|His Substitutionary Death|
|His Resurrection and Ascension|
|His Priestly Ministry|
|His Coming for His Saints|
|His Coming with His Saints|
Being at the same time perfectly human and perfectly divine, the Lord Jesus Christ was both like and unlike [other men]. The Scripture is clear regarding His likeness to men (John 1:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:14-17), presenting Him as a man among men, who was born, who lived, who suffered, and who died. The Scriptures are equally clear as to His unlikeness to men; not only in the sinless character of His human life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection and ascension, but in the fact of His eternal pre-existence.
On the human side he had a beginning; He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of a virgin. On the divine side He had no beginning; He was from all eternity. In Isaiah 9:6, we read: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." The distinction is obvious between the child which was born and the Son which was given. In like manner, it is stated in Galatians 4:4, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law." He who was the eternal Son was, in the fullness of time, "made [the offspring] of a woman."
The fact of the pre-existence of the Son of God is established by two distinct lines of revelation — (1) as directly stated, and (2) as implied:
I. As Directly Stated
The pre-existence of Christ is asserted in an extensive body of Scripture which is of great importance since it enters vitally into the revelation of the fact of His Deity. By these Scriptures the Son of God is seen to be in His infinite Person and eternal existence coequal with the other Persons of the Godhead, and this fact is unaffected by His incarnation. The Scriptures state: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1, 2); "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah. 5:2; note also, Isa. 7:13, 14; 9:6, 7); "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58; note also, Exod. 3:14; Isa. 43:13); "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5). The following passages are of equal import: John 13:3; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15-19; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 13:8.
II. As Implied
The Word of God constantly and consistently implies the pre-existence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Among the obvious proofs of this fact several may be noted:
1. The works of creation are ascribed to Christ (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:10). He therefore antedates all creation.
2. The Angel of Jehovah whose appearance is often recorded in the Old Testament is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Though He appears at times as an angel or even as a man, He bears the unmistakable marks of Deity, He appeared to Hagar (Gen. 16:7), to Abraham (Gen. 18:1; 22:11, 12; note John 8:58), to Jacob (Gen. 48:15, 16; note also, Gen. 31:11-13; 32:24-32), to Moses (Exod. 3:2, 14), to Joshua (Josh. 5:13, 14), and to Manoah (Judg. 13:19-22). He it is who fights for, and defends, His own (2 Kings 19:35; Zech. 14:1-4; 1 Chron. 21:15, 16; Psa. 34:7).
3. The titles of the Lord Jesus Christ indicate His eternal Being. He is precisely what His names imply. He is "The Son of God," "The Only Begotten Son," "The First and the Last," "The Alpha and Omega," "The Lord," "Lord of All," "Lord of Glory," "The Christ," "Wonderful," "Counsellor," "The Mighty God," "The Father of Eternity," "God," "God with us," "Our Great God," and "God Blessed Forever."
These titles relate Him to the Old Testament revelation of Jehovah-God (comp. Matt. 1:23 with Isa. 7:14; Matt. 4:7 with Deut. 6:16; Mark 5:19 with Psa. 66:16; and Psa. 110:1 with Matt. 22:42-45).
Again, the New Testament names of the Son of God are associated with titles of the Father and the Spirit as being equal with them (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 13:14; John 14:1; 17:3; Eph. 5:5; Rev. 20:6; 22:3), and He is explicitly called God (Rom. 9:5; John 1:1; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8).
4. The pre-existence of the Son of God is implied in the fact that He has the attributes of God — Life (John 1:4), Self-existence (John 5:26), Immutability (Heb. 13:8), Truth (John 14:6), Love (1 John 3:16), Holiness (Heb. 7:26), Eternity (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:11), Omnipresence (Matt. 28:20), Omniscience (1 Cor. 4:5; Col. 2:3), and Omnipotence (Matt. 28:18; Rev. 1:8).
5. In like manner the pre-existence of Christ is implied in the fact that He is worshiped as God (John 20:28; Acts 7:59; Heb. 1:6). Therefore it follows that since the Lord Jesus Christ is God, He is from everlasting to everlasting.
This chapter, which of necessity has emphasized the Deity of Christ, should be closely connected with the following chapter, which emphasizes the humanity of Christ through the incarnation.
John states (John 1:1) that Christ who was one with God and was God from all eternity, became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14). Paul likewise states that Christ, who was in the form of God, took upon Him the likeness of men (Phil. 2:6, 7); and "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16); and He who was the effulgence of God's glory and the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3), took upon Himself the seed of Abraham and was in all things made like unto His brethren (Heb. 2:16, 17). Luke, in greater detail, presents the historical fact of His incarnation, both as to the conception and birth (Luke 1:26-38).
