Chapter 11

The Parousia and the Rapture of the Church

 

'The "parousia" (lit. being alongside) of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His Saints'

(1 Thessalonians 3:13)

The vision of Revelation 12 has shown us the resurrection of Christ being gloriously completed by the catching up of the Church 'which is His body,' before the commencement of the '1,260 days' and three-and-a-half 'times' which the elect of Israel will be called to pass through on the earth. When this union of Christ the Head with the members of His Body has been consummated by the raising of 'the dead in Christ' and the translation of the living to Heaven, then - and not until then - can the events described in the visions of John, from Revelation chs. 4 to 19, have their fulfillment. In fact, when John is called to 'Come up hither' at the opening of chapter 4, he then sees the Church - symbolised by the four 'living ones' and 'elders' - around the Throne, before any of the seals of the Book of Judgment are opened.

If it is a fact that this most stupendous ending of the Church's earthly history is lying just ahead of us now, surely we should ask whether the Bible holds any clear information as to the order of events when it actually takes place. It certainly does, for when Paul was given 'the word of the Lord' concerning the Translation of the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16, he was shown that a positive space of time would elapse between the descent of our Lord, when He comes 'from heaven with a shout ... and with the trump of God' (at which moment 'the dead in Christ' would 'rise first') and the event which was to follow this, described in verse 17. Correctly translated, this should read 'afterward we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.'

How long is it between 'first' and 'afterward'? Most have said, "No time at all - it is all to be accomplished 'in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump' " (1 Corinthians 15: 52). No wonder there is confusion in the minds of the saints, if this is the way they handle the Holy Scriptures!

How can the first and last trumpets be blown 'in the twinkling of an eye.' when the Word of the Lord is clear that, when the first has been sounded, 'the last' is 'afterwards'? Language could not possibly be plainer. So we have to face the fact that for a brief while, however short, our wonderful Saviour and Lord is to be here on earth 'alongside' of us who are alive, 'with all His saints', in the same way as He was with His disciples in those forty days after His resurrection.

After it has been taught for nearly a century that Christ might come 'at any moment', and we at the same instant be removed from earth to the heavens, it is good to pause and let the truth of God soak in.

We have to see this coming event in its true perspective. It is, indeed, the second part of the Resurrection of Christ. The first part was perfectly fulfilled when He, the head of the Church, was raised up on 'the first (day) of the weeks'(Matthew 28:1) (see Note 3) - that is, at the opening of the seven weeks to Pentecost. His first act, on rising from the dead, it would appear, was to wrap up 'the napkin, that was about His head,' and put it aside 'in a place by itself' (John 20:7), but to leave the linen clothes which had enwrapped His body, lying as they were. He had passed from them, without disturbing them, because this whole action was to signify that He, 'the Head', had finished with death, while the turn of the Church 'which is His body', would come later!

The seven 'weeks' to Pentecost were, of course, the harvest season of the year. They began with the barley harvest and ended with the wheat harvest. The whole 'harvest' was an expression of resurrection.

 

'Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the Firstfruits of them that slept'

(1 Corinthians 15: 20)

We must now examine this great annual 'type' of the Resurrection of Christ which is pictured for us in Leviticus 23: 9-21 for, if we fail to grasp its meaning for the Church now, at the climax of the age, we shall find ourselves deprived of a vital part of 'the armour of light' (Romans 13:12) just at the time when it is most urgently needed.

Those who have read these verses with understanding have seen that the Harvest has special reference to the Church, which is the Body of Christ - springing forth, as it were, from that 'one corn of wheat' which fell into the ground and died (John 12:24) - and that the seven weeks begin with 'a sheaf of the firstfruits' and end with 'the bread of the firstfruits' being 'waved', that is, ascending to the Lord.

Nothing is more wonderful than to see the way Jesus fulfilled the beginning of this typical picture of the Harvest. He had, indeed, died and fallen into the ground but, in resurrection, He 'bore much fruit,' for we read in Matthew 27:52-53 that 'many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.' Had He not promised, at the graveside of Lazarus, that 'he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live'?(John 11:25) And had not many, who had believed in Him in the years of His ministry, already passed on and predeceased Him? Were these to remain in their graves when He, the Prince of Life, had conquered death and already 'led captivity captive' (Ephesians 4:8)? No, a thousand times, No! For the Harvest meant that all that had sprung from that one Corn of Wheat must be raised up together - none could continue to remain in death.

What would have been more unnatural than if these, who had recently died, should keep to themselves the glorious fact that He and they had been loosed into everlasting life! Of course, they went and manifested themselves to their bereaved friends and relatives still gathered in the holy city!

And so we come to the early morning of 'the first (day) of the weeks' (see Note 3) and the account of it, as given in John 20.

As soon as Mary Magdalene recognised the Lord, and heard Him call her name, she naturally wanted to do what the other women did, an hour or two later, when 'they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him' (Matthew 28:9), but this Jesus could not allow, and He tells her why it was impossible at that hour. He said, 'Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father ...'(John 20:17).

