By J.G. Bellet
Our Lord had withdrawn from Jerusalem, and is followed to the Mount of Olives by His disciples, where this discourse takes place. They began the conversation by asking Him certain questions, which admitted the truth of a sentence He had just pronounced on the stones of the temple, though they themselves the moment before had been vainly admiring those stones.
It is interesting to see this. They looked on the temple now as a doomed and not a dedicated spot, and they desire to know when this doom should be accomplished, and what should signify to them the end of the world, and His return.
There was, therefore, in their minds a very simple faith. They admitted His truth, and their inquiries arose from thence. An end and a change were now looked for, because He had pronounced judgment on the present existing things of Israel. Still, however, there was a vast distance between the state of His mind at this moment and theirs. His was full of divine truth. He knew all the results of this needed end and change, and of Israel's present judgment. But we are to be calm, and stay our minds on this: How far had the time come for unfolding to them all these results, in the full knowledge of which He was?
Now, we, too, are in the knowledge of these results in our way and measure; for the Spirit of truth has been given, and we know the things of the Father and of Christ, and heavenly mysteries consequent on Israel's rejection, as Jesus then did. But we are to remember that the Lord was in converse then with those unto whom He says, on another (and I believe a deeper) occasion than the present: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now."
I must hold myself, therefore, in the remembrance that the parties in this discourse were thus widely different as to their then attainments, and in remembrance also of what their subject was.
I judge, then, that Matt. 24: 4-11 forms one part of this discourse. I am sure that the Lord looked on His disciples as Christians, or believers in Him. And I am free to admit that these verses may be read as a general account of things in Christendomas we speak, or of things that were to be known and experienced in that portion of the world that was thereafter to adopt the name of Christian, and that, therefore, we have in them the general external history of our dispensation. But I believe, in a special sense, these verses will find their accomplishment when Israel becomes again the scene of divine notice, or in that part of the reserved week of Daniel which is to precede the abominable desolator in the holy place, which is the action of Antichrist in Jerusalem by and bye.*
*I see those signs, as I judge, in the first five seals in Rev. 6, and I suppose they will there be understood is belonging to actions in days not yet come.
Then verses 15-28 give us another period, a period following the exaltation of the great apostate in Jerusalem, and preceding the appearing of the Son of man. But here the disciples are addressed as being only in that devoted land and city, and they are commanded to leave them for the mountains, and not be seduced therefrom by any promises that Christ and deliverance had come either in the open desert or in the secret chamber.
Verses 29-31 constitute another portion, giving us the appearing of Christ with its precursors and results.
Then verses 32-35 impress on the souls of the disciples the duty of watching the things or signs now given, assuring them that none can possibly fail.
Verses 36-44 tell them the moral state of things immediately on the appearing of the Son of man, and of the discerning or separating power of that day, and enforces watchfulness upon them.
I pause here for the present. For the remainder may, without injury to what we have now gone through, be postponed.
I ask, then, how far does the Lord in this great discourse contemplate the heavenly destiny of the saints, and the fact and the time of their rapture?
It is judged that He gives two distinct notices of this mystery of the rapture of the saints into the air, in verse 31 and in verse 40. I desire grace to consider these verses, therefore, and to love the truth of God, or the mind of Christ, above all my own thoughts.
In the first place, then, let us consider verse 31.
In verse 22, I find "the elect" spoken of, and spoken of as part of "all flesh." and of the divine purpose of saving them as flesh, or in the flesh.
Now, I confess this is the strongest intimation to me, that the Lord was not contemplating his heavenly, but his earthly people. When by his Spirit, in the apostles afterwards, he comes to speak of his heavenly ones, he distinctly tells us that the saving of the flesh was, and could be, of no account; for that flesh and blood could never inherit the heavens. Saved flesh must be for the inheritance of the earth. The elect of this verse are, I surely conclude, the Lord's earthly remnant.
