THE EVER-IMMINENT COMING OF OUR LORD.
PRE-MILLENNIALISTS hold it to be the teaching of the New Testament that our Lord’s second and personal advent might occur at any time subsequent to His ascension. In view of the possibility of His immediate return, all are commanded to watch, lest His coming take them by surprise and unprepared. If at least one thousand years must intervene before this coming of the Lord, as the post-millennial view demands, it is said this great event could not be represented as possibly so near, or that men must thus ever be on the watch lest it overtake them as a thief in the night. As Blackstone tersely puts it: “Now it is absolutely inconsistent with the construction of the human mind thus to watch for an event which we believe to be one thousand years or more in the future.”
This argument, at first sight, appears more than plausible. Were all the facts involved taken into account in this statement it would be conclusive. When these facts are weighed, however, we believe it will be found to be exposed to objections, and to be based upon a misconception.
Let us examine the facts of the New Testament teaching from the pre-millennial standpoint, that almost all the references to the coming of the Lord are to His second and personal advent.
There are passages which seem to teach that the time of His coming is left perfectly indefinite. The “day and hour” is known only by the Father (Matt 24:36). Others know no more about the time than does the householder when the thief will come. His coming will be when even His people think not, so that the only safety against surprise is to be always ready (Matt. 24:42-44). It is equally uncertain whether He will come “at even or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning” (Mark 13:35), whether in the second watch or in the third (Luke 12:38). The coming may be at the beginning of the period of possible expectation, it may be at its close, it may be at any time, it is altogether uncertain; the only safety, therefore, is in perpetual watchfulness.
On the other hand, there are other passages which just as clearly declare that the coming of the Lord is nigh, and at hand. “The Lord is at hand,” says Paul (Phil. 4:5).
“For yet a very little while, he that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry,” says the author of Hebrews (chap. 10:37). “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” “The coming of the Lord is at hand,” and “the Judge standeth before the doors,” says James (5:7-9). “The end of all things is at hand,” says Peter (1 Pet 4:7). “Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come,” said our Lord (Matt. 10:23) in giving specific instructions to His apostles concerning what work they should attempt, and which must be fulfilled during their life-time. In harmony with this He adds, “Verily I say unto you, there be some of them that stand here which shall in no wise taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom ” (Matt. 16:28), which some Pre-millennialists would make refer to His transfiguration six days after, apparently not noticing that only “some of them ” to whom He was speaking were to live until they saw Him coming in His kingdom, and not all of them, as was true when He was transfigured. Besides, His transfiguration was only witnessed by three of His disciples, while He intimates that all who were then alive should see Him coming in His kingdom. Finally, our Lord commissions John to say to the Church in Philadelphia, “I come quickly” (Rev. 3:11), and His last word in Rev. 22:20 is “Yea I come quickly.”
Nor is this all. The ignorance of our Lord of the future which is implied in the belief that He himself thought He might come in person immediately after His ascension is utterly at variance with all our ideas of His knowledge, and with what we are led to expect from scripture teaching. That He did not know the day and hour of His return by no means makes it necessary for us to suppose that He knew nothing of the future of the world’s history, which His teaching as to the possible imminence of His personal coming from the first would compel us to accept. He and scripture writers did know that His coming was to be associated with the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the end of the world. If they thought that He might come at any moment, then they must have been in utter ignorance of anything in the history of the world and the nations, which was to happen after His ascension and before the end. But they must have been aware that there were prophecies of cities and countries yet unfulfilled, or must have believed that the events in reference to them might all be rushed through in almost no time, or that all referred to what was to happen after the end of the age. Of all the history of the Church, as the work of our Lord on earth was to advance to its realization through conflicts and varying experiences as ages and ages went by, can we believe they knew so little that they thought it might all happen in a few months, or, at most, years? Indeed, this supposition that our Lord and scripture writers thought that the second personal advent and the end of the world might happen at any moment after the ascension, requires us to believe that all the time between, packed full, as has been proved, of the grandest history since the world began, was an absolute blank to them, so far as events demanding time to happen are concerned. When we remember that the prophets of old had such sure visions of the future, we can scarcely think that those who had the highest position and the clearest light of revelation of the new dispensation—much less can we think that our Lord himself, even while in His state of humiliation—knew nothing of what was to happen on earth until His second coming. Interpreters generally, including Pre-millennialists, see in Old Testament prophecy, especially in Daniel, an outline of history stretching for centuries beyond our Lord’s life on earth. Take the seventh chapter of Daniel, for instance. The last of the four beasts, by common consent, represents the Roman Empire. Up to the end of the apostolic age Rome was in the height of her power. This empire was to fall to ruins; ten kings were to rise from these ruins; after them another was to come forth, and he was to “wear out the saints of the Most High . . . until a time and times and half a time” (vs. 23, 26). Could not our Lord also interpret prophecy He did interpret it so far as it reached down to His day. Did He not know that the completion of unfulfilled parts of these very prophecies required long stretches of time?