When considering the result of the incarnation, two important truths should be recognized: (1) Christ became at the same time and in the absolute sense very God and very man, and (2) in becoming flesh, He, though laying aside His glory, in no sense laid aside His Deity.
The Bible presents many contrasts, but none more striking than that one Person should be at the same time very God and very man. Illustrations from the Scriptures of these contrasts are many: He was weary, yet He called the weary to Himself for rest. He was hungry, yet He was "the bread of life." He was thirsty, yet He was "the water of life." He was in an agony, yet He healed all manner of disease and soothed every pain. He "grew, and waxed strong in spirit," yet He was from all eternity. He was tempted, yet He, as God, could not be tempted. He became self-limited in knowledge, yet He was the wisdom of God. He said (with reference to His humiliation, being made for a little time lower than the angels), "My Father is greater than I," yet He also said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," and, "I and my Father are one." He prayed, yet He answered prayer. He wept at the tomb, yet He called the dead to arise. He asked, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" yet He "needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man." He said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" yet it was the very God to whom He cried who was at that moment "in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." He died, yet He is eternal life. He was God's ideal man, and man's ideal God.
From this it may be seen that the Lord Jesus Christ sometimes functioned His earth-life within the sphere of that which was perfectly human and sometimes within the sphere of that which was perfectly divine. His divine Being was never limited in any degree by the fact of His humanity, nor did He minister to His human need from His divine resources. He could turn stones into bread to feed His human hunger, but this He never did.
The student should observe (1) the fact of Christ's humanity, and (2) the Biblical reasons for His incarnation.
I. The Fact of Christ's Humanity
1. The humanity of Christ was purposed from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). The significance of the Lamb-type is in the sacrificial, blood-shedding, physical body.
2. Every type and prophecy of the Old Testament concerning Christ was an anticipation of the incarnate Son of God.3. The fact of the humanity of Christ is seen in His annunciation and birth (Luke 1:31-35).
4. His life here on earth revealed His humanity, (1) by His human names: "The Son of man," "The man Christ Jesus," "Jesus," "The Son of David," and the like. (2) By His human parentage: He is mentioned as "the fruit of the loins," "her firstborn," "of this man's seed," "seed of David," "seed of Abraham," "made of a woman," "sprang from Judah." (3) By the fact that He possessed a human body, soul, and spirit (1 John 4:2, 9; Matt. 26:38; John 13:21). And (4) by His self-imposed human limitations.
5. The humanity of Christ is seen in His death and resurrection. It was a human body that suffered death on the cross and it was the same body which came forth from the tomb in resurrection glory.
6. The fact of the humanity of Christ is seen in that He ascended to Heaven and is now, in His human glorified body, ministering for His own.
7. When He comes again it will be the "same Jesus" coming as He went in the same body, though glorified, in which He became incarnate.
II. The Biblical Reasons for the Incarnation
1. He came to reveal God to men (John 1:18; 14:9; Matt. 11:27; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 3:16). By the incarnation, the incomprehensible God is translated into terms of human understanding.
2. He came to reveal man. He is God's ideal man and as such is an example to believers (1 Pet. 2:21); but He is never an example to the unsaved since God is not now seeking to reform the unsaved, but rather to save them.
3. He came to provide a sacrifice for sin. For this reason He is seen thanking God for His human body and this in relation to true sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:1-10).
4. He came in the flesh that He might destroy the works of the Devil (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8; Col. 2:13-15; John 12:31; 16:11).
5. He came into the world that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God (Heb. 2:16, 17; 8:1; 9:11, 12; 9:24).
6. He came in the flesh that He might fulfill the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:16; Luke 1:31-33; Rom. 15:8; Acts 2:30, 31, 36). In His glorified human body He will appear and reign as "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords," and will sit on the throne of His father David.
7. As incarnate, He becomes Head over all things to the Church, which is the New Creation, the new humanity.
In the incarnation, the Son of God took upon Himself not only a human body, but also a human soul and spirit. Thus becoming both the material and immaterial sides of human existence, He became entire man, and so closely and permanently related to the human family that He is rightly called "The Last Adam," and "the body of his glory" (Phil. 3:21) is now an abiding fact.
He who is the eternal Son, Jehovah-God, was also the Son of Mary, the Boy of Nazareth, the Teacher and Healer of Judea, the Guest at Bethany, the Lamb of Calvary. He will yet be the King of Glory, as He is now the Saviour of men, the High Priest, the Coming Bridegroom and Lord.
