The Hope of His People
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven”.
“Ye 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, which delivered us from the wrath to come”.
1 Thess 1:9, 10
1 Thess 1:9, 10
The first of these passages shows us that it was the desire of our Lord, when He left His disciples, that they should look forward with hope to His Personal Return; the second proves that the Apostle Paul, and by inference the other Apostles, in the instruction they gave to the Churches of their day—and through their writings to ourselves also—were in the habit of presenting the subject in the same way. They taught the people of God to look for their Lord’s return from heaven, and to expect that His coming would he visible, personal, and real: as real, personal, and visible as His departure had been when He ascended from Mount Olivet and passed out of their sight into heaven. This great event of the future was set before the Church as its corporate hope, and it was also represented as the hope of each individual believer.
Connected with this truth are spiritual lessons of the deepest comfort and of the most practical character. Such teaching is found throughout the Epistles, and culminates in the closing words of Scripture, “Behold, I come quickly. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus”. Unless we were to say, therefore, that the circumstances of the case had in some way materially altered, we should certainly conclude that the Personal Return of the Lord yet stands before us as our hope, and that this truth has the same relation to our consolation and sanctification as it had to that of the believers whom the Apostles personally instructed.
Now let us consider how we ourselves, and Christians generally, have been taught to regard these things. Can it be said of the various bodies into which the professing Church is divided, or of any large number of their individual members, that there is any real sense in which they are habitually instructed “to wait for the Son of God from heaven”? That the Lord will some day return is commonly believed: it is, indeed, still held as a foundation truth by many; but perhaps the words, “We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge”, would best express the attitude of their minds towards it. It is obvious that such an aspect of the matter is anything rather than that of hope. With others the thought of the personal Return of the Lord has been superseded by that of a spiritual and invisible Coming. Whatever may be their expectation, it is something wholly unlike the personal and visible appearing of their Lord from heaven. To others, again, accustomed as they have been to refer all passages of this class to the hour of death, the Coming of the Lord resolves itself into the thought of a dissolution of soul and body, and their hope is to realize the joy of heaven in a disembodied condition of existence—this expectation being, however, the exact reverse of that which Paul cherished for himself, as we see by his words, “Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon (i.e., with our house which is from heaven), that mortality might be swallowed up of life”. But death is certainly not the Coming of the Lord for us: it is rather our going to be with Him where He is. In none, therefore, of these aspects (and in one or other of them it is generally regarded amongst Christians) can the Coming of the Lord be said to be viewed as the Believer’s hope. Surely there is, then, a great contrast between the way in which this truth is presented in Scripture, and the experience of Christians regarding it. Let us inquire how such a divergence from Scriptural teaching has come about.
It seems unquestionable that it was the desire of our Lord, when He left His people in the world and went to the Father, that they should look onward with yearning desire to the time of His return; for in the 14th chapter of John we find Him saying, “If I go away I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also”. This, be it observed, is a corporate, and not merely an individual hope, for the disciples to whom these words were addressed represent in that chapter, as elsewhere, the Church as a whole, according to the words, “them also which shall believe on Me through their word”, This point is of great importance. No doubt a corporate hope is an individual hope, but the reverse is not necessarily true: the Coming of the Lord, however, as set forth in the promise just quoted, is
The Hope of His Church
These words must refer, then, to an event which will come to all His people at once and together, and, as such, accord perfectly with the promise in Thessalonians: “The dead (saints) 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words”. The promise of the Lord, in the 14th of John, was, moreover, a promise to return in person, and to receive His waiting people to Himself not individually and at different times, but corporately and together: and His desire was that throughout the Church’s history down to the end of the age, this should be realized as a comforting and sanctifying hope. Moreover, we can easily see that while death (the death of individual believers, I mean) would not satisfy the meaning of these words, nor fulfill the hope sanctioned by this promise, so neither would death nullify that hope. The hope that the Lord would come according to His promise; the hope that all His people, changed into the likeness of His glory, would be received unto Himself, and would dwell with Him for ever—this hope would not be frustrated by death; for those who were alive and remained unto the Coming of the Lord would not precede those who were asleep, but would be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. Let us realize at once, therefore, before entering further into the subject, that the passage in Thessalonians just quoted, shows that the saints who should fall asleep in Jesus before His return, were not to be deprived or disappointed of that for which they had hoped, but would enjoy its realization in resurrection; while by the surviving ones the hope of seeing their Lord without passing through death would be attained. These two classes into which the Church will be divided at the time of the Advent, appear to have been in the view of the Lord Jesus when He said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (these are the saints who rise in the First Resurrection), “and he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die” (these words describe those “who are alive and remain unto the Coming of the Lord”). Compare John 11:25, 26, with 1 Corinthians 15:51.
We have seen that the hope of the Lord’s Return has been practically lost by His Church; and it may be profitable to inquire how this has come to pass. The reason is not hard to find. The Lord Jesus Himself, and His Apostles likewise, clearly taught that after His departure, and theirs, the history of the Church would become one of corruption and of failure; that His truth would be leavened by the admixture of evil doctrine, and the membership of the Church corrupted by the secret sowing of “tares” among the “wheat”: and that this has actually occurred.