But we need not argue in this a priori way. Our Lord and the New Testament writers did know that events were to intervene between their time and the second personal advent which made His return at any moment impossible: because these events could not happen in the twinkling of an eye, and must run on far beyond the life of that generation. They knew that Jerusalem was to be destroyed and to remain “trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). They knew that the long series of events outlined in Matt. 24 must be completed. Neither can we believe that our Lord was so entirely ignorant of His own prophecies as not to know that they would reach on ages beyond His time. The Gospel of the kingdom was to be preached in the whole world before the end (Matt. 24:14). The followers of Christ were to “make disciples of all the nations,” as He was to be with them alway, “even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20) through the presence of the Spirit. They knew that the Israelites generally must first repent before our Lord would be sent from heaven (Acts. 3:19-21). They knew also that Israel would not repent “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in ” (Rom. 11:25). They knew that the “man of sin” must arise and run his course until iniquity reaches its culmination before it is “brought to nought by the manifestation of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:1-12). They knew that the kingdom of heaven, then like a mustard seed, in its small beginning, was to grow until it became in comparison, like a great tree (Matt. 13:31, 32). Like the leaven in the meal, the kingdom of heaven in the world was to go on doing its work until all the world was permeated by its teachings and power (Matt. 13:33). John also, in Revelation, sees a long succession of tremendous events which were to take place before the end.
In view of all this, can we believe our Lord and New Testament writers really thought the second personal advent might be immediately impending? Here is also something which is “absolutely inconsistent with the constitution of the human mind”—in view of these events which they knew must happen before He could come, which they knew must cover long stretches of years, if not centuries—still to believe He might come at any moment, and be watching for His coming before the events had happened which they knew must precede His coming.
But both our Lord and Paul make it evident that they did not wish the early believers to think the second personal advent was possibly at hand. When His disciples came to our Lord privately, saying, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3), our Lord, evidently foreseeing how liable they would be to be led away by a false hope of His immediate return, warns them against it. “Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ: and shall lead many astray. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass: but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation. . . . But all these things are the beginning of travail. . . . And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations: and then shall the end come” (vs. 4-14). In this discourse, instead of representing His coming as indefinitely near, our Lord, by interjecting this long series of events, taught them in the most explicit way..that it was indefinitely distant.
Paul, also, about thirty years after our Lord’s ascension, gives a similar warning to the Thessalonians, who thought the day of the Lord was present. “Let no man beguile you, in any wise,” he says, “for it will not be except the falling away be first, and the man of sin be revealed,” etc. (2 Thess. 2:1-12). Now, whether this “man of sin” be the Romish system or some evil personage of tremendous power, Paul really referred to what has at least not yet been completely fulfilled. Are we to believe he knew so little of the time required for the rise and culmination of this evil power, as to think it possible for it all to take place so quickly that the Thessalonians might still expect the Lord’s return at any moment ? Did he know so certainly the future facts and the order of their occurrence, and know nothing of the time it would take for them to run their course? Paul surely could not have meant to encourage any to interpret his words in this way. They seem to have been occasioned by this very misconception, and to have been written to remove it.
Peter also knew he was to grow old and die, as, doubtless, did all the disciples, from our Lord’s words, “But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldst not,” as is evident from John’s inspired comments: “Now, this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God” (John 21:18, 19; comp. 2 Pet. 1:12-15). John is careful to disabuse the minds of the people of the false notion that our Lord’s words, “If I will that he tarry till I come,” implied that he would be relieved from death by the second advent (John 21:22, 23).
Thus, we find the time of the coming of the Lord represented as altogether uncertain and indefinite. In other passages it is definitely spoken of as near. At the same time our Lord and the writers of the New Testament have knowledge of events and series of events to happen before His coming, which they must have been aware would take long stretches of years to accomplish. On the pre-millennial assumption that all these references to our Lord’s coming are to His personal second advent, the first and second forms of representation seem utterly irreconcilable. If the time of the second coming is altogether indefinite, so that it may not happen for ages, how could it be spoken of with such unqualified assurance as near at hand? The knowledge of events requiring a great length of time to happen before His advent, seems equally inconsistent with either its possible or its certain nearness. The problem presented is not easy in any case; from the pre-millennial point of view it is insoluble.
