Lewis Sperry Chafer - Return of Jesus Christ

The Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ
By Lewis Sperry Chafer 1871-1952
part 1
The doctrine chosen for this chapter is one of the most important themes of unfulfilled prophecy. The student should be reminded that prophecy is God's pre-written history and is therefore as credible as other parts of the Scriptures. Almost one-fourth of the Bible was in the form of prediction when it was written. Much has been fulfilled, and in every case its fulfillment has been the most literal realization of all that was prophesied. As pre-announced many centuries before the birth of Christ, He, when He came, was of the tribe of Judah, a son of Abraham, a son of David, born of a virgin in Bethlehem. In like manner, the explicit details of His death foretold in Psalm 22, a thousand years before, were precisely fulfilled.
The Word of God also presents much prophecy which at the present time is unfulfilled and it is reasonable as well as honoring to God to believe that it will be fulfilled in the same faithfulness which has characterized all His works to the present hour.
The fact that Christ is to return to this earth as He went -- "this same Jesus," in His resurrection body, and on the clouds of heaven (Acts 1:11) -- is so clearly and extensively taught in the prophetic Scriptures that this truth has been included in all the great creeds of Christendom. However, the doctrine of the return of Christ demands most careful and discriminating consideration.
In common with Bible students generally, distinction is made between two yet future events. We therefore assign the study of one -- Christ coming for His saints -- to this chapter, and the study of the other -- Christ coming with His saints -- to the following chapter (below). Though but one aspect of truth is indicated by each of these titles, the Scriptures reveal that much more will be accomplished in each of these events than the titles suggest. Conforming to the incomplete statement of truth proposed by these titles, we observe that in the body of Scripture assigned to this chapter, Christ is seen descending into the air and there receiving to Himself the saints who are caught up from the earth to meet Him -- some of these to be raised from the dead and some to be translated from the living state (1Co 15:22-23, 1Co 15:51-52). However, in that body of Scripture assigned to the next chapter, He is seen descending to the earth (Zec 14:4-7) with His glorified saints as His bride attending (Rev 19:7-8, Rev 19:14; Jud 1:14), to sit upon the throne of David (Luk 1:32), which is also "the throne of His glory" (Mat 25:31). Though these two events differ in every particular, they are often confused, and for this reason this chapter should be closely compared with the one which is to follow.
In contemplating the prophetic doctrine of Christ's coming for His saints, it should be noted:
First. -- The order of these two events is obvious: Christ cannot come to the earth with His saints until He shall have come for them. They must be gathered together "unto him" (2Th 2:1) before they can "appear with him" in glory (Col 3:4). Though these events are probably separated by only a brief period of time, according to prophecy, there is much to be fulfilled between these events which is world transforming (2Th 2:3-4; Rev 4:1 to Rev 19:10).
Second. -- The long predicted second coming of Christ to this earth will be completely fulfilled when He comes with His saints, and, therefore, the coming of Christ for His own sustains no relation to it whatsoever. The two events are not two phases or aspects of one divine undertaking. The Scriptures present the coming of Christ for His own as a mystery or sacred secret (1Co 15:51) -- meaning something hitherto unrevealed, but to be understood after it is divinely disclosed (Deut 29:29; Mat 13:35). The New Testament revelation concerning Christ's coming for His own could not have been seen in the Old Testament since it is only one aspect of truth (God's way of taking His people out of the world) related to the Church; which Church is a sacred secret, having been nowhere directly anticipated in the Old Testament. Likewise, the Church could not have been revealed in the Old Testament since it is only one of the divine purposes in the present age; which age is itself a sacred secret, not having been revealed in the Old Testament (Mat 13:11).
In contrast to all this, the second coming of Christ is in no sense a mystery or sacred secret, since it is one of the most important themes of the Old Testament (Deut 30:3; Psa 2:1-9; Psa 24:1-10; Psa 50:1-5; Psa 96:10-13; Isa 11:10-11; Jer 23:5-6; Eze 37:21-22; Dan 7:13- 14; Zec 2:10-12).
Third. -- As revealed in the Scriptures, His coming for His saints is the next event in the order of the fulfillment of prophecy, and is, therefore, that for which the child of God should be waiting (1Th 1:9-10), and looking (Phil 3:20; Tit 2:11-14; Heb 9:28), and which he should be loving (2Ti 4:8). The Scriptures bearing on the coming of Christ for His own are explicit: In 1Th 4:13-18 it is revealed that when Christ comes the "dead in Christ" will rise first and the living saints, together with them, will be caught up in the air to meet the Lord and to be forever with the Lord.
In 1Co 15:51-53, the same fact of the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" and the transformation of the living is set forth; but with the added revelation that the translation and transformation of the living saints will be as suddenly as "the twinkling of an eye," and at the sounding of the "last trump."
In John 14:1-3, it is disclosed that Christ will receive His own unto Himself: not into the mansions, but into the place which He has gone to prepare. Again, in Phil 3:20-21, it is stated that at His coming "he shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." In like manner, the time of Christ's coming for His own will be the time when they shall appear before His judgment seat to receive their rewards for service (1Co 3:11-15; Mat 16:27; Luk 14:14; 1Co 4:5; 2Ti 4:8; 2Co 5:10).