This was the reason. He, and those raised up at the time of His own resurrection, were to constitute the Sheaf of the Firstfruits, which must now be presented to His God. We read in Leviticus 23: 14 that it was expressly forbidden for anyone to touch the new harvest until this first sheaf had been offered to the Lord. This was to be in the morning, as Deuteronomy 16:9 clearly implies, and without a doubt Jesus ascended up to His Father at the hour of the morning sacrifice. This, to the Jews, was the 'third hour of the day' - that is, from 8 to 9 a m.

 

The Seven Weeks of Harvest

See Chart 8.

It was from this hour that the 49 days to Pentecost began to run, according to the divine instruction in Deuteronomy 16:9 : 'Begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn,' and we know that it was at this hour (the 'third hour') that 'the day of Pentecost' was marked at its opening by the descent of the Holy Ghost in Acts 2:1-15.

So Jesus ascended to His Father, 'the Firstfruits' (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) of a mighty Harvest that is even yet to be completed by the quickening of myriads of souls whom the Holy Ghost is silently gathering out from the teeming multitudes of the earth. 'The Harvest' had begun, a resurrection scene from which death had for the moment been banished, and no doubt, sickness also. But He Who was 'the resurrection and the life' (John 11:25) must needs be present with His own throughout this glorious season after His Resurrection, and so He soon returned, in time to greet the women who came after Mary Magdalene, as they ran 'with fear and great joy' to carry the news to His disciples. These He did not forbid to touch Him (Matthew 28:8-9), for 'the weeks' of Harvest had begun.

For nearly six weeks Jesus continued in the earth sphere, and at stated times He was seen by His disciples - on one occasion, by 'above five hundred brethren at once', many of whom were, no doubt, known to the apostle Paul, who recorded these appearances in 1 Corinthians 15: 5-8.

But Jesus broke the type, that is, after 'forty days' (Acts 1:3) He ascended back to Heaven, leaving His disciples with the promise (through the 'two men' who stood by) that He would return 'in like manner' as they had seen Him depart (Acts 1:10-11).

'In like manner' certainly could not mean 'with power and great glory' - nor could it mean 'as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west,' as Matthew describes the ultimate coming of Christ to reign, 'after the tribulation of those days,' in chapter 24: 27-30.

'In like manner' means as the Man they knew - the One Who had 'led them out, as far as to Bethany,' and Who had 'lifted up His hands, and blessed them' before He ascended to heaven (Luke 24:50).

It was at this moment that the 'type' of the harvest was broken. Why can we say this so positively? Because the coming Day of Pentecost then was not the end, but only the beginning of the great worldwide harvest of His death and resurrection.

For since the departure of the Head in AD 33, death and disintegration have stamped this long era, now so soon to close. For this reason the 'type' has been in abeyance while Jesus has been absent from this earth. When will it be completed? That is the question each and all now have to face.

At the opening of this Chapter we quoted 1 Thessalonians 3:13, and Paul's words: 'the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.' This word 'parousia' simply means 'being present' or 'being alongside'. Is it really true that Jesus and 'all His saints' who have been in the graves for the past nineteen hundred years are to be 'alongside' of us in their immortal bodies, while we are still in our mortal flesh, prior to our translation to His 'Father's House' (John 14:2)?

Well, the implication is clear: if ever the 'type' of the resurrection harvest is to be fulfilled, nine more days must elapse, when the conditions of those first forty days at the beginning are restored. That is, no death in the Church, the graves emptied, and 'we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord' (1 Thessalonians 4:15) rejoicing worldwide in the knowledge that He is in our midst, once again in person, and has come alongside to comfort every heart and prepare, according to His promise, to 'receive us unto Himself' (John 14:3).

And how shall we know that 'the Lord Himself' has actually descended, and that the dead have been 'raised incorruptible'? Because when He comes it will be 'with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God' (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

We might just as soon speak of 'a secret Exodus' - with our eyes on the Exodus from Egypt - as of 'a secret Rapture' of the Church, with the saints imagining that at any odd moment of the day or night they might be called into the Presence of the Lord in Heaven!

We will now look further at this most stupendous impending event.

 

'Two Trumpets of Silver'

(Numbers 10)

What then is the purpose of the two trumpets - 'the trump of God' and 'the last trump'? How wonderful it is to see this expressed in Numbers 10: 2, where the first is 'for the calling of the assembly,' and the other is 'for the journeying of the camps.' First, the dead in Christ are, like Lazarus, to be 'called' from their graves (the only difference being that the dead are to be 'raised incorruptible'). Then, after the little space while Jesus is with us on the earth, 'at the last trump ... we shall be changed,' so as to journey with them into the heavens, 'and so shall we ever be with the Lord.' Just as the journeying of Israel was to end in Canaan, so will the journeying of the Church ('the Israel of God') end when it is carried up into the heavenly Canaan, at the sounding of 'the last trump' of 1 Corinthians 15:52.

