by A.E. Knoch

WHO WILL BE snatched away to meet the Lord in the air when He descends and calls His own to Him there? In these degenerate days Christendom is composed of many who are not even believers. They have not heard His call even in life, so certainly will not respond to it in death. We may be sure they will not go. But there are many who have been called, who rely on Him for salvation, but who live in a fog of tradition and deception, and know little of the Scriptures, and less of the truth for the present, who have hardly heard of the "mysteries" and cling to the teaching of our Lord and His twelve apostles concerning the kingdom, rather than the message of Paul for the nations. What lies ahead of them? What will become of them? Will they also be left behind?

      Other believers claim to have exclusive knowledge and a special position. Some are sure they belong to the 144,000 on earth. Others prefer a place in the super-heavens. It would be useless to catalogue all the conflicting claims, for all but one must be wrong, and who knows if even that is altogether correct?

      Such a confused and complex problem is far too difficult for us to solve by any system based on human reasoning and deduction, so we will purposely confine our search for the answer to the Scriptures, where a single case, the most extreme example we could find, should settle the matter.

      When Paul went to Thessalonica at first, he stayed there only a short time. Later some of those he had reached died, and the others were concerned as to what would become of them. Let us take one of these as our test case (1 Thess.4:13). The apostle assured the Thessalonians that such a one would be among those who would meet the Lord in the air.

      What did this brother know and believe? It was not till long after his death that the full revelation was made known by Paul from his Roman prison. We read that these Thessalonians had turned back from idols to be slaving for the living and true God, and to be waiting for His Son out of the heavens (1 Thess.1:9,10). Paul wished to return to them to adjust the deficiencies of their faith (3:10). They were ignorant as to those who went to repose (4:13). So the man in the case we are considering knew very little, indeed, of the grand truths which characterize the present grace. What was to become of him? The apostle assures us that he will not only rise with those who are living when the Lord descends, but will rise first, before us who are alive (1 Thess.4:16).

      Could this man have been a Jew? Since Paul preached in the synagogue in Thessalonica to the Jews, it is quite possible. Then he would have known more of God, and His dealings with Israel through the Scriptures. But even then, like a Jew today, what could he have known of the present truth? He would probably have been strongly inclined to think himself superior to the rest, and be expecting a prominent place in the kingdom. Even today there are believing Jews who have all of Paul's epistles, but prefer Peter's. Yet Paul's unrestricted statement in his Thessalonian Letter plainly assures us that even such a Jew would be snatched away.

      If he is snatched away with us to meet the Lord in the air, can there be any doubt that he will be a member of the joint-body, although he may not have even heard of it before? Will he not be reconciled to God, even if he had never learned the secret of the evangel (Eph.6:19)? Will he not be changed, and roused incorruptible and immortal, even if he had never enjoyed this in anticipation (1 Cor.15:51)? Indeed, he does not deserve this, but who does (Rom.8:18)? And, if a perfect comprehension of all these truths is essential, who has attained to it? And would it not be altogether out of place in a dispensation of grandest grace? Is it not written of all of us, "Eye did not perceive, and the ear did not hear, and...the heart of man did not ascend" to that which "God makes ready for those who are loving him?" God has revealed much through His spirit, yet, even so, all of us will be surprised at that which He has in store for us, no matter how much we may know beforehand (1 Cor.2:9).

      Is it not remarkable that first Thessalonians, which is probably the earliest of Paul's epistles, should deal so fully with the very close of this administration, which was still hidden to a great extent at the time? Can we not see God's wisdom in thus clearing up perplexities beforehand which might distress His saints? For instance, where do those saints belong who lived during the time that the truth for today was gradually revealed, and who never learned many of the "mysteries?" This case solves their fate. They will learn these things in the future. In fact, all of us must learn some of the grace which is ours at that time.

      At the same time this solves a serious problem that has come up in various parts of the world today. Where shall we place the great majority of the genuine believers, who not only fail to grasp the truth for the present, but actually "appropriate" that which belongs to the Circumcision, or to the nations on the earth after Christ's kingdom is set up in Jerusalem? Some have suggested that it will be "according to their faith." But "faith" in a falsehood is not faith in God, and does not transmute error into truth. There are many false ideas as to the future, "believed" by all of us. If all were fulfilled we would enter a madhouse in the resurrection. Only God's Word will be fulfilled, none of man's imaginings. Like the Thessalonian ignoramus, these saints will all respond to our Lord's call, and ever be with Him thereafter.