As certainly as the coming of Christ for His saints is not revealed in the Old Testament, so certainly it has no relation to the unsaved. To the Christian, however, it is, in the purpose of God:
1. A Comforting Hope. -- Comfort is derived from the fact that Christ may come at any time and that there is not a whole lifetime, necessarily, or until death, before the believer may see his Lord, and also from the fact that when He shall come the child of God will be instantly in the presence and fellowship of those loved ones who were saved and who have gone on before (1Th 4:18).
2. A Purifying Hope. -- No one can contemplate the fact that Christ may come at any moment and not have his conduct affected by that belief (1Jo 3:1-3).
3. A Blessed Hope. -- There is nothing comparable to the expectation that, through riches of grace, the saved one will see his Lord face to face, be with Him, and be like Him (John 14:3; 1Th 4:17; 1Jo 3:3).
part 2
Since the theme of this chapter is so commonly confused with that of the preceding one, it is important that the two be studied together in order that the contrasts which appear at almost every point may be discerned. The title of this, as of the previous chapter, is based on one aspect of truth within the whole doctrine which this chapter is supposed to cover. The doctrine to be considered contemplates all that enters into the world-transforming event of the Second Coming of Christ, while the fact that the saints will return to this earth with Him when He comes is, comparatively, a limited portion of the whole revelation.
1. The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ, will return to this earth (Zec 14:4), personally (Rev 19:11-16; Mat 25:31), and on the clouds of heaven (Mat 24:30; Acts 1:11; Rev 1:7). It should not be difficult to believe the testimony of these Scriptures, since God has promised it and since He who went on the clouds of heaven has already spent forty days on the earth in His glorified, resurrection body.
2. The general theme concerning the return of Christ has the unique distinction of being the first prophecy uttered by man (Jud 1:14-15) and the last message from the ascended Christ as well as being the last word of the Bible (Rev 22:20-21).
3. Likewise, the theme of the Second Coming of Christ is unique because of the fact that it occupies a larger part of the text of the Scriptures than any other doctrine, and it is the outstanding theme of prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact all other prophecy largely contributes to the one great end of the complete setting forth of this crowning event -- the Second Coming of Christ.
1. The nation Israel, God's chosen earthly people, to whom at least five-sixths of the Bible is addressed and with whom the great covenants are made (Rom 9:4-5) -- which covenants secure to that nation a land, a nation, a throne, a King, and a kingdom -- are now scattered throughout all the nations of the earth (Deut 4:26-28; Deut 28:63-68; Jer 16:13), and are to remain scattered until they (a remnant; ed.) are gathered into their own land (Deut 30:3-6; Isa 11:11-12; Isa 14:1-3; Isa 60:1-22; Jer 23:6-8; Jer 32:37-44; Jer 33:7-9; Eze 37:21-25; Mic 4:6-8) under the reign of Christ Jesus at His return.
Though every covenant with His earthly people was in full force when Christ came the first time, and had been for hundreds of years, not a semblance of their fulfillment was experienced at that time; but the Scriptures declare that all these covenants will be fulfilled when He comes the second time. These covenants are of endless duration and are as secure as the faithfulness of God who has sworn with an oath concerning them. The nation will possess their land at the coming of their King, and He will sit on David's throne (Luk 1:31-33). The Deliverer coming out of Sion shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom 11:26-27. See, also, Eze 37:1-14). The return of Christ to the earth and its blessing to the nation Israel is the great burden of Old Testament prophecy.
2. The redeemed ones of this age -- the Church which is His body -- are seen coming with Christ when He comes again (Rev 19:7-16; 1Th 3:13; Jud 1:14). The Church is the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-33; Rev 19:7; Rev 21:9) and as such will have right and title with Him as consort in His reign (2Ti 2:12; Rev 20:6; Rev 22:5). Until the Church is taken to meet the Lord, she is His espoused awaiting her wedding day; her marriage will be in Heaven, and she will return with Him after the wedding (Luk 12:36).
3. The nations of the earth will be brought into judgment when Christ comes and when He sits on the "throne of his glory" (Mat 25:31-46. Note, also, the "Smiting Stone" of Dan 2:31-45). Three classes are in view at the judgment of the nations -- the sheep, the goats, and "my brethren." Though the sheep and the brethren are both under divine favor, it must be observed that they are not the same. The sheep are to enter the kingdom on the ground of their treatment of the brethren. So also, the goats are to be rejected on the same basis. The Church is not in view.
This judgment occurs after the Church has been received into Heaven, and after the "Great Tribulation" (Mat 24:21) when Israel -- "my brethren" -- will have experienced her supreme suffering [as her judgment from the hand of Almighty God for rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ; Hos 5:15; Mat 23:37-39; ed.]; (Deut 4:29-30; Psa 2:5; Jer 30:4-7; Dan 12:1; Mat 24:9-28; 2Th 2:8-12; Rev 3:10; Rev 7:13-14; Rev 11:1 to Rev 19:6). This judgment will determine...(who will be allowed [ed.])...of the nations to enter the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth. Again, this judgment should be distinguished from that of "The Great White Throne" which follows a thousand years later, and after the kingdom rule of Christ in the earth.
4. All creation will be restored to its Edenic glory when Christ returns (Rom 8:19-23).
5. Satan will be bound and confined to the abyss for a thousand years when Christ returns (Rev 20:1-3).
The two events -- Christ's coming for His saints and his coming with His saints may be distinguished thus (for brevity, the first event will be indicated by (a), and the second event by (b):