Rationalistic interpreters, of whom Germany supplies the greatest number, have what they deem an easy solution. They believe it to be the teaching of the New Testament, not that our Lord might, but that He would immediately return, and, consequently, that apostles and people expected Him to appear before the day of their death. The second class of passages we have referred to, as well as those like Jas. 5:7; Rev. 2:25; Luke 19:13; 1 Thess. 5:23; Phil. 1:9, 10; 1 Thess. 4:17, etc., they would explain on this ground. It is also to be remembered that these are the interpreters our pre-millennial brethren often quote as lending such authority to their view. But this interpretation does not help, in the least, to harmonize the second class of passages with the first noticed, or to explain how they could think our Lord was immediately to appear, when there was no sign of the fulfilment of many of the predictions which they knew must come to pass before He was to come. It also involves us in a more serious difficulty. Our Lord and New Testament writers, they hold, teach that the second advent is to be in the lifetime of the generation then living. But He did not then come in the sense they declare He was to appear. They were, therefore, false prophets. If they were in error in reference to this prediction, we have no assurance they were not in reference to all they made. If their inspiration did not save them from error in their teaching about the future, can we be sure that it kept them from error in their doctrinal teaching? And thus our whole confidence in them as infallible teachers is in danger of shipwreck. This does not trouble this class of interpreters; nay, they urge this instance of what they deem false prophecy as a proof that the traditional doctrine of inspiration is false, and must be modified or abandoned. But our pre-millennial brethren, who are staunch believers in the infallibility of the scripture writings, cannot afford to accept these interpreters, or this interpretation, as authoritative, when leading to a conclusion they so strongly deprecate.
Others think they find help in the thought of the progressive nature of revelation. We believe aid is to be found here, but not a complete solution. In the progress of revelation the antitype may succeed the type, the fuller the more obscure statement; the more spiritual the more material form of truth, and new truth may be made known. But in what pertains to a matter of fact, no progress in revelation can set aside a previous prophecy and not prove it false. The time of the coming might not be revealed in the earlier revelation, and be made known in a later one; or the fact might be stated in the earlier and the time left indefinite, and the definite time revealed in the later. But if one time is stated in the earlier, and another in the later, the later proves the earlier false, if itself be true.
If, at any stage of revelation, it is taught that the personal coming of the Lord is near, and it was really far distant, no progress of revelation can help us but a progress out of the false into the true. Again, even though the time of our Lord’s coming were represented in the earlier as altogether indefinite, and in the later as certainly near, or vice versa, we get no help. In the former case the progress of revelation has ended in what has been proved untrue, in the latter case, it began in what was of this character. But really such progress in either direction can scarcely be made out in the New Testament writings. In any case, the insuperable difficulty presented by the fact that our Lord and New Testament writers knew that events covering long stretches of years must intervene before the second personal advent, would remain untouched. Pre-millennialists believe that the time of our Lord’s second personal coming is purposely left indefinite, in order that all men in all ages may have the inspiration of the thought that His second advent may possibly be imminent. Dr. Gordon declares, “Nothing can be plainer to the unprejudiced reader of the New Testament than that it is the purpose of the ascended Bridegroom to have His bride constantly, soberly and busily awaiting for His return, until the appointed time of His detention in the heavens shall have expired. Hence (quoting with approval from Archer Butler) He has harmonized with consummate skill every part of His revelation to produce this general result; now speaking as if a few seasons more were to herald the new earth, now as if His days were thousands of years; at one moment whispering into the ear of His disciples, at another retreating into the depth of infinite ages. It is His purpose thus to live in our faith and hope, remote yet near, pledged to no moment, possible at any; worshipped not with the consternation of a near, or the indifference of a distant certainty, but with the anxious vigilance that awaits a contingency ever at hand. Thus the deep devotion of watchfulness, humility and awe, He who knows us best knows to be the fittest posture of our spirits; therefore does He preserve the salutary suspense that insures it, and therefore will He determine His advent at no definite day in the calendar of eternity.
This quotation, expresses in the most beautiful and the least objectionable form, the well-nigh universal interpretation of the facts of the teaching of the New Testament on the time of our Lord’s coming, adopted by Pre-millennialists. But grave objections of various kinds lie against this view. It fails to account for all the facts. While it recognizes all the passages in which the time of the coming is left altogether indefinite and uncertain, it does not explain those in which the coming is positively declared to be at hand, unless on the assumption that our Lord was justified in declaring it to be at hand for moral effect, although He was not sure it was near, and although, as has been proved, it was not near. So, also, it does not help us to reconcile the knowledge possessed by our Lord and New Testament writers of the long future which must intervene between His personal coming, with their declarations of its possible as well as its actual nearness, unless, again, they purposely gave men the impression that the coming might be, or was near, to present a motive for faithfulness.