The elect are again spoken of in verse 24. And there they are presented as being preserved from the deceits of false Christs. I do not say that such words respecting them would necessarily determine them to be an earthly people. No. I believe, from Rev. 13, there will be many heavenly men exposed to deceits in that day, and in like manner preserved from being deceived. But having already established "the elect" of this chapter to be earthly, it is natural to continue in the one thought about them. And beside, the character of deceit here, signs and wonders connected with the assertion of Christ being in the desert and in the chambers, seems to address itself more plausibly, if not exclusively, to a remnant preparing for the earthly places.
Well then, "the elect" are again found in verse 31. They are spoken of, and not to, in the three places, and precisely under the same words, touv" ejklektou;". Is there, then, any reason to see another people here? My clear present assurance is, that there is none.
I believe the blessed Lord is here graciously Closing the history of those whom He had before been looking at. He looked at them, in verse 22, as the dear objects of His care, when perhaps they knew Him not, as in the counsels of His electing love; in verse 21, He looked at them as preserved by His truth and Spirit in the midst of deceit and corruption; in verse 31, He takes a last look at them, gathered into the kingdom, or to their loved Zion, from all places of their dispersion.
There is a natural unforced character in this interpretation of "the elect" of this chapter, which, I feel, commends it. But it has more to rest on than that.
In verses 29, 30, the Lord had passed rapidly through the scene of judgments or the return of the Son of man. Its precursors--the darkening, and falling, and shaking of the powers and ordinances of heaven, and the mourning of the tribes of the earth. Its execution--the well-known figure of "coming in the clouds." (Matt. 26: 64, Rev. 1: 7.) And now its results--the gathering of the elect, His mind stretching out to that feature of these results, for the comfort of those whom, in their trials and in other parts of their history, as we saw, He had been previously looking at.
But beside, a "great trumpet" had been foretold by the prophet, as the instrument of gathering the scattered election home to the land (Isa. 27: 12, 13, Sept.) and, to a great extent, the very language of the Lord here seems taken from that of the prophet Zechariah. (See Zech. 2: 6; Sept.) And as Moses and the prophets had spoken of the dispersion of Israel for their sins in all parts of the earth, or to the four winds, it is natural that Jesus should speak of their restoration in the same or commensurate terms. (Deut. 28: 64. Isa. 11: 12. Ezek. 17: 21.) And further, the Lord had often desired their gathering, as He tells us (see Matt. 23: 37), and now He anticipates that gathering with assurance.
Besides, there is not a thought of resurrection here; and we know that those that are alive of the heavenly family shall not come without those that sleep. And their coming will not be the fruit of any "mission" ("he shall send his angels"), but in a moment, being changed or raised, they ascend on the Lord reaching the air from heaven with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. And I do not believe the mention of "angels" interferes with this, because of the extended use, not only of those creatures or servants themselves in the accomplishing of divine purposes, but in the extended use of the term in a figurative or secondary sense. And angels (Isa. 18: 2) are expressly used in relation to the gathering of Israel.
Well, then, I surely believe that it is far more easy and natural, and according to all scriptural analogy, to interpret this verse of the same elect ones as had been spoken of in verse 22. I do not force this conclusion on another. No. In this department of truth there are many things hard to be understood, and we should have at this day among us, I am thoroughly assured, the materials and the spirit of purer and more heavenly communion, had we been more modest and less urgent on those "doubtful disputations." I can quite believe that the perfect wisdom of the Spirit has judged it well to leave a certain indistinctness upon those distant details, valuing as He surely and blessedly does, something far more than our mere agreement in opinion upon them. O that the Lord may shed among us the spirit of a more intimate and personal communion with Himself and each other! But in its place and measure, I am ready to welcome knowledge of these things and inquiry into them, and, therefore, go on to look at verse 40.
The taking and the leaving, whatever precise or prophetic sense may belong to these words or acts, morally convey the great and serious truth, that this day, the day of the Son of man, will be a discerning day, a day of separation between the righteous and the evil. And the chief value, the great moral power, of the teaching lies in that, and in that we are, of course, agreed.
