All the signs tell us of the Lord’s near return. Many of God’s people are writing enthusiastically about this, even composing songs and choruses to thrill the heart to this blessed theme. There are books without number to expound the ‘mechanics’ of His return, and some magazines are devoted almost entirely to topics related to the Second Coming.
What is the basic consensus of opinion about Christ’s coming again? Almost without exception, the idea expressed is that of the sudden disappearance of all God’s people from this earth, after which the Antichrist is supposed to arise. For those who are taken away, it will be a time of great joy and happiness in the presence of their Saviour. For the rest of the earth it will be a time of deep distress in the presence of the Beast.
A closer study of the Scriptures does not warrant this conclusion at all. The “universal chair-lift” is an offence. In this article we should like to present a Scriptural principle that has been frequently overlooked. It may be epitomised in a prophecy Arthur received 28th March 1981.
“I am the God of the present time. I AM is my name. But he is the Beast that was, and IS NOT, and is to come. He tries to rob my children of the value of the Present. He lets people talk about Calvary, and even the Second Coming, but he firmly and decisively steers people away from the NOW, from all that would allow me to mould character in the PRESENT.”
Are you like this? Do you look back to Calvary, and look forward to the Second Coming, as though dangled on a string between the past and the future, but with the attitude of an armchair observer in the present? Are you denying the deep imprints of the Master’s hand upon your life in the NOW seasons? If you are, then beware, because the future is by no means certain for you. If you believe in Christ, then you are saved, and there can be no doubt about that. But the gathering together of the saints to the Lord is based upon MORE than that, for it involves God’s eternal purpose in His Kingdom. It is by no means certain that ALL who are saved will attain to that day, at least in the first phase, as we shall now show.
Every coin has two sides. No coin has any value unless it is minted with both sides. I have a crown showing the Queen’s head on one side, and George slaying the dragon on the other. It is a good picture for us all, because we tend only to think of the Queen’s head, the authority for the Return of Christ, instead of looking also at the necessity for us TO OVERCOME, as George overcame the dragon. We are in no position to use this coin as legal tender if it only has the Queen’s head. God will turn our coin over and inspect it to see whether the overcoming has been accomplished. This must be explained in more detail.
In Matthew 25 Jesus told the parable of the ten virgins. All ten of these girls were engaged in waiting for the Lord’s return. All of them had lamps. All of them had oil. In every respect they were identical. All of them became weary and slept. All of them heard the warning call near midnight. Only then did the difference manifest itself. As a result, five were allowed in, and five were shut out. It is no use trying to interpret this parable as though the foolish virgins were unsaved . The picture does not allow that interpretation. It is not our present purpose to define exactly what these foolish virgins lacked. It is important to realise that Jesus taught a DISTINCTION between believers. You may find this teaching somewhat offensive. You may even be angry at the intimation made, but the conclusion is inescapable. Our purpose is not to make comfortable remarks about the future, but rather to suggest that a new way of thinking is necessary.
Our Lord spoke very solemn words in Matthew 7:22 “Not every one who says to me ‘Lord, Lord1 shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me IN THAT DAY, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And in your name cast out demons? And in your name performed many mighty works of power?’ And then I will declare to them, I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work lawlessness.”
These are not my words. They are the Saviour’s. Do they offend? Does it not prove the need for a new way of thinking? Who were these people who prophesied and cast out demons and did many mighty works? They were not of the world, for the world has no interest in such things. These people were dynamic Christians, full of zeal and works, going about here, there, and everywhere demonstrating spiritual power. But for some reason the Master knew them not. These words engender FEAR, and dispel COMPLACENCY. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
On another occasion Jesus had an altercation with the Sadducees over the resurrection. (Luke 20:27-40) Finally our Lord said, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are COUNTED WORTHY to attain that age and the resurrection from among the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more; they are EQUAL TO THE ANGELS; they are sons of God and sons of the resurrection.” How then can one be ‘counted worthy’? Evangelical opinion speaks ONLY of the new birth. This is considered sufficient in all respects. But the theology is inadequate. It takes away the need for careful attention EACH DAY to the Lord, to walk by faith.
