The Coming of the Lord Part 4
John R Gavazzoni
Thousand Oaks, CA
Quite a long time has elapsed since we made part three of our series available, at which time I promised a continuation of the study. I sincerely hope that we haven't lost your interest during that interval. I've been trying to take a fresh look at our Lord's coming and to present it in a way consistent with His Person, nature and eternal purpose. I've finally found time to sit down and begin the fourth lesson of the series. This installment will constitute something of a break in the flow without abandoning the subject.
I felt it was time to offer a parenthetical insert and address a popular issue that seems paramount in the thinking of present day believers; that issue being what has come to be called, "the rapture." I would venture to say that today, given the emphasis by preachers and teachers in the institutional church, when the average Christian thinks of the Lord's appearing, his next thought is, "That means I'm getting out of this mess before the Lord makes mincemeat out of this old world."
This has become so central to the popular mind of Christians that unless I specifically address this part of the subject, many will not be able to receive important insight into His appearing because they will try to make those insights fit what they believe to be the meaning of being "caught up into the air" (I Thes. 4:17), and the whole generally accepted scenario.
To be fair, I will admit that many are concerned about the fate of the lost and do want as many as possible to join them in "rapture," and I will not judge those who are doing a lot of teaching about this anticipated event but I will say that the net effect has been to draw attention away from the central issues of Christ's return which are that we shall "see Him as He is" and thus "be like Him" (I John 3:2), being so transformed into His image that it will be manifested that "as He is so are we in this world" (I Jn. 4:17), and Christ in us will enter that time of beginning to be, not in part, but fully revealed to all of creation.
In short, the coming of the Lord has to do with the final unfolding of His kingdom on earth and not merely about the snatching away of the saints. It is that time when the Sovereign of the universe displays that sovereignty by extending His rule over those rebels whom, for his own purposes, He permitted to do their own thing for a season. The extension of that kingdom will not be a matter of retaliatory reaction to sin, but instead a conquering of the hearts of His enemies so thoroughly that He defeats them by transforming them into friends, brothers and bond servants of love, love that is first seen among the Lord's brethren and in them extended to all.
So, dear ones, please know that the event known as "rapture" will not be a family picnic in the air just before the Lord forces the whole world to acknowledge Him for a millennium before it begins its descent into eternal misery, but instead it will be "in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7), and thus the beginning of the consummation of His plan for the "summing up of all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:10, NAS).
Quickly, I want to get to the heart of the matter by taking a careful look at that passage of scripture that seems, at least to me, to command the most attention if we are to understand what is on the mind of the Spirit of God and the apostle Paul as they write of our meeting with the Lord "in the air." Most readers will know that I'm referring to I Thes. 4: 15-18 where we read these words: "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (NAS).
Now, being aware of the tendency, even among Christians, to demonize those who don't agree with us, I want to carefully avoid such behavior and hasten to say that I can understand why someone without a more spiritually refined understanding of how God speaks in scripture might easily accept conventional conclusions as to the meaning of this priceless portion of the Bible. In fact, I did for many, many years and though I can say that it was the Spirit of God who brought me to a more mature grasp of these words of divine comfort, He did so in and with the help of others in the Body of Christ and then proceeded to further clarify and deepen my understanding one on one with Him.
(In that regard, let us who emphasize that it is the Spirit and not man who was promised to teach us all things, acknowledge that, as often as not, He speaks in and through others as He brings us along into all truth, and a total disregard for this Body principle indicates a lack of spiritual maturity).
Will the reader consider an obvious fact, that in the Bible, God does not always intend for us to interpret a word, phrase, sentence or passage according to its physical and material meaning? For instance, scripture speaks of benefits that accrue to us by the cross of Christ. Now, many of us have probably never paused to ponder the fact that, of course, that does not mean that those two pieces of timber were in any way intrinsically beneficial. As soon as we go down that road we become vulnerable to the superstition that splinters from the old rugged cross in our possession would somehow confer spiritual grace.
Paul uses the word, "cross," to, in one word, convey the self-denying obedience that lead our Lord, as the Son of Man, to submit Himself to that horrible form of Roman execution for the purpose of gathering up and bearing all of humanity's sin, and in turn to accept and endure, as the Son of God, all the combined enmity of humanity toward God and on that very real cross find opportunity, as Harry Robert Fox says; to do His best for men while they did their worst to Him.
God and man strove together on that cross and perfect love prevailed, reconciling all men to Himself. It was what He did there that reconciled us to God. It was His death, not the physical cross, that dealt with our enmity against God, yet Paul uses that single word as a symbol to convey such great truth. And of course, I am not in any way suggesting that it was not necessary for Christ to actually die on a real physical cross, because scripture plainly indicates this was ordained before the foundation of the world.
To continue: The Old Testament speaks of God riding upon the heavens by His name and of God's arm not being shortened nor His ear heavy. Are we to interpret these statements in a merely physical way? Surely not. And since we are dealing with the prophetic in the case at hand, consider that John the Revelator is shown a Lamb upon the throne to so very beautifully portray for us the truth that what will finally rule in all God's creation is the meek, self-sacrificial love of God in Christ. It was not a four-footed animal with a coat of fleece upon a literal throne.