The History of Christendom
in the past, and its present obvious aspect, amply prove. We have only to contemplate the divided condition of those who profess and call themselves Christians, and the many differences which prevail among them respecting all parts of Revealed Truth, to see how far the Church is from what it was when “all who believed were together, and abode steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship”. The primitive aspect of many a holy doctrine has become changed, and amongst the many corruptions which have fallen like a blight upon the Church at large, worldliness is prominent. Christians by mingling with the world, imbibing its spirit, adopting its principals, sharing its amusements, have sunk to the level of its outlook; and instead of realizing the utter failure of their testimony, are boasting, as worldlings do, about a golden age in the future, when the world shall be renovated and assimilated to heaven by their own instrumentality. They forget that the Lord Himself has taught us that “as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man”: and that until holy retribution has fallen upon iniquity, and the earth been swept with the besom of judgment, the Kingdom of Heaven cannot come, nor the Millennial Age of blessing dawn. Is it not declared on every side that the world is getting progressively better, and that this victory of good will culminate in complete triumph? But, on the contrary, is it not the solemn testimony of Scripture that the day of the Lord shall come upon an evil world and a corrupt Church, as the coming of a thief in the night; that “when they shall say peace and safety, sudden destruction shall come upon them”; and that before the wheat is gathered into the heavenly garner, the tares must be removed by an act of judgment out of its midst?  It is easy, therefore, to see that, in proportion as truth became corrupted, the Church’s outlook into the future was changed, and its object of expectation became, not the Personal Return of its Lord from heaven, but its own triumph in the earth. In fact, the Church began to desire (to use the words of the Apostle) to “reign as kings before the time”, and lost the pilgrim spirit to which alone the hope of the Lord’s Coming is akin. Then the darkness deepened, and corruption abounded; so that when, in undeserved mercy, God, at the Reformation, rekindled the lamp of truth, the Reformers seem to have been able only to grapple with the corruptions by which the Gospel itself had been overlaid, while such truths as the character of this age and of its close, the Coming of the Lord, the future of Israel, and the separateness of the Church from the world, were not brought into view. Consequently, since then, even evangelical Christians, by whom the Gospel is truly perceived and valued, have, for the most part, been content to leave Prophetic Truth in the grave where it has so long lain buried; and the doctrine of the Lord’s Personal Return is now either unheeded, or denied, by the majority of His people.
1. It has been shown that the Coming of the Lord is presented in Scripture as the Hope of His Church; and I am anxious we should see, in the first place, that it is essential to the realization of the hope connected with the Lord’s Return, that
His Coming will be a Personal One
“This same Jesus shall so come” “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven”. It is impossible to evade the force of these words. Now what is hope? Is it not the combination of two elements, both of which are essential to its existence? Hope is not expectation merely, for my expectation may be of that which I dread. Neither is hope desire alone, for I may desire many things which I can never expect. But when these two principles unite, like a double-stranded rope, both elements of which combine in every portion of its length, then we have HOPE. We desire that which we hope for, and we also expect it: our expectation is that which we desire. Our Lord has said, “Even so; I come quickly”, and so we may expect His Coming because His truth and faithfulness make it certain: here is our expectation; but do we not also desire that which we expect? Is not the heart stimulated in its affections and yearnings by these blessed words? Is it not in response to them that we cry, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”? Surely our desires should he towards the Person of our Lord, and He Himself the object of our affections? To see Him, to be with Him, and to be like Him—this is the crown of our hope. Now, take away the personal element from this hope and what remains? Would not the whole framework of its blessedness be destroyed? We seek not that which is the Lord’s, but Himself. We desire, not that which He gives, but Himself, the Giver. We could not be content to dwell where He was not present.
“No place could make us happy
Where Thou, O Lord, art not;
To be for ever with Thee,
By grace our happy lot.”
Where Thou, O Lord, art not;
To be for ever with Thee,
By grace our happy lot.”
See Matt. 13:49: “The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among (ek mesou, lit, out of the midst of) the just”. The personal element, therefore, of the Lord’s Return is necessary to its being realized as a hope. Faith in His word, and love towards His Person, combine in this hope. Thus it is that we wait for the Son of God from heaven.
