The Pre-Tribulational Coming of Christ—
A Reversal of Divine Order
It is a sad but historic fact that men, even truly regenerate men, have down the long centuries of the Church’s history possessed a strange tendency for reversing divine order.
Had we time and space at our disposal we could prove demonstrably, that in every area of divine revelation, whether ecclesiastical, doctrinal or eschatalogical, men have altered or reversed things about which God has spoken in the clearest possible terms.
It is with the eschatalogical aspect of divine revelation that we are concerned in this short article. We do not believe for one moment that the Lord’s Coming referred to by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 antedates the coming in Matthew chapter 24; this teaching we abandoned years ago through the helpful and scriptural writings of Dr. S. P. Tregelles and Mr. B. W. Newton.
We consider the utterance of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:29-30 to be basic and fundamental to a clear understanding of the Lord’s Coming; upon this foundation similar teaching by Paul and others is firmly placed.
It is at this point that we notice man’s reversal of divine order in relation to His Coming. It has been and is strenuously asserted by many dear fellow believers, that Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 a Coming that is quite different from the Coming referred to by the Lord in the Olivet discourse, and which precedes it by some seven years. Consciously or unconsciously believers have by this assertion reversed divine order.
We agree that contextually there is a great deal of difference between circumstances of the Coming in Matthew 24 and those of 1 Thessalonians 4, but this gives us no warrant for dividing the two passages to make them teach two different Comings.
In Matthew 24 the rejected King instructs his followers about conditions upon the earth, and signs in the heavens prior to His return, teaching which is both ethnic and cosmic. This teaching was delivered to those, who with the Lord had left the desolate “house” of Israel, and who would be His witnesses until the end of the age.
In what is commonly called the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28, the Lord said to the eleven, that those who through their instrumentality would believe and be baptized, would also be taught to “observe” ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you, and this condition of things would obtain until the end of the age.
It is clear that the “ALL THINGS” commanded by the Lord would, in the very nature of the case, include the teaching of the Lord in the Olivet discourse. Therefore to delete the teaching of the Lord on this occasion, as not applicable to saints of the present dispensation, is to do violence to the words of the risen Christ. The “ALL THINGS” referred to by the Lord in Matthew 28: 20 must be taken in an absolute sense.
This has presented a difficulty to brethren of the pre-tribulation school and to overcome this some have resorted to the unscriptural expedient of relegating the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20, to a future day to be fulfilled by “Jewish believers” after the rapture of the Church.
When confronted with this strange teaching recently, we checked with the late Mr. William Kelly, who in his day was a devoted dispensationalist, and were agreeably surprised to find that without hesitation he considered it to be the Lord’s mandate for the Church in the present age.
In 1 Thess. 4 Paul writes about the Lord’s Coming from a different standpoint and with a different end in view. The end in view in the discourse delivered by the Lord in Matthew 24 is WATCHFULNESS (v. 42), but the end in view in 1 Thessalonians 4 is COMFORT (v. 18).
The question in the minds of some believers of Thessalonica was “what will happen to our loved ones who have died in faith when the Lord returns ?“ Paul had a ready answer for them which was designed to minister comfort to their souls. In verse 15 the apostle prefaces his remarks with the words “for this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord clearly indicating he was about to speak of something which he had received directly from the Lord by revelation.
It is here that our good brethren who differ from us make a mistake. It is supposed, by the words above referred to, that God was giving Paul a revelation of a coming which antidates the Coming referred to by the Lord in the Gospels, and sometimes spoken of as “the secret rapture of the Church”. Such teaching is however a reversal of divine order when we consider that the Lord Himself said His Coming would be “immediately AFTER the tribulation of those days”, Matthew 24:29-30.
What Paul is communicating to the Thessalonian believers is, that when the Lord does return those who are alive at the time will not prevent (lit, go before) them which are asleep, and what is more the dead in Christ shall rise first. Clearly then the revelation that Paul received by “the word of the Lord” does not concern a Coming of different time and order from that already taught in the gospels, but a revelation concerning the order of the rising when the Lord does come, an order which we could not learn from the gospels alone.
May the Lord enable us to preserve a balance in our study and teaching of the Word of God, so that we shall not be guilty of wresting the scriptures and reversing orders which are divine.
Baptist Ministries ©