How does the New Testament distinguish between the earthly hopes and promises to Israel, and the heavenly hopes of the church? It is absolutely impossible to set aside the promises to Israel – the church odes not replace them [as modern ‘replacement theology’ and would suggest*]. God had made promises to His people which cannot be undone – ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance’ (Rom 11:29). In speaking of Israel, ‘Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers’ (Rom 15:8). His rejection and death did not set the promises aside. Israel is now in unbelief, but after the rapture of the church, there will be a pious godly remnant owning Christ and owned by Him.
The Birth of Christ
In the beginning of Luke, Christ’s birth is announced to Israel. The angel told Zacharias that many of Israel should turn to the Lord their God, a people prepared for Him (see Luke 1:16-17). This is a people prepared for the Lord before He comes (not sovereign grace meeting sinners in their need, as it is with us). Mary was told that Jesus (Jehovah the Saviour) should be called the Son of the Highest, and that He would be given the throne of His Father (see Luke 1:32). The song of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-79) is wholly composed of the divinely-given celebration of God’s having visited and redeemed His people, and raised up a horn of salvation for them in the house of His servant David (see v.69). The Jewish shepherds received the announcement of His birth.
But these persons were not typical of those of Israel – they were they believing, pious ‘remnant’. Later, Anna and others were looking for redemption in Jerusalem: they evidently knew one another. Simeon saw in ‘light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel’. (Luke 2:32). It is therefore absolutely clear that this remnant, a people prepared for Jehovah, awaiting earthly deliverance.
The Gentiles come later in Luke.
Christ’s Rejection by Israel
Matthew’s gospel reveals the way in which Christ was presented to the Jews and rejected by them. Following His rejection, God’s plans for the remnant were interrupted in order to accomplish something brighter and more blessed [viz. the church, the time of the Spirit, grace and the Christian dispensation*]. But to suppose that God had invalidated His thoughts as to Israel, would be to subvert divine testimonies and undermine God’s faithfulness and testimony.
The old was still in the mind of God to be fulfilled at the appropriate time. Like the prophets, Matthew, passed over the intervening church period. He introduced Christ as the accomplishment of prophecy and promise, giving His genealogy and showing how prophecy was being fulfilled – see Matt 1:22, 2:5 & 2:15. ‘The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus’ (Rev 19:10). The church does not have any part in this, already being with Christ.
In the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7) the ‘ye’ refers to the remnant, not the self-righteous Jews – [nor does it directly refer to Christians*]. They were to expect persecution and a consequent reward in heaven. Those who were obedient to His teaching were like the man building his house on the rock see (Matt 7:24). On the other hand, unbelieving Israel would be cast into prison till the uttermost farthing was paid (Matt 5:26).
In Matt 10, Christ sends out the twelve. They were not to go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They were to declare the kingdom of heaven to be at hand, and to enquire who was worthy, that is to seek the righteous remnant (not poor sinners). Although they were to speak peace everywhere, the peace would rest only on the sons of peace. They were to shake the dust off of their feet before those hostile Jews who did not receive them. Verse 18 goes beyond the Lord’s lifetime and the church period. The faithful would be brought before the Gentiles (enemies), and be hated of all men for Christ’s name sake. This ministry was to Israel and would not be completed till the Son of man came.
In Matt 23 the disciples and the people are on Jewish ground. They were to be subject to the teachers who had set themselves in Moses seat, even if those teachers had rejected the ‘prophets, and wise men, and scribes’ (v. 34). Their forebears had stoned the prophets, and killed those sent; but still Jerusalem would never listen. Often would Jesus (Jehovah) have gathered Jerusalem’s children together, but now the desolate city would not see her Lord until she repented, saying, ‘Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (v. 39).
In Matt 24 His disciples ask about the judgment and the end of the age (not the ‘world’). This again is in line with Jewish thought. The temple would be destroyed, which of course happened in AD70, but the Lord spoke of what would happen at the end. False Christs would come, saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and some would be deceived, even perhaps the elect. Many troubles would arise: there would be the abomination of desolation of which Daniel spoke, and those who were in Judea would flee to the mountains. But before His coming, the gospel of the kingdom would be sent to all the Gentiles. Finally, the Messiah would return and associate Himself with the godly remnant in Judea and Jerusalem. What language could be plainer?
The whole scene is Jewish, not Christian. Indeed, it has no direct application whatever to true Christians, because when the Lord comes, they would already have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The Lord will come publicly as Judge, whereas when He comes to rapture His saints, it will be secretly in perfect grace. A Christian who has been beguiled by thoughts of going through the tribulation, must have renounced Christian hopes or have never understood them.
