The Herald of His Coming
There is an illuminating word in 2 Thessalonians 3:1. The great Apostle Paul begs the young Christians at Thessalonica to pray that the Word of the Lord may have free course - or that it may run.
If we remember that the subject of the two Epistles to the Thessalonians is the coming again of the Lord Jesus, we shall realise how striking and appropriate is this figure of speech. The King is coming, and His herald runs before Him announcing the fact. The Word of the Lord is the herald. It is the Gospel, of course, but not the Gospel as it is so poorly understood and preached by many preachers in these slack days. The Gospel of God is concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is raised up from the dead and set in the place of supremacy at God's right hand, to administer the grace of God from that place of power to all who will receive the Word, until the hour arrives when He shall appear in glory and God shall set Him on His throne in Zion. This was the word that the apostles preached, with the result that those who believed it "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, our Deliverer from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1).
This Word of the Lord, the herald going before the Lord to announce His coming, is indeed a word of grace, the Gospel of our salvation, giving all who believe it a heavenly hope, but it is also an imperative word, it claims and commands obedience. It is like the herald that went before Joseph in Egypt, crying, "Bow the knee" (Genesis 41:43), and those that refuse to obey it, "that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" are to be "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power" at His appearing (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Question: You want us to understand that the Word of the Lord proclaims the coming of the Lord in glory - His appearing; can you give Scripture for it?
Yes. I will give three from the Apostolic preaching in the Acts of the Apostles.
- Peter said, "Repent . And He (God) shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:20 ,21).
- Again, "And He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which is ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and dead" (ch.10:42).
- Paul said, "God ... now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (ch.17:30,31).
The Judgement and the Blessing of His Coming
Question: One of those Scriptures speaks of blessing, and the others of judgment; which is it that the appearing of the Lord will bring?
God's purpose is the blessing of men, and Christ is coming for blessing and to fulfil the Scripture, "I have set Thee to be a light to the Gentiles, that Thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47 ), but judgment must go before the blessing, because of what men are. It is the persistent rebellion of men against God that makes judgment a necessity. Yet judgment is God's strange work; He does not delight in it, He delights in mercy. This comes out in the very language that Scripture uses. When it is a question of judgment, we read "a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Romans 9:28 ), but when it is a question of mercy, "He is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9). When vengeance is in view it is "the day of vengeance, but when mercy, it is the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4). It is because God's terms of grace are rejected, and because the world will not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and because men will not receive the knowledge of God when they may, that judgment must come, and it surely will come, though long delayed. The blessing will also come, "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass" (Psalm 72:6).
THE RAIN SPEAKS OF THE BLESSING, BUT "THE MOWN GRASS "MEANS THAT THE SCYTHE OF JUDGMENT WILL HAVE SWEPT THE FIELD BEFORE THE BLESSING DESCENDS.
Question: But the Lord will not come in judgment as long as His Church is on the earth?
No, because evil will not come into its full manifestation as long as the church is here, and God withholds His judgment until evil reaches its climax, that none may charge Him with unrighteousness. That is plain from 2 Thessalonians 2. The mystery of iniquity is already working, and those who are taught of God can discern it; indeed it is obtruding itself everywhere, in the increasing lawlessness, the impatience at authority, the disdain of God's claims and the diminishing of His fear in the world, the rejection of the great truths of the Word, the spread of ritualism and modernism, and the substitution of "Science falsely so called" for the Gospel in professed Christian circles; yet there is a restraining power here. There is that which withholdeth, or restraineth, and "He who now letteth (or hindereth), will let, until He be taken out of the way" (ch.2:6,7). He that hindereth is the Holy Spirit of God who dwells in the church. As long as He is here it will be said to all the pride and purposes of men, "Hitherto shalt thou come and no further, and here shall all thy proud waves be stayed."
We have often seen it, especially during the last quarter of a century, when evil forces have seemed to be rising up in irresistible waves, threatening to overwhelm all law and order, they have been checked and have subsided, and Christians have still been able to "pray for kings and for all that be in authority, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty." But when the church is completed and taken up to Heaven, the Holy Spirit will go with it, and God will allow men to have their own way. Then "that man of sin," "the son of perdition" (v.3) and "that wicked one" (v.8) will be revealed.
In these two men - the Beast and the false prophet, who is also called Antichrist, and of whom we read in Revelation chapter 13,17,19, - Satan will find vessels of wrath, through whom he will work his will, and by them he will make his most desperate attempt to hold the world against God and Christ (see Revelation 16:13,14; 17:14). It is against these and their deluded followers that the Lord will appear in judgment. Revelation 19:11-21 describes this appearing. Every name and character that He bears in that vivid description of His appearing is consistent with the event.
He is the Faithful and the True, in contrast to the false pretensions of men and the lie with which the devil has deceived them (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11). "In righteousness He will judge and make war," against all "the deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish." He is called "the Word of God," for He will reveal God's holy wrath against sin in its completeness, as once He revealed His love to sinners. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and will assert and establish His rights by the sharp sword of His mouth and with the rod of iron. There will be no mercy for those who oppose Him, for He will tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
In Flaming Fire
Question: Does 2 Thessalonians 1, where we read of the Lord being revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, refer to the same time as Revelation 19?
Yes, but in that passage [Rev. 19] the judgment takes a wider sweep, it has more than the armies of the Beast and false prophet in view. The flaming fire, which is figurative of judgment, is against all who know not God and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have not obeyed the Gospel, are those who have heard it, and would apply to Christendom, and those who know not God are those who have had the opportunity of knowing Him, but who have not availed themselves of it. The judgment will fit the crimes and the conditions in which men are found; it will be a discriminating judgment, executed in absolute righteousness. Another passage that fits in with those already cited is Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen." That word plainly describes the Lord's appearing, not to any section of mankind, but to the whole world, and it is a parallel word to Matthew 24:30, where the Lord Himself says, "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven: and then shall the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory." He comes thus to judge the living at His appearing, the dead will not come before Him until the great white Throne (Revelation 20), which judgment will take place after the close of His Millennial Kingdom.
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