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“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).
Our lead text indicates that the raising of the saints to their heavenly reward was to be at the return of Jesus. The saints that died long ago rested in the peaceful sleep of death until the end of the age, awaiting their reward. Thus, when the first Christian martyr, Stephen, died by stoning, Acts 7:60 says “he fell asleep.” There he rested, unaware of the passage of time, until the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the saints.
The Apostle Paul witnessed the passing of Stephen, and no doubt it was he who recounted Stephen’s testimony and the events of his demise that Luke recorded in Acts chapters six and seven.
When Paul himself neared the end of his life, he anticipated that he also would wait for a distant time, “at that day … [of Jesus’] appearing,” in order to be raised to join Christ. “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and … unto all them … that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6,7,8).
Daniel 12:1-3 also places the raising of the saints at the end of the age. “At that time shall Michael stand up … and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake … they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament.” Most brethren understand that “Michael” is the name for Jesus from his pre-human existence. Thus this passage also indicates that the reward of the saints would be at the return of Christ.
This understanding seems confirmed by Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24-27. Here Jesus speaks to his disciples about the time when they would be rewarded for their service and faith. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
… For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”
The date recognized widely among brethren for the return of Christ is 1874. This is drawn from the time prophecy of Daniel 12:12, which says, “Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.”
The terms “blessed” and “wait” both appear in Luke 12:36-38, which speaks of the return of Christ to the waiting disciples. Presumably this time prophecy begins at the same time as the 1290 years of verse 11,1 namely 539 AD when the “abomination that maketh desolate” was established with political authority.
Thus this prophecy yields the date 1874 for the return of Christ. His return introduced the “harvest,” or ending period of the present Gospel Age. (In Matthew 13:39 “end of the world” is better rendered the “ending period of the age.”)2
(1) Taking a day in the prophecy to represent a year in fulfillment.
(2) The word for “world” is the Greek aionos, age. The word for “end” is the Greek suntelia, for which Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax.”
We have thus been in the Harvest period now for 140 years. During this time the saints are being gathered to be with Christ, raised to glory as they fall asleep in death when they individually complete their Christian development here.
Sun — With — A Similar Experience
Because the saints are raised celestial beings of the highest order, they are invisible to human sight, as all spirit beings are. Thus we do not have visible evidence of their raising. It would have been the same in the case of the resurrection of Jesus, (1) if Jesus had not materialized to show his disciples that he was alive again, and (2) if God had not removed Jesus’ dead human body from the tomb.
Therefore, in order to grasp that the saints of long ago have been raised, we look for specific testimony in the scriptures, rather than visual confirmation. Paul appears to provide such testimony when he speaks about the resurrection of brethren, beginning at 1 Thessalonians 4:13. In this passage Paul comforts the brethren of his day about those who had already fallen asleep after a relatively brief time of being in Christ.
“I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again [and we all do believe that], even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”3
By the expression “will God bring with him,” Paul means that God will bring the saints forth from death to life, just as God raised Jesus. The English word “with” in this text comes from the Greek word sun. It denotes in this case a shared experience, even though separated in time. Paul uses this word also in 2 Corinthians 4:14, when speak- ing of the same subject, but this is veiled to us by the common rendering. Here is the New World Translation for this text. “He who raised Jesus up [speaking of the resurrection of Jesus] will raise us up also together with [Greek, sun] Jesus.” The raising of Jesus, and the raising of the saints, are separated by more than 1800 years, but the saints are raised “with” Jesus in the same experience.
(3) This text does not mean that the saints will come along in company with Jesus as he returns, for the rais- ing of the saints occurs after the return of Christ, not before it. The text means that God will bring us from the dead “with” (sun) Jesus, in the same kind of resurrection experience.
Less reliable manuscripts give the Greek word as dia, through, rather than sun, with. The King James Version translates the word as “by,” drawing from dia. However, most modern versions draw from the word sun, crediting that Greek word as the one used by Paul.
Paul again uses the word sun in Colossians 2:12,13 where he also refers to a shared experience, though differing in time. In this case Paul compares the quickening, or enlivening, of Jesus at his resurrection, with our spiritual “quickening” as new creatures in our present Christian life. “God … raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with [sun] him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” We were not quickened at the same time as Jesus. But we share a quickening experience “with” him in the metaphorical sense of our new life as Christians when we come into Christ.
Alive and Remain
Paul then continues his point in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. To explain his statement in verse 14 that we will be raised “with” Christ [the same experience, though centuries later], in verse 15 he says. “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming [Greek, parousia, presence] of the Lord shall not pre- vent [precede] them which are asleep.” The dear departed brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we sorrow will have priority over the liv- ing saints in the time of their reward. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven … and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (verse 16).
So there is an order, a sequence to the raising of the saints. Those that died before the return of Christ are raised at his return. They come first. Those who are “alive and remain” during the presence of Christ are raised later, as they complete their sacrifice and join their fellows “beyond the vail” of fleshly life, in the glory of the spirit realm.
“Then [Greek, epeita, afterwards] we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (verse 17). The first thing to note about this verse is the opening word, “then.” In Eng- lish this word can mean “at that time” — or a logical connection, “if this, then that” — or it can indicate sequence, “first this, then that.” However, in the Greek language these thoughts are expressed by three distinct words: tote, ara, and epeita. Of this last word Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, it “is used only of sequence, thereupon, thereafter, then.”
Hence the sleeping saints are caught up to glory first at the return of Christ. The living saints are caught to up glory “with” them in the same experience, but not at the same time. These continue in the flesh until their course of Christian training, service, and sacrifice is completed. Then, as all saints must, they die in the flesh,4 and are raised in the spirit realm, “caught up” to the assembly of saints gathered before them.