God the Son: His Substitutionary Death
Whether in Bible doctrine or in common speech, the word substitution means the replacement of one person or thing for another. Though not a Bible word, its specific meaning when related to the Scriptures is concerning the work of Christ on the cross, and by it is indicated the fact that those unmeasured, righteous judgments of God against the sinner because of his sin were borne by Christ substituting in the sinner's room and stead. The result of this substitution is itself as simple and definite as the transaction — the Saviour has already borne the divine judgments against the sinner to the full satisfaction of God. There is therefore nothing left for the sinner to do or for him to persuade God to do; but he is asked to believe this good news, relating it to his own sin, and thereby claim his personal Saviour.
The word substitution fails to represent all that is accomplished in the death of Christ. In fact there is no all-inclusive term. By popular usage, the word atonement has been pressed into this service; but the word atonement:, which does not once appear in the original text of the New Testament, means, as used in the Old Testament, only to cover sin. However, the word atonement does clearly indicate the divine method of dealing with sin before the cross. In the Old Testament, while requiring no more than a symbolic animal sacrifice for the remission of sins (Lit. toleration, Rom. 3:25), and winking at sin (Lit. to overlook and not punish, Acts 17:30), God was acting in perfect righteousness since He was awaiting the coming of His own Lamb who would in no way pass over or cover sin, but who would take it away for ever (John 1:29).
In attempting to consider the full value of the death of Christ we should distinguish:
1. That the death of Christ assures us of the love of God toward the sinner (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 3:16; 4:9); added to this, there is, naturally, a reflex influence or moral appeal through this truth upon the life of the one who really receives it (2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Pet. 2:21-24); but this appeal concerning the manner of daily life is never addressed to the unsaved.
2. The death of Christ is said to be a redemption or ransom paid to the holy demands of God for the sinner and to free the sinner from just condemnation. It is significant that the one discriminating word for, meaning "instead of," or "as a price paid for," is used in every passage wherein this aspect of truth appears (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6).
In like manner, the death of Christ was a necessary penalty which He bore for the sinner (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Heb. 9:28).
So, also, the death of Christ was an offering for sin, not as the animal offerings of the Old Testament which could only cover sin in the sense of delaying the time of righteous judgment; but as taking it to Himself, bearing it, and bearing it away forever (John 1:29; Isa. 53:7-12; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:12, 22, 26; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19).
3. The death of Christ is represented on His part as an act of obedience to the law which sinners have broken; which act is acceptable to God in their stead (Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:8; Rom. 5:19; 10:4).
4. The death of Christ was a priestly mediation by which the world was reconciled unto God. Reconciliation results when enmity is removed, and, while it is never implied that the world's enmity toward God is removed, it is declared that the judicial state of the world is so altered before God by the death of Christ that He is said to have reconciled the world unto Himself. So complete and far-reaching is this provision that it is added in the Scriptures that He is not now imputing their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Eph. 2:16; Col. 2:20).
5. The death of Christ removed all moral hindrances in the mind of God to the saving of sinners. By that death God is propitiated and thus declared to be righteous when He, (1) anticipating the value of the sacrifice of His Son, passes over the sins of His people who lived before the cross (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15, R.V.), and (2) to be just at the present time when He justifies those who do no more than believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). This aspect of the death of Christ is to be distinguished from all others because of its effect upon God. Since, in that death, His infinite love and power are released from restraint by the accomplishment of every judgment which His righteousness could demand against the sinner, God is more advantaged by the death of Christ than all the world combined.
6. Christ, in His death, became the Substitute bearing the penalty belonging to the sinner (Lev. 16:21; Luke 22:37; Isa. 53:6; John 10:11; Rom. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 3:18; Matt. 20:28). This fact is the ground of assurance for all who would come unto God for salvation. It presents something for every individual to believe concerning his own relation to God on the question of his own sin. A general belief that Christ died for the whole world is not sufficient; a personal conviction that one's own sin has been perfectly borne by Christ the Substitute is required — a belief which results in a sense of relief, joy, and appreciation (Rom. 15:13; Heb. 9:14; 10:2). Salvation is a mighty work of God which is wrought instantly for the one who believes on Christ.
7. The death of Christ is often misinterpreted. Every Christian will do well to understand thoroughly the fallacy of those misstatements which are so general today:
a. It is claimed that the doctrine of substitution is immoral on the ground that God could not in righteousness lay the sins of the guilty on an innocent victim. This statement might be considered if it could be proved that Christ was an unwilling victim; but the Scriptures present Him as being in fullest sympathy with His Father's will and actuated by the same infinite love (Heb. 10:7; John 13:1). Likewise, in the inscrutable mystery of the Godhead, it was God Himself who was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). So far from the death of Christ being an immoral imposition, it was God Himself, the righteous Judge in infinite love and sacrifice, bearing the full penalty that His own holiness required of the sinner.
b. It is claimed that Christ died as a martyr and that the value of His death is seen in the example He presented of courage and loyalty to His convictions even unto death. The sufficient answer to this error is that, since He was God's provided Lamb, no man took His life from Him (John 10:18; Psa. 22:15; Acts 2:23).
c. It is claimed that Christ died to create a moral effect which is that, since the cross displays the divine estimate of sin, men who consider the cross will be constrained to turn from lives of sin. This theory, which has no foundation in the Scriptures, assumes that God is now seeking the reformation of men; while, in reality, the cross is the ground of regeneration.