If we understand the matter, this is just what Pre-millennialists do believe. The language just quoted—when stripped of the glamor of its beauty—means nothing less than this. They do not contend that our Lord and the New Testament writers were so ignorant of prophecy and of the future, that they did not know events must happen before the Lord’s second coming, which would push it forward for a long term of years. It is not a question of their knowledge so much as of what will be “the fittest posture of our spirits.” It is because “the deep devotion of watchfulness, humility and awe.” are known by our Lord to be the most helpful attitude of our spirits, that our Lord, therefore, preserves the salutary suspense that insures it, and, therefore, will He determine His advent at no definite day in the calendar of eternity. It is for this reason that “at one moment He whispers into the ear of His disciple, at another retreats into the depth of infinite ages.”
Stripped of all unnecessary verbiage, and expressed in the plainest way, this means that our Lord, although knowing His personal coming could not be until long after the men of His own generation were dead, nevertheless spoke to them and inspired others to speak to them, so as to lead them to suppose His advent might occur before their death; and, again, as if it certainly was nigh at hand. His reason for this was in order that this salutary attitude of watchfulness might be maintained, not only in the men of the first generation, but also in those of all generations, until He really should come. Some of the best of men, it is true, have held this view; but it appears to us they could not have had in mind all the facts of the case, or they could not have sufficiently considered the necessary implications of their theory. Can we on this ground possibly escape the shocking conclusion that our Lord encouraged the men of His own generation, at least, to hope for what He knew would prove an illusion, in order to promote their faithfulness? If we can believe this of our Lord, can we longer express abhorrence of the Jesuit rule of action, that the end justifies the means? Even if it be said that our Lord was so ignorant of the future that He really thought He might come before the death of some of the men of that generation: the Father knew, and we must suppose He would plan to make a hope which He knew would be an illusion to the people of scores and perhaps hundreds of generations, the grand motive of Christian faithfulness. Do we not thus impugn His truthfulness, when we suppose He would arrange to delude myriads and myriads with a hope He knew must prove false? Do we not thus impugn His all-sufficiency by implying that His resources are so limited that He will choose to depend for what Pre-millennialists believe the one great motive power to Christian faithfulness and activity, upon an expectation which, for nearly two thousand years of living and dying generations would never be realized ? Neither is this all: we must suppose all things to be so adjusted that the supreme motive to faithfulness would be conditioned upon ignorance rather than knowledge. To have an understanding of the prophecies which had to be filled before our Lord would come, would be to make it impossible to be under the dominance of this standing and grandest motive for all the Christian ages. For the contemporaries of our Lord, for instance, to know that Jerusalem must be destroyed, must be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled, that the Jews must repent before our Lord could break through the heavens which shut Him from their sight, and that they would not repent and be saved until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in—to know all this and more which is declared in the New Testament, not to mention the prophecies of the Old Testament—would remove not only the men of the first Christian age from the power of this grand motive, but those of all others until this day. Only those could feel its power, who either shut their eyes to these prophecies, or who could not perform the feat of expecting the Lord’s coming as possible before the evening of each day, while they knew many of these events to be fulfilled before He could come—events which, by their very nature, must occupy great lengths of years—gave no sign of occurring.
Reply is made to this objection, however. It is said there is no inconsistency in God’s using the uncertainty as to the time of our death to promote watchfulness and faithfulness, although He may know that years are to elapse before the dying day. Why, then, it is urged, need we deem it out of harmony with God’s veracity, if He use the uncertainty as to the time of the Lord’s coming for the same purpose? The difficulty, it is said, is no greater in one case than in the other.
But the cases are not parallel. The time of a man’s death is necessarily uncertain. It would require a special revelation in each man’s case to make it known, involving continuous miracle. It is alleged that the time of Christ’s coming is purposely left or made uncertain, in order that what was known would prove an illusion might be used for moral stimulus. The length of human life is also so brief that death is not only possible but really near to all.
It does not require us to think as possibly near an event which would happen only after scores and perhaps hundreds of generations had come and gone. In the one case, God uses for moral stimulus an event which is necessarily uncertain, and which is near and to happen in the lifetime of all. In the other, He purposely makes to appear uncertain, when a word could have made it known to all men, an event which He knew would not happen for long ages, in order that He might use the illusory impression thus given of its possible nearness for moral effect. The difference between the two cases is one of nature as well as one of degree.
It would appear, therefore, that the pre-millennial interpretation of the various forms in which the coming of the Lord is referred to in the New Testament, involves difficulties, at almost every step, which are simply insuperable. To maintain that all the references to our Lord’s coming are to His personal appearing, and that all the expressions which exhort to watchfulness, fidelity, etc., in view of His coming, are conditioned upon the possible imminence of His personal coming, is to make it impossible either to prevent different passages from contradicting each other, or to interpret them in harmony with the veracity of God. No attempt has been made to create needless difficulty, only an honest effort to make manifest the real difficulties which invest this whole subject, on pre-millennial assumptions, when we come to give to the Scriptures which relate to it anything like a searching examination.