A Period of Time
Thus the saints are gathered to be with Christ, and each other, over a period of time. Perhaps Paul recognized this because Jesus’ references to his return indicated that the work to be accomplished among the living saints during his second presence would take considerable time. Paul would know from Luke 12:36-38 that there would be some rich spiritual nourishment to strengthen and develop the saints. He would know from Matthew 13, the parable of the wheat and tares, and Jesus’ explanation of it, that during the end of the age there would be a large work for harvesting the fruitage of the age that would last many years, as with the harvest of the Jewish Age.
(4) 1 Corinthians 15:51,52 from the RVIC, affirms this. “We shall all fall asleep, but we shall not all be changed in a moment.” This is a positive declara- tion that all the saints must die here, if we hope to be raised in glory above. Further, this statement shows that some of the saints will be changed in a moment, that is, at the moment of death, but others will not. Those who die after the return of Christ are changed in a moment. Those who died earlier slept in death waiting for the resurrection, and thus were not changed at the moment of death.
The latter part of verse 52 follows up this thought. “The dead [Christians who rest in death until the return of Christ] shall be raised incorruptible [for their decayed and thus corrupted bodies they will have new, spiritual, celestial, incorruptible bodies], and we [those living at and into the presence of Christ] shall be changed.” That is, when we die we will receive our change of nature without waiting.
Enoch and Elijah
Most brethren consider Enoch and Elijah each to picture the Church class. Enoch was “taken” quietly, secretly, without outward notice or fanfare. In this he may be a picture of the sleeping saints who are taken quietly, secretly, raised to life without public note when Christ returned. Enoch’s life span of 365 years, short compared to then contemporary lifetimes, reminds us of the solar cycle, and that the sun is a symbol of the Gospel Dispensation. The saints, who are developed now, will “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43) during the kingdom.
By contrast, the taking of Elijah was with great outward show. The schools of the prophets that Elijah visited before his taking all seemed to know that God would soon take Elijah away from them. Perhaps Elijah represents the saints that are taken at the close of the harvest in the developing whirlwind of trouble, amid fiery difficulties closing this age, with many Christian believers now anticipating the taking of the Church.
Neither Enoch nor Elijah received a heavenly reward. “No man hath ascended up to heaven” said Jesus at his first advent (John 3:13). The lives of Enoch and Elijah were brought to a close in a supernatural way, as a testimony to others of their faith and special standing before God. However, their taking was emblematic of the supernatural deliverance of the saints into glory.
Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech
If Enoch represents those who are taken quietly into glory at the return of Christ, perhaps his successors represent other saints who are taken later. Methuselah, the son of Enoch, died in the same year as the flood, presumably before the flood was unleashed.5 In this he may represent the saints who, like the Elijah figure, are taken at the close of the harvest.
Lamech lived to be 777 years old, a number conspicuous for its repetition of the good number seven. If the counterfeit of the Church in Revelation is numbered 666, then the true Church may be indicated by Lamech’s 777. Lamech died five years before the flood. Thus he lived into the period from the taking of Enoch until the flood. Perhaps he represents the saints who live into the harvest, but not to its close.6
(5) Methuselah was 187 when Lamech was born. La- mech was 182 when Noah was born. The flood came in year 600 of Noah’s life. The sum of 187, 182, and 600 is 969 years, which was the age of Methuselah when he died. This shows that Methuselah died in the same year that the flood opened. (Genesis 5:25,28, 7:11).
(Incidentally, if one ponders this data more deeply, it suggests that ages in this period of time were reck- oned slightly differently than today. Apparently in these early times a person was the age of “zero” in the calendar year of his birth, age “one” in the calendar year following his birth, etc. Some reflection on this indicates that thus summing the ages of the patriarchs from generation to generation, as we customarily do to get 1656 years from Adam to the flood, actually does give us a clean sum of years without fractional slippage at each change of generation. Perhaps they followed this practice so that they could use the ages of these patriarchs to date meaningful events. For example, see Genesis 8:13, which evidently refers to the years of the life of Noah.)
(6) The two numbers taken together yield a product of 3885 (777 x 5). This happens to be the sum of 1260, 1290, 1335, the three prophetic periods leading to the second advent. Perhaps in this also Lamech represents those who live into the period thus introduced. That is, Lamech represents the saints who live into the harvest or ending period of the Gospel Age.
Completing the Bride Class
Evidently the Bride class will be completed just before the final judgments upon this world take us into the Kingdom of Christ. Here are three testimonies that suggest this.
(1) Revelation 19:7 speaks of the completion of the Bride class, the saints that will reign with Christ to bless the world during the Millennium. Following this, from verse 11 to the close of chapter 19, are depictions of the final troubles that close out this age and introduce the next. Revelation 19:14 shows that “armies… followed him [Jesus] upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean,” referring to the saints in glory with Jesus as a complete company before the closing troubles hit the old order.
(2) The same is indicated in verse 17, “And I saw an angel standing in the sun” — depicting the Church, the “sun” class, beyond the vail, complete in glory. Thereafter comes the announcement of the great “supper” that depicts the judgments of God (verse 17 and following).
(3) The same thought is indicated in the last of the several plagues in Egypt. The firstborn Israelites were “passed over,” probably depicting that the saints are passed from death to life. Thereafter, the Egyptian firstborn were struck down, emblematic of the demise of the old order in the seventh plague of Revelation chapter 16.
Then the Blessings
Ultimately, when the elect have all been gathered beyond the vail, the blessings of life will begin to flow out to a weary world. “He shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1). On either side of the river are depicted trees of life, which Psalms 1:1-3 says represent those whose “delight is in the law of Jehovah.” Thus are depicted the faithful followers of Jesus, who receive the kingdom with him. “They shall be priests of God and of Christ” to restore and bless all mankind (Revelation 20:6).