Christ or Antichrist: for whom do we wait?
Notes of an address given at Edinburgh 1913
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from [out of] the hour of temptation [trial], which shall come upon all the [habitable] world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 3:10-11)
This scripture presents the church’s proper and proximate hope on the one hand, and, on the other, gives us the Lord’s solemn warning as to an immense danger to which we are subject; viz, the giving up of that hope, and thus losing our crown. The church as a whole has lost the sense of the Lord’s speedy coming, but let us not forget that the Lord’s coming is the true hope of the church.
We all know how, by God’s grace, this precious truth has been recovered in the last century, and some of us for a time—longer or shorter—have been glorying in the blessed truth that we shall soon see the One who has loved us with a love deeper and stronger than death, and it is the joy of our hearts to know that at any moment He may come.
I have been meeting lately the fatal doctrine—by no means new, though now pressed in most unexpected quarters—that the church, instead of waiting for the heavenly Bridegroom hour by hour, has, forsooth, to wait for the appearing of Antichrist, and then go through “the great tribulation.” I sound a warning note regarding this error. The very foundations of Christianity are being undermined on every hand, and it is no wonder that the top-stones are being attacked as well. The foundation truths of the virgin birth of the Lord, His holy life, His blessed Manhood, and His death and resurrection are being set aside boldly. If you don’t know these things it is well that you should be told; and now the rapture of the church—the crown of all our blessing—is being attacked also.
God has warned us of that which is now before our eyes in very striking language. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We live in the day of fables, and one of the fables that Satan is promulgating now among the children of God is that we are not to wait momentarily for the coming of the Lord, but that we are first to await “the man of sin”—“the son of perdition,”—and then go through the time of terrible tribulation of which several scriptures speak so very clearly.
We shall see, however, that all these scriptures connect the tribulation with an earthly people; not with the church of God, which is heavenly in its origin and destiny.
I would draw your attention to the peculiar way in which the blessed Lord speaks to the Philadelphian church “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial, which shall come upon all the habitable world to try them that dwell upon the earth.” She shall be kept out of the hour of trial, i.e. the period during which the trial will affect them that “dwell upon the earth.” They will taste the trial, but not so the church. She shall be kept out of it, i.e. never go through it. The class of people whose hopes and hearts are down here in this earth are often spoken of as earth-dwellers in the Book of Revelation (see 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13: 8, 14; 17:8).
Now let us inquire what is meant by this “hour of trial” or “trouble.” It is frequently alluded to in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jeremiah 30 gives us the moment the Lord alludes to (read verses 1-7). It is God’s earthly people—Israel—manifestly, who are in view. The very expression, “time of Jacob’s trouble” shows this. Verse 3 tells us that it is the time when God’s ancient people—Israel—are gathered back again to their own land—Palestine. The two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, will be purged in the land. That we learn from Zechariah 13:8-9; and so the time of “trouble” in Jeremiah 30 manifestly has no relation to the church of God, but to His ancient, earthly people.
Now turn to Daniel 12, which should remove all doubt as to this matter.
“At that time... there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered” (v. 1). The term “thy people” means the Jew; it is an earthly people—Daniel’s folk. I do not say that such are those of whom the Lord speaks as “dwelling on the earth” in Revelation 3, but it is clearly an earthly company, and “Jacob’s trouble” indicates those who will pass through it. Coming now to the New Testament, we pass to Matthew 24. There the Lord alludes to this time of trouble in that wonderful discourse given two days before He died. He says, “there should be wars and rumours of wars.” Then, that the dwellers in Palestine “shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place” (v. 11). This contemplates the Jews gathered again in their own land, the temple rebuilt, and idolatry again established in their midst. What a sad prospect.
Intimately coupled with “the abomination of desolation,” is the history of a purely earthly people, who dwell in Judea. And “there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (v. 21). This tribulation is God’s righteous retributive, governmental, answer to their ways because they have murdered their Messiah, resisted the Holy Ghost, spurned a heavenly Saviour; and further, again lapsed into idolatry. Because of all this one can easily see why judgment purely earthly falls on an earthly people; but for “the elect’s sake” those days shall be shortened.
Again, in Mark 13:19-20, we have the same moment alluded to. But in every case it is Jacob or Israel, Judea or Jerusalem, who are in view. I believe that we—the church—will have been raptured to glory some time ere that moment comes. Alas that today the vigorous effort should be made to get the saints—a heavenly company—lured to think that she has to go through this terrible tribulation. What is the inevitable result? The eye is taken off Christ and the attention of the saints rivetted on earthly scenes. Instead of expecting Him we are told to give this blessed hope up, and wait, instead, to see the Devil’s christ, and then pass through great tribulation upon the earth. This is only Satan’s way of drawing the heart from Christ in heaven and, practically speaking, link us with the “evil servant” in our pathway here. This is not of God—you may be assured.
But let us look at another scripture—Revelation 7:9-17. Please carefully read this portion. Notice that the twenty-four elders here are intelligent. The twenty-four elders are the figures of the heavenly saints, who are in the sweetest association with Christ in glory. We find in chapters 4 and 5 the position of these twenty-four elders. They represent the double course of priesthood—twice twelve—symbolical of Old Testament saints and New Testament saints, who equally are partakers of the heavenly calling and share heavenly blessings with Christ. We ought to be intelligent as to the ways and purposes of God. He expects us to be intelligent. In the fifth chapter we find the question raised, “Who is worthy to loose the seven seals?” (v. 3), and the answer comes in verse 5. There one of the elders steps forth and says to John, “Weep not, for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the book.” We must not confound the twenty-four elders with the sealed one hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel, or with the great multitude of chapter 7. Each company is distinct. As to the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, what is that? Measured grace. The faithful grace of God to Israel is absolute: it is perfect: all His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are fulfilled, and their seed are blessed; but after all, it is what I may call measured grace. But “that great multitude which no man can number tells of unmeasured and immeasurable grace. Its very largeness is refreshing. The grace of God, flowing out to the Gentile nations by and by is what is seen here. Uncountable multitudes, to whom no promise was made are blessed, and will enjoy millennial blessing under the sway of the Lord. They are the earthly company which will come “out of the great tribulation.”