I. The Resurrection
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). However, in John 5:25-29, wherein the universal resurrection is also mentioned, a sharp contrast is drawn between the resurrection which is unto life, and that which is unto condemnation (note Acts 24:15; Dan. 12:2). The order between these two aspects of resurrection and the resurrection of Christ is set forth as a procession (1 Cor. 15:20-24): (1) Christ in His resurrection is said to precede all others and to be the "firstfruits." None other has been raised as He was raised (1 Tim. 6:16; 2 Tim. 1:10). (2) "They that are Christ's at his coming." This group, it should be observed, is strictly limited to, and all-inclusive of, those who are Christ's, and in point of time their resurrection follows that of Christ by at least the present period which has already continued two thousand years. (3) "Then cometh the end," meaning the last resurrection in the order of procession, and is the resurrection unto condemnation which includes all the remainder of the human race.
The time of the resurrection is declared to be "when he [Christ] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he [Christ] shall have put down all rule and all authority and power." This kingdom reign of Christ, it is stated, will be for a period of one thousand years (Rev. 20:4, 6), and, in accordance with the above passages, will be followed by the resurrection of the dead, both small and great, who shall then be judged at the Great White Throne and there condemned for ever (Rev. 20:11-15). As added evidence that there will be a partial resurrection at the coming of Christ, it is stated that "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thess. 4:16, 17), and Paul testified that he desired to attain to that particular resurrection which is out from among the dead (Phil. 3:11).
From the Scriptures which are cited above, it is seen that, in spite of the almost universal impression to the contrary, there is no so-called "general resurrection" including all the dead to be raised at one time.
The resurrection of Christ is unique. Others who were actually dead have been restored to life (2 Kings 4:32-35; 13:21; Matt. 9:25; Luke 7:12-15; John 11:43, 44; Acts 9:36-41); but all such were only returned to their former existence and were thus subject again to the first death. The resurrection of Christ was into a new sphere as the "last Adam," the Head of a new race or a new species. Christ came forth with the new, deathless, glorified body which is the pattern of that body which shall be given to every believer when Christ comes again (Phil. 3:20, 21). Though the soul and spirit are endless in their existence, it is only the resurrection body which is said to be immortal. Therefore, since Christ alone has received the resurrection body, it is written of Him that He only hath immortality, dwelling in light (1 Tim. 6:16).
The saints before the cross believed in the resurrection (Gen. 22:5; Psa. 16:9, 10; 17:15; Isa. 25:8; 26:19; Hos. 13:14), though the word does not appear in the Old Testament. We have also the testimony of Job (Job 14:14, 15; 19:25-27), and of Martha who voiced the conviction of the people of her day (John 11:24). So, also, the resurrection is mentioned as one of the major features of Judaism (Heb. 6:1, 2). The Old Testament revelation was incomplete, for it was Christ who "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10).
Since the import of the resurrection transcends all dispensational bounds and is eternal in its issues, it is to be classed as one of the seven greatest divine undertakings — (1) the creation of the angelic hosts (Col. 1:16); (2) the creation of the material universe including the first Adam; (3) the incarnation; (4) the death of Christ; (5) the resurrection; (6) the second coming of Christ; and (7) the final bringing in of the new heavens and the new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1; Isa. 66:22). Of these great undertakings, two are closely related to the resurrection of Christ:
First. — His resurrection is related to His death as being the consummation of all that was undertaken and accomplished by the cross both in Heaven and on earth. He "was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).
Second. — His resurrection is related to the first creation, which was ruined by sin, only to the extent that He is the Head of a New Creation which came into being when He arose from the dead and which partakes of His infinite perfection. The New Creation is composed of all those who have believed and being regenerated are united to Christ by the baptism with the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 6:17; Gal. 3:26), and are, therefore, accepted before God as He is accepted (Eph. 1:6), and destined to share His infinite glory (Col. 3:4; John 17:24). As the Sabbath was instituted to commemorate the accomplishment of the first creation (Gen. 2:1-3; Exod. 16:29, 30; Neh. 9:13, 14), so the observance of the first day of the week commemorates the accomplishment of the New Creation. There is no commandment to observe, or any record of observance, of the seventh day after Christ rose from the dead (note Hos. 2:11; Col. 2:16).