Recently a class of Pre-millennialists have become convinced of the utter impossibility of continuing to believe that our Lord may come at any moment, while they acknowledge it to be the teaching of Scripture that He cannot come before the Jews are converted, the Gospel preached in all nations, the man of sin revealed, and while a number of other prophecies remain to be fulfilled. Much less, they feel, could these two positions have been intelligently held together from the beginning of the Christian era. They see this would mean that He might come before He could come, and is a direct contradiction in terms. The wonder is that any could believe our Lord would not return, for instance, until the Jews were converted, and still could expect Christ might come while the Jews remain impenitent. But many, even to-day, hold these incompatible beliefs.
The new theory to meet this difficulty, and still save the pre-millennial view, is the following:
Our Lord is to come for His people, in the air. The righteous dead and the living who are His, are to be caught up, in their resurrection bodies, to meet Him there. He does not then descend to the earth, but remains with them in the air, or, as some say, returns with them to heaven. During this time, they receive their judgment. In the meantime, on the earth, there is the great tribulation, during which Israel will be restored to his own land and converted; antichrist will be revealed; the vials of God’s wrath will be poured out; and then our Lord will come with His people, to judge the nations and to begin His millennial reign. Those who hold this theory say that Christ may come for His people, which they term the “Rapture of the saints,” at any moment; it is only His coming with His people, which they call the “Revelation,” which cannot occur until certain prophecies are fulfilled.
The quiet assurance with which this new theory is put forward, is simply astounding, in view of all it involves, and of the evidence urged in its favor.
Notice something of what is involved in it:
There are to be two personal comings of our Lord, separated by a period of years pregnant with the grandest events. Not only will there be two resurrections, one of the righteous and another of the wicked, with those who live during the millennium to be accounted for, which the general pre-millennial view makes necessary; but there will be three resurrections or more. The righteous dead generally rise in the “rapture,” at His first second coming for His people. The tribulation saints who die between the first and the second second coming, rise when He comes this second time with His saints. To correspond with this, we suppose there must be three judgments, if these tribulation saints are not made exceptions, and have no judgment; and still no provision is made for . those who live during the millennium. “The day of judgment” is made to stretch, not only from the beginning of the millennium to beyond its close, but begins quite a time before the thousand years. The last day, also, since it is made to include the resurrection of the righteous at its beginning (John 6:39, 40, 44; 11:24), and the judgment of the wicked at its close (John 12:48), must extend over the same great length of years. Now, all Pre-millennialists regard the age to come as the millennial period, as distinguished from the ages to come (Eph. 2:7), and the last day they believe with us to be the last day of the present gospel age or dispensation. While the general pre-millennial theory thus extends the last day of this age so as to include the whole age to come, this special view makes the last day of this age so long that it not only covers all the age which is to follow, but also takes in a considerable portion of the closing part of the present age.
They assume, surely, that the scripture writers had a strange sense of propriety in the use of language, when they use the term last day of one age, apparently, in order to mark, sharply, the division line between this age and the next and to contrast a short with a long period, as actually including the period represented by the term describing the unspeakably longer time, with considerable to spare. They also would have us believe, that while the New Testament writers thought the last day of this age was so immense, they believe the age itself, of which this was to be the last day, might be less than the lifetime of their own generation. Rather a strange conception of the relative lengths of an age and its last day, one would think!
But what are the scripture evidences upon which dependence is placed, to establish this theory of two second comings of our Lord? Let us examine them as given by W. E. Blackstone in his book, “Jesus is Coming,” which is commended in over three pages of enthusiastic testimonials from Pre-millennialists, and whose chart of events was publicly endorsed by the chairman of one of their conferences as representing the views of that body. It is significant that, of this view, the reverent students of the Bible for eighteen centuries found nothing. It is a discovery, so far as we can learn, of some brethren in this generation. It is also noticeable, that it was discovered to meet what seemed an insuperable difficulty in the aspect of the pre-millennial view, which is regarded by its supporters as giving to it its chief, if not its whole, importance. This may not necessarily be an objection to the view itself; for difficulties often lead to new views made necessary for their solution.
It does, however, suggest the need of the greatest caution, and makes it imperative to have very clear evidence before we accept the theory which is so opportunely discovered to relieve a cherished belief of one of its greatest difficulties.
Mr. Blackstone says: “The rapture occurs when the church is caught up to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17) before the tribulation: and the revelation occurs when Christ comes, with His saints, to end the tribulation by the execution of righteous judgment upon the earth (2 Thess. 1:7-10; Jude 14, 15). At the rapture, Christ comes for His saints (John 14:3). At the revelation, He comes with them (1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 14; Zech. 14: 5).” Of course, the reader will see that there is not a particle of proof in all these passages, allowing them all to refer to Christ’s second and personal coming, that a period including the great tribulation comes between the assumed comings for, and with, His people. If they were caught up to meet Him, and accompanied Him immediately to the earth, every demand for honest interpretation would be met.
