Our Blessed Hope
by Bro. K.D. Ward
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;”
Of all the great doctrines of the Bible none is more precious than that of the return of Christ. It was called by the Apostle Paul, “the blessed hope.” The word “blessed” means or at least can be translated as “happy.” It is therefore the “happy hope” of every believer in Christ.
When we think of His return for us, we are reassured of His love for us and His nearness to us. It encourages the believer to be faithful and do the work of the Savior, especially that of sharing the gospel of the coming kingdom of the King of kings. It is, therefore, of all doctrines our own “Happy Hope.”
Much confusion however surrounds this endearing doctrine. Believers are divided as to when Christ will come, i.e., before, during or at the end of the Tribulation period. (Matthew 24:29). Sadly, some break fellowship over this doctrine insisting that their position of dogma must be adhered to or else.
This does only harm to the cause of Christ since it causes confusion and unrest in the Christian community, which in turn hinders the work of the Holy Spirit in the spreading of the “hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
I. TWO MAIN CAMPS
Believers are, as it were, divided into “camps” as to the particular dogma they have espoused. The two main camps are the Pre-Trib. and the Post-Trib. This study will focus on the Post-Trib. view and will be presented as the true position of “the blessed hope.”
Matthew chapter twenty four is used by both “camps” to prove their position on the rapture question. The pre-tribulation people say that the chapter is directed to the Jews and cite verses like those that speak of the “temple,” (Matthew 24:1, 2), the “Sabbath,” (Matthew 24:20), and the “abomination of desolation,” (Matthew 24:15), as evidence to prove their position. Their argument is that since these verses have no direct correlation to the church, they do not apply to the church, and therefore the entire chapter is dealing with things that are going to come upon the Jews as a people and nation. This argument appears to be a solid one, and one which deserves our consideration. First though, I want to examine what Jesus is teaching His disciples in the chapter. We will discuss how he is speaking to them, whether as his church or as Jews later.
The subject of the chapter is revealed in the question Christ’s disciples asked Him in verse three. On the mount of Olives His disciples came to Him privately and asked, “when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? The key word here is “sign.” They wanted to know when Jesus would return to the earth and when the end of the world would be. In hermeneutics we are taught to try to understand what was in the mind of the writer of the Scriptures. If I understand that correctly we would also want to know what was in the minds of the men who asked the question here regarding Christ’s return. The simplest answer to that question is that they wanted to know when Jesus would return to the earth to establish His kingdom.
Jesus gave them the answer in verses 29 & 30 wherein we read. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all 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.”
Proponents of both camps agree that this is when Jesus comes to the earth to set up His kingdom; the question one must pursue is this: “Is there an inference in this passage to suggest that Jesus is coming “secretly” in the air to rapture His own before coming to the earth?” If there is, it should be clearly stated, for Horne says, “examine whether the writer continues his discourse, lest we suppose him to make a transition to another argument, when, in fact, he is prosecuting the same topic.” (Things to Come, pg 36).
II. DO JESUS’ WORDS ON THE SUBJECT COUNT FOR ANYTHING?
Did Jesus, therefor, make such a transition? Upon careful examination of the text the answer is clearly, “No.” If anything can be inferred from the passage as to a secret rapture, it would seem that Jesus warned His disciples to watch for those who would claim He came secretly and avoid them!
Notice verses 26-27: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
From these verses it seems clear that instead of a secret rapture before the tribulation Jesus earnestly warned His church not to expect such an event! If the opposite is true, why did He go into such detail to warn them about those who say He has come secretly? One would think that He should have told them that He would rescue them prior to these events, thereby negating any need for such a warning.
Now we shall return to the question as to whom the passage is directed. It is not arduous to understand why most Christians would ascribe this passage to the Jews alone since they place the origin of the church on the day of Pentecost.
For the Landmark Baptist, it is a much different situation indeed. Since to the Landmarker the church was already established and functioning as a church when Jesus spoke these words; how does one determine that He is speaking to them as Jews, not as His church? In chapters 16-19 and 25-28 the Landmarker would say He is speaking to them as His church. Why then is He not addressing them as His church in chapter 24?!! Where does the writer of the book make a transitional statement that would lead one to conclude that He is speaking to them as Jews? In the past twenty years no one has given to this writer a judicious answer to that question!
III. A STUDY OF THE GREEK WORD “PAROUSIA”
Another approach to the post-tribulational coming of the Lord is through a study of the word “parousia.” Of the twenty four times it is found in the New Testament it is translated “coming” twenty two times, and “presence” twice. While it is true that doctrine is not based solely on the meaning of words, the meaning of words and their application take on great importance in correct biblical exegesis. Of this Horne says; “The received signification of a word is to be retained unless weighty and necessary reasons require that it should be abandoned or neglected.” He also states “…the most simple sense…is in all probability the genuine sense or meaning” (Op cit., pgs 34, 35).
Thayer defines the word, parousia thus: “1) Presence: 2) The presence of one coming, hence the coming, arrival, advent” (Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg 490).
The word “presence” is defined as, “the state or fact of being in a certain place or the space immediately surrounding a person, i.e. in his royal presence” (Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary pg 791). We shall now consider some of the scriptures that speak of His parousia.
Two times in Scripture we find the word translated “presence.” The first of these is found in 2 Corinthians 10:10 where we find these words, “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”. Paul is quoting the Corinthian Church or some in it who were accusing him of writing powerful letters to them but when he was physically present (parousia) with them he appeared weak.
The second time we find parousia translated “presence” is in Philippians 2:12. While the attitude of the people was just the opposite of those in Corinth the meaning of the word is the same, for we read, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Again the Apostle is speaking about his physical body presence with them!
As with the rule stated above on the meaning of words it would seem that the simplest meaning of parousia is bodily presence with those to whom the speaker is addressing, in the place where they are residing!
To infer that the use of this word when found in reference to Christ’s return means anything other then his presence to the earth where his people reside without a qualifying statement of that intend is ambiguous in this writers mind. We shall however let the Scriptures speak for themselves and let the reader with the aid of the Holy Spirit decide for himself.