The Rapture is Imminent
We come now to the concluding portion of our study on the Rapture of the Church. We have carefully analyzed the passages in the Olivet Discourse that pertain to it, have synthesized the predictions and have looked at other corroborating evidence in the Scriptures. We have considered the timing of the Rapture and even discussed the negative evidence of those who disagree with our conclusions. The Rapture is imminent; we need to be ready for His coming!
Watchfulness on the part of the disciples of Christ is urged upon the basis of, "for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh" (Matt. 24:42). This same exhortation is found in vs. 44: "For in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh." Our Lord was not talking about His coming at the end of the Tribulation, for we know exactly when that coming will occur. During the seven-year Tribulation period, in the middle of the seventieth "week" of Daniel, the image is to be set up in the Temple (Dan. 9:27). People living when the image is set up can know the very time--three and a half years later--that the Lord will come. Thus it cannot be said of that coming, "ye know not the day nor the hour." God is accurate in timing events."Take Heed to Yourselves"
Note the precision of the statement concerning Israel's leaving Egypt: "And it came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass ..." (Exod. 12:41a). The Lord will be just as punctual in coming in fulfillment of His promise at the end of the Tribulation as He was in bringing Israel out of Egypt. The people in the Tribulation will know the time of His manifestation. But the time for this coming of which our Lord was speaking in Matt. 24:32-34 was unknown to the disciples; it is evident therefore that He was not talking about the glorious appearing at the conclusion of the Tribulation, but of the Rapture of the Church.
The coming of Christ for His saints and the Rapture of the Church is an imminent event--an ever-present possibility. Such is the attitude that all people who witness "the first birth-pain" should take toward their Lord's coming for them.
The Apostle John in his first epistle declared, "Everyone that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). Whenever one realizes that the Lord's coming is an ever-present possibility, he will order his life and deportment in such a way as to honor and glorify the Lord Jesus and to advance His cause among men. He will, by the power of the Spirit of God and through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, purify himself even as He is pure. In view of the cleansing, sanctifying effect of that blessed hope, our Lord stresses the necessity of watchfulness.
Sin is very deceitful. Before one can realize it, Satan has him in his clutches. Habits are quickly formed and the allurements of the world are very enticing. The cares of life press upon a person with such irresistible force that the spiritual life and interests are crowded out if he is not very watchful. Knowing this, our Lord ordered His disciples to avoid the cares of this life, to be watchful at every season, to pray that they may escape all of these things that shall come to pass and to stand before the Son of man. Such seems to be the significance of our Lord's exhortation in Luke 21:34-36.Possible Attitudes
Some have, however, concluded that this exhortation to watch and to pray to escape the things coming upon the world is equivalent to a declaration that if they do not watch and pray, the day of the Lord will overtake them and they will have to pass through the Tribulation. While such is a possible inference, it is not a necessary one. Man cooperates with God. Humanly speaking, by prayer he enables God to accomplish things He otherwise could not do. Knowing the efficacy, therefore, of believing prayer, our Lord urged His disciples to watch and pray at every season to the end that they may escape all these things.
Believing prayer is evidently one of the determining factors in the Christian's escaping the Tribulation. Knowing that fact, the Lord urged them to pray and He will providentially lead them to do so. The result will be that they will escape those things that are coming upon the world.
The efficacy of prayer, humanly speaking, is determined by the surrender of one's will to the Lord's will. If one is following the Lord afar off, allowing the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches to engross the major part of his time, his chastisement will be the greater, but the Lord is very desirous that the Church walk very close to Him so that her chastisement may be as light as possible and that she will cooperate with Him through prayer until He takes her out of the world.
The reaction to our Lord's exhortation concerning watchfulness will vary according to one's faith and consecration. Knowing this, Jesus gave two parables to set forth the conditions which will exist in Christendom at the time of His coming.
The parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants (Matt. 24:45-51): According to vss. 45, 46, the wise servant seeks not to do his own will but that of his master; therefore he engages his time solely in his lord's business during his absence. Upon returning, the lord gives him a bountiful portion for his faithfulness. The "evil" servant, however, does not take his lord's instructions seriously. On the contrary, he gives vent to his evil thoughts and deeds, living according to his desires. When his lord returns, however, he is cut asunder from the rest, his portion is given to others and he is cast out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Is the servant who is cast out a genuine Christian? I hardly think so because our Lord called him "that evil servant." He is a professor but not a possessor. He has come under the influence of Christianity in a remote manner but never has really and truly been born again; otherwise he would not conduct himself as he does.
