the word is most appropriately used of those who shall be caught up to Christ, that they may walk with Him in white, that they may follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.
In the 14th chapter of John it occurs in a very significant passage - "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself ; that where I am, there ye may be also." Here it is used of the very act of which the Lord speaks in Matthew.
Again in another place, we are told that the Lord "taketh" Peter, James and John, as His companions to the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17: 1). He selects three out of the twelve disciples to behold His glory; while the nine are, in the meantime, left at the bottom of the hill to struggle hopelessly with Satan in the person of the demoniac youth, and consequently to be subjected to the scorn of the world, until at length the Master is seen descending the hill in company with those whom He had taken with Him. ¹ Surely this scene is typical of the fact that the one is taken to be a companion of the Lord and to see His glory, while the other is left to agonize with the world and Satan as a further discipline; for the admonition to watch in the next verse seems to imply that both of the two are disciples.
Having thus described the sign of His presence, the Lord proceeds to urge upon His followers the necessity of watching, and intimates, by the parable of the householder and the thief, that grievous loss will be sustained by those who neglect His directions. Many other such warnings may be found in the Scriptures, and the special object of watching is plainly set forth in the Lord’s own exhortation, uttered just after He had been portraying the terrors of the last week of seven years that will close this dispensation: (Luke 21: 24-27) - "Watch ye, therefore, and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Daniel 9: 27; Luke 21: 24, 27, 36).
These words certainly intimate that a Christian, though sure of eternal life, is not sure of being removed before the commencement of the final Great Tribulation. This favour will be granted only to those who have ‘progressed in holiness’; only to those who have been so strengthened with might in the inner man that they have been able to endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Such a growth in grace may, indeed, be attained by all believers; the power of prayer ² and watching is given to every man at his conversion; but he must be willing to deny himself, to take up his cross, and to follow his Master. Then there will be no doubt as to the issue: for "faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it."
But the Lord has no thought of translating worldly-minded believers from the toils of life into the joys of His presence, of admitting them to immorality by the gate of glory instead of the dark valley of death. Those who vainly expect such a thing are like the Jews, who would have had Christ put Himself at their head as the all-victorious King, when as yet He had not saved them from their sins. But He will not grant to the careless and slothful servant that blessing which Paul craved, yet did not receive (2 Cor. 5: 2-4) - the joy of being clothed upon, without the necessity of shuffling off this mortal coil. Hence in His promise to the Philadelphians, He says: "Because thou didst keep the word of My patience, - [ Gk. "the word of the endurance ,"] - I will also keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3: 10).
It thus appears that not all believers will be caught up to the Lord at the commencement of His second Advent, ³ but only those who are found watching. It is, indeed, true that Paul, after speaking of Christ’s descent into the air, adds: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up," without any mention of exceptions to the rule (1Thess. 4: 16, 17). But other Scriptures show that His words are to be regarded as a general statement, expressing what ought to be, and potentially may be, the case with every Christian. Similarly, in another place, he says: "It is appointed unto men once to die": yet the very next verse reveals the secret that some will escape death. And in this first Epistle to the Corinthians he discloses the mystery that we shall not all sleep.
Just in the same general way the Lord said to His disciples, "Verily, I say unto you, that ye which have followed Me . . . ye shall also sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." But Judas had followed Him, and was at the time one of the twelve: will he also occupy a throne in the regeneration? Nay, we know from the authority of Scripture that his own "place", to which he went, was in realms of the lost.
With the current foolishly optimistic view - that as soon as we believe we are in possession of all the glorious possibilities that are set before us - it is not strange that Christians neglect the admonition to pass the time of their sojourning in fear (1Pet. 1: 17); that they ignore the warning, "Many are called, but few chosen" (Matt. 22: 14); and that they are not rendered anxious even by the thought that those only who are accounted worthy shall escape the things that are coming to pass, and shall obtain the Millennial Age and the resurrection [out] from the dead.
