|Then we which are alive and remain (on the earth) shall be caught up together with them (the resurrected ones) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.| In connection with this statement we would call attention to another Scripture which at first sight appears to have no bearing upon it at all. We refer to the words of our Lord recorded in John 12:32 -- |And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.| We hesitate to set forth our own understanding of this passage because it differs widely from the generally received interpretation of it. It is from no desire to pander to the modern and miserable craving for novel expositions of Scripture that we advance our own view, but simply because necessity is laid upon us. |I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Me| the word |men| inserted in italics has no equivalent in the original, and hence we must understand the |all| to refer to all believers. The question we would now raise is, What does the |drawing unto Christ| here have reference to? Personally, we do not think it has any reference to salvation, for where coming to Christ for salvation is in view it is the |Father| who is said to do the |drawing.| This may be verified by a reference to John 6:44, where we read, |No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.| Therefore we submit that our Lord's words here point to the catching up of the saints at the time of His return, that it is then He will |draw| them all |unto Himself.| The words |I ** will draw all unto Me| correspond very closely with that other word of His which has reference to this same event -- |I ** will receive you unto Myself| (John 14:3). We would further suggest that the reason why this |drawing| of all believers unto Himself at the time of His return is linked with His |lifting up| is to show us that this consummating blessing, like every other we enjoy, is based upon His cross-work for us. Finally; it is highly significant, and seems to corroborate our interpretation, that in the verse immediately preceding the one now under consideration, our Lord said, |Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.| It was then -- |now| -- at the Cross, that the Divine sentence was passed but it will not be until the Rapture that it will receive its execution. It is immediately following the |catching up| of the saints, their |drawing| to Christ, that God's |judgment| will fall upon |this world,| as it is then also that its |prince| -- |Satan| -- will be |cast out| of his present domains (see Rev.12:7-9). Who are the ones that shall be |drawn| unto Christ at that day? The answer is found in our Thessalonian Scripture -- |Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord of the air.| We have already contemplated the resurrection of the sleeping saints, let us now say a few words concerning those believers who shall be alive on earth at that time.
It is often said, |There are many things in this life which are uncertain, but one thing is sure: we must all die; we must all pay nature's debt.| Nothing is more common than to hear such affirmations as these which set death before the believer as his inevitable prospect. Such assertions are regarded as axiomatic. Frequently they are repeated from the pulpit. But not so do the Scriptures teach. The Word of God distinctly declares, |We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye| (1 Cor.15:51, 52). So that instead of it being certain that all will die, it is absolutely certain that all believers will not die. A whole generation of Christians, namely, those that are alive upon the earth when our Lord descends from Heaven will be |changed in a moment,| and without passing through death at all, shall be caught up together with the resurrected saints to meet the Lord in the air.
The prospect which God's Word sets before every believer is the imminent return of Christ. Not a dread anticipation of death, but |looking for the Saviour| is to be our daily occupation. Translation to Heaven and not the grave is our goal. That is why it is termed |that blessed hope,| and that is why we are said to be |begotten again unto a living hope| -- a living hope in a dying scene. This hope was active in the hearts of the first-century saints. The Thessalonians had |turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.| They were waiting for Christ not death. Observe that in our text the apostle includes himself among the number of those who might be alive on the earth at the time of Christ's second advent -- |Then we (not |ye|) which are alive and remain shall be caught up;| and again, |We shall not all sleep.| The beloved apostle was not looking the |the king of terrors| but for |the King of Glory.|
Lord, tis for Thee Thy coming we wait;
The sky not the grave is our goal:
The rapture, not death, we gladly await,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.
A striking illustration and type of the removal to heaven of those believers which shall be on the earth at the time of our Lord's return is found in the rapture of Enoch, |By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him| (Heb.11:5). Here was a man of like passions with us, who was raptured to Heaven without seeing death. Such is the blessed prospect which Scripture sets before the Christian as his present hope. We repeat, that all believers on earth at the time of our Lord's descent into the air, shall altogether escape the gloomy portals of the tomb and be translated to Heaven to meet the Lord and be for ever with Him. This will be the fulfillment of our Lord's promise |I will come again and receive you unto Myself.| Observe that our Lord does not say, |I will come again and take you unto Myself,| but |I will come again and receive you unto Myself.| The thought suggested by this distinction is exceedingly precious. |Taking| is an action confined to myself. I may enter an empty room and take a book from the table. But receiving is an action that brings in another. If I |receive| a book the necessary inference is that someone handed it to me. Exactly so will it be at the Rapture. The saints of God are not left alone in this cold wilderness-world. The |other Comforter, even the Spirit of truth| has come to take up His abode in the church, and it is from Him that the Lord Jesus will |receive| it. * And observe further that our Lord did not say |to Heaven,| or |to the Father's House,| but |unto Myself.| The person of Christ is to be the Object before the eye and heart. Thus it was the martyr Stephen -- |Lord Jesus receive my spirit.| Thus it was with the apostle Paul -- |To depart and be with Christ which is far better;| and again, |absent from the body, present with the Lord.| The heart occupied with Him.
|To meet the Lord in the air. Why should the Church meet the Lord in |the air,| rather than on the earth? We would suggest a twofold reason. First, Because the Church is heavenly not earthly. It is heavenly in its origin (1 Cor.15:48). It is heavenly in its calling (Heb.3:1). It is heavenly in its citizenship (Phil.3:20). It is heavenly in its blessings (Eph.1:3). It is heavenly in its destiny (1 Pet.1:4). Therefore will the Church meet its Head in the |air| -- the atmospheric heavens. But second; I believe this joyous meeting between the Lord and His blood-bought people is to be in the air, rather than in the Heaven of heavens, for the purpose of privacy. The eyes of the world shall not gaze upon that holy scene, nor will even the angels (so far as Scripture indicates) witness that first moment when the Redeemer shall meet the redeemed.
|And so shall we ever be with the Lord,| which, as we have seen corresponds with His own blessed promise, |That where I am there ye may be also.| Wondrous privilege! Marvelous prospect! Truly, such love |passeth knowledge.| The place which is due to the Son is the same place which shall be accorded the sons. We are made |joint heirs with Christ.| His inheritance and blessedness shall be shared with His redeemed. He shall come Himself to conduct us to His place! But are we, shall we be, fit, to dwell in such a realm? The answer to this question leads us to consider,