The good and faithful servant always keeps the return of his master before his mind and heart. This watchfulness proves to be the governor controlling his life. With great joy he anticipates his lord's return and is doing everything in his power to please him. But "that evil servant," not being interested in the affairs of his lord and not loving his return, is engrossed with the affairs of his own life and things that cater to his own preferences and pleasure. Hence he takes the wrong attitude toward his master's return.
These two servants illustrate two possible attitudes which Christians may take toward their Lord's return. The good servant represents those who are regenerated and saved, who love His appearing and who are expectantly watching for Him daily. "That evil servant" stands for those people who claim to be possessors but are not, who have nominally accepted some form of Christianity but ignore the fundamental principles thereof, and who postpone or practically deny the return of the Lord. This position is indeed fatal. Whenever one abandons the watchful attitude, instantly he lowers his moral and spiritual life.
"The kingdom of heaven": To understand the next parable, we must have a clear-cut idea as to the significance of "the kingdom of heaven."
This expression is used very frequently by Matthew and expresses a thought cast in a Jewish mold. Because of the Jewish aversion to pronouncing the sacred, memorial name of God, the Hebrew people of our Lord's day referred to God's control of the earth by such statements as, "the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26). For a clear conception of this phrase, one must study its usage in Matthew's Gospel.
John the Baptist announced that the kingdom of Heaven had drawn near (Matt. 3:1,2). Jesus went about Galilee preaching the Gospel of the kingdom (4:23). The twelve apostles were commissioned to proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand (10:7). From these statements we are to conclude that the kingdom of Heaven was actually at hand.
When the opposition to Jesus became so very bitter, as we see in Matt. 12, Jesus explained what He meant by the kingdom of Heaven. His teaching is set forth in ch. 13, in the form of the seven parables of the kingdom. The kingdom of Heaven which John announced, which Jesus preached and which the twelve proclaimed is therefore illustrated by the seven parables of the kingdom: the sower, the wheat and the tares, the grain of mustard seed, the leaven in the three measures of meal, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price and the dragnet. Thus the expression "kingdom of heaven" as presented by Matthew signifies what today is popularly called "Christendom." It drew near and was at hand.
The information was withheld from the Old Testament saints concerning this phase of God's kingdom, however. They knew there would be a time of special grace but did not understand the turn things would take when this period was reached. As an example of this, note Ps. 110:1-3. Both comings of our Lord are set forth in this prediction and are separated by the interval during which the Messiah is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. The present dispensation, therefore, was revealed but the turn things would take in this period was withheld from the prophets. Hence our Lord at the proper time, when the crisis recorded in Matt. 12 arose in His ministry, set forth in parables "things hidden from the foundation of the world" (13:35).
Christendom vs. the Church: All who have in the remotest sense of the word come under the influence of Christ and the preaching of His Gospel are in the kingdom of Heaven today. As seen from the parables of Matt. 13, all the cults and "isms" that have remotely been influenced by His teaching are also in this kingdom of heaven.
One must differentiate very sharply between the Church of Jesus Christ, which is the body of Christ, on the one hand and the kingdom of Heaven on the other. The Church is made up of all born-again, regenerated people. Let it be understood that all who claim to be Christians or who are affiliated with some denomination are not Christians. Only the regenerated, saved ones are members of the body of Christ. To set forth in a pictorial manner the relation between the kingdom of Heaven and the Church of Jesus Christ, I would describe a large circle and then within it a smaller one. The large one would represent the kingdom of Heaven, whereas the smaller one within would symbolize the real Church of Jesus Christ.
In this connection we must differentiate sharply and scripturally between the "kingdom of heaven" as set forth by Matthew and "the kingdom of God" as set forth in the Old Testament. The kingdom of Heaven, Christendom, is in existence during the present era and will continue until our Lord's return in glory.
The Church of Jesus Christ, His body, is set forth under various similitudes in the New Testament. It is called "the kingdom of the Son of his love" in Col. 1:13. It is designated "the kingdom of God" in Rom. 14:17. In 1 Cor. 3 it is compared to a building and to the Jewish Temple. In 2 Cor. 11:2 it is compared to a bride. Other figures are employed, but these suffice for the present.