But now for Mr. B.’s argument. “He certainly must come for them before He can come with them. The assurance that God will bring them (Greek: lead them forth) with Jesus (1 Thess. 4:14) is evidence that He will first come for them, they being caught up to meet Him in the air (v. 17). The Greek now here rendered ‘to meet’ signified a going forth in order to return with. The same now is used in Acts 28:15, where the brethren came out to meet Paul, and had a season of thanksgiving with him at Appii Forum and the Three Taverns, when on his way to Rome. This exactly accords with our being caught up to meet Christ and afterwards returning to the earth with Him.”
Two arguments, if we may call them such, are here given. The first is mere words. Christ must come for, before He can come with, His people. This only means that they must meet Him before they can accompany Him to the earth. But what strength has it to show that the calling of them up to meet Him and their descent with Him are two distinct occurrences, involving two separate comings of our Lord? His second argument, from the parallel case of the use of the word απαντεσις, to meet, is most unfortunate for him; because those who met Paul, met him on his journey to Rome and immediately accompanied him back. Who would argue from the use of this word that the one met was required to stop a long time before continuing his journey, or to go back whence he came, and return with them only after an indefinite period? The fact is that in the other instances of the use of this expression (εις απαντεσις) in the New Testament (Matt. 25:1-6; Acts 28:15), it is to meet and immediately to return with the one met, as he continues on to his destination.
But let us examine the passages depended upon a little more closely. We are asked to believe that our Lord’s coming, referred to in 1 Thess. 4:14, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him,” is subsequent, by an indefinite and fateful period, to the coming Paul immediately proceeds to speak of in vs. 15-17 : “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord,” etc. The former is the revelation, which is not to take place until long after the latter, which is the rapture.
But who that notices the way in which these verses are articulated together into an indivisible whole, can believe this? Notice that Paul, in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, corrects some misapprehensions of the people, as to his former teaching. In chapter 2:1-9, he says: “Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed,” etc. Paul here disabuses the minds of the Thessalonians of a false impression as to the time of our Lord’s coming. He declares it impossible for Him to come for an indefinite time in the future, instead of assuming He might come at any moment, as the pre-millennial view requires, and as they interpret 1 Thess. 4:15-19 to mean. To Mr. Blackstone and those that follow him, this is thought to present no difficulty. It is only necessary to refer 1 Thess. 4:15-19 to the rapture and 2 Thess. 2:1-9 to the revelation. They do not seem to notice the arrant nonsense they make of Paul’s reasoning. It is not “Do not be troubled: for the coming I spoke of in my first letter is not present, as you suppose. An indefinite time must elapse before that coming will be upon you.” But it is made to be: “The coming I spoke to you about in my first letter may, indeed, happen at any moment; but do not be shaken from your mind; because there is another coming than the one I then spoke of, which is not to be present for a long time to come.” If anything is plain, unless we wish to impute folly to an inspired man, it is that Paul, in his second letter, is referring to the same coming as in the first, and that this theory of two second comings of our Lord is a figment of the imagination rather than the teaching of these passages which are supposed to give it its chief support. And yet, Mr. Blackstone takes “most commentators” to task, because they do not accept such an interpretation as this!
Another argument for the distinction between the time of the rapture and of the revelation is one of the many specimens, in his book, of curiosities of interpretation.
For the statement, “At the rapture the church, like Enoch, is taken out of the world,” he gives as proof Acts 15:14, where it is expressly declared that “God did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name,” referring to the conversion of Cornelius and his household and the reception of the Gentiles generally to the privileges of the Gospel. It does not make the remotest allusion to Christ’s coming, at some future time, to take His people from the earth. For the supplementary statement, “At the revelation, the millennial kingdom is begun,” he gives Acts 15:15, 16, wherein the reception of the Gentiles to the privileges of the Gospel, by Peter and Paul, is declared by James to fulfil a prophecy from Amos, which he quotes.
This much for the proof of the distinct comings at the so-called rapture and revelation. Now for the proof that the tribulation comes between. In Luke 21:28, the rapture is referred to at the beginning of the tribulation, “when these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh” (redemption here meaning the first resurrection, the same as in Rom. 8:23).
In Luke 21:31 the revelation is referred to “when these things (the tribulation) have COME TO PASS and the kingdom of God draweth nigh.”