Symbolism runs all through scripture and is particularly rich in those portions that are prophetic and eschatological, which brings us to our text. What are we to make of the use of the words "descend," "heaven," "shout," "trumpet," "caught up," "air," and the like?
Does the Lord intend for us to merely envision a Hollywood-style extravaganza with all the sound effects that would accompany a supernatural flight into the air by millions of people all at virtually the same time with some of those who "are alive and remain" shooting through the roofs of cars, houses, planes, trains and subways, leaving all the unsnatched to deal with possible pilotless planes, driverless cars, and all kind of variations of such dilemmas?
Or did He intend for us to finally, after passing through this thinking, speaking and understanding as a child, to put away such thoughts and come to an understanding that fits maturity? ["When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things" (I Cor. 13:11, NAS)].
The evangelical world has been so conditioned to respect the inspired scriptures and to believe what they say to us without adding anything of our ideas that, in this innocence, we become prey to those who handle those scriptures with appalling clumsiness because they SEEM to be more devoted to what the Bible really says in their overly literal interpretations.
But we must break free of such subtle and misleading manipulation and approach the Book in a way that will unlock for us the marvelous dimensions of the things of God expressed in words that often use physical and material word-pictures as rich symbols of spiritual realities. So let us begin with the that most important word, "heaven."
In our passage it is the "place" from which "the Lord Himself will descend" to initiate the catching up of the saints; the word "rapture" coming from the Latin for "caught up" has become the common term to describe this divine action. The Bible speaks of heaven, the heavens, heavenly places, or the heavenlies and of particular interest, Christ being ascended above all the heavens (Eph. 4:10). It seems clear to me that there is an ultimate heaven which transcends all other heavens, encompasses and permeates them all and is the heaven that Jesus referred to when He taught the disciples to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven" (Matt. 6:9), and it is the heaven that Christ was raised up into to sit at the Father's right hand above all heavens.
That heaven is not A heaven as each of the lesser heavens are but it is THE heaven. The answer to the question, "Should it be called heaven since it is above all heavens" is that God is above all beings but that does not make Him something other than Being. He is Being from whom all other beings derive their being and "live move and have their being" (Acts 17:28), in Him. Such is the relationship of the heaven, which is the particular and proper abode of God, with the rest of the heavens that exert influence over the earth under His direction.
Here first, is where our understanding must be enlarged so that it can support spiritual growth in the true knowledge of God. And here is where so many Christians seem to tenaciously cling to childish concepts unperturbed and undisturbed by their teachers who seem to be more comfortable with immature believers who will not require dynamic growth on their part. Students seeking the truth keep teachers on their toes and encourage the teacher not to become satisfied at some inferior level of knowledge and in turn, the teacher stimulates the student to further seeking.
But the reverse seems to be true in conventional Christian circles where most try to wring great spirituality out of elementary-level concepts. You cannot keep pace in today's scientific world with only Newtonian-level principles; you must go on to the insights of Einstein and I have no doubt shortly even beyond his genius.
Let us then consider the real meaning of heaven and not get stuck in the physical symbolism of the word. I have touched on the following in other articles and now it is crucial to the exposition of the I Thes. passage. Before creation God did not dwell in someTHING called heaven. He did not coexist within someTHING called eternity. Before He brought forth all THINGS, no THING existed, only He, the pure essence of relational being was Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit dwelling together in glory. (This is explained fully in the three previous lessons of our series. Links to each writing appear at the end of this article.)
Here is the secret: He/They dwelt in glory. Recently I sought the Lord for understanding concerning the meaning of His being in heaven. The Lord said something so simple and yet profound to me in response. These were the exact words that came through my spirit: "I dwell in the transcendence of my own glory." You see, there emanates from the Eternal One the supernal excellence of His own Being and, as that glory emanates from Him; He is clothed with and dwells in the outshining of all that He is. This is heaven.
This is what Jesus prayed for in Gethsemene as He looked past His death into resurrection and exaltation to be given the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. Yet we hold on so tenaciously to various forms and levels of understanding that view heaven as a supernatural place within the created universe; a kind of planet of planets or city of cities. But, although the reality of heaven extends itself into our time/space/matter dimension, that glory which heaven is, transcends everything created, even the heavens, and coming into the creation uniquely in Christ, that transcendence takes up residence in and among us.
Here is seen again the principle of transcendence and immanence. That which we seek to come to us and be with us and in us must first transcend us or it is not worthy of God or worthy of our quest as Sons of God. This is the heaven from which Christ will "descend" and catch us up. At this point it begins to get really exciting because if you bring to bear the whole of Paul's teaching about heaven and our relationship to it you realize that as Christ comes to catch us up, we are already in Him as he descends from heaven because the Lord clearly revealed to and through the apostle that we have been raised up and seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), (or the heavenlies or the heavenly sphere) in Christ; that is, we are with Him since we are in Him.
