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.
OUR PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE
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
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.
THE DEAD LAST -- THE DEAD FIRST
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.
HOW WE SHOULD WATCH
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).
WE WILL BE THERE
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
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.