There is but one general reason revealed for the death of Christ and that reason is because of sin; but there are at least seven reasons given for His resurrection:
(1) He arose because of what He is — being the Eternal Son, it is not possible for Him to be holden of death (Acts 2:24); (2) He arose because of who He is — being the Son of David, He must yet sit upon David's throne (2 Sam. 7:16; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 2:25-31; Rom. 1:3, 4); (3) He arose to be Head over all things to the Church which is His body (Eph. 1:22, 23); (4) He arose to be the giver of resurrection life (John 12:24); (5) He arose to impart His resurrection power (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 6:4; Eph. 1:19, 20); (6) He arose that sinners might be justified (Rom. 4:25); and (7) He arose that He might appear in Heaven as the pattern, or first-fruits, of all who, being saved and conformed to Him, will yet appear with Him in glory (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Phil. 3:20, 21).
II. The Ascension
The Scriptures indicate two ascensions of Christ into Heaven:
First. — On the day of His resurrection, Christ ascended into Heaven as the "Wave Sheaf." In fulfilling this Old Testament type and the eternal purpose of God, it was necessary that He should appear in Heaven as the earnest of a mighty harvest of souls whom He had redeemed and who, in the divine purpose, came out of that tomb with Him to share His eternal glory. So, also, He, having accomplished the sacrifice for sin, must present His own blood in Heaven (Lev. 16:1-34; Heb. 9:16-28). Not having yet ascended, He said to Mary, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). That He ascended on that same day is evident; for He said unto them at evening, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see" (Luke 24:39). He returned to earth from Heaven to accomplish His post-resurrection ministry.
Second. — After forty days He ascended to Heaven and was seated on His Father's throne, and there took up His present heavenly ministry as Head over all things to the Church: (1) As the bestower of gifts (Eph. 4:8-11), (2) as Intercessor (Heb. 7:25), and (3) as Advocate (1 John 2:1, 2).
As High Priest over the true tabernacle on high, the Lord Jesus Christ has entered into Heaven itself there to minister as Priest in behalf of those who are His own in the world (Heb. 8:1, 2). The fact that He, when ascending, was received of His Father in Heaven is evidence that His earth-ministry was accepted. The fact that He sat down indicated that His work for the world was completed. The fact that He sat down on His Father's throne and not on His own throne reveals the truth, so constantly and consistently taught in the Scriptures, that He did not set up a kingdom on the earth at His first advent into the world; but that He is now "expecting" until the time when that kingdom shall come in the earth and the divine will shall be done on earth as it is done in Heaven. "The kingdoms of this world" are yet to become "the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15), and the kingly Son will yet ask of His Father and He will give Him the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Psa. 2:8). However, Scripture clearly indicates that He is not now establishing that kingdom rule in the earth (Matt. 25:31-46), but that He is rather calling out from both Jews and Gentiles a heavenly people who are related to Him as His Body and Bride. After the present purpose is accomplished He will return and "set up the tabernacle of David which is fallen down" (Acts 15:13-18). Though He is a King-Priest according to the Melchisedec type (Heb. 5:10; 7:1), He is now serving as Priest and not as King. He who is coming again and will then be King of kings, is now ascended to be "head over all things to the church which is his body" (Eph. 1:22, 23). His present priestly ministry is threefold.
I. He is the Bestower of Spiritual Gifts
According to the New Testament, a gift is a divine enablement wrought in and through the believer by the Spirit who indwells him. It is the Spirit working to accomplish certain divine purposes and using the one whom He indwells to that end. It is in no sense a human undertaking aided by the Spirit.
Though certain general gifts are mentioned in the Scriptures (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11), the possible variety is innumerable since no two lives are lived under exactly the same conditions. However, to each believer some gift is given; but the blessing and power of the gift will be experienced only when the life is wholly yielded to God. (In Romans 12, the truth of verses 1 and 2 precedes that of verses 6 to 8.) There will be little need of exhortation for God-honoring service to the one who is filled with the Spirit; for the Spirit will be working in that one both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
In like manner, certain men who are called his "gifts unto men" are provided and locally placed in their service by the ascended Christ (Eph. 4:7-11). The Lord did not leave this work to the uncertain and insufficient judgment of men (1 Cor. 12:11, 18).
II. The Ascended Christ as Priest Ever Lives to Make Intercession for His Own
This ministry began before He left the earth (John 17:1-26), is for the saved rather than for the unsaved (John 17:9), and will be continued in Heaven so long as His own are in the world. As Intercessor, His work has to do with the weakness, the helplessness, and the immaturity of the saints who are on the earth — things concerning which they are in no way guilty. He who knows the limitations of His own, and the power and strategy of the foe with whom they have to contend, is unto them as the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. His care of Peter is an illustration of this truth (Luke 22:31, 32).