That place of enthronement which is, first and from, above all the heavens extends down to those heavens. We rule and reign with Christ, seated with Him above all the heavens while being with Him in the extension of that throne/rule over principalities and powers in heavenly places. Well, of course, the question arises how can He snatch us up when we are in the highest of locations already in Him. This is something that so few have balanced understanding of and so end up either ignoring the whole truth or sacrificing one dimension for the other.
The best understanding takes the highest ground first in its approach to the whole truth. Though it is so difficult to understand, we must first accept, believe and stand on the reality that we are truly at the right hand of the Majesty on High in Christ and then proceed to get hold of what it means to be caught up. No matter how you slice it, we have an existence in time and space wherein we are still struggling to come into all that we are truly in Christ at God's right hand.
Many have tried and continue to try to explain that dichotomy and let me say that if it is not acknowledged, our spiritual growth will suffer and our lives will be colored by that dimension which we emphasize to the neglect of the other. We will either spend our days locked in a struggle to get above our earthly existence or become pseudo-spiritual as we try to insist that we live in Christ above everything earthly and refuse to acknowledge that aspect of God's perfect plan to transform all that is earthly into heavenly, without doing away with its essential earthiness.
We must come to grips with both and be sure that the dichotomy and tension will not be resolved by anything we can do including working on raising our consciousness. It must be Christ descending by His initiative that will catch us up. Having given that warning let's return to what Paul is saying. IT IS SIMPLY THIS: THE CHRIST WHO DESCENDS TO CATCH US UP ALREADY HAS US IN HIMSELF ON THE WAY DOWN SO THAT WHEN WE ARE CAUGHT UP TO MEET THE LORD WE MEET OURSELVES ALSO IN HIM AND THAT DIMENSION OF OURSELVES THAT HAS BEEN LIVING BELOW THE REAL HEAVENLY NORM WILL BE TRANSFORMED, OR "CAUGHT UP," AS WE COME TO "KNOW AS WE ARE KNOWN" (I Cor. 13:12).
Let's keep in mind that what is prophesied as the church's destiny in Christ is already at work by the Spirit of Christ in us who is the first-fruits of what is to follow and He, as all the fulness of God, is also the full inheritance. So daily, it is the norm of Christian living to experience a measure of Christ descending to catch us up into all that He is in all His glory and to bring us progressively into all that we are in Him.
This is the glory of the Son of God and the glory of the sons of God in Him. It is for this that all creation waits so that it might be delivered from its bondage to decay. The KJ version says "the glorious liberty of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:21), but the NAS version is better rendering it as "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God." A consummation of this awaits us when all the blood-bought sons of God on this side and on the other side are gathered together in the catching up and the Church glorious and triumphant shall rule and reign with her Lord. I hope the reader is beginning to realize that something much more sublime is involved here than simply a flight through the air.
Now that word "air" brings us to our next thought. Because of our propensity to view these things in the physical dimension only (it certainly will have physical effect), we are inclined to imagine the meeting with the Lord as being so many miles above the earth. Be that as it may, I am not here concerned with mechanics; the essential thought here is that the meeting is on Satanic turf! Scripture tells us that "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (I Jn. 5:19, NIV), who is "the prince and power of the air" (Eph. 2:2, KJ) and although his present dominion is an illegitimate one permitted by God for His purposes [The earth is the Lord's in all its fulness and with all its inhabitants (Ps. 24:1)], he is permitted for a season to empower his world-system until Christ and the Church say, "ENOUGH!!!!"
So do you see that the thought that is conveyed with the word "air" is not simply distance above the earth but rather that all-enveloping influence of Satan in this present age. It is there, in his living room, so to speak that the sons of God come into their own. Do not expect, dear saint, to come into your perfection on the beautiful isle of somewhere. You will awaken in your glory in the thick of the fray, there to bring an end to the Devil's reign of terror.
The Lord in this day is raising the standard of His absolute sovereignty in the understanding of those who are following on to know Him, but we should remind ourselves that it is a matter of sovereignty that He has released such evil in the earth while maintaining the clear vision that evil can only ultimately serve His glory and goodness.
I say glory and goodness for some actually think that God can be glorified in the continuation of evil throughout endless ages and that He will not be able to be good to the vast majority of mankind. What trash! His goodness to all His creation shall triumph to His glory!
He descends from heaven with a shout. Here I prefer the Amplified version that says "with a loud cry of summons, with the shout of an archangel, and with the blast of the trumpet of God" (I Thes. 4:16). When, by the sevenfold Spirit of God, Jesus Christ commands us to "COME UP," WE SHALL COME UP!!! Neither hell nor high water nor our own resistant flesh will not stop us when the Lord "roars out of Zion" (Amos 1:2) and who can resist.
It is as Lord that Christ saves us as He did Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road and commands our deliverance that we might be deliverers with Him. Other ministers of the Word can better deal with all the ramifications of trumpet, loud summons and shout but let me at least say that there is conveyed here Majesty in action bringing forth, by triumphal announcement, the sons of God out of any and all vestiges of death into the fullest measure of His life, that they might minister that life as rivers of living water issuing forth out of their innermost being until "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). Amen and Amen!
Stay tuned for future serious, seminal samplings.
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John R Gavazzoni
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