Mark well the Saviour’s words in Luke 21:34-36. “Take heed to yourselves lest you become burdened in your hearts with excesses, and drinking, and the anxieties of life, whereby THAT DAY should come upon you suddenly like a snare, for in this manner it will come upon ALL THOSE SITTING UPON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE EARTH. Rather be watchful in every season, praying that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are about tohappen, and to stand before the Son of Man.” These words were spoken to the disciples, not to the world at large. These same words apply to us today. It is not a foregone conclusion that every one who names the name of the Lord will be ‘accounted worthy’ to be received into God’s Kingdom. Many who EXPECT to be there will be left outside to gnash their teeth in anger at what they consider to be an unjust decision. I do not say these words lightly, nor in anger. I am even addressing myself when I speak, for none of us knows FOR CERTAIN whether the Lord will account us worthy at that day. I find our Lord’s words extremely ‘salty’ and productive of godly fear.
Revelation 7 gives us further insight. Two groups of people are depicted. The first are NUMBERED, the second CANNOT BE NUMBERED. The first are SEALED against hurt when the trouble comes. The second go through the ‘great tribulation’ .The first group stand before the Lord on an early occasion. Later, the ‘great multitude’ join them, because they also have‘washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ The Second Coming is not a single event. It takes place in stages. God never harvests His fields before they are ripe. But please note – the washing of their robes is NOT the act of becoming a Christian. Our robes are EXTERNAL to ourselves. The redemptive work of Calvary created a NEW NATURE, which is INTERNAL. Later in Revelation, the white robes are defined as ‘the righteous deeds of the saints.’
We turn now to Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:10-15)“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death, IF BY ANY MEANS I might attain unto the resurrection out from among the dead. NOT AS THOUGH I HAD ALREADY ATTAINED, EITHER WERE ALREADY PERFECT, but I follow after, if that I may lay hold of that for which I was also laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I DO NOT RECKON MYSELF YET TO HAVE LAID HOLD, but this one thing I do. forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forward to those things ahead, I press forward to the mark of the PRIZE OF THE CALLING ON HIGH OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS. As many therefore as are mature should think this way.” Is it not crazy for any of us to take the second coming for granted, as though we had already purchased a ticket on Concorde, one day to be whisked off to the New World? How long can we live in a fool’s paradise? Is it not appreciated that Paul wrote these words TWENTY FIVE years or so after his conversion, and after all three of his missionary journeys? And still he had no conceit. He dared not rest upon his laurels. He left the past where it belonged, and reached out for the future. This required a DAY BY DAY walk by faith. Later he was to say, “I am already being poured out, and the time of my departure has arrived. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will give to me ON THAT DAY, and not to me only, but to all those having loved His appearing.” (2 Tim.4:6-8) This ‘George’ had ‘slain his dragon’ and overcome. The Lord ASSURED him of this, and he accepted it by faith. I wonder how many of God’s children hear such words of commendation at the end of their lives.
Titus 2:11-15. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live sensibly, righteously, and in godly fashion in this present age, LOOKING FOR THAT BLESSED HOPE AND GLORIOUS APPEARANCE OF OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOUR CHRIST JESUS, who gave Himself on our behalf that lie might redeem us from all iniquity, AND purify for Himself a people of special possession, zealous of good works.” How great is the call for purity in the Scriptures. It is NOT ENOUGH to say “I’m redeemed!” Our Lord is looking for our willingness to be PURIFIED as a special possession. Will He be willing to take tarnished vessels? So great is the importance of these things that Paul tells Titus, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke will all authority. Let no man despise you.” (verse 15)
2 Peter 3:10-12 “The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise , and the elements on fire will be dissolved and the earth and all its works will be discovered. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be IN ALL HOLY CONDUCT AND GODLINESS, looking for and HASTENING the coming of the Day of God – -.” See the clear intimation here? Our conduct has an influence on the DATE of Christ’s return. It may be hastened or delayed according to the lives of God’s people. Perhaps this is why no one is allowed to know the day or the hour, even the angels.