The priestly intercession of Christ is not only effectual, but is unending. The priests of old failed because of death; but Christ, because He ever liveth, hath an unchanging priesthood. "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost [without end] that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25). David recognized the same divine shepherding care and its guaranty of eternal safety (Psa. 23:1).
III. Christ Now Appears for His Own in the Presence of God
The child of God is often guilty of actual sin which would separate him from God were it not for his Advocate and what He wrought in His death. The effect of the Christian's sin upon himself is that he loses his fellowship with God, his joy, his peace, and his power. On the other hand, these experiences are restored in infinite grace on the sole ground that he confess his sin (1 John 1:9); but it is more important to consider the Christian's sin in relation to the holy character of God.
Through the present priestly advocacy of Christ in Heaven there is absolute safety and security for the Father's child even while he is sinning. An advocate is one who espouses and pleads the cause of another in the open courts. As Advocate, Christ is now appearing in Heaven for His own (Heb. 9:24) when they sin (1 John 2:1). His pleading is said to be with the Father, and Satan is there also ceasing not to accuse the brethren night and day before God (Rev. 12:10). To the Christian, the sin may seem insignificant; but a holy God can never treat it lightly. It may be a secret sin on earth; but it is open scandal in Heaven. In marvelous grace and without solicitation from men, the Advocate pleads the cause of the guilty child of God. What the Advocate does in thus securing the safety of the believer is so in accordance with infinite justice that He is mentioned in this connection as "Jesus Christ the righteous." He pleads His own efficacious blood and the Father is free to preserve His child against every accusation from Satan or men and from the very judgments which sin would otherwise impose, since Christ through His death became the propitiation for our (Christians') sins (1 John 2:2).
The truth concerning the priestly ministry of Christ in Heaven does not make it easy for the Christian to sin. On the contrary, these very things are written that we be not sinning (1 John 2:1); for no one can sin carelessly who considers the necessary pleading which his sin imposes upon the Advocate.
The priestly ministries of Christ as Intercessor and as Advocate are unto the eternal security of those who are saved (Rom. 8:34).
The doctrine chosen for this chapter is one of the most important themes of unfulfilled prophecy. The student should be reminded that prophecy is God's pre-written history and is therefore as credible as other parts of the Scriptures. Almost one-fourth of the Bible was in the form of prediction when it was written. Much has been fulfilled, and in every case its fulfillment has been the most literal realization of all that was prophesied. As pre-announced many centuries before the birth of Christ, He, when He came, was of the tribe of Judah, a son of Abraham, a son of David, born of a virgin in Bethlehem. In like manner, the explicit details of His death foretold in Psalm 22, a thousand years before, were precisely fulfilled.
The Word of God also presents much prophecy which at the present time is unfulfilled and it is reasonable as well as honoring to God to believe that it will be fulfilled in the same faithfulness which has characterized all His works to the present hour.
The fact that Christ is to return to this earth as He went — "this same Jesus," in His resurrection body, and on the clouds of heaven (Acts 1:11) — is so clearly and extensively taught in the prophetic Scriptures that this truth has been included in all the great creeds of Christendom. However, the doctrine of the return of Christ demands most careful and discriminating consideration.
In common with Bible students generally, distinction is made between two yet future events. We therefore assign the study of one — Christ coming for His saints — to this chapter, and the study of the other — Christ coming with His saints — to the following chapter. Though but one aspect of truth is indicated by each of these titles, the Scriptures reveal that much more will be accomplished in each of these events than the titles suggest. Conforming to the incomplete statement of truth proposed by these titles, we observe that in the body of Scripture assigned to this chapter, Christ is seen descending into the air and there receiving to Himself the saints who are caught up from the earth to meet Him — some of these to be raised from the dead and some to be translated from the living state (1 Cor. 15:22, 23, 51, 52). However, in that body of Scripture assigned to the next chapter, He is seen descending to the earth (Zech. 14:4-7) with His glorified saints as His bride attending (Rev. 19:7, 8, 14; Jude 1:14), to sit upon the throne of David (Luke 1:32), which is also "the throne of His glory" (Matt. 25:31). Though these two events differ in every particular, they are often confused, and for this reason this chapter should be closely compared with the one which is to follow.
In contemplating the prophetic doctrine of Christ's coming for His saints, it should be noted:
First. — The order of these two events is obvious: Christ cannot come to the earth with His saints until He shall have come for them. They must be gathered together "unto him" (2 Thess. 2:1) before they can "appear with him" in glory (Col. 3:4). Though these events are probably separated by only a brief period of time, according to prophecy, there is much to be fulfilled between these events which is world transforming (2 Thess. 2:3, 4; Rev. 4:1 to 19:10).