Not the Time but the Certainty
2. It will be well to show, in the next place, that the hope of the Lord’s Coming is a hope whose essence, and whose power, whether to comfort or to sanctify, depend not upon the time of its realization, but upon the certainty of that realization. The attainment of an object of hope may be deferred, either with or without the knowledge of those who cherish that hope, without its practical effects upon them being neutralized; and this principal can be easily shown to be recognized alike in Scripture and our own experience of the affairs of life. Let us consider, however, in the first place, how the hope of the Lord’s Coming is represented in Scripture in connection with the element of time.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. Every man that hath this hope founded upon Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure”. Here is a passage which speaks of the Lord’s Return and of the blessing which that Coming will bring to every member of His Church. We shall see Him in His glory; we shall be like Him; we shall be with Him—these are the elements of that comforting and sanctifying hope. Yet the passage says nothing regarding the time when its promises of blessing shall be realized, nor of the length of the intervening interval. “We know that when He shall appear”, it says, but we are not told when; nor indeed is this necessary, for is it not the teaching of the passage that, from the holy fact that we shall then see and be like our Lord, springs the motive for our present purification of heart and life, apart from all question of time? To know that I shall one day-even though that day is not yet near—be with and like my Lord, is a mighty impulse to the soul in seeking practical conformity with Him now.
A Little While
Again, look at Hebrews 10:37; “For yet a little while, and He who shall come will come, and will not tarry”—words which were spoken to encourage the failing hearts of God’s people in the midst of persecution and distress for Christ’s sake. What is it that cheers and strengthens in this promise of the Lord’s Return? Is it not the certainty, the unfailing certainty, that His Coming shall, in due season, take place; that nothing shall prevent it; that this hope shall never disappoint the heart? But perhaps some may say, “No; the essence of this hope is found in the words “a little while”, and if they to whom the promise was given had not believed that the Lord might have come in “a little while”, that is, within their lifetime, the hope would have had no sustaining power for their souls”. Now, is this so? By whom, let us ask, was this promise given? Was it not by the Lord Himself, who knew, though His people did not know, when His Return should take place? Could He, therefore, who knew that their whole lifetime as well as succeeding centuries, would elapse before the promise should be fulfilled, have spoken thus to mock their souls with a false hope? To say so would be blasphemy.
What alternative conclusion then remains? Clearly this, that the words “a little while” are used not after the manner of men, who reckon time by days, and months and years, and to whom a century is more than a lifetime, but after His, with whom a thousand years are but as one day, and who ever teaches His people to view earthly things from a heavenly standpoint. When He says, “Surely I come quickly”, is not the interval implied in that word “quickly” to be measured, not by the length of the period between the time it was spoken and the time when it shall be realized, but by the brevity of that interval when compared with the infinite eternity of blessing stretching out beyond? Thus measured, would it not be but as a point compared with boundless space? Surely it was by this standard that the Apostle reckoned when he said, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. His affliction would not have been “light” unless weighed in the balance of the sanctuary over against an “exceeding weight of glory”, and its duration would not have been for “a moment” unless it had been contrasted with an eternity of bliss.
The Element of Time is not Essential
to the realization of the comforting and sanctifying power of the hope of the Lord’s Return. This has been shown from Scripture: is it not also a principle which has a natural place in the ordinary experience of our lives? The power of hope may be great, all-pervading and all-transforming to the heart which entertains it and to the life which is lived under its influence, even though it be well known that the object of hope cannot be soon attained. Thus we read of Jacob that “he served seven years for Rachel” whom he so greatly loved, and “they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). The prospect of union with the beloved one of his heart was the all-pervading motive which acted throughout the whole interval, and influenced him in every moment of his time, every part of his life, while he waited for her. So, likewise, the mariner who steers his vessel by the light which shines from his cottage window on the yet distant shore, thinks not of the extent of the dark waters that roll between him and the land, but fixes his hope upon the prospect of reunion with the loved ones in that far off home, the interval of time and space being forgotten in the prospect of that anticipated, though deferred, joy. It is the certainty of this hope which influences the whole of his intervening course. And let us never forget, in this connection, that God’s people are, by faith, the children of eternity. They are taught to view the things around them, not as worldlings do to whom the present is everything, but as anticipatively realizing by faith the glorious verities of the future. “We walk by faith, not by sight”, looking not at “the things that are seen and temporal, but at those which are unseen and eternal”. Now this principle enters into the subject before us. The Scripture nowhere teaches that the Lord’s Coming is a hope only to those who may expect to realize it in their lifetime. The character of our hope is eternal, not temporal: its realization awaits us not in time, but eternity. We are taught to look onwards as those who look out of time into eternity. It is the forgetting of this which has marred the true enjoyment, and perverted the right use of this hope in many a Christian heart.
Our Lord—His Word Accurate
3. Moreover, we should seek to realize that not alone is it needful for the right ordering of our own souls that these principles should be perceived, but that it is absolutely necessary if we would defend, not only this doctrine, but the truthfulness of the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour, and even of our Lord Himself and His Holy Word, that we should rightly apprehend and represent this truth; for we live in days when the scoffers whose coming was predicted in Scripture, have come. Would that such scoffing were only heard outside that which calls itself the Church; but alas, it is not so. Modern Rationalism, clothed in the garb of criticism, is ever pointing to what it is pleased to call the mistakes of our Lord and His Apostles concerning this matter, and even professing Christians sometimes allow, or, at least, speak very lightly of its objections. When we inquire what the mistake is, we are told (I quote the words of a recent writer)  “that St. Paul expected to be alive when Christ came; that later in life the hope of surviving till the