On the cross the Lord interceded saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). After the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter says, ‘And now, brethren, I know that ye did it in ignorance, as also your rulers… Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from [the] presence of the Lord, and he may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you, whom heaven indeed must receive till [the] times of [the] restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began’ (Acts 3:17-19 Darby). Repentance was called for, but few repented. Stephen witnessed to the Jews always resisting the Holy Spirit. Finally, the most active resister of the Spirit, Saul, was converted. When the Jews counted themselves unworthy of eternal life, he, now Paul, turned to the Gentiles and the doctrine of the church is revealed to him.
As far as we can see, Peter did not teach the doctrine of the church. Christians remained strictly attached to Judaism, zealous of the law; priests were obedient to the faith and some even continued to be priests. Peter never even taught Jesus to be the Son of God, even though it had been revealed to him: his doctrine was, ‘Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36).
Now God introduces the sovereign fullness of His grace, a doctrine entirely unknown in the Old Testament. Paul speaks of the mystery, Jews and Gentiles forming one body, and says ‘The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest and by prophetic scriptures [not ‘the scriptures of the prophets’], according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith’ (Rom 16:25-26 Darby). The Father had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Son of the living God (not merely the Christ). Following that, Christ could then speak of the church, for it was to be founded on that confession. But it was still a future thing – ‘on this rock I will build my church’ (Matt 16:18). In Christ’s death He gathered together into one the children of God; in His resurrection He was declared Son of God with power; in His departure the Comforter came.
Christ’s death and resurrection laid the great foundation for all our blessings, in particular the church. When the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came down the church (or the assembly), was formed, and the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved (see Acts 2:47). Those who previously formed the remnant, became the nucleus of it. It was a newly instituted body, formed in unity by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, and united to the Head, Christ in heaven. However, His promises to Israel remained sure.
Only Paul speaks of the assembly (or church). Also Paul is the only apostle who speaks of the rapture of the saints taking place before the appearing of Christ. This ministry changed everything: we now have a heavenly gathering on earth. Paul’s free ministry, distinct from that of the twelve, had already been started by Stephen. He saw a heavenly Christ, a Man in glory, and was put to death. This was individual.
Now Saul, the chief persecutor, when drawing near to Damascus, was arrested by the same Man whom Stephen saw. From the glory He said, ‘‘Why persecutest thou me?’ … I am Jesus whom thou persecutest’ (Acts 9:4-5). Lord’s told him that He, Himself was being persecuted, although the objects of that persecution were the Christians. From this we infer that the Lord’s body was here, identified with its glorified Head in heaven. This became the starting-point for Paul’s ministry as to the church. Jew and Gentile were all one; they were all one in Him. He taught, ‘God hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church [assembly], which is his body, the fulness of him who filleth all in all.’ (Eph 1:22-23).
Before God took up the children of Israel as a nation, the saints of God walked in individual faith. Afterwards, they were individual members of a nation owned as God’s people. It was a unity in the flesh: the Spirit had nothing to do with it, and it excluded the Gentiles. After the death and exaltation of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God through faith, and consequently were made one by the Holy Spirit. This was the body of Christ, the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for ‘church’ or ‘assembly’, ἐκκλησίᾳ/ekklēsia, means ‘a calling out’. We see it in ‘The Lord added daily to the assembly’ (Acts 2:27 Darby). ‘He set some in the assembly; firstly, apostles; secondly, prophets’ (1 Cor 12:18 Darby). It is called out to participate in the sufferings of Christ, later for Him to present it to Himself as His bride, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing (See Eph 5:27). The word ἐκκλησίᾳ/ekklēsia is also applied to the particular assemblies of Christians in different places, because they formed the assembly of God in that place. No other meaning is possible.
The Hope of the Church
The church is heavenly in its calling, and belongs to Christ in heaven. It forms no part of the course of events of the earth. This makes its rapture so simple and clear as we see from Col 3:4, ‘When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.’ The church’s hope and glory is Christ Himself. He is our life; our life is hid with Him; He is our righteousness; the glory given to Him He has given us; we are members of His body; we are of His flesh and of His bones. We suffer with Him now, but will reign with Him in a future day, conformed to His image.
The church has nothing to do on earth with Christ’s appearing or second coming. She is already spoken of as sitting with Him in heavenly places (see Eph 1:20), so she belongs elsewhere – she has only yet to be brought there bodily. Her immediate outlook is her being taken physically to where He is. ‘From heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thess 4:6).
This being the case, a person who maintains that he does not go to be with Christ until His appearing, is denying the proper hope and relationship of the church. Ignorance is one thing, but denial is another. Grasping the fact of our being with Him at the rapture, not the appearing, changes all our spiritual thoughts and affections. Our hope is not even to be in glory with Him, wonderful as that is, but it is being with Him. ‘I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also’ (John 14:3), ‘So shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thess 4:17).
There are several ways in which the return of Christ are presented in Scripture:
- The general fact: Christ will come again, and we will be with Him. The saints of our dispensation ‘have been made to our God kings and priests; and they shall reign over the earth’ (Rev 5:10 Darby).
