Chapter 4: Knowledge of Prophetic Details Not Necessary
has sometimes been thought that a minute investigation of the details of Scripture prophecy is needful in order to form any judgment as to the manner in which the Scripture presents the second coming of the Lord; and thus, if prophetic details are not understood, or if there is a difficulty in the mind respecting them, the simple subject of the Lord’s coming is either left as one on which no judgment is formed, or else there is an acquiescence of an indefinite kind in the opinions of someone who is supposed (perhaps truly) to be more instructed in Scripture. But while all prophetic details, if rightly learned from the Word of God, have their value in this as in other respects, so far from a knowledge of such minute points being needful as a prerequisite, a definite apprehension of the manner in which the Lord’s second advent is taught in the Word of God, is the rather that which is indispensably necessary as the antecedent qualification; for thus a Christian mind may enter on the details of those prophecies which teach what shall be the future, whether of the Jews, the Gentiles, or the Church of God. This follows from that one event being the turning-point in the dispensational dealing of God. If, then, we have to learn anything as to the details of revealed truth, the primary point is, how our hope—the coming of the Lord Jesus—is set before us.
For if a detailed acquaintance with prophetic expectations is needful before the Lord’s coming can be understood, how would it have been possible for the apostles, or for the Lord Jesus himself, to have taught anything on the subject? How could they have used it as animating hope, leading to watchfulness, sustaining under trial, or purifying the believer? But they did so use it as a fact, the reality of which was apprehended in such a manner that the circumstances could be taught and enforced as to their moral bearings. A marked instance of this is given in the conclusion of 1 Thessalonians 4. The Apostle comforts the Thessalonian Christians concerning their departed brethren, teaching them (what they seem not to have fully known) that the whole "Church of the first-born" shall be gathered together at the coming of the Lord; the dead being raised, and the living changed. He then tells them how the Lord shall come: "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 first: then 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." And this the most uninstructed Christian may do who simply accepts the words of the Apostle as being the truth of God. The scene presented is the very reverse of secrecy: the Lord comes with a shout; His call shall wake the dead; but besides this, the voice of the archangel shall be also heard; and, as if the notion of publicity were intended to be specially enforced, there shall be the sounding of the trump of God. This is just what Christ has promised in Matthew 24:31, when He comes with the clouds of heaven. To say that this triple sound shall not be heard by all, would be a mere addition to Holy Scripture of a kind that contradicts its testimony. We might as well say that "every eye shall see Him" means that He shall only be visible to some few. Above shall be heard the shout, the voice, and the trumpet: on earth the graves of all the sleeping family of faith shall be opened; the sleepers shall arise: and then those living shall with them be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. This, as thus set forth, ought to be our hope. It may have been needful to teach the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord must still be waited for; that the falling away and the revelation of the man of sin had first to take place; but even these things connect themselves with the same hope; for this Head of evil is he "whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming" (2 Thess. 2:8). "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed" (2 Thess. 1:6,7). Thus, at the revelation of Christ from heaven, there shall be rest for His Church, and the destruction of their oppressors. The date which the Spirit gives for both is the same. The Church is called to "patience of hope," and not to mere excitement of speculative expectancy. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ" (2 Thess. 3:5).
 The expression "we which are alive and remain" is what the Church may ever use; it has nothing to do with individual expectancy, but it is the language of corporate hope. "We shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15:52) is of precisely the same character: that portion of the one Church which is living at any given time may use it; for so long as we are alive we do, in fact, belong to the number of the living expectants in contrast to those who have fallen asleep. To suppose that the Apostle imagined when he wrote the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, that the coming of the Lord was so near that he would then be living, is to assume that before he wrote his second epistle he had received such light as to contradict his own previous teaching—a notion utterly subversive of the authority of the first epistle, and also contradictory to the teaching of that epistle itself (Chapter 5:1,2); contradictory also to the fact that he had taught the Thessalonians, when with them, some of the things which he enforces in the second epistle: "Remember ye not that when I was with you I told you these things." He must, therefore, have had all this light before he wrote his first epistle. " We," in corporate expressions, means that portion of the whole body to whom the term can apply. An Israelite will now say, "The Lord led us out of Egypt, and brought us through the Red Sea, and gave us the land which He sware unto our fathers;" but no one imagines that he applies this to himself, or to the generation of men now living.