The Escorts of Christ’s Coming

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.       I Thessalonians 4:14

Long ago, when Roman conquerors returned from a victorious campaign, they would parade down the avenues under triumphal arches with a long retinue of prisoners of war.  When a man like Eisenhower had a “ticker tape” reception on Broadway, he was usually accompanied by a crack troop of soldiers who fought under him and made the successes possible.

Both of these ideas are present in Scripture’s description of Christ’s exciting return to receive His crown and His kingdom.  One the one hand, those who accompany Christ are His prisoners, His willing slaves (I Corinthians 7:22), whom Christ captured at a terrible price from the army of His great enemy, the devil.  Like the Israelites of old, they have been freed from the bondage of Beelzebub to become prisoners of love.

On the other hand they are more than mere prisoners who trudge behind their captor in chain-gang lockstep.  Like the unfortunate East Berliners and the victims of Communism behind the Iron Curtain elsewhere, they are thrilled to become energetic participants in the army of their liberators the moment that they are freed.

Like the heroes of any successful campaign, these willing warriors in Christ’s army will have a share in His rewards.  Like a Roman general of old He divides lavish gifts among His loyal soldiers.  (Ephesians 4:8)  What a sight it will be to see an endless parade of happy warriors following Christ to earth with shouts and songs.  What a thrill as we single out this loved one and that, as we did in recognizing soldier-boys in Armistice Day parades.  What excitement as the glad Prince beckons His followers around to receive their laurels and trophies.

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The Intermediate State

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment…..       Luke 16:22, 23

A parable is a story that usually intends to explain just one important spiritual truth.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan we must not look for meaning in the money, the inn, the oil and wind, nor the benefactor’s return.

Similarly, we may not conclude from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that all the well-to-do will go to hell and those who had it bad upon earth will have it good hereafter.  Alas, there are many unfortunate souls who suffer much in this world and will endure great suffering hereafter for having refused the help of the Great Physician.  Some rich people have also been rich in the things of God.

What this parable does tell us is that immediately upon his departure from earth every person goes to his eternal “reward.”  The frightening fact is that our eyes are not even closed to earth before they open upon the scenes of eternity.  Some have presumably seen such sights even before they breathed their last.

Quite unmistakably Jesus intends to tell us that the intermediate state is one in which we are conscious.  While it hard for us to conceive of this being possible without a physical brain, we are thinking in earthly categories.  God has no brain, nor do the angels, and yet they think.  They can see without eyes and hear without ears.

Although we cannot contact the departed and the Bible sternly forbids the nonsense of even trying, it is conceivable that they are aware of our goings-on in this world.  If they are, what do your loved ones over yonder think of you?  Would they be pleading something like the rich man in the parable pled for his brothers?

Christ Comes in the Person of Others

He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me.          Matthew 10:40

When we read the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha at Bethany it is not hard to put ourselves in their role.  Some of us can imagine ourselves bustling about in preparing a delicious dinner for the Lord.  Others can pictures themselves sitting in the living room listening to Him talk; and what a thrill that would be.  When we read about Christ singing some of the same songs that we do today we wonder what his voice sounded like, and wish we could have joined Him in song.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the Bible is careful not to tell us how Jesus looked is that today He comes to our homes in a variety of guises.  Just as He visited people in the Old Testament as a tired traveler and again as a soldier, so He calls at our homes today and meets us on the street in a variety of persons.

Oh, if we knew Jesus were languishing right now in some old folk’s home we would take Him for a ride this very afternoon.  If we knew He were sitting alone somewhere we would rush right over and have a good chat with Him.  If we thought He were hungry we would take Him out to dinner tonight.

That’s the way we talk, and we think we are sincere when we say it.  But Jesus says He is right around us, this very day, in use such situations, but our eyes are “holden,” like the two Emmaus travelers.  No wonder people are going to exclaim in the judgment day, when did we see you hungry, lonely, etc.?

We have no way of being sure that angels do not actually come to our doors today in human form.  Hebrews 13:2 suggests it is possible when we entertain strangers.  But Jesus says that when we are kind to the most inconspicuous person for His sake we are actually serving Him.

Christ’s Coming to the Individual

Editor’s Note:  This is somewhat personal for me as decisions are being made today about putting my sister on hospice.  My sister was in the last wave of people to get polio before the vaccine was released.  She spent some time in an iron lung as a result and had lifelong weakness affecting her upper extremities and torso due to the illness.  However, I never heard her ask, “Why me?” or complain about it.  But this is “why her.”  Because of her illness, my mother, who was a nurse, offered to help my father who was widowed and trying to care for two young girls on his own while shepherding a congregation.  My mother helped with my sister’s physical therapy and the result of that was the eventual marriage of my parents.  So neither I nor my brothers would be here if this didn’t happen to my sister.  Perhaps because of the polio (or maybe not, we never really talked about it), my sister remained single and because of that was very much involved in our families lives, despite the age difference.  She, more often than not, joined us at Christmas time for a couple of weeks as well as during the summer, often being a part of summer vacations.  She was also in a position to help my parents with my brother’s and my college tuition, or so I’ve been told.  There are many other examples of the ultimate benefit to others that my sister’s polio had, but suffice it to say, she can expect to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  That is “why her”, even if she did not ask the question.