1. Some years ago I was asked by the pastor of a Church in which I was in membership, this question: 'If you believe dead Christians do not go to heaven immediately after the time of death, but must wait [in Hades] for the resurrection of the dead at the Lord’s return: how then do you explain who those are who will accompany our Lord when He returns? The question was asked to try to disprove my belief that resurrection - and not death - is a prerequisite for entrance into heaven. Here is the answer to his question! All those who are alive and ‘accounted worthy’ are rapt [or translated] into heaven before the Great Tribulation commences: they are the ones who "prevailed to escape," (Luke 21: 36), the ones kept from the hour of trial which is to come upon the whole world (Rev. 3: 10): they are the ones who accompany the Lord when He descends from heaven to earth. The remainder of the living at that time, are described by Paul as those: "that are left" (1 Thess. 4: 17). In other words, those who were not kept from the hour of trial and who failed to escape, "are left" to endure the Great Tribulation, at the time Christ will descend from heaven to earth, accompanied by translated saints who were with Him in heaven before the tribulation commenced. When the Lord descends from heaven - and not before this time - the worthy dead are resurrected first, and those that are alive "that are left" - that is, left to endure the Great Tribulation - shall together with them [the resurrected worthy 'dead in Christ'] - "be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air . . ." (verse 17).
There is no mention of a resurrection of dead saints, at the time of the first translation of living saints, (Luke 21: 36). When Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica he knew that none of them would be alive at the time of the Lord’s return. Therefore, their concern was concerning ‘the dead’, and what would happen to them. In reply, the apostle points out that they should not be "ignorant about those who sleep", for "God will bring" the dead ( That is, Jesus will bring from Hades, not heaven) into His Kingdom. See 2: 12; cf. 4: 3-8) "with Jesus those who sleep in Him." This event will take place when "the Lord Himself will come down from heaven," and "the dead in Christ will rise first. Then "the living remaining" - (that is, those who remain after others, had previously been rapt into heaven before the commencement of the Great Tribulation.) - "shall be seized in clouds to a meeting of the Lord in air" (Greek.)
2. It would be better to have said - 'The power of the Holy Spirit through prayer' (Acts 5: 32). - Ed.
3. "Not all believers will be caught up to the Lord at the time of His Second Advent."
Mr. Pember, in the above quotation, has suggested that the rapture of living saints in Luke 21: 36, is at the same time as the rapture of living saints in 1Thess. 4: 17. This cannot be possible because the former event takes place before the fore-mentioned events happen, and the latter event occurs after they have all taken place.
It should be noted that the word "all," Is nowhere to be found in 1Thess. 4: 13-17. This is a portion of Scripture where many believers refer to, and seek to prove that all believers, (dead or alive) will be resurrected or translated when the Lord returns. The following is a literal quotation of 1 Thess. 13-17 from a Greek Interlinear:
"Now we do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning the ones sleeping. Lest ye grieve as indeed the rest not having hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also God the [ones] having slept through Jesus will bring with Him." - (that is, they will be resurrected from Hades, the place of the dead.) - "For this to you we say by a word of [the] Lord, that we the [ones] living remaining to the presence of the Lord by no means may precede the [ones] having slept; because Himself the Lord with a word of command, with a voice of an archangel and with a trumpet of God, will descend from heaven, and the dead - not all the dead - in Christ will rise again firstly, then we the [ones] living remaining together with them shall be seized in clouds to a meeting of the Lord in air; and so always with [the] Lord we shall be."
Bear in mind also, the Apostle’s description of those believers to whom he was writing. It is as follows:-
"We continually remember . . . your work prompted by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus." "You became imitators of us and of the Lord: in spite if severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Mecedonia and Achaia . . . your faith in God has become known everywhere." 1 Thess. 1: 3, 6, 7. 8. N.I.V
Can all believers be described in the same way as Paul has described these Thessalonian believers? Most certainly they can not!
And so the Apostle continues to encourage them to continue to live to the end of life, as they were doing at the time of his writing: "For", he says, " you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you [ Greek, - ‘calling you’] into His kingdom and glory," (verse 11). Not only did the Thessalonian Christians know these things, but they were actually living their "lives worthy of God," who was, at that time, calling them "into His kingdom and glory". - Ed.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
Whilst others fought to win the prize.
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace.
To help me on to God?
Since I must fight if I would reign,
Increase my courage, Lord!
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.
- Isaac Watts