By the word of the Lord, we declare to you that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep.
I. THE FIRST EVENT IS THE ADVENT OF CHRIST.
1. He is to come in Person. He does not forget the world for which he died. He will return to his weary, waiting Church.
2. He is to come in glory. His first advent was humble and obscure. Few knew the Babe in the manger. Lowly and self-sacrificing was the whole life that followed. But every one that humbleth himself shall be exalted. The humble Jesus is to come again as the exalted Lord.
3. He is to come conspicuously. The shout, the full voice of an archangel, the blast of a trumpet - these awful sounds surely betoken no obscure mystical advent which can be questioned after it has occurred. When Christ comes a second time no one will say, "Is the Lord among us or no?" All will hear the great shout and the pealing angel-notes.
II. THE SECOND EVENT IS THE RETURN OF THE DEPARTED. Instead of missing the joy of that great advent, as their friends sadly feared, those Christians who had fallen asleep will be the first to share it. The trumpet will awake the dead before it arouses the living. There will be no advantage in being among the living at the time of the second coming of Christ. Some, even in our own day, have fondly hoped for some such privilege. But St. Paul distinctly tells us that the privilege is the other way. The departed will be the most privileged. This is fair; for if they have endured the pangs of death to reach Christ, it is right that they should see him first.
III. THE THIRD EVENT IS THE ASSOCIATION OF LIVING CHRISTIANS WITH THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST. They take the second place in honor, not having wrestled with death and conquered the dread foe, as their departed brethren have done. But they also join in the glad triumph of their Lord. Of the physical process described as being "caught up into the clouds" we know nothing, and therefore cannot tell how it will be realized till it is accomplished. The attempt to explain it has only made the subject ridiculous. But the two spiritual facts accompanying it are clear. A joyous meeting with Christ and the departed, and a change of state and sphere; the earthly life and its limitations giving place to the heavenly life and its more exalted powers.
IV. THE ETERNAL CONSEQUENCE IS THE PERMANENT DWELLING OF CHRISTIANS WITH CHRIST. The second advent here described is not a passing event which ends. It is not a mere visit of Christ. It is not like the first advent, which, after a few years, was followed by the death and, after his resurrection, the ascension of Christ. Christ will never leave his people again.
1. It secures joy. The joy of love is to be with those we love. The highest Christian happiness is to be "forever with the Lord." This is heaven.
2. It protects from trouble. God wipes away tears from all eyes. Associated with Christ for ever, his people can never weep again.
3. It guards from sin. Where the triumphant Christ always is, the defeated tempter can never come.
4. It accomplishes the reunion of friends. All being with Christ, all are also together. The home is perfected by the gathering of the blessed dead with the glorified living around the abiding Christ. - W.F.A.
This we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remainwe not of him who associates himself with some accidental and arbitrary class, but of him who believes in the "Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints" — the we of a true member of the supernatural community. He writes as a living man to living men, from the point of view of intimate communion with them; with that prophetic sympathy with the Church of the future which makes his pulses throb in unison with the waiting congregation of the redeemed. He puts himself in the same attitude with those who shall be alive at the Great Advent, "All who are alive on earth as we now are." Speaking as the mouthpiece of a generation which, like each of its successors, represents those who shall be alive at the Lord's coming, he says, "We" — we, the living, the "left over" — a word which is not without a tinge of sadness, in subtle harmony with the purpose Paul had in view. The fear which the Thessalonians had for their beloved ones was lest they might have suffered loss. They pitied them because they were taken. By this twice-repeated word, the pathetic refrain of this wonderful dirge (vers. 15, 17), the apostle seems to say — not that they are to be pitied; rather we who are left over, left without them in the world. If there is any leaving out in the case, it is we who are left out, not they.
I. THAT THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST IS THE SUBJECT OF DIVINE REVELATION. "By the Word of the Lord." In a subject of such vast moment Paul was anxious to show that he spoke on the most incontrovertible authority. He had a special revelation, and spoke under the immediate inspiration of the Divine Spirit. The Second Advent is emphatically taught in the Scriptures.
II. THAT THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST WILL BE DISTINGUISHED BY SIGNAL TOKENS OF TERRIBLE MAJESTY.
1. There will be the triumphant shout of the Divine Redeemer (ver. 16). Just before Jesus expired on the cross He cried with a loud voice, and, though there was the ring of victory in that cry, it sounded more like a conscious relief from unutterable suffering. But the shout of Jesus on His second coming will be like the battle shout of a Great Conqueror. It will break the silence of the ages, startle the universe into attention, raise the dead, and summon all people to the presence of the victorious Messiah. Formerly He did not cry (Isaiah 42:2). But now is the revelation of His power (Psalm 50:3, 4).
2. There will be the voice of the archangel (ver. 16), the chief of the heavenly multitude. In response to the majestic shout of the descending Lord, he lifts up his voice, like the loud cry of a herald, announcing the glorious advent, and the sound is caught up and prolonged by the vast hosts of celestial attendants.
3. There will be the trumpet blast. "With the trump of God" (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52). Among the Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins it was the custom to summon the people with the trumpet. In this way God is said to gather His people together (Isaiah 27:13; Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 6:1). The whole passage is designed to show that the Second Advent of King Messiah will be attended by the most imposing evidences of pomp and regal splendour.
III. THAT THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST WILL BE FOLLOWED BY IMPORTANT CONSEQUENCES TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD — LIVING AND DEAD.
1. The pious dead shall be raised (vers. 15, 16). The living at that day shall have no advantage over the dead. Before any change takes place in the living, to fit them for the new condition of things, "the dead in Christ shall rise first," and be clothed with immortality and incorruptible splendour. Whatever disadvantages may be the lot of some of God's people over others, they are ever recompensed by some special privilege. The best state for us is that in which God places us. And yet every man thinks another's condition happier than his own. Rare, indeed, is the man who thinks his own state and condition in every respect best for him.
2. The living and the raised shall unite in a simultaneous greeting of their descending Lord (ver. 17). The living, after passing through the wondrous change, shall not anticipate the newly-raised bodies of the pious dead, but together with them — in one reunited, loving, inseparable company — shall be caught away in the chariot of clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and greet Him in the descent. He comes to fulfil His promise (John 14:3).
3. All believers in Christ shall be assured of eternal felicity with Him. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" (ver. 17) — in familiar companionship, in rapturous communion, in impending "glory, "in ever-enchanting revelations. With Him, not occasionally, or for an age, or a millennium, but uninterruptedly, forever. How great the contrast with the brightest experiences of this changeful life! There are three things which eminently distinguish the heavenly life of the soul — perfection, perpetuity, immutability. The exact locality is not mentioned. It is enough to be assured that we are to abide with Jesus in some place where parting is unknown.
IV. THAT THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST IS CALCULATED TO MINISTER CONSOLATION TO THE SORROWING (ver. 18). The best consolation is that which is drawn from God's Word. The bereaved were sorrowing for their loved ones, and were full of uncertainty about the future. The teaching of inspiration assures them that their departed relatives shall be rescued from the power of death, that they shall meet again in glory to be forever with each other and with the Lord. The wants and distresses of certain individuals may be the occasion for the revelation of given truths, and the truths once revealed remain in the Church forever. Lessons:
1. The Church is justified in looking for the Second Advent.
2. That Advent will bring an everlasting recompense for the sorrow of the present life.
3. The record which reveals that Advent should be prized and pondered.
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