Second. — The long predicted second coming of Christ to this earth will be completely fulfilled when He comes with His saints, and, therefore, the coming of Christ for His own sustains no relation to it whatsoever. The two events are not two phases or aspects of one divine undertaking. The Scriptures present the coming of Christ for His own as a mystery or sacred secret (1 Cor. 15:51) — meaning something hitherto unrevealed, but to be understood after it is divinely disclosed (Deut. 29:29; Matt. 13:35). The New Testament revelation concerning Christ's coming for His own could not have been seen in the Old Testament since it is only one aspect of truth (God's way of taking His people out of the world) related to the Church; which Church is a sacred secret, having been nowhere directly anticipated in the Old Testament. Likewise, the Church could not have been revealed in the Old Testament since it is only one of the divine purposes in the present age; which age is itself a sacred secret, not having been revealed in the Old Testament (Matt. 13:11). In contrast to all this, the second coming of Christ is in no sense a mystery or sacred secret, since it is one of the most important themes of the Old Testament (Deut. 30:3; Psa. 2:1-9; 24:1-10; 50:1-5; 96:10-13; Isa. 11:10, 11; Jer. 23:5, 6; Ezk. 37:21, 22; Dan. 7:13, 14; Zech, 2:10-12).
Third. — As revealed in the Scriptures, His coming for His saints is the next event in the order of the fulfillment of prophecy, and is, therefore, that for which the child of God should be waiting (1 Thess. 1:9, 10), and looking (Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:11-14; Heb. 9:28), and which he should be loving (2 Tim. 4:8).
The Scriptures bearing on the coming of Christ for His own are explicit: In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 it is revealed that when Christ comes the "dead in Christ" will rise first and the living saints, together with them, will be caught up in the air to meet the Lord and to be forever with the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, the same fact of the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" and the transformation of the living is set forth; but with the added revelation that the translation and transformation of the living saints will be as suddenly as "the twinkling of an eye," and at the sounding of the "last trump." In John 14:1-3, it is disclosed that Christ will receive His own unto Himself: not into the mansions, but into the place which He has gone to prepare. Again, in Philippians 3:20, 21, it is stated that at His coming "he shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." In like manner, the time of Christ's coming for His own will be the time when they shall appear before His judgment seat to receive their rewards for service (1 Cor. 3:11-15; Matt. 16:27; Luke 14:14; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:10).
As certainly as the coming of Christ for His saints is not revealed in the Old Testament, so certainly it has no relation to the unsaved. To the Christian, however, it is, in the purpose of God:
1. A Comforting Hope. — Comfort is derived from the fact that Christ may come at any time and that there is not a whole lifetime, necessarily, or until death, before the believer may see his Lord, and also from the fact that when He shall come the child of God will be instantly in the presence and fellowship of those loved ones who were saved and who have gone on before (1 Thess. 4:18).
2. A Purifying Hope. — No one can contemplate the fact that Christ may come at any moment and not have his conduct affected by that belief (1 John 3:1-3).
3. A Blessed Hope. — There is nothing comparable to the expectation that, through riches of grace, the saved one will see his Lord face to face, be with Him, and be like Him (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17; 1 John 3:3).
Since the theme of this chapter is so commonly confused with that of the preceding one, it is important that the two be studied together in order that the contrasts which appear at almost every point may be discerned.
The title of this, as of the previous chapter, is based on one aspect of truth within the whole doctrine which this chapter is supposed to cover. The doctrine to be considered contemplates all that enters into the world-transforming event of the Second Coming of Christ, while the fact that the saints will return to this earth with Him when He comes is, comparatively, a limited portion of the whole revelation.
I. Certain Vital Facts are to be Noted in Connection with this Doctrine:
1. The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ, will return to this earth (Zech. 14:4), personally (Rev. 19:11-16; Matt. 25:31), and on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 24:30; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7). It should not be difficult to believe the testimony of these Scriptures, since God has promised it and since He who went on the clouds of heaven has already spent forty days on the earth in His glorified, resurrection body.
2. The general theme concerning the return of Christ has the unique distinction of being the first prophecy uttered by man (Jude 1:14, 15) and the last message from the ascended Christ as well as being the last word of the Bible (Rev. 22:20, 21).
3. Likewise, the theme of the Second Coming of Christ is unique because of the fact that it occupies a larger part of the text of the Scriptures than any other doctrine, and it is the outstanding theme of prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact all other prophecy largely contributes to the one great end of the complete setting forth of this crowning event — the Second Coming of Christ.
