THE PAROUSIA OF CHRIST
By ROBERT GOVETT
“But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as the others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also will God bring those laid to sleep by Jesus with Him.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the Presence of the Lord shall not forestall them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself, with shout, with voice of archangel, and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall first rise. Then we the living who remain together with them shall be caught up in clouds into air to meet the Lord: and so shall we be ever with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words:” (1 Thess. 4: 13, [Govett.]).
The hope ordinarily taught to Christians is their going away one by one at death to be with the Lord. That is true. But the hope here presented is the common joint hope of the Saviour’s coming from on high, to assemble to Himself His saints, whether departed, or alive.
The Thessalonian Christians believed the Saviour’s coming and kingdom to be so nigh that they sorrowed over their departed brethren in the faith, as having lost a place in the millennial reign. How could those in the tomb meet the Redeemer at His advent? They had forgotten resurrection. Christ, the Head of the coming kingdom, had died, but death could not detain Him. In resurrection He burst the bands of death; and so would His believing followers. “On this Rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hadees [the place of departed spirits [i.e., disembodied ‘souls’ (Acts 2: 27)]] shall not prevail against it.” The gates of the prison shall be thrown open, and the kingdom of the heaven and of glory shall come.
“Those laid to sleep by Jesus shall God bring with Him” (Greek). What are we to understand by “bring”? Does it mean that the Saviour has now with Him in heaven the ‘glorified spirits’ of the departed in the faith, and that He will bring them out of heaven with Him? That is not the meaning.
Scripture never speaks of ‘glorified spirits’. That were a virtual denial of resurrection. None can enter heaven and the glory of God, while they are “unclothed”, naked spirits: 2 Cor. 5: 4. No! “The dead in Christ shall first rise.” They do not come down from above, naked spirits, to take up their bodies out of the tomb. They “rise.” They come up from below, already possessed of their bodies. “All that are in the graves [tombs] shall hear His voice, and shall come forth” (John 5: 28, 29).
The word “bring” then refers to the Saviour’s taking them in His train from air to the earth, when He descends to take his kingdom. Then comes an explanation of the steps preceding this which set both the living and the dead in Christ on the same level in His Presence.
“We who are alive.” The Apostle was, like ourselves, unaware whether he should be among the living or the dead at the Saviour’s advent. And this applies to us also. “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
“We that remain up to the presence of the Lord.”
Great has been the confusion arising from translating the word ‘coming’.
1 ‘The Presence’ of Christ
begins as soon as His descent out of heaven into air is arrested. He remains stationary in one spot of air for
an undefined time. That spot is the
meeting-place of Himself and His people.
(1) This is proved by the Holy Ghost’s use of the same word concerning
His Great Antagonist, the False Christ. ‘He shall
paralyze with the out-shining of His Presence him whose Presence is
according to the working of Satan.’ The Man of Sin
shall for a while show Himself down on earth in the
In that future Presence much has to be transacted between Christ and His saints. There the account, as we observed, is to be rendered by His servants to their Master. “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you. To the end He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father [not ‘at the coming’, but] in the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints:” (1 Thess. 3: 13). “I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the Presence [not ‘coming’] of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5: 23). For not all will see His face with joy.
“And now, little children, abide in Him; that when He shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be put to .shame by Him in His Presence:” (1 John 2: 28) [Greek].
How then shall this meeting be arranged? “The Lord Himself
shall descend from heaven” to gather His people to Him.
Here is an honour not bestowed when Enoch was taken on high, or when
Elijah was caught up. But the
The three points next noticed appear all to attach to Christ Himself. This is evident in the order of the Greek. “The .Lord Himself (1) with shout, (2) with voice of archangel, (3) and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven.”
All three refer, not to His coming openly with His saints, but to His coming first and secretly for them. The three points are consecutively arranged with a view to His gathering of the dead and the living saints.
(1) He comes with “shout”. That is, to awake the dead.
Fitting it is that those “put to sleep by Jesus” should by Him be awakened. “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.”
Thus it was at the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus “shouted with loud voice, ‘Lazarus come forth.’ And he that was dead came forth” (John 11: 43, 44).
Accordingly, the next answering words here are: “And the dead in Christ shall first rise.”
(2) He comes with “voice of archangel”. There is but one archangel, and Christ is He ‑ the Great Lord of angels. He calls to them, as I suppose, bidding them descend to earth and make ready to bear up His saints, both living and dead, to His Presence (Matt. 13: 30).
(3) He comes “with trump of God”.
All being thus
ready, at this signal they are caught up on high. This answers to the railway‑guard’s
whistle, when all the passengers are in the train, and all is ready for the
start. As aforetime the trump of God was
the notice to
Then follows here the united rapture of both the living and the dead. “We ... together with them shall be caught up.” ‘But does not all this imply the manifestation of Christ?’
By no means. “The Lord [at Sinai] spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude, only ye heard a voice” (Deut. 4: 12, 15).
‘But must not His saints be seen ascending?’ No. (1) They disappear in an instant as the parable of ‘the Days of Noah’ tells us. (2) They are “caught up in clouds” – “But may not that mean” – ‘in great multitudes’? No! The first principle of interpretation is to take everything literally that admits of it. And its usual sense is the best here. Literal “clouds” attended the Lord’s descent on Sinai. The Saviour foretold His return “in the clouds of heaven”. In a cloud He ascended to heaven (Acts 1). And in like manner is He to return. Moses and Elias, after the scene on the Mount, ascended in the cloud (Luke 9: 34). And the two Martyr-Prophets ascend to heaven in the cloud that bears the Witness-Angel of the Apocalypse (Rev. 10: 1; 11: 12.). Thus both the Master and the servants are concealed from men below.
The saints, both living and dead, go up into air “to meet the Lord”. This is the final end of the previous
arrangements. After the pause in which
their places are assigned them by Christ, they move in company with Him towards
the earth. Thus the brethren who met
Paul on his way to
These are the words of apostolic “comfort”. So at length is fulfilled “the waiting for the Son of God out of the heavens”.
What is the effect on the world of these wonders? Mr. Newton says:-
“In the first place, all who have fallen asleep in Christ, from Abel downwards, arise in glory. Millions of saints, even ‘a multitude whom no man can number, of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues’, shall suddenly rise from their graves glorified according to the glory of their Lord, and so be Presented to the trembling and astonished eyes of men.” (m.i.)
“Can there be this display of the Lord’s glory, and of the angels' glory, and of the saints' glory, and yet the earth be ignorant that the hour of its visitation is come?”
Is this according to the Spirit’s description? The next chapter tells us. It describes the world as blind to the meaning of this work of God. Living saints have disappeared out of many houses; dead saints from the tombs: but the world is saying ‘Peace and Safety!’ God would arouse them to repentance. He would have them own His hand, and that judgment has its finger on the latch, that the Destroyer may enter in. But they compose themselves to slumber, till the Destroyer allows them no escape!