But Mr. B. had just asserted, on the previous page, that the rapture comes “before the tribulation.” Here he says that after the tribulation begins the rapture is only drawing nigh. How can the rapture both precede and happen during the course of the tribulation ? Besides, he should have read the preceding verse (27), “And then (at the close of the tribulation) shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud,” etc. It is manifestly in view of this coming at the close of the tribulation, and not of an imaginary one at its beginning, that our Lord told them to “look up . . . for their redemption was drawing nigh.” A small knowledge of Greek would prevent anyone from building an argument upon the word “begin” as given in the translation of this passage. The more accurate translation of Luke 21:31, “coming to pass,” has left no semblance of an argument such as Mr. B. has given. But why waste space : Our Lord, in vs. 29-32, is but illustrating by a figure the time of the coming He has been speaking of in the preceding verses. These things there spoken of should be related to His coming, just as the putting forth of the shoots on the fig trees was to the summer. To make the direct statements of our Lord in vs. 24–28 refer to another coming than the one which is spoken of in the figurative allusion to this same coming, is, of course, out of the question.
He also urges as an argument for the rapture as distinct from the revelation, that the Church is to escape the tribulation which precedes the revelation. Two passages are given in proof–Luke 21:36; Rev. 3:10. Luke 21:36 reads, in the Revised Version: “But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” What are the “all things” which they are to strive to escape? They are certainly what is mentioned in v. 34; whether they include anything else or not, is doubtful. They are then, to watch, etc., that they might prevail to escape from having their hearts “overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life.” Now, prevailing to escape from sins and the spirit of this world does not mean necessarily, or even naturally, to be taken away from the world and its temptations altogether. It is by escaping from evil in this higher way that men are able to “stand before the Son of man,” in the consciousness of right, as the word implies—when He comes. So far as Rev. 3:10 is concerned—“Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth”—it was spoken to the church at Philadelphia. That church has long ceased to exist, and its members have long been lying in their graves. None of them were to live to the great tribulation which pre-millennial interpreters of Matt. 24 and Luke 21 make a period yet future. It must be a promise then, to this specified church, of deliverance from an hour of trial which was soon to come upon its living members. Whether this foreshadows a greater deliverance of the whole church from a future tribulation is uncertain. If it does, surely, as the deliverance to the Philadelphia church was a deliverance by helping them through and out from (εκ), rather than away from, the trials, any deliverance this foreshadows need not be through keeping the church away from, rather than through the midst of, and so out of, the coming trials.
Thus we have followed Mr. Blackstone in all his treatment so far as it is not mere assertion. A few words more on this theory may be added.
It is assumed that the revelation of our Lord is His coming with His people a long time after He comes to raise them from the dead. It is also after they have received their judgment and have their rewards apportioned to them. It is also after the “marriage of the Lamb.” They are judged, and the marriage of the Lamb occurs, while they are in the air with their Lord. Let us see how all this agrees with the use of the word (αποκαλυψις) which Pre-millennialists allege is used to describe this coming of the Lord with His people, after all these things have taken place.
“So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7, 8).
If the revelation is not until after they have met their Lord, and the marriage of the Lamb and their judgment with the apportioning of its rewards are all past, then the eyes of the Corinthians, during their waiting, must have overlooked the very coming which our pre-millennial brethren think the chief object of expectation. They were waiting for the coming which was more distinct, and not the one which might be just at hand. Also, their being “unreproveable in the day of Jesus Christ,” evidently referring to the judgment, was to be before His revelation for which they were waiting, and not at the revelation, as the apostle declares.
“That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth, though it is proved by fire, might be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). Did Peter mean that their faith was not to be found, “unto praise” until after the first coming, when they were to be judged and their rewards assigned?
“Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, . . . set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).
Did Peter think the bestowment of this grace would be deferred until long after they were raised from the dead and had met their Lord in personal presence?
“To you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven,” etc. (2 Thess. 1:7).
Were the Thessalonian believers not to have rest with their Lord when He should come to raise them from the dead and take them to himself? They really are not said to have rest, if the revelation is a later coming, even at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Besides, all these passages are taken as proof that Paul and Peter thought the coming of the Lord so near that those they addressed would probably live to see it. And yet we are to believe a word is used to describe it, which refers to another coming altogether, which was not to happen until after a terrific time of tribulation, and after the coming which really might be near, was past!
So of the other noun most frequently used to describe the second coming. This word (παρουσια) means “a being beside” or “presence.” Now, we should expect this word “presence” or “being beside one, or where one is,” would certainly not be used of a coming which is merely a nearer approach, and which stops short before He gets in sight of men at all. And yet it is this very word translated “presence,” in the more accurate rendering in the margin of the Revised Version, which is used of this, as is claimed, approach of our Lord, wherein He does not come in personal presence to the earth at all.