(a) "Our gathering together unto him";
(b) "The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" (2Th 2:1).

(a) He comes as the "Morning Star" (Rev 2:28; Rev 22:16; 2Pe 1:19);
(b) as "The Sun of Righteousness" (Mal 4:2).

(a) The "Day of Christ" (1Co 1:8; 2Co 1:14; Phil 1:6, Phil 1:10; Phil 2:16);
(b) "The Day of the Lord" (2Pe 3:10).

(a) A signless event;
(b) its approach to be observed (1Th 5:4; Heb 10:25).

(a) A timeless event -- at any moment;
(b) fulfillment of prophecy to precede it.

(a) No reference to evil;
(b) evil ended, Satan judged, the Man of Sin destroyed.

(a) Israel unchanged;
(b) all her covenants fulfilled.

(a) The Church removed from the earth;
(b) [Church] returning with Christ.

(a) The Gentile nations unchanged;
(b) [Gentile nations] judged.

(a) Creation unchanged;
(b) [Creation] delivered from the bondage of corruption.

(a) A "mystery" not before revealed;
(b) seen throughout the Old and New Testaments.

(a) Hope centered in Christ -- "the Lord is at hand" (Phil 4:5);
(b) "the kingdom is at hand" (Mat 24:14).

(a) Christ appears as Bridegroom, Lord, and Head to the Church;
(b) He appears as King, Messiah, and Immanuel to Israel.

(a) His coming unseen by the world;
(b) coming in power and great glory.

(a) Christians are judged as to rewards;
(b) nations judged as to the kingdom.
Important Scripture:
(a) John 14:1-3; 1Co 15:51-52; 1Th 4:13-18; Phil 3:20-21; 2Co 5:10.
(b) Deut 30:1-10; Psalm 72. Note all the prophets; Mat 25:1-44; Acts 1:11; Acts 15:13-18; 2Th 2:1-12; 2Pe 2:1 to 2Pe 3:18; Rev 19:11 to Rev. 20:6.
related studies:
The Tribulation by H.A. Ironside (1876-1951)
The Midnight Cry; by C.H. Mackintosh (1820-1896)
Olivet Discourse Mt 24-25 and Christians by A.C. Gaebelein (1861-1945)

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