But I do further believe, that supposing the "taking" refer to the righteous, it is the righteous ones who, like Noah and Lot, are secured only for the earthly places. Noah entered the ark, and Lot was borne away from Sodom, I grant, ere the judgments came. They were taken and the rest left for destruction. But they were earthly ones. I think, however, beyond this, that the passage affords evidence that the "taking" intimates judgment and not security, and the leaving" intimates outliving and not destruction. Luke has the word "escape" and "stand," (Luke 21: 36), and that simply and naturally conveys to me that those who are left are a people that have escaped the operation of this terrible day, and still stand as in their place, unmoved before the Son of man. And the figures employed intimate strongly that the taking is a judicial or hostile act. The figure of an eagle coming upon a carcase--the figure of a thief coming into a house--the figure of a snare catching a man--the type of the flood coming to bear away the old world: all these intimate to me strongly that our blessed Master had judgment rather than security in His mind when He spoke of "taking."
One objection is made to this, which appears strong, that the verb is changed; that in verse 39 it is aijrw and in verse 40 paralambavnw. But I find the very same thing in John 19: 15, 16. There the Jews call on Pilate to take away Jesus--aijrw--but the moment he allows them to do their Pleasure, and act towards Him just as they Wished, they parevlabon Jesus. This is surely at the very least enough to check confidence on this point.
My own conviction is this, though I am no critical scholar at all, that the quality of the act, signified by the verb paralambavnw, is to be determined simply by the quality of the agent. It means (does it not?) assuming or taking to one's self. When the Lord Jesus descends to receive His saints to Himself (paralambavnw, John 14: 3), that taking or receiving is surely unto joy and glory; but when the judicial Son of man comes to take, it is, I believe, to carry off in vengeance.
These are my thoughts on the force of this verse. I am ready to say, as I did upon verse 31, I press nothing. I admit that some indistinctness may advisedly be left on this subject, for it is morally healthful for our souls, both to be in daily desire and expectation of Jesus, and yet armed with the daily mind of those who are ready to suffer death at the hand of any enemy of His name. My grief is, that saints are sedulously schooled or tortured into conclusions, that necessity is laid on them to make up their minds on these things, and that that zeal which works division is put forth in the service of peculiar opinions. "In many things we offend all."
I paused at verse 44, for I judge that from verse 45 to 25: 30 we have only beautiful and striking illustrations of the great moral principles which had been previously enforced, such as watching, because ignorant of the time.
In verses 31-46, however, the Lord appears to me to resume the scene. In Matt. 24: 31, He had spoken of a "gathering," having brought down His teaching to the gathering or assembling of the scattered Israel. Now He resumes the scene, and exhibits the gathering of the Gentiles, or settling the nations in the kingdom. I believe there is no resurrection here, as there had been none in 24: 31. I believe it is impossible to say that the goats or the reprobate will rise into the air to meet the descending Lord, and there be judged. I believe it is impossible to say that the throne of the King, before which a mixed multitude are to be brought at one and the same time, can be till the Lord have actually returned and been seated on the earth again. The judgment between. "cattle and cattle" is on earth. (Ezek. 34) There was much in this to sustain the disciples, His believing people, to whom the Lord was speaking. There was sure promise of His return with His rewards as the Master, and with Himself as the Bridegroom. But I do not find, in the whole of this discourse, that which necessarily instructed them in heavenly glories, or necessarily intimated their rapture into the heavens. In John, as they are retiring from the supper, He speaks still more fully, and plainly tells them of mansions in heavenly places. But there He originated the discourse, and in spirit was in heaven; here they originate the discourse, and in spirit, in thought, in intelligence and associations, were on earth.
If the mind hold these or any other thoughts of God and His counsels before. it, may the spirit within ponder them, and turn them to godly exercise of heart and conscience! May they not float before the mind's eye, beloved, as ideas or images, but dwell within the seeing and hearing of the soul with power! Amen.