- The world, evil and in confusion, will ripen into rebellion. The believer knows and believes that at Christ’s appearing and His kingdom, God will judge the the quick and the dead. It will be an earthly kingdom and an earthly judgment.
- The saints of our dispensation will have, through grace, a special association with Christ. They will have met Him in the air. They will also have been before the judgment-seat of Christ, giving an account of themselves to God, but this part of their privilege, not punitive, for they will already be like Jesus. He will introduce them into His Father’s house, placing them in the heavenly seat of government with Himself. This is the rapture of the saints, and it precedes the appearing.
Before the appearing certain events must have occurred. The world will have become completely apostate, and the man of sin will have been revealed. The church will already have gone, not being of the world, but risen with Christ. On the other hand, the rapture does not depend on any earthly event. The Christian’s hope is therefore not a prophetic subject at all. No one knows when the rapture will take place.
The saints leave the world and worldly religion by going out to meet the Bridegroom. The cry ‘Behold the Bridegroom cometh!’ (Matt 25:6)’ went out at midnight, but it could have been at any time. We know that the Bridegroom did tarry, and the sense of His coming was lost. It is the loss of the expectation of immediacy of the Lord’s coming that lays behind the public church’s departure from simplicity, and its fall into clerical authority and worldliness. It lost its spiritual authority. In Matthew 24, what leads the wicked servant into mischief is not the denial of the Lord’s coming, but the loss of the sense and present expectation of it. The Christian is constantly waiting for the Lord to come.
When therefore is the Christian to expect the Lord? – Always.
An example of those who were awaiting the Lord’s return were the newly-converted Thessalonians. They might not have had much light, but their expectation was a divine witness to the world. They were not waiting for any events – just waiting. They saw themselves to amongst those who would be alive and remain at the coming of the Lord (see 1 Thess 4:15). We need to be like that.
We know that the Thessalonians were distressed about those who had perished for Jesus’ sake, that they would not be here to enjoy His coming. They were also troubled by false teachers alleging that that day of the Lord was already present. Paul corrected this error, by showing that the dead would be raised, and then the living go up to meet Christ with them. He explained that it was an absolute moral absurdity for the Lord’s people to go though the judgment, since they would already be in heaven along with the Judge. This confirmed their expectation, enlivening their faith, and brightening their hope, despite the persecution. The terrible persecution was but a pledge from a righteous God that they would have rest and glory, not trouble, when the kingdom came. The Thessalonians’ minds were therefore re-established, and all was clear and peace.
In Rev 12:10-12, it is said, ‘And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!’ This is not the rapture, because that will have taken place earlier. This is in the subsequent seven years. 3½ years before the close (that is the last half-week of Daniel), Satan, the accuser, is cast out of heaven. Now begins the great wrath of Satan for those living upon the earth. For one class persecution and death had now ceased; for another it was just going to begin.
As regards our passing through the tribulation (a question which often arises on this matter) the scripture makes it very simple. How do we know that there will be a tribulation? Scripture tells us. But equally it makes it clear that the the Jews will in it, and the church not:
- ‘I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth’ (Rev 3:10).
- ‘These [clearly after the rapture] are they who come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev 7:14).
- ‘It is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he [a faithful one of Israel] shall be saved out of it’ (Jer 3:7).
- ‘There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation [Israel] even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book’ (Dan 12:1).
The time of temptation, referred to above, shall come to try them who dwell on the earth. This is more general; it is not the great tribulation of Jeremiah, Daniel, and Matthew, which is exclusively Jewish. Although the Lord is addressing Philadelphia, one of the churches, He says that they would be kept out of it.
Israel and the Appearing
In the epistle to the Romans, specifically chapter 11, we have the general doctrine as to the remnant in Israel. An elect believing remnant will be grafted into their own olive tree and become one nation – ‘all Israel.’ That could not be the Christian assembly, even with Jewish believers – they had never been broken out of the Jewish olive tree.
In that future day, Israel will be blessed on earth. ‘He shall come to be glorified in his saints [not to receive them up to Himself], and to be admired in all them that believe’ (2 Thess 1:10). The remnant of Israel will be blessed in spite of the tribulation. They form a separate class from unbelieving Israel and the church. They come in after the sealing of the 144,000 – the elect of the twelve tribes of Israel (see Rev 7:4), experiencing God’s protection, nourishment, refreshment and comfort. Their position is totally different from ours.
We should not confuse the companies or the happenings. The scripture is as plain as can be. Anybody who confounds the day of Christ with His coming to receive the church does not understand the day we in, nor His coming, nor the church. Confounding the day of the Lord and His coming to receive the church, is a subversion of the whole nature of the relationship between both Christ and the church, and Christ and the world. It is far more than a mistake in terms. The denial of the rapture brings the church down to an earthly position, destroying its whole character.
Summary by Sosthenes
Scripture marked ‘Darby’ are from the Darby Translation