II. The Coming of Christ Produces Far-Reaching Effects:
1. The nation Israel, God's chosen earthly people, to whom at least five-sixths of the Bible is addressed and with whom the great covenants are made (Rom. 9:4, 5) — which covenants secure to that nation a land, a nation, a throne, a King, and a kingdom — are now scattered throughout all the nations of the earth (Deut. 4:26-28; 28:63-68; Jer. 16:13), and are to remain scattered until they are gathered into their own land (Deut. 30:3-6; Isa. 11:11, 12; 14:1-3; 60:1-22; Jer. 23:6-8; 32:37-44; 33:7-9; Ezk. 37:21-25; Micah 4:6-8) under the reign of Messiah at His return. Though every covenant with His earthly people was in full force when Christ came the first time, and had been for hundreds of years, not a semblance of their fulfillment was experienced at that time; but the Scriptures declare that all these covenants will be fulfilled when He comes the second time. These covenants are of endless duration and are as secure as the faithfulness of God who has sworn with an oath concerning them. The nation will possess their land at the coming of their King, and He will sit on David's throne (Luke 1:31-33). The Deliverer coming out of Sion shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom. 11:26, 27. See, also, Ezk. 37:1-14). The return of Christ to the earth and its blessing to the nation Israel is the great burden of Old Testament prophecy.2. The redeemed ones of this age — the Church which is His body — are seen coming with Christ when He comes again (Rev. 19:7-16; 1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 1:14). The Church is the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-33; Rev. 19:7; 21:9) and as such will have right and title with Him as consort in His reign (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6; 22:5). Until the Church is taken to meet the Lord, she is His espoused awaiting her wedding day; her marriage will be in Heaven, and she will return with Him after the wedding (Luke 12:36).
3. The nations of the earth will be brought into judgment when Christ comes and when He sits on the "throne of his glory" (Matt. 25:31-46. Note, also, the "Smiting Stone" of Dan. 2:31-45). Three classes are in view at the judgment of the nations — the sheep, the goats, and "my brethren." Though the sheep and the brethren are both under divine favor, it must be observed that they are not the same. The sheep are to enter the kingdom on the ground of their treatment of the brethren. So also, the goats are to be rejected on the same basis. The Church is not in view. This judgment occurs after the Church has been received into Heaven, and after the "Great Tribulation" (Matt. 24:21) when Israel — "my brethren" — will have experienced her supreme suffering at the hands of the nations (Deut. 4:29, 30; Psa. 2:5; Jer. 30:4-7; Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:9-28; 2 Thess. 2:8-12; Rev. 3:10; 7:13, 14; 11:1 to 19:6). This judgment will determine the nations which are to enter the kingdom of Messiah on the earth. Again, this judgment should be distinguished from that of "The Great White Throne" which follows a thousand years later, and after the kingdom rule of Christ in the earth.
4. All creation will be restored to its Edenic glory when Christ returns (Rom. 8:19-23).
5. Satan will be bound and confined to the abyss for a thousand years when Christ returns (Rev. 20:1-3).
III. Two Events Distinguished
The two events — Christ's coming for His saints and his coming with His saints may be distinguished thus (for brevity, the first event will be indicated by a, and the second event by b):
(a) "Our gathering together unto him"; (b) "The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. 2:1).
(a) He comes as the "Morning Star" (Rev. 2:28; 22:16; 2 Pet. 1:19); (b) as "The Sun of Righteousness" (Mal. 4:2).
(a) The "Day of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16); (b) "The Day of the Lord" (2 Pet. 3:10).
(a) A signless event: (b) its approach to be observed (1 Thess. 5:4; Heb. 10:25).
(a) A timeless event — at any moment; (b) fulfillment of prophecy to precede it (2 Thess. 2:2, 3; note, "Day of Christ" should be "Day of the Lord" in verse 2).
(a) No reference to evil; (b) evil ended, Satan judged, the Man of Sin destroyed.
(a) Israel unchanged; (b) all her covenants fulfilled.
(a) The Church removed from the earth; (b) returning with Christ.(a) The Gentile nations unchanged; (b) judged.
(a) Creation unchanged; (b) delivered from the bondage of corruption.
(a) A "mystery" not before revealed; (b) seen throughout the Old and New Testaments.
(a) Hope centered in Christ — "the Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5); (b) "the kingdom is at hand" (Matt. 24:14).
(a) Christ appears as Bridegroom, Lord, and Head to the Church; (b) He appears as King, Messiah, and Immanuel to Israel.
(a) His coming unseen by the world; (b) coming in power and great glory.
(a) Christians are judged as to rewards; (b) nations judged as to the kingdom.
Important Scripture: (a) John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Philippians 3:20, 21; 2 Corinthians 5:10. (b) Deuteronomy 30:1-10; Psalm 72. Note all the prophets; Matthew 25:1-44; Acts 1:11; 15:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Peter 2:1 to 3:18; Revelation 19:11 to 20:6.
From Major Bible Themes... by Lewis Sperry Chafer. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage, 1937, ©1926.
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