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.      I Thess. 5:22

If a person could predict with certainty that the world will end, say, before [2040], a shock of surprise would go around the globe.  But the simple fact is that the majority of all people who are living on the earth right now are going to be dead by 2040 or even before.  Leaving out dates all together, one can say with absolute certainty that Christ is going to return during the life time of every one of us, because our individual deaths, which are so certain and comparatively close, are just as final and frightening as the end of the world.

We are so time-conditioned that somehow we have the feeling that if Jesus doesn’t return until a thousand years from now (just as millions of people have been dead that long since Jesus left this earth) a lot can happen between now and then. A lot can and will, if Jesus tarries, but nothing for the dead.  As far as a person’s individual fate is concerned not a single thing happens between his death and the final judgment.  For all practical purposes his death marks the end of the world.  Christ’s summons for him is the same as the last trump.  Hebrews says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.”

When you and I talk about a certain individual as having been dead so many years we forget that at the moment a person leaves this earth time ceases altogether for him.  The interval between a person’s death and Christ’s coming, no matter how many years elapse here upon earth, is like the “timeless” interval between falling into a sound sleep one evening and waking many hours later on the morrow.

He is Coming in Great Glory

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, everyone who pierced Him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.      Rev. 1:7

There are great differences between Christ’s first and second advents.  When He came to earth as a baby, people could ignore the whole thing if they wanted to, and many of them did just that.  It might be said that the whole world went about its business as usual, despite the fact that the hourglass of history was tuned upside down that day, B.C becoming A.D. forever.

But when Jesus returns everyone shall see Him.  Those who were physically blind will have their eyes opened, as will those who were spiritually blind, but too late to do anything about it.

When Christ came the first time He was a weak and dependent child, unable to walk or talk, but when He comes in glory He will be terrible in His appearance.  The very disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom in the days of His flesh reports that he fell down as though dead at the mere sight of Christ as He is today.

Likely this is the reason for the persistent popularity of pictures of Jesus as a child and in the manger.  The Bible gives us no clues whatsoever as to His appearance in the days of His humility, while it gives us a very detailed word-picture of His present appearance.  And yet we continue to represent His infancy with guesswork likenesses by the billions every Christmas because the idea of Christ as a helpless baby is so much more comfortable than the disturbing thought of Him as an avenging judge.

Christ came the first time, in His own words, not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  When He comes finally it will be to mete out justice rather than mercy.

He Came Into His Own

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not.  He came into His own and His own people received Him not.       John 1:11

History has a way of repeating itself.  Sacred history also has its repetitions, which is the reason why the Bible, through written two thousand years ago, is as modern as tomorrow morning’s newspaper.  Human nature is pretty much the same throughout the ages, and so we find ourselves making the same mistakes as Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter, even though the Bible honestly records their foibles and failures for the very purpose that we should be spared their sins.

The first coming of the Lord is a sorry illustration of what will transpire at the time of His second.  Sometimes we think people were eagerly awaiting the coming of Christ.  They should have been all ready to receive Him, for the prophecies robbed them of all excuse for being unprepared.  Similarly, we are going to be amazed, when our physical eyes see Jesus, how exactly His second coming was predicted and fulfilled.

But even the people who knew that He was born in the little village of Bethlehem did not bother to go the six miles to see Him.  They were too busy studying their Bibles!  All this shows that it is possible to be very religious, all caught up in church affairs and still not possess the real thing.  It is possible to be so busy in kingdom causes that we neglect our own souls — our “quiet time,” personal prayers, our soul-searching.  Then, like the foolish virgins, we will be left outside when the Prince returns.

The Trumpet Shall Sound

And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another.      Matthew 24:31

It must surely make God laugh to hear men solemnly discussing whether miracles are possible, when we human beings are laughing right now at what our forebears flatly declared was absolutely impossible.  Who would have thought it possible for a missionary in Africa to talk with eco;e in Canada by means of a box no bigger than a suitcase?  Right now man-made moons are circling the world; men can see them and hear their signals.

All this makes ludicrous the remarks that were being made only a generation ago that the sound of the trumpet amouncing Christ’s return could not be heard all over the world, nor could His coming be witnessed by the Orient if He descended into the Western Hemisphere.  Sounds already are being heard simultaneously around the earth, and television girdles the globe.

Skeptics have mocked the idea that if every one who ever lived were gathered together for judgement there would not be standing room on earth.  But one fourth of all the people who ever lived are on earth right now, with lots of room to spare.  One non-Christian historian coldly computed that we could all be accommodated in a box no bigger than one mile wide, long, and high.

All this, of course, is answering fools according to their folly (Proverbs 26:5).  Such people err, because they know not the Scriptures.  The Bible often talks in human figures when it speaks of the last trumpet and the like.  If God were to talk to “intellectuals” the way they think He should, they would not be able to understand it any more than a child can grasp Einstein.