We cannot pause to refer to other classes of passages in which this theory breaks down. We hope this examination is sufficient to show that all alleged proof of this theory must be read in, before it can be drawn out. There is not only nothing to favor it, but it is in the most direct conflict with many passages of the Word of God. The ordinary reading of the New Testament and its more critical study alike, when there is no theory to support, find no indication that its authors had the remotest conception of two personal comings of our Lord, separated by a space between sufficient to hold all prophecy which remained to be fulfilled before His revelation with the angels of His power. A study of all the passages referring to our Lord’s second personal coming makes it plain that it was to them a single, decisive, tremendous event, and not two separate ones. They speak of it always in the singular. They speak of the personal coming they refer to in every definite case as the one personal coming of which there is no other.
Certain other exigencies of this theory, which we cannot take space to explain, make it necessary that this so-called “Rapture of the saints” at Christ’s coming for His people should be secret. Secret it is, therefore, held to be by the most of those adopting this special view. It is, therefore, necessary to explain away 1 Cor. 15:52: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised,” and 1 Thess. 4:16: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise,” etc. As it is impossible to refer these passages to anything else than the coming of the Lord to raise the dead and take His people to himself, they declare the “shout,” the “voice of the archangel ” and the “sounding trump” are heard only by the righteous! But this is not all. Matt. 24:27, “For, as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of man,” and Acts 1:11, “This Jesus which was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven,” cannot refer at all to the coming of the Lord which was first to follow His ascension; for that is to be secret and invisible, whereas this coming is in a visible blaze of glory. It cannot refer to that coming which is of chief interest to believers, as our pre-millennial brethren themselves suppose; it is of a second second coming or a third advent, when He returns after having taken His people to himself! This second coming of our Lord for His people as distinguished from His glorious coming with them, is a figment of the imagination, not a teaching of the New Testament.
Finally, the Scriptures teach it is upon the wicked the coming of the Lord is to be an awful surprise. Now, the alleged coming for the saints is said to be unknown to them, except as they wake up some morning and find all the righteous gone. It is the coming with the saints, which is placed seven years after the rapture, which is to come with its terrible unexpectedness upon this class. Not only do they hold that the time between these comings is known, but also the definite series of events which will elapse then. And yet, in face of all this, the revelation of our Lord will surprise all the wicked! Nay, if there were such a rapture of the saints at a coming at this short period previously, it is impossible to understand how all the wicked could be thus surprised.
So far as we have gone, the problem of the teaching of Scripture as to our Lord’s second coming remains unsolved. This theory would not solve it, if it could be accepted, and it cannot be accepted even though it would.
 “Jesus is Coming,” p. 438.
 Many interpreters regard this passage as referring to Christ’s ordinary presence with His people.
 In addition to the quotation from Dr. Gordon, I add the following from other prominent Pre-millennialists in support of my statement:
“It has pleased God to give signs or evidences of the approach of these events, and by which we might know that the day was drawing near (Heb. 10:25), but, as we have before said, they have been of such a character that the Church could see them repeated in each generation. And this, we believe, was purposely designed, in order to give the Church no date and no sign which might so definitely indicate the time of her rapture, that we should, in any interval, cease to be vigilant. It was evidently all planned, so that the unfolding of events should be, to her, a constant incentive to watchfulness.”—Blackstone: “Jesus is Coming,” pp. 148-9.
“The imminence of the Lord’s coming consists in two things: its certainty as a revealed fact, and its uncertainty as to time. The Lord is coming, but as to the time of that day and of that hour knoweth no man, not the angels in heaven, but my Father only. It constitutes, therefore, an overhanging, imminent event always liable to occur. The object of such imminence is that we may be perpetually looking for and waiting for the coming of the Lord.”—Dr. Pierson: “The Coming of the Lord,” p. 53.
“It did not please Him to reveal the time of His Son’s return from heaven, even to the angels, much less to men, because this would have deprived the doctrine of all power except with those living at the very close of the present dispensation ”—Dr. Brookes: “Maranatha,” p. 353.
“We one and all cannot do better in this matter than stand firm on the vows of one of the great historical confessions. As Christ would have us certainly persuaded there shall be a day of judgment, so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not what hour the Lord will come.”—Kellogg: “Pre-millennial Essays,” p. 49.
 “Ecce Venit,” p. 14 sq.
 It is also more than doubtful whether this verse refers at all to the return of the saints in their resurrection bodies with the Lord. The teaching seems to be that as our Lord died and rose again, so shall God bring those who are fallen asleep in Jesus with Him from the dead. Or, it may mean, that God will bring with Jesus the spirits of those who have fallen asleep (as to their bodies) when He descends to raise their bodies from the dead (comp. 2 Cor. 4:14). This is the interpretation of Jos. Smith, in his “The Coming King,” p. 52. Mr. Smith is an ardent Pre-millennialist. The “ten thousand of his holy ones,” in Jude 14, are the angels, not the redeemed. These two passages upon which such a doctrine depends for its direct scripture basis, when rightly interpreted, have no reference to the question at issue, and if they had, would not give it any countenance.