When our Lord Jesus returns to earth in His glory, He will set up His kingdom of righteousness which will encircle the earth as the waters cover the sea. A beautiful picture of the kingdom is set forth in Isa. 2:1-4, Micah 4:1-8 and in Isa. 11. In addition to these passages there are many others. In the discussion of the judgment of the living nations, which we will take up later, this question will be examined more fully.
Having seen that the expression "kingdom of heaven" signifies all Christendom, we are now ready to proceed with an interpretation of the parable of the virgins. We must keep in mind, however, that our Lord was enforcing the lesson showing the necessity of watchfulness.
The foolish and wise virgins (Matt. 25:1-13): The adverb "then" in the beginning of this parable connects it with the parable of the faithful and unfaithful stewards and with the Lord's coming, as set forth in the preceding chapter. It is, in other words, parallel in its meaning with the "then" of 24:40. This shows that the Lord was again illustrating the two possible attitudes toward His coming for His saints:
Christendom at the coming of our Lord is represented by both the foolish and the wise virgins who go forth to meet the bridegroom. According to Meyer's Commentary, this marriage was different from those celebrated in the days of our Lord. On this point he says, Here the marriage is not represented as taking place in the house of the bridegroom, in accordance with the usual practice, but in that of the bride (Judg. 14:10), from which the ten bridesmaids set out in the evening for the purpose of meeting the expectant bridegroom. The reason why the parable transfers the scene of the marriage to the home of the bride, is to be found in the nature of the thing to be illustrated, inasmuch as, at the time of His advent, Christ is to be understood as coming to the earth and the setting up His kingdom here below, and not in heaven.
This comment is quite illuminating and accords with the facts as presented in this parable. Just as the bridegroom went to the place of the bride, so Christ our bridegroom is coming back to the place of the bride to set up His kingdom upon the earth.
Our Lord in giving this parable did not intend that we should find a symbolic significance for every detail mentioned in the comparison. Scholars tell us that there is one fundamental idea which is to be taught by a parable and that we are never justified in trying to interpret the details of a parable unless there is absolute, positive proof in the text to indicate such a procedure. The parable or illustration is tangent in one point only, geometrically speaking, with the truth to be illustrated. When that one common point is ascertained, then we should be satisfied and should not attempt to build up a system of doctrine upon the details or trimmings of a parable.
What then is the point to be illustrated? A perusal of the passage and a recognition of the circumstances which called it forth show very readily that the point is that the believer is to be watchful. There may be other points that could be made, but one must be very careful lest he read into this parable a system of doctrine never intended by the Lord.
The five foolish virgins showed their lack of wisdom in that while they took oil in their lamps they did not think there would be any necessity of carrying an additional supply. They were expecting the bridegroom to come very early in the evening and concluded there was no necessity for carrying extra oil.
This attitude has found many an illustration since that time. People are prone to delve into the future so as to unravel the secret of the day when our Lord will return. Many dates have been set. Many have believed that the Lord would come at a specific time, have lost all interest in earthly affairs and the Lord's works, and become fanatical. In every instance disaster has followed such date setting. It was this pernicious habit that our Lord had in mind when He told us of the foolish virgins.
On the other hand, the wise virgins showed their prudence in that they did not set a time for the coming of the bridegroom. They were prepared any moment for his coming since they not only had oil in their lamps but a supply with which to replenish their lamps. They were prepared for an early coming or for a postponed appearance of the bridegroom. Their attitude is the only true one.
We should neither set a date for the coming of the Lord nor postpone our thinking of it to the indefinite future, but always bear in mind that there is a possibility of His coming at any moment. Daily, we at the Biblical Research Society expect our Lord to come for His saints. At the same time, we must make plans regarding this work for the coming years. Being expectant of His return, we shall welcome Him when he does appear, but in the event He delays, we shall be diligently engaged in His cause. Such seems to be the truth that is set forth by the five wise virgins.
To the five foolish virgins the bridegroom made the statement that He did not know them. This shows that they do not represent born-again, regenerated souls, but rather those who profess to have what they do not possess. Those who are really and truly born again and who are expecting the imminent coming of our Lord are the ones who will be invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb.
The paramount question for each of us is this: Am I right with God? If so, by His grace I will press forward, always praying to the Lord to keep me in the center of His holy, directive will. But if one is not on the Lord's side, let him accept the Lord Jesus Christ in the fulness of faith (John 5:24) and then let him work for God, realizing that the coming of the Lord draweth near.