As, then, there is no such dismay of the world as Mr. Newton supposes, it is because there is no such display of glory. That is, the Presence of Christ and the Rapture are both alike secret.
It appears then, that this descent of Christ is not in manifested glory, taking vengeance on His foes. That comes afterward: and its effects are described in the next chapter. Before the Lord and His hosts appear in judgment, the Redeemer has questions to decide concerning His people, which should not be treated before the eyes of the world. Nor would it be right that saints should rule and execute vengeance, till their own accounts with the Lord are settled.
Besides, how could the ungodly be saying one to another, “Peace and Safety!” when the Redeemer’s glory and armies were beheld in the sky? The mere out-flashing of His presence at last takes away the power of the Usurper below.
1 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER FIVE
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I should write to you. For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord is so coming as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, ‘Peace and Safety!’ then sudden destruction impends over them, as travail on a woman with child, and they shall not escape.”
Most break off their consideration of the Lord’s coming with the fourth chapter; but the fifth is regularly consecutive, both morally and in point of time.
First, the Apostle gives a warning word of much
importance. This descent of our Lord is
not so connected with the events of earth, as that we are able by study of the
Old Testament prophets to learn when it shall be. Vainly will any, by study of Daniel’s “seven times”, or “seventy weeks” determined upon
But it is said in Hebrews: “Exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10: 25).
Yes! behold herein the necessity for ‘distinguishing things that differ’. The approach of ‘the great and terrible Day’ may be seen by the watchful; as wickedness increases, and the signs of wrath draw closer. But is that the same as ‘the Presence of Christ’? and its joy to His waiting ones?
The Apostle’s caution should make us suspicious of all schemes of prophecy which concentrate our attention on the earth – “the Roman earth and its ten kingdoms.”* About these the Christian needs not to be careful. He belongs to a body not earthly, but heavenly. His part is bounded by ‘the Day of the Lord’. If watchful, he will not be found in that day, and is not wrapt up in its “times and seasons”.
* Here is a fatal defect in Mr. Newton’s theory. The Apocalypse never speaks of the ‘ten kingdoms’ of the Roman earth. It speaks of the “ten kings” who arise at the same time with the Antichrist, but who possess no territory: Rev. 17: 12. They differ entirely from the unnumbered “kings of the earth”.
The Day will find earth asleep in its unbelief of prophecy, and secure in its sins. The trump of God has indeed sounded the war of God; but it is dreaming of ‘Peace’. The rapture of chapter 4. has taken place. There are vacant places in many homes throughout the earth, and opened tombs out of which the bones are clean gone. But the startled men of earth have not seen the King Who has come down, or they would be affrighted. So they console one another, that it is a chance that has happened to them - and they compose themselves again to sleep.
The Day comes as the Thief; and the thief does not display his coming, but seeks concealment as his policy.
God has provided true comfort for His people against the terrors of the Day; this is His enemies’ false comfort, when on the edge of destruction. “Sudden destruction standeth over them.” The Presence of the Son of God in wrath is in the air above them, and they know it not, and are unwilling to believe anything that shall discompose them. “I will arrive over thee as a Thief.”
Thus was it in the day that Lot went out of
Thus we see the perfect harmony which obtains between the Apostle here, and ‘the Days of Noah’. The Presence descends unexpectedly on earth, and finds it asleep in unbelief; the rapture of the ready occurs; but men discern not its meaning, and sudden destruction without escape, like the Flood of old, encircles them.
Observe the contrast between this scene and the former one. In chapter 4. we have the Presence, and “we”, “we.” But in the next chapter it is,- “the Day of the Lord, and ye have no need that I write to you. For ye know.” And of the world it is said: “They shall say; Destruction cometh on them;” They “shall not escape.”
Of this sudden destruction, when all seems at peace, we have
types in the history of
This their ruin then is to be referred to the Lord Jesus’ manifested Presence and glory. And that takes place with flames of fire, with angels of might, and destruction from His Presence.
Then follows a word of comfort to the Thessalonian Christians. While the world lies in ignorance of God’s mind, in wilful enmity against Him and His people, and evil deeds, the offspring of unbelief, they were men possessed of the knowledge of the Most High, and love towards Him and His Son, manifested in the renewed life bestowed by the Holy Ghost.
But He does not assume, as it constantly is assumed by many, “that all ‘the
Church’ will be ready”. All
the Thessalonian Christians indeed were awake to the return of the Lord. But that is not true of all believers
now. And even to the Thessalonian
Christians, Paul drops a word of exhortation, not to resemble the world in its
slumbers and drunkenness. Else, it is
implied, if they were so overtaken, they would be dealt with as of the
world. Witness the words to
“What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball;
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid their radiant orbs be found;
In reason's ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice
Forever singing, as they shine,
The Hand that made us is divine”.
We come next to consider the testimony of the Second Epistle.
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fit, because your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of each of you all aboundeth to one another; so that we ourselves boast of you in the Churches of God, because of your patience and faith in all your afflictions and troubles which ye are enduring, which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye are even suffering; If indeed it is a righteous thing with God to recompense trouble to those who trouble you, And to you the troubled relief with us; when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of His might, in flame of fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and on them that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; When He shall have come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all that believed (for our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”
This Second Epistle was written to correct a misapprehension into which the Thessalonians had fallen. What was it? It is ordinarily said, that they were troubled, because they had set in their minds the Lord’s Coming too near, and that the Apostle wrote to comfort them, assuring them that He was not to come so soon as they expected, but that certain events must precede His arrival.
Now this does not explain their terror. For they had been taught to wait for the Saviour’s return as their hope, and not as an object of fear. And this the Apostle’s testimony they had accepted. “Ye turned from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait [without any intervening signs] for His Son out of the heavens, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, our Deliverer from the wrath to come.” How then should the expectation of the Saviour’s advent, as close, terrify them? The Apostle speaks of it as (1) their hope, and (2) comfort. “Remembering without ceasing, your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” More exactly it is, “the patience of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again: “We shall be caught up to meet the Lord in air, and so shall we be ever with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
What was there here to rouse dismay?
There was indeed one statement of the first epistle which brought sad tidings. “The Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and Safety’! then sudden destruction cometh on them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape.”
It was on this statement that the enemy fastened, adding to the truth a falsehood.- ‘That day of woe and wrath is now upon the world, and you are in it, and must pass through its terrors!’ This it was which troubled them; and not any fear of the Saviour’s advent.
Mark here how necessary it is to distinguish between the Saviour’s Presence of blessing for His people, and the destruction which shall fall upon the world from the great and “terrible Day of the Lord”.