And as for 'silver', this metal in the Bible signifies 'redemption' (see Note 4), and it is 'the redemption of our body' for which we wait (see Romans 8:22-23).

It is of great importance to see that 'the trumpet' of Jubilee (that is, the trumpet of Redemption) was sounded at the first 'Pentecost' - on the fiftieth day after the Exodus Passover, when the Lord Himself descended from Heaven at Sinai. (The whole account in Exodus 19 should be carefully considered). We read in verses 19, 20 and 18:

'When the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder ... the Lord came down upon mount Sinai,' and that 'the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke ... ascended as the smoke of a (smelting) furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.'

Whatever 'trumpet' was this that sounded the advent of the Lord of all the earth? It can have been nothing less than 'the trump of God', and in verse 13 it is called in the Hebrew, the 'jubilee trumpet'.

What actually was the Exodus of Israel out of the land of Egypt? It was God celebrating the fiftieth jubilee from the fall of Adam.

The year of Jubilee, as we know, was 'the fiftieth year' - the great year of release - when, as Leviticus 25: 10 has it, 'Ye shall return every man unto his possession. ' Over four hundred years earlier God had promised Abram (in Genesis 15:13-14) that this 'return' would take place, and the Lord was keeping His promise. His descent on to Mount Sinai was on the 50th day after the 50th Jubilee, as a right understanding of the Calendar at the Exodus will reveal. No wonder the 'trumpet of the Jubilee' sounded long, and waxed louder and louder as God drew nigh to His redeemed people!

We should mention right now that thirty Jubilees later, that is, after the Exodus from Egypt, God celebrated the Eightieth Jubilee by raising up His Son Jesus from the dead. (The amazing way in which God ordered the calendar, so that this could be perfectly fulfilled in AD 33 we cannot go into yet, but it stands to reason that the great '80th' Jubilee in the Redemption Calendar should be celebrated in this way, by the Resurrection of Christ). And, as all know, on the fiftieth day after our Lord's Resurrection - on the Day of Pentecost - God again descended in fire in the person of the Holy Ghost, for we read in Acts 2: 3, 'there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it rested upon each of them.'

What then of the hundred and twentieth jubilee - that which has brought in what Jesus called 'the consummation of the age' (see Note 2) from June 12th 1933, when the 6,000 years ended?

As we know, from the very day when the Lord God fulfilled His threat to 'cut off' the Gentile nations, as we have already shown, there has been a standstill, or parenthesis, in the Chronology of Redemption. God has certainly not ceased to 'forgive' repentant individuals, Jews or Gentiles, and will do so to the end - but His official relationship with the nations of Christendom, as such, has terminated and history since 1933, when Hitler rose to power, has borne strong witness to that fact, as we shall see in later pages.

The day when the Redemption Chronology is taken up again will come when God officially turns to Israel - no doubt at the time when the Church of God is removed by translation, and 'caught up' into the heavens (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

 

Elijah Leaves Elisha

We may see a remarkable illustration of this in 2 Kings 2, when Elijah is taken up by a whirlwind into Heaven, accompanied by the appearance of a 'chariot of fire and horses of fire.' He leaves Elisha to continue his witness upon earth with 'a double portion of his spirit.' In the same way, when the Church of God is called from these scenes, the 'sealed' remnant of believing Jews, referred to in Revelation 7: 4 and 12: 6, will take up their testimony in this world. They will require 'a double portion' of the Spirit of Christ, because their witness will not only be to their own nation of Israel, but also to that innumerable multitude of Gentiles who are yet to be saved out of 'the great tribulation' and brought into Christ's earthly Kingdom at His return to reign (Revelation 7: 9-14).

We have pointed out already that the former seven years - AD 26 to 33 - were lost to Israel when they rejected their Messiah, and so, for them, the 80th Jubilee was lost. However, now that 'the times of the Gentiles' (Luke 21:24) are over, Israel must pass through another seven years, as outlined in the Book of Revelation. At the end of these, when their Messiah returns as 'King of Kings, and Lord of Lords' (Revelation 19:16), the year of Jubilee will at last come in for them. Then, just as the resurrection of Jesus crowned the former seven years which Israel forfeited, these coming seven years will culminate with what Revelation 20:5-6 calls 'the first resurrection.' This will embrace, no doubt, all the redeemed of Old Testament times, as well as all those whose lives are laid down in what is described as 'the time of Jacob's trouble' (Jeremiah 30:7) or 'great tribulation.'

Having given this brief survey of the Harvest of our age, we must now return to look more closely into the long-lost secret of time during the death of Jesus, as it is concealed in the Gospel records. We shall not forget that 'it is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter' (Proverbs 25:2).
Chapter 10
Chapter 12

 

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