1 John 2:28-3:2. “Little children, abide in Him, that when He shall appear we may have confidence and not to be put to shame in His presence. – -Beloved, we are now the sons of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be, but when He shall appear we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. And every man who has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure.” Is it not abundantly clear that SOME will be put to shame when Jesus appears? How else can we think, if words have any meaning? What then is this purification of which John speaks? It is the cleansing symbolised by Jesus when He washed the feet of the disciples. They did not understand what He was doing. Peter was offended. First of all he didn’t want Jesus to wash him at all, thinking that it ought to be the other way round. But Jesus said,“If I do not wash your feet, you have no part of me.” Then Peter warmed to the theme and asked to be washed all over! But Jesus indicated quite clearly that this would not be necessary. He was already ‘clean’, and needed only to have his feet washed. Slowly Peter began to get the message. (John 13:4-14) Redemption is a once-for-all cleansing from sin and bestowal of a new nature. But our feet, that touch THIS WORLD continually, need daily cleansing. Jesus showed that we have a responsibility towards each other in respect.
1 John 2:15-17 “Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that which is in the world, the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world is passing away and its desire, but the one doing the will of God abides unto the age.” Here then is the dust, the mud, and the general muckiness of the world that needs to be cleaned away daily. And we can help each other in this respect. If we see our brethren immersed in activities that are too dangerous, and we see that as yet they have not developed a conscience about them, it is our duty to speak to them in love, warning them of the effects of their pursuits. This is not a very pleasant task but it enjoined to us, and we are not the servants of God if we shirk the responsibility. And if we, thinking that we are not yet ready to perform such tasks, not ‘mature enough’ or wise enough, thereby excuse ourselves from the responsibility, then we must be warned.
It is vital not to mix things up. We must not doubt the certainty of our Lord’s work of redemption. It is all His work, and it is a finished work, and we have no part in it. But the purifying work, the cleansing from the influences of the world, this is our work, to ourselves and to each other. And the righteous deeds which are called our ‘white robes’, are not piled up by leading a very active Christian life, and gaining popularity by the multitude of good deeds that we perform. After all, who has ever equalled the 25 years of Paul’s ministry? But he was willing to ‘forget that which is past’. What then are these ‘righteous deeds’ that God will reward? The answer is found in that delightfully simple parable the Lord told about the two men who built their houses. Both built similar houses, and both enjoyed living in them, and no doubt to those who observed, there was no difference in them at all. So it is with many Christians, and always has been. We see two men doing the same type of ministry, and are not aware that one man is justified in God’s sight, whilst the other is not. What then makes the difference? The wise man built his house upon the rock. That is the part of the house that remains invisible. Jesus said that the rock was the HEARING OF GOD’S WORD AND THE DOING OF IT. But the foolish man built his house upon the sand. Again the foundations are invisible. But Jesus said that this man HEARD THE WORD OF GOD, BUT DID NOT PUT IT INTO PRACTICE. He collected it, he reminisced on it, he shared it with his friends, he made sermons on it, and even wrote books about it, but HE NEVER PUT IT INTO PRACTICE. But Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.When God speaks, and we hear, and then put it into practice in our lives, then God sees this as a rock foundation. And there is no ground for pride in the doing of it. We are so to speak, stewards of God’s word. Both of these men enjoyed their houses whilst the weather was mild, but when the storms of God’s judgments arrived, the foolish man lost his house, and then EVERYBODY became aware of what was lacking in his life.
Malachi 3:1-3. “Behold I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord Whom you seek, shall SUDDENLY COME TO HIS TEMPLE, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in, behold He shall come says the Lord of Hosts. BUT WHO MAY ENDURE THE DAY OF HIS COMING? AND WHO SHALL STAND WHEN HE APPEARS? For He is like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap (ie a launderer’s ‘detergent). And He shall sit as the Refiner and purifier of silver. He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver that they may offer unto the Lord righteous offerings.” Times may have changed, and the New Covenant has replaced the Old, but still these words apply in the spirit in which they were given. The Lord is yet to appear suddenly in His Temple – not in Jerusalem now, but the Temple of Christ’s body. And when He does, it will be a painful and purging time for us all – but remember, God desires that we shall be able to offer right sacrifices. “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your logical service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)