      This question is of vital importance to each one of us in our personal experience. When did we become members of the joint body? Most of the believers today are "born in a fog" as the Brethren used to say, and die in darkness. In fact the great mass do not really believe in either the vivification when our Lord descends to the air to call us there, or that in the kingdom some time after Christ comes to the mount of Olives. They don't even believe in death, so can't be roused, but go straight to heaven when they die! Some believe that they are dead only three days, so that, for the most of them the resurrection is past already! If they all get what they "believe," most of them are in heaven already, and there is no resurrection of the dead, as Paul told the Corinthians. Even in Paul's day some said that the resurrection had already occurred and subverted the faith of some (2 Tim.2:18).

      Even the personal "belief" of each saint changes from time to time. When we first really believed, for salvation through the blood of Christ, we may have thought that it was due to our repentance, and our sins were pardoned, and we had entered the kingdom. But these things are not for the joint body, for the saints in it are justified and reconciled, and, when they believe, are sealed with the holy spirit of promise, which is an earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment, to the deliverance of that which has been procured, that is, we are pre-expectants in the Christ (Eph.1:12-14), and will hear Him when He calls from the air. The spirit that we receive when we believe determines our place and portion, of which it is a part, not our ignorance or mistaken "beliefs."

      Almost all who have attained to maturity have had to put aside some childish and mistaken beliefs. If we, like the man in Thessalonica, had died before we could have learned the later truths unfolded by Paul, would we not, like him, respond to the call of our Lord when He comes to the air? It is a question of God's designating us in love for sonship, not of our understanding or appreciation, or response. Rather, it is in accord with His own purpose, and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian (2 Tim.1:9).

      Paul prays for those who are sealed with the holy spirit of promise, the earnest of our allotment, for a further spirit of wisdom to perceive what is the expectation of their calling and the riches of their allotment and the power present at the rousing of Christ (Eph.1:14). This makes it evident that they lacked this added endowment, and that the earnest of the spirit, which is the portion of all, does not include a knowledge of the higher truths for today. Yet this does not invalidate our pre-expectancy. Under the law, and even in the Circumcision evangel, some response is necessary, or the blessing is withdrawn. Not so in grace. It operates even better in the midst of failure and opposition than otherwise, for these provide a background for its display.


      There is a striking difference between the fate of the dead in the kingdom resurrection and ours, which may help us to see the greater graciousness of our grace. The so-called "ancient worthies" have their names written in the book of life, and are inscribed on a roll of honor, such as we read of in the eleventh of Hebrews, because of their works. Nevertheless, they are not roused from the dead immediately when the kingdom is set up. Those living at that time have the preference. The dead are not raised until seventy-five days later (Dan.12:12). In contrast to this, when the Lord descends to the air for us, according to Paul's evangel, the dead shall be rising first (1 Thess.4:16). The transcendent grace of Paul's epistles is much to be preferred to the highest awards of the circumcision saints. In time, as well as location, it transcends, and even death does not obstruct its operation.

      The living circumcision saints were warned by our Lord to be watching, for only those who watch will be taken along when He comes to Israel. To them the Son of Mankind comes as a thief, and some will be received and others left for judgment, as it was in the days of Noah (Matt.24:37-51). The highest in the kingdom are those who earned it by their attainments and sufferings. Only those who were true to their Lord throughout his ministry and rejection will occupy the thrones in the kingdom. Paul will have no place there at all. Neither will he be roused in the kingdom. They have a righteousness and a reward of their own. He has none, so must be roused at another resurrection. He was not watching.


      Yet we, also, are exhorted to watch, but how different is the figure in our case (1 Thess.5:6)! The seven years before the kingdom comes to Israel, when the day of Ieue dawns manifestly at His advent (Acts 2:19,20), will be the worst era in earth's history. Darkness will cover the earth, and murkiness the peoples (Isa.60:2). It is true that the world today is also in darkness, but not so His saints. "Now you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day may be overtaking you, as a thief" (when the day of the Lord comes. 1 Thess.5:2). "For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. Consequently then, we should not be drowsing, even as the rest, but we may be watching, and sober. For those who are drowsing are drowsing at night, and those who are drunk are drunk at night. Yet we, being of the day, may be sober, putting on the cuirass of faith and love, and the helmet, the expectation of salvation, for God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him. Wherefore, console one another, and edify one another, according as you are doing also" (1 Thess.5:4-11).

      But, alas! it is also true today that most of the saints are drunk or drowsing. Even those who have never tasted a drop of alcohol in their lives are intoxicated with the spirits of delusion and error. Many are far more guilty than the kingdom disciple who says that his Lord is delaying his coming. They think that He is not coming at all! Some say that He has already come! And we who claim to be sober, and not sleeping, are we not drowsy? God pity us if we were dealt with in the same way as those who watch for the kingdom! If we received our deserts we would be with those who lament and gnash their teeth.

      Consolation and edification are ours only because God deals with us differently. There is no penalty if we fail to keep awake and sober. There are doubtless some saints, such as Paul, Timothy and Titus, who obey these exhortations, but what about us and the rest? We certainly don't deserve to be vivified and snatched away to meet the Lord in the air, if that depended upon our watchfulness and sobriety! Will such not go first? Here we see, as perhaps nowhere else, the practical operation of the transcendent grace which is our portion in this administration. At its close none will be penalized for their past by being rejected at the resurrection, as in the case of the circumcision. In order to stress this, the Scriptures repeat the thought by using two words, to emphasize the fact that all will be snatched away at the same time together (1 Thess.4:17).


      Many of the saints have wished to be there when Christ comes in great glory to the mount of Olives, to set up His kingdom. Some have never even heard of our pre-expectant meeting with Him in the air. Will they be disappointed? Will we miss that marvelous sight, when every eye shall see Him, even the nation who stabbed Him? By no means!

      To us He descends alone, unattended by any angelic host, for He Himself is the Chief Messenger, or "Archangel" and He Himself will blow the trump of God, which will wake the dead.

      But to Israel He comes attended by a heavenly host. We read that, "coming is Ieue, my Aleim, and all the saints are with Him." (Zech.14:5). All the highest and holiest of the host of heaven will be with Him on mount Olivet, and we shall always be together with the Lord (1 Thess.4:17). Will we be denied the precious privilege of accompanying Him at the scene of His greatest earthly glory? By no means! We cannot, indeed, press the figure of our place as His body, but the truth which it teaches gives us the nearest and dearest place, and He would not have us absent in the moment of His highest terrestrial triumph, even though our allotment and mission is among the celestials.

      Often have I wended my way from Jerusalem to the brow of Olivet, out of St. Stephen's gate, down to the Kidron ravine, and, passing Gethsemane, climbed the steep path to the top of the ridge, from which most of the published views of the city have been taken. No place else is so conspicuous, for not only can all Jerusalem be seen, but this spot is also visible from almost every point in the neighborhood of the sacred city. There is very little level ground there for us to stand, should we come in our present mortal bodies, for Olivet slopes sharply down on the city side, and, less steep, down to Bethany on the eastern side, and also slopes more gradually toward the southern wilderness. I feel sure there is far from sufficient room on its slender ridge.

      Some have suggested that the living saints today should seek to find the time of His arrival and all gather together there to meet Him at His coming. But He will have gathered us to Himself at least a heptad before this, and saved us such a long and arduous journey. Some, like myself, live almost as far from it as can be on the earth, and the expense for travel and sustenance would be beyond our means. And when we got there we would only be on the outskirts of a crowd so great that we could not even find a vacant spot on the whole mountain. How much better is our expectation! Wherever we are, in distant California or far off Japan, we will all be caught up in an infinitesimal time, and go up to meet Him in clouds. Later, with celestial bodies, we need not be concerned about space or place, for our bodies may need neither.

      I used to wonder why the truth of the unity of the body of Christ was revealed to the Corinthians, for they are the best example of disunity. Some were for Paul, some for Peter, and some for Apollos (1 Cor.1:12). Some were rich and some were poor. Some were moral, but others most immoral. Some were immature, but were any mature? Was any other ecclesia so badly split and rent into factions? Yet it is to this ecclesia Paul first applies the figure of the one body! (1 Cor.12:12-27). The members are many, and they differ much, but the body is one. The differences do not break the body into many bodies. Rather they are needed to make a whole body. If an eye claims to be the whole body, what a poor one it would make, even if it were a perfect eye!

      It is a common fallacy to reason that our destiny is in any way dependent on ourselves. In the higher circles in Europe they have a sarcastic saying, "A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his ancestors!" We all came into the world without being asked the time, the place, or the circumstances. Either it was a favorable or fiendish fate, or a selecting, supervising Subjector. We, who love and worship Him can have no doubt on this score, for He has revealed to us that He chose us in Christ before the disruption (Eph.1:4). A child is not disinherited because it is weak or immature, even if it is heir to a throne. None of us are fit for the glory about to be revealed in us. The very thought of such selfishness dims and darkens the grace of God, the display of which is the chief excuse for our existence.

      Has He done all this in the past, yet left our further fate, in the future, to our own devious devices? No! Our fate was fixed by His call. Our destiny was determined before we were born. In this administration we are the background for God's grace. The less we deserve, the greater the glory of God. Paul is the pattern. This grace is not confined and contradicted by our response, our growth, our maturity, our service or our sufferings. All this is due to His spirit in us, not to ourselves, and does not deserve a different and higher destiny.

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