Notice again that it is one of the twenty-four elders—one of the heavenly saints—who inquires, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” and John said, “Sir, thou knowest?” The elders understand who the earthly companies are. Manifestly not the church, which the elders signify. Further, this must be an earthly scene, for the temple is there (v. 15), whereas in Revelation 21 where the church is seen in glory there is “no temple” (Rev. 21:22).
But though the company and scene of Revelation 7 is earthly, it is blessed to see the position they occupy. Serving God as they will, in His temple, they have a priestly place and priestly functions. They praise God. Observe, these people are priests. They are connected with the temple and it cannot be heavenly. It is a wonderful unfolding of what the earth’s future will be. The church is not in view, but in the midst of a book of judgment we see how Israel and the Gentiles get blessing on the earth when the Lord comes back. “For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (v. 17). It is a great thing to find out that God has wondrous blessing for others besides the church. It will help you if you see that Revelation 7 has no relation to us at all, and that we are not in it. Our portion, the portion of the church, is heaven not earth.
Go to chapter 21, and there you may see yourself, and thank God for the wonderful place you have got. Don’t forget, there is no temple THERE. Why? Because it is all temple. The idea of a temple is a peculiar shrine into which certain favoured people can come and there worship. But the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the bride, the Lamb’s wife, is all temple. There God and the Lamb are fully made known and enjoyed.
There is only one more scripture I would refer to. It is Revelation 12. The “Man child” in this passage is Christ, but I greatly question if it means Christ only. I believe it embraces more than the blessed Lord Himself, because Christ shares everything with His beloved bride, and on the ground of this I apprehend that the Man child is Christ and the church. The woman—Israel—brought forth a “man child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to His throne” (v. 5). Now to rule the nations with a rod of iron is the promise made to the overcomer, Thyatira (see Rev. 2:24). That is, the Lord associates His saints with Himself in the day when He takes His power and will rule and reign. When He does that, dear fellow-believer, you and I will be with Him, and therefore I apprehend that the taking up of the “man child” includes the church. The Lord has Himself gone up already. His bride—His church, who is one with Him—waits to be caught up to Him. This must take place before He can reign over the kingdoms of this world (11:15). Not till the church has gone up is the devil cast down, knowing that his time is short. It is then—I repeat, after the church has gone up—that “the great tribulation” will begin.
How precious, and how important also, is it, in view of all this, to get hold of the Lord’s word to Philadelphia—“I will keep thee out of the hour of trial... which shall try them that dwell on the earth.” The expression “dwell on the earth,” evidently means a class of people whose whole heart and thought and mind and object, will be here on earth. To dwell in heaven should surely be the characteristic of the saints at the present moment, and I am persuaded in the main your hearts are in heaven, dear fellow-saints, because your treasure is there. “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Heavenly hopes and aspirations are ours, thank God, and we are waiting for the moment when the Lord will take us thither. If I have to wait for Antichrist to be manifested, and for the “tribulation” to set in, then I cannot be waiting for the Lord to come at any moment. But some may say: “That is only one scripture.” Is not one enough? One scripture tells me on the authority of the Lord Himself that the church shall not go through the tribulation. That one word from the blessed Lord Himself in glory is quite enough for me. I hope it is for you.
Now mark His next injunction. “I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev. 3:11). Beloved brethren, to lose the hope of the church is fatal. I once heard a servant of God say: “If you cut off the top shoot of a tree it will arrest its growth, and if you give up the hope of the church—the immediate coming of the Lord, the return of the blessed Lord and Saviour at any moment—you will become worldly, and will incur spiritual death.” A true testimony that God, in His grace, keep us from losing our crown. Hold fast what you have got. Don’t give it up; and, more than that, may it be a living power in our souls, that we might be “like unto men that wait for their Lord.”
How sweet is it to hear Him thrice say in the closing page of Scripture, “I come quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). In verse 7, He adds: “Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” If you see the world doomed to judgment you will keep clear of it. In verse 12 He adds: “My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” This reward for little bits of service which He will then give to us should stimulate us now to serve Him till He come.
Lastly, He presents Himself as the coming One—the “Morning Star.” As soon as He presents Himself in this way, the Spirit and the bride with all affection respond. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come’! And let him that heareth say ‘Come!’” and then, in the meantime, while waiting for Him, both Spirit and bride say to the thirsty world around, “Let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
I believe the more earnestly we are waiting for the coming of the Lord, the more fervent and energetic we shall be in our service, and the more desirous we shall be to win hearts for Him. We shall want to tell out the charming message of His love, and what joy is it to see the living water drunk. With this gospel invitation the testimony of love closes, while His last words are, “Surely, I come quickly.” But there is a voice on earth that replies, it is the voice of the bride who loves Him, and she says, “Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.” God’s Book closes with that cry of affection from the bride on earth to the Bridegroom in heaven to come. Brethren, He is coming, and very soon. Let us all really look for Him day by day.