This error might have been corrected from the first epistle. For Paul presents first the Lord’s coming for His people by way of comfort; and then he testifies (in the fifth chapter) to the Day of wrath as destructive judgment on unbelievers. ‘But,’ he adds, ‘that Day of wrath is not coming on you, because you are not lying in the world’s night of ignorance and unbelief; nor are your lives under the practical darkness of the sins in which the world lives. God has chosen you, not to wrath, but to salvation.’
The Thessalonians’ fear arose principally from faith in the prophecies which foretold the terrors of “the Day of the Lord”. But these would not have troubled them, but for the falsehood, that that Day was now upon them.
However, the enemy, as usual, grafted a lie upon the truth. And the Holy Spirit has made use of their mistake for our warning and enlightening. (1) ‘It is still the Day of Mercy. (2) It is not yet the Day of indignation and righteous vengeance.
Both the dismay therefore of the Thessalonians and the comfort of the Apostle have been wrongly interpreted. On the view here opposed, Paul says, ‘Comfort your hearts! Christ is not coming so soon as you feared! Be looking out, not for His Personal appearing, but for the signs which must precede it.’ This is again confusion between Christ’s coming Presence for His people, and the Day of wrath coming on transgressors.
So heavily had the false tidings pressed on them, that they had almost given up hope. While in the first epistle Paul speaks of their display of faith, hope, and love, he, in this second epistle, while praising them for their great increase of faith, and the abounding of their love, is silent about their hope. 2 Thess. 1: 3, compared with 1 Thess. 1: 3. They regarded the troubles that had befallen them, as the proof that the Day of Woe was really on them, and that it was the proof of the Lord’s displeasure.
Therefore the Holy Spirit comforts them by true views of the character of the Coming Day. As that Day is “the Day of judgment” (or ‘of justice’) from God, in it He will render to each according to his works. To the wicked He will repay wrath; to the righteous peace, and glory, and joy: Rom. 2. That is the very design of the Day on God’s part.
Observe how, during the Gospel day of mercy, Satan troubles the saints with tidings of woe and judgment; while, on the other hand, he laps the world to slumber when the Day of wrath is really come, by the false comfort, ‘Peace and Safety’, when sudden destruction impends over their heads.
From this principle they might have
drawn the true inference, that the Day had not
come. For that Day is to render justice
to both persecutors and the persecuted.
The obedient pleasers of God would not be “accounted
worthy” of the woes due to the lawless haters of God and His
people. Enoch, who pleased God, and
testified of the coming judgments of God, was not left to the Flood, but rapt
to heaven. And, while
In the description given in the first chapter of this second epistle we have not set before us the order of award to the persecutors and to the persecuted respectively. What is set forth is the just results of the principle of the Day: ‘to troublers trouble, to the troubled relief.’ Then again, at the revelation of Christ from heaven there would be angel-executioners of His wrath and flames of fire. These would be for vengeance on sinners, and for their eternal destruction. While, when Christ should have come in that day, it would be for glory to the saints and believers.
As then the saints were suffering, and not glorified, neither the Day of wrath, nor Christ, had come!
Nevertheless the Thessalonians bore their persecutions with courage and patience. Those words which follow – “which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God” - may be so taken as to cause us stumbling. ‘What! is it righteous in God to allow the doers of good to be persecuted, and their persecutors to trouble them with impunity?’
No! This is the day of mercy, and hence the Most High allows the wicked to trouble His children. But it is the strange calling, to which for awhile His people are appointed – “to do well and suffer for it.” But in the dominions of a Righteous Judge, that cannot go on for ever. A day is appointed, in which the Lord’s righteousness shall be manifested; and then the award will be “to each according to his work”. So that the sufferings of the Lord’s children are a proof of the coming of another day on another and the opposite principle, which shall set right the strange results of this.
The Most High will in that day “account worthy” of His millennial kingdom those who have even suffered for it. Some will enter that kingdom who have only believed in it; but, if so, how much more shall they enjoy it, who have suffered on behalf of it! This view is confirmed by Phil. 1: 28, 29.
That word “accounted worthy of the
“If indeed it be righteous with God to recompense to those who trouble you, trouble.” This is stated rhetorically, as if the matter were doubtful; and it is not to be translated: “Seeing it is righteous.” Thus we say: ‘If two and two make four, the man is wrong.’ That is, there is no more doubt about it, than that twice two make four.
The Thessalonians had mistaken the Principle of the coming Day. It is ‘the Day of justice.’ And justice measures out to each his desert. The sufferers for righteousness will therefore in that Day be comforted, according to the promises: Matt. 5: 11, 12.
Therefore God would award trouble to their persecutors, and to themselves “relief”.* Paul, Silas, and Timothy were then suffering no less than themselves, and together would they experience relief in that Day.
* [The Greek word …] It is not the usual word for ‘rest’. It means the removal of that tension and strain which persecution produces.
The point on which the Apostle is instructing them is not the order of events, but the righteousness of the Day; and the twofold, and opposite effects of it. First these are stated generally; and then particularly, specially in regard of the manifestation of the Lord Jesus.
“At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven.” ‘At Christ’s unveiling’ the wicked will suffer. This supposes, then, that He is previously veiled from sight in heaven. His saints experience ‘relief’ the moment they are caught away out of earth to Him. The vengeance on the persecutors falls when the clouds, which have long concealed Him, roll away, and His Presence of might and wrath is displayed to earth. His “face” is shown (ver. 9); and from it proceeds destruction to His people’s foes. ‘The Apocalypse’ (or ‘Revelation’) of Christ marks the Day of Wrath at its height.
He shows Himself with “the angels of His might”. They are His attendants, come to execute judgment. He comes “in fire of flame”, or “flame of fire”. The readings of the Greek are divided; the sense is the same.
Persecutors have misused this fearful element of ‘fire’ against His people, as early as Nebuchadnezzar’s day. It will now be let loose on those who deserve it: a ‘fury of fire’ as it is called in Hebrews (“fiery indignation”), which is about to “devour the adversaries”: Heb. 10: 27.
Christ will take vengeance visibly on two classes. (1) “On them that know not God” - the heathen; (2) and “on them that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This word describes all, both Jews and Gentiles, who have heard the Gospel and not received it. Has my reader closed with Christ as his Saviour?
“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”
Some would interpret ‘from the face’ to signify ‘away from the face’. This is not correct. Scripture tells of His enemies as “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of holy angels, and in the Presence of the Lamb”: Rev. 14: 10. It means ‘destruction proceeding from the face of the Lord’, as in several places of the Old Testament. Of Nadab and Abihu we read: “There went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them”: Lev. 10: 2. Also of the two hundred and fifty rebellious princes it is written: “And there came out fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense”: Num. 16: 35.
“The glory of His power” is illustrated by that word:- “The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the Mount” : Ex. 24: 17. Mark it well! Devouring fire on His enemies will glorify God as the God of justice.
The offenders suffer “everlasting destruction”. Destruction is the opposite to construction. Construction is the fitting and fixing of part to part in order to compose a valuable whole. It is a process which takes various forms. Destruction too is a process, and here it is said to be ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’. It is the taking away of the transgressor’s welfare, not of his being. “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever”: Rev. 14: 11.
Punishment ought to be continued as long as it continues to be deserved. But these never cease from hating God and His people. And the haters of God and His people deserve punishment. As long then as God is righteous, and a “consuming fire”, while they hate Him and His people, so long will they suffer. If it be a righteous thing that the wicked be punished, justice can never save them.
“When He shall have come, to be glorified in His saints.” Here the Saviour’s motion out of the air to the earth is intended. Here is the final award to the holy, and to the sufferers for Christ. Christ is the centre of the glory of that Day.
Now the glory of His saints, when their bodies ‘shine as the sun’, comes from Christ, and is like His own glory. The remnant of the inhabitants of the earth who survive the destruction of that Day will be astonished at the glory given to these.
Observe again, that they are glorified, not simply as believers, but in reference to their sanctification.
“And to be admired in all them that believed.” The participle should be read in the past; not “all that believe”. As the wicked are divided into two classes, so are the rewarded of that Day. And, if I mistake not, this second class makes room for those left behind, who pass through the future Great Tribulation, that they may have part in the first resurrection Rev. 20: 4-6.
It is difficult to decide on the sense of this last clause, for there are three or four legitimate constructions, according to the place we give to ‘in that day’.
1. ‘He shall come ... in that Day.’
2. “To be admired in all that in that day believed.” That would signify that all who shall be found in that evil day to hold fast the truth of Christ’s coming and kingdom, shall be admired by the men of earth. This would take in classes two and three named in Revelation 20: 4.
3. ‘Believers now in the doctrine concerning that day.’ This rendering would connect itself with the reading ‘believe’.
We should then have, (1) believers in the day, considered as a doctrine; and (2) believers actually found on earth in that day, as a peculiarly difficult season to faith.
4. Or join the phrase with ‘admired’. “All that believed are to be admired in that day.”
There is a difficulty also attending the parenthesis.
Why did the Apostle insert - (‘for our testimony among you was believed’) - before ‘in that day’?
Was it by way of comfort to the Church at Thessalonica? Does Paul intend to connect them with the latter class of the saints? ‘Christ shall be admired in all believers in that day, and of that day. And you belong to them: for you accepted our testimony.’ Was he careful to name them, lest they should think he denied them to be believers in that ‘coming Day’? But the first of the two classes – ‘the glorified’ - seems to be superior to those simply ‘admired’. And the first place belongs to the approved of the Church.
“In that Day”, is a critical phrase for the “Day of the Lord”, both in the Old Testament and in the New. It is a Day on a different principle to that in which we live. Christ is now the High Priest unseen within the veil, and the day is of mercy. But He comes forth as the King, in visible majesty and power, and that is the day of award.
11. “Unto which end also we pray always for you, that God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil [in you] all good pleasure in goodness, and the work of faith with power.”
Paul’s prayer was, that God would “count” his beloved Thessalonians “worthy” of the millennial
We have now arrived at the decisive chapter - 2 Thess. 2. It is, as I believe Mr. Craik used to say, the worst translated chapter in Scripture. The Revised Version has corrected some of its many errors.
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-15.
“But we beseech you, brethren, by the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not quickly shaken out of your wits, nor be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that ‘THF DAY OF THF LORD HAS SET IN.’ Let none deceive you by any means; for [that day shall not set in] except there come the Apostasy first, and the Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition, who opposeth himself to, and exalteth himself above, every being called God, and [every] object of worship, so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
“Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which hinders, in order to his being revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, only there is the Hinderer, until he remove out of the way.
“And then shall be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and shall paralyze by the [sudden] shining of His Presence, even him whose Presence is according to the energy of Satan with all power, and signs, and wonders of falsehood, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for the lost, because they received not the love of the truth that the might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them an energy of error, that they may believe the lie; in order that all may be damned, who believed not the truth, but took pleasure in the unrighteousness.
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth unto which He called you by our Gospel, unto the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or by our epistle.”
This passage (2 Thess. 2: 1-15) is distributed into Seven Divisions, as follow: those again are divided into four and three or, more exactly - one, three, three.
The testimony of this chapter is decisive against two errors.
1. Against that which calls
itself ‘THE PROTESTANT INTERPRETATION’. That asserts that the Day of the Lord’s wrath
has been for ages upon the Church and the world; and yet it must assume that the
Day is neither great in its plagues, nor “very terrible”.
It teaches that the Apostacy
has taken place centuries ago, and that Men of Sin have seated themselves in
2. It is decisive too against Mr. Newton’s doctrine: (1) that the Presence of the Lord is not in secret at all, but only in manifested glory; (2) that there are signs, which must precede the Saviour’s descent to take His watchful ones of the Church to Himself; and (3) that the Church of Christ must go through the terrors of the terrible Day of the Lord.
The proofs, against this second view especially, will appeal as we advance.
We proceed now with the Exposition.
1. In the first epistle, the difficulty with the Thessalonian believers concerned the dead saints. Though called to God’s own Kingdom and Glory, how could they have part in it, since they were in the tomb? To that error the Holy Spirit applies the truth of the Saviour’s coming, the resurrection of the righteous, and the assembly of the living and the dead together to His Presence.
2. In this second epistle, the difficulty arose touching the living saints. ‘Were they not then living in “the Great and Terrible Day” of the Lord’s vengeance? Were not the sufferings which their persecutors were inflicting, tokens of the Lord’s displeasure?’
To this the reply of inspiration is, first - That the coming day is one of justice. Hence, in that day, the persecutors would suffer trouble, and the sufferers for the Lord’s sake would receive relief, and glory. As it was in the first epistle, the Presence of Christ is still the comfort held out in this. Their second error was, that they had put (1) the Presence of Christ and (2) the day of the Lord out of God’s order. The Presence of Christ to collect His people to Himself precedes “the Days of vengeance”, and takes Christ’s waiting ones (not ‘the Church’ as such) out of the earth, before the terrors of the Day begin.
This then shows us, that on a due regard to the difference of time and of design between THE PRESENCE and THE DAY turns the understanding of the whole question. The importance of the distinction begins to appear in the translation of the first verse.
“But we beseech you, brethren, by the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not” – ‘troubled’.
On which Alford observes, that it ought not to be rendered “by the Presence”, but ‘concerning the Presence’. “It is most unnatural that the Apostle should thus conjure them by that concerning which he was about to teach them.” Now this observation supposes that ‘the Presence of Christ’, and ‘the Day of the Lord’ are only different names for the same thing. And then the remark would be just. But perceive only, that ‘the Presence’ was and is the Church’s hope of deliverance from the terrors of ‘the Awful Day’ that will smite the world, and you see the source of the commentator’s mistake, and that which at once justifies the usual translation, and sets the whole question in its true light.
As this is the core of the difficulty, I will give a few extracts, showing the usual error upon this point.
Dr. Guinness says: “It is a question then of ‘our gathering together to Him’; and Paul speaking of this says that it shall not come, except there be a (the) ‘falling away first’.” (My italics.)
Here ‘the Presence of Christ’ to gather His People is confounded with ‘the Day of vengeance’ which is to overtake the world; “for that day shall not set in, except there come the falling away first.”
2. Mr. Paterson echoes this sentiment.
“These people who were waiting for ‘the coming of the Lord’ could never have expected it, until ‘the Apostacy’ had been fulfilled; that is, until 600 years or later. But now you can expect it at any moment, since the Apostacy has come.”
Here is the same confusion. No signs given by God are to precede the Saviour’s Presence, but the Apostacy must precede the full wrath of the Day.
Olshausen in his Commentary on the passage says:-
“In a properly PROPHETIC communication St. Paul delivers himself on the point of what must precede the Coming of Christ” (P. 470).
Meyer in like manner says:-
“The thought of the Advent had given rise to new disquietude and perplexity.” “The opinion now prevailed, that the Advent of the Lord was immediately at hand, that it might be daily, hourly expected.”
“The Apostle wished - and this is the chief point - to oppose the disturbing and exciting error, as if the Advent of Christ was even at the door, by further instructions.” “Christ cannot return, until the power of evil, which certainly already begins to develop itself, is consolidated.”
Christ’s descent is for His Saints, and does not depend on the world’s development of evil; but on the ripeness of his spiritual wheat-field - the Church: Mark 4: 28. And that is a point known only to the Great Master of the Harvest.
Take lastly an extract from Dr. Eadie:
“The Apostle now passes to one special purpose of the epistle - to check and correct those erroneous and premature anticipations of the Second Coming, which had become prevalent in Thessalonica.”
The Thessalonian Christians had been taught to expect “the Son of God from heaven” without the interposition of any signs. When the Apostle more particularly unfolds the subject of Christ’s descent for His Saints (chap. 4.), he tells only of the signs which accompany His Presence, and the assembling of His Saints to Him. Of the Day, its terror, and destruction he does not treat till the ensuing chapter.
Many signs are given to
Does any quote: “Exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the Day approaching”? Heb. 10: 25. We reply, as before; that the increase of iniquity discovers that judgment is necessary, and is becoming increasingly near. But it is not on the height of the world’s evil that the Descent of Christ for His people turns.
The Presence of Christ is the punctum saliens, the free end, on which all the series of the connected events depends. Let us look a moment at the order here supposed. The Saviour descends into air; then occurs the first Rapture. With the Rapture on high comes the Hinderers’ removal from earth. Close following on the Hinderers’ removal come the Apostasy, and the Man of Sin. That is Satan’s day, and he puts forth his powers of miracle and deceit to exalt his king, and to lead men to believe in, and worship him. Then comes the out-shining of the Saviour’s Presence, the cessation of the Antichrist’s reign, and the perdition of His adherents.
Now, when the Presence of Christ shall begin, is a secret, known only to the Father.
What then was the fear of the Thessalonian Christians?
It stands expressed in the proposition -
“THE DAY OF THE LORD HAS SET IN.”
That we should read “the Day of the Lord,” instead of “the Day of Christ” is decided by critics generally, upon manuscript authority. It is confirmed too by the former epistle, and occupies there the same place in the order of events. In 1 Thess. 4. we have the Saviour’s Presence. In the next chapter- “You know perfectly, that the Day of the Lord is so coming as a thief in the night.”
Now had they been in the Day, the terror of the Thessalonians would have been justified. The Day is “very terrible”, and the prophets called on men to tremble before the wrath of God to be then poured out: Isa. 2.; Joel 2. And Paul does not deny it. “It shall come as destruction from the Almighty!”
That the Greek should not be rendered “is at hand”,* is generally agreed, so that I will not enter into the criticism concerning it. It should be translated “is set in”. ‘The day of the Lord’ is a season; and as we say of the winter, ‘It has set in’, so it may be said of this coming season.
* Into the criticism of the Greek I do not care to enter. The reader will find it in Alford, Eadie, Meyer: or he may consult the Englishman’s Greek Concordance on the word.
What then do we mean, when we say- ‘The winter has set in’? We mean, not only that the warm season is over and the cold established, but that we expect both the continuance of the cold and an increase of its severity. That is true also of ‘the Day of the Lord’.
Let me illustrate this by a passage from Martyrs of the Indian Rebellion. “We have now really got the hot weather; it has set in late”(p. 96).
‘The Day has set in’, was the ground of the Thessalonians’ mistaken fear. ‘The Presence of Christ will precede the Day and take the watchful Saints out of it’ - is the Apostle’s comfort. Here is the decisive overthrow of Mr. Newton’s views. On his theory, ‘the Church must pass through the Great Tribulation to come. There is no secrecy of the Presence; there is only the Saviour’s descent in glory on the last of the 1260 days of the Antichrist’s reign. God’s Day of justice and wrath on an evil world must wrap the Church also in its sorrows.’
But if the Presence of Christ is to precede the Day of Woe, and to assemble to Himself His watchful Saints, the ready' ones of the Church will not be in the Day at all.
Mr. Newton’s error is worse and more terrifying than the Thessalonians’ original one. They thought that the Day had begun. He teaches that the Church must pass through the out-poured wrath of the Woe-trumpets and Vials. If they were terrified at the thoughts of the Day’s beginning, how much more if they had been taught by the Apostle, that they must go through the whole of the battle with the False Christ and Satan, and the indignation of the Lord “against the generation of His wrath”.
That the Presence precedes the Day was shown in the first epistle also. The Presence and our Rapture to it is the main substance of chapter 4.; the Day is not spoken of till chapter 5.
Their mistake was that they set ‘the Day’ of wrath before the Presence of Christ, which brings mercy and deliverance to His people. The Apostle therefore teaches that the Presence of Christ then descended into air to gather His people to Himself is the Divine comfort against the fear of the Day. The Presence of Christ takes His ready ones out of the earth, on which the terrors of ‘the Day’ are about to fall. Thus that by which the Apostle beseeches them contains the antidote to their dismay. It was the Presence on the one hand, and their assembly to Christ on the other, which carried the needed comfort. He grounds his appeal on the truth taught in the former Epistle, that Christ was coming alike for His departed and His living Saints. The little word ‘our’ before ‘gathering together’, resumes the teaching of his first epistle. The Saviour’s coming and Presence were not terrible. He had said: “Let not your heart be troubled.” “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” And so Paul in his former Epistle had ruled the matter. They had been from the first taught to “wait for the Son of God from heaven;” and so he announces Him as “our Deliverer from the coming wrath” The destruction which the Day was to bring was not for them. For they “were not in darkness, that the Day should overtake them as a thief”. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Apostle next mentions the things which had roused their fears; fears so strong as almost to unhinge reason. Three things had contributed to this result. They were troubled through testimony (1) by a spirit, (2) by word, and (3) by epistle, as if written by Paul.
How are we to understand the words “by spirit”? Paul’s history at
The meaning of - “by word, or by epistle as (if) from us” - is also clear when we compare it with verse fifteen of this chapter. “Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.” We must understand, therefore, that a saying falsely attributed to the Apostle, and a forged letter, gave great currency to the falsehood which was troubling them.
The structure of this Epistle is remarkably twofold; but in this deceit of Satan’s we find a triplet. It stands closely related to a second triplet farther on, which Satan shall employ effectually against the world of unbelievers. He shall lead them to his lie by all (1) power, and (2) signs, and (3) wonders of falsehood ver. 9. During the Gospel-day, the Apostle, by the testimony of the Spirit of truth, speedily blighted this deceit. But, in the coming Day, the devil’s delusion will be seconded effectually by God’s indignation, unto the perdition of the lost.
“Let none deceive you by any means; for [the Day shall not set in] until there shall have come the Apostasy first.”
What is meant by “the Apostasy”? The so called Protestant Interpretation makes it mean ‘the corruption of Christian truth’, as found in Romanism. But no! it is the open outburst of wickedness, which occurs as the Hinderers are removed. While they are on the field, only ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ has leave to bestir itself. If ‘Apostasy’ be corruption of the truth, it had occurred already in Paul’s day! But no! Apostasy is lawlessness casting off every bond.
At the removal of the Hinderers shall take place the abandonment of faith in Christ, not by individuals alone, but by so called ‘Christian nations’. The Second Psalm describes the open outbreak of human hatred against God and His Christ. The Saviour foretells His rejection by “the generation”, which includes Gentiles as well as Jews: Luke 17: 25. See also 1 Tim. 4. Instances of single Apostasy occurred early. The Emperor Julian is named the Apostate. At the first French Revolution, some publicly renounced Christ. Apostasy, observe, is a personal affair.
“And the Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition.”
Out of the abandonment of the True Christ, the Great False Christ springs. Men are not ready for this deceiver, till they have renounced God’s mercy in Christ. It is on these impious ones that the wrath of God, in the Day of the Lord, “shall immediately fall”. Rev. 13.- 16. describe that period of sin and woe.
‘The Man of Sin’ is as truly an individual as is Christ ‘the Man of Holiness’. He is “the Wild Beast”, as truly as Christ is “the Lamb”.
But he is also “the Son of Perdition”. If he exceed all other men in impiety, he will also, in the righteousness of the Great Day, exceed them in punishment. For a thousand years he is cast into “the lake of fire and brimstone” before Satan is. As he sets himself up against Christ, so Christ overpowers and consumes him, as we are afterwards told. His pre-eminent sin is, that he “opposes himself to, and exalts himself above, every being that is called God, or that is an object of worship”. Impiety so great never has appeared before, and never can again. This proves him to be an individual.
His attitude and place while putting forth these impious pretensions are then
given. “He sits in the
What are we to understand by “the
That this building is meant, many evidences conspire to prove.
(1) What does ‘the
(3) That this is to be the scene of Jews’ and Gentiles’ wickedness,
many Scriptures assure us. Our Lord
notes the time of the Great Tribulation as occurring at
There has never yet arisen one opposing all Godhead but his own, and exalting himself above every object of worship, true or false. Much less has any king arisen, backed by all Satan’s powers, and leading away all the lost to obey and adore.
The temple of God in which this deceiver shall sit, is not
built, and cannot be while the Church is owned of God as the
worshipper of the Father and the Son
4., 1 John 4.), nor while
it proclaims the Day of mercy through Christ. So that the objection – ‘the
(4) The preparation for this interpretation, which is given by the Apostle in the former Epistle, is usually overlooked. Let us look at it! “For ye, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus, for ye also have suffered the same things from your fellow countrymen, even as they also, from the Jews (1) who both slew the Lord Jesus, (2) and their own prophets, (3) and drove us out, (4) and please not God, (5) and are contrary to all men, (6) forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, (7) so as to fill up their sins always; but the final wrath is already upon them:” 1 Thess. 2: 14-16 (Greek).
These seven points show us the spiritual position of
But the temple’s rebuilding, as we observed, marks the Gospel-day
as over. The Saviour declared to the
Samaritan woman, that the Gospel was about to abolish
(5) In another, and as remarkable a way, the temple at
The sins of
5. “Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I told you this? And now ye know what hinders; in order that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, only there is a Hinderer at present, until he remove out of the way.”
Here is a new beginning of the prophecy, carrying comfort to the saints, by a view of the barriers which God had in grace interposed against that day of wickedness.
What is the Hindrance? And who is the Hinderer?
1. Some, in ancient days, supposed the Hindrance to be the
The character of the Hinderers must be good; for they check evil. Satan, as Paul notes in the first epistle, hinders good: 1 Thess. 2: 18.
2. I suppose the Hinderers are, (1) the CHURCH, and (2) the HOLY SPIRIT. These are closely allied; and so closely allied are the Greek words that express them. The Holy Spirit first raised up the Church, and still maintains it.
1. The CHURCH
sustains the truth of Christ in
the world. It is “the pillar
and ground of the truth.” It is “the
2. The HOLY SPIRIT is the great Hinderer of lawlessness. “Sin is lawlessness:” 1 John 3. (Greek). And the Holy Spirit restrains the spirit of independence of God, and resistance to His will. He came down from heaven to bear witness to Christ, in conjunction with the Church: John 15: 26, 27; Acts 1: 8. And the Spirit of Christ, as the spirit of truth, checks the spirit of Antichrist, and of falsehood. He testifies to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and produces life and faith in the souls of men. He came down to raise up a spiritual body to Christ, the Risen Head. And the members are soon to be completed by Him. He is waiting for Christ’s return; and has kept up the hope and the testimony of it for age after age: Rev. 22: 17. His present work is done, when the Saviour comes back. It was by His testimony through the Apostle, that the Thessalonians were led to turn from idols to serve the living and true God. And when He departs, men will turn from the true God to a false one, and will serve an idol of their own making. As the Spirit dwelling then, and now, on the earth, caused the believers to “wait for the Son of God from heaven”, so, when He has departed, the doctrine will be scouted, as fabulous and impossible. And then will descend on unbelievers that wrath of God, from which the Saviour delivers His people.
In short, the Spirit’s characteristic three names all fit in with the subject before us. (1) As “the Spirit of Christ”, He opposes the Spirit of Antichrist: Rom. 8: 9; 1 Pet. 1: 11. (2) As “the Spirit of truth”, he counteracts Satan’s deceits: John 14: 17; 16: 13. (3) As “the Spirit of grace”, he bears witness to the Gospel and its forgiveness: Heb. 10: 29; Zech. 12: 10.
3. The presence of the Church and of the Holy Spirit below
makes the present day the day of mercy. The
The season then of the Church, with its witness of grace and offer of salvation, is not the appropriate season for the appearance of the Antichrist. God’s elect are not complete, and the Spirit is working in grace toward this end.
The opening words of the epistles are generally “Grace and Peace”; that is God’s testimony to the Day of mercy; and the Church echoes it to the world by doctrine and practice. Those who own Christ’s Lordship make the present day unsuited to Antichrist’s denial. The pleasers of God keep off His wrath. As the falling away from the grace and truth of Christ brings God’s just vengeance; so the abiding in the truth of the Father and Son keeps abiding still the day of mercy.
The Holy Spirit of truth and grace by His Almighty energies keeps back the un-holiness, the falsehood, the lawlessness of the world. The Saviour in the days of His flesh stood “in the midst”, testifying the day of grace, and raising up witnesses to the truth: John 3: 26; Luke 22: 27; Acts 2: 22. But He removed in His appointed time, and the Holy Spirit descended to take His place. As long as the Holy Spirit abides on earth He constitutes it the day of grace, and works the calling out of the elect, and the edification of the body of Christ. And while this is the case, God cannot pour down the artillery of His wrath on the world which He is wooing to be saved. But when the general renunciation of his Son breaks out, mercy ceases. What is now going on is preparing the way for this. Less and less result does the proclamation of the Gospel affect and men at last will “turn away their ears from the truth”, till they turn to fables instead: 2 Tim. 4.
But as the Gospel message is still preached, and some accept it, the Day of wrath has not set in; it is not the fit time for the Antichrist, and till it is his suited season he cannot make His appearance. The false spirit that affirmed in Paul’s time, ‘that the Day of wrath had set in’, was at once stopped by the contrary testimony of the Holy Spirit. But when the Holy Ghost removes, Satan and his angels have not only full licence to deceive, but God sends an energy of delusion to bear away the refusers of His Son. The testimony, that ‘the Day of woe has set in’ is false, as long as the Holy Spirit and the Church proclaim it the Day of mercy. Thus the Holy Spirit and the Church show themselves to be the two Hinderers of whom the Apostle writes.
As the sojourn of the Hinderers below prevents evil in various forms, so their removal gives free scope to lawlessness on man’s part, and to wrath on God’s part. The Spirit’s departure opens the door to Satan’s unhindered agency in setting up the Man of Sin as described in verses 9-12.
The descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost brought signs,
wonders, and powers to attest the true Christ and His resurrection; and great
was the holiness of the body raised up by His power. When, in the coming day, the Holy Spirit withdraws,
He leaves the field free to Satan’s energy of delusion, and to his new religion
– “THE LIE” - the deadly opposite to “THE TRUTH” of Christ. In place of mercy, truth, salvation, come wrath, falsehood, damnation. The fit season of the true
Christ, and that of the Antichrist, are opposite morally, and in point
of time. The season of the truth and of
the Gospel of the Christ is now. The
Gospel has, with all its blessings, been retained on earth, not by Roman
Emperors, but by the Holy Spirit, and by the
To these proofs that the Church and the Spirit are the Hinderers of God’s appointing and sustaining, we may add some confirmation from that word -
“And now ye know what hinders.”
Paul had named the hindrance in the first verse of the chapter.
(1) He had spoken of the saints of the Church as assembling to Christ on high. While on earth they hinder; they are gathered
out of earth, and the
hindrance is then withdrawn. For they are not like
(2) All the aspects of the Church and Spirit of God are adapted to hinder the presence of the Man of Sin, and the Apostasy, on which the Day falls. Falsehood is to ensue when the Hinderers are gone, and the Spirit and saints are “of the truth”. You are “the Salt of the earth”; and not till you are removed does the carrion sink into putridity. You were constituted by Christ “the light of the world”; and until you are withdrawn, the blackness of its darkness will not arrive. Lawlessness will have free course when the Hinderers are out of the way, and you believers are “under law to Christ”: 1 Cor. 9: 21.
The Authorized Version gives one the idea, that the removal of the Hinderer is an involuntary one. But that sentiment is not conveyed by the Greek text. The Latin has only: “There is a Hinderer, until he become out of the way.” So Alford. The work of the Holy Spirit done, and His testimony of grace in the Gospel-day over, He withdraws, before the war of God against earth begins.
It is manifest then that the Removal of the Hinderers is
only in another form, the Rapture of the ready saints. To the saints it is joy, and escape of the woes coming on the earth. Their ascent and presence above account for the absence of the Hinderers below. As the Spirit’s descent
began the formation of the Church, so His departure ends it. In the first verse of this chapter we see the
close conjunction of the Lord Jesus and His saints, after the Gospel-day is complete. In the disclosures concerning the Hinderers, we see the close conjunction of the
Spirit and the saints, during the Gospel-day. The Holy Spirit upholds the Lord’s Supper till
Lord’s coming : 1 Cor.
11: 26. When the Saviour is come, the rites of the
The Presence of the Christ and the Rapture correspond morally, and in point of time, with the Removal of the Hinderers. The Hinderers cannot withdraw before the Saviour’s Presence; else the Apostasy and the Day of woe would fall upon the ready saints. We, if ready, must be taken out of the Trouble of earth and be set in the Saviour’s Presence, at the Removal of the Hinderers. The open renunciation of Christ shall not be allowed to afflict the waiting ones. “I will keep thee out of the hour of the temptation which is about to come on all the habitable earth.” Therefore the presence on earth of the waiting saints is proof, not only that the Day of wrath has not set in, but also that the Saviour has not left the Father’s throne, nor are the Hinderers removed.
As two views are given of the Apostasy and the Man of Sin, so two views are given of the barriers God has set against them. ‘The Man of Sin’ is also “the Lawless One”. The apostates are also “the lost”. As the Presence of the Man of Sin below attracts to Himself the lost, so the Presence of the true Christ on high attracts to Himself God’s beloved ones. And they take two different aspects, according as they are seen on earth struggling against the wickedness of earth; or when their toils are finished and they are gathered out of earth to Christ, for whom they were looking. The ascent of the saints on high is the counterpart of the removal of the Hinderers from below.
The departure of the Holy Ghost from earth is the other free end of the series of events, and the two are knit closely together. The descent of the Son of God from above is the signal for the Spirit’s ascent on high. For then His work in gathering the elect members of Christ is complete.
That the Hinderers are the Spirit and the Church is also proved, by the time of their presence on earth, and the season of their departure being the same, both to the Hinderers, and to the Church and Spirit.
1. When the Son of God is come, the ready saints ascend to Him. When the Lord Jesus is come, the Hinderers depart. They cannot leave before that time, since otherwise the Day of wrath, and the Apostasy, would be assailing the Church. The Rapture of the ready ones precedes the Day of woe. The Hinderers must be removed before the Apostasy, and the Day of Judgment, which avenges it. Thus the Church and Spirit are seen to be the Hinderers.
2. Ambassadors are removed before war begins. The Church is God’s ambassador, bearing His message of grace and peace. The Church then (I mean always the ready of the Church) must be removed before the war of God begins. Those left are discredited, and they keep not the Church’s original standing. The removal of the Hinderers is the rapture of God’s ambassadors, because the day of grace is over, and the day of judgment set in. The Holy Spirit and the ready of the Church depart together, for nearly the same reasons.
3. The Man of Sin is ‘the Lawless One’. Until the ready saints are caught up to Christ’s Presence, the Lawless One is not come, and cannot come. As long as the Hinderers are on earth, in the way of Satan’s plans, so long the Lawless One is not come. The saints then are the Hinderers. The sin of man and the judgments of God are stayed while the Hinderers are here, and while the Church is owned as God’s witness of salvation.
4. If then the Hinderers are still here below, the Apostasy
and the Man of Sin are not come. If it
is still the Gospel-day, the Hinderers are still below, and, as is self-evident,
the Day of wrath has not set in. If the
Apostasy and the Man of Sin have been for ages on the earth, the Hinderers have
been removed ages ago. The Hinderers are
here still, if they be the
5. The saints’ removal precedes the judgments on the ungodly. So Enoch was taken away before the Flood, and
6. Observe once again, reader, that the primary, unfixed point, on which all depends, is the Saviour’s descent.
(1) No sign is given as preceding that. The time of that depends on the Father’s counsel, undisclosed to us. But when that takes place, as soon as Christ comes down, the Holy Spirit goes up. Of that also there is no sign given.
(2) Then comes the first Rapture of the ready saints. This is another aspect of the removal of the Hinderers.
(3) Thereon ensues the renunciation of Christ by multitudes.
(4) That forms the fitting season for the unveiling of the False Christ.
(5) The Day of God’s wrath has then fully set in.
(6) The watchful are to escape that Day, which encompasses the whole habitable earth; hence they must be out of the earth, and therefore in safety in the Presence of Christ above.
In short, all the moral landmarks remain as Paul left them. Until some believers have suddenly disappeared from earth, Christ has not come, nor has the Day of wrath set in. It is as yet only the Wheat and Tares growing on side by side to ripeness. As yet no angels have come down to gather the Wheat into the heavenly garner, or to collect together and bind the Tares for the furnace.
“And then shall be revealed the Lawless One.”
The Lawless One, the awful representative of the lawlessness of fallen man, makes his appearance, as soon as the Hinderers are removed, and the True Christ has been openly rejected.
But then we are shown, how, in the Day of justice, He becomes “the Son of Perdition”. The Lord Jesus, whose glories he usurps, overthrows him by two stages: (1) Christ has been present on high, while this Lawless One blasphemed and defied Himself, and His Father. At length the time is come for the Christ, the Son of God, to show Himself! The Secret of His Presence ends. The sudden outshining of His glory on high paralyses His Antagonist. His reign is at an end! He whom the Usurper blindly denied and defied is come in divine glory, and with the hosts of heaven. The sudden sight takes away his power.
How that expression, ‘the outshining of His Presence’, tells of the previous Secrecy of it! As the Secrecy of it was designed for the gathering of the saints; so the revealing of the Presence takes place for the scattering and destruction of God’s foes!
The Presence of Christ unseen in air cannot last for less than three and a half years - the time of the reign of the Man of Sin, plus the time necessary for the outbreak of the Apostasy, or the open renouncing of Christ, which ensues on the removal of the Hinderers. How much longer it may last, none can say.
There are thus two Rival Presences. On
high are the Father* and the Son; and to their Presence the ready ones of the
Church ascend. Below are Satan and his
King, to whom he makes over all his power, as the Father does to His Son, the
Lord Jesus. In the dread period of the
reign of Antichrist, the false religion of Satan, founded on resurrection,
comes to its systematic maturity as “The Lie” and the False Prophet enforces it on
all the lost. ‘Who is God?’
is the great question of that day, as it was of Pharaoh in Moses’ day: Exod. 5: 2.
* 1 Thess. 3: 13.
The Redeemer moves down to earth, and with “the breath of His lips” He consumes the Wicked One* Isa. 11: 4. Again: “For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the King is it prepared: He hath made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire, and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it”: Isa. 30: 27, 33.
* … is a false reading. The Antichrist has died once, and is not to die again. He and his False Prophet are cast “alive” into the lake of fire.
‘But why are not these two stages of Christ’s infliction of woe on His foe given in chronological order?’
God often gives a better order than that of time. Here we may see that it is the sacred writer’s design, to put in close and vivid contrast the False Christ’s “Presence” down below, with the glory of Christ’s “Presence” on high.
“He shall paralyze with the [out] shining of His Presence him, whose Presence is according to the energy of Satan.”
The saved of the Christ have gathered to His Presence on high,
whose kingdom and glory are appointed and guaranteed by the Father. The lost adherents of the Antichrist are
gathered to him below, seduced by the miracles of falsehood exhibited by him
and his False Prophet, and confirmed by the “energy of delusion” sent in just
wrath by God. Thus the murmurers against Moses and Aaron gathered together in the camp
Verse 13 shows us the saved, and the means of their salvation. The Holy Spirit sanctifies; the saved accept the truth of the Gospel. The close then of the prophecy confirms our view of the Hinderers, and discovers to us the effect on the world of the Holy Ghost’s withdrawal. As, when He descended at Pentecost, signs, wonders, and powers of truth were exhibited on behalf of the true Christ, evil spirits were cast out, and multitudes believed; so, when the Holy Spirit leaves the earth, Satan bestirs himself on behalf of the False Christ, and miracle leads multitudes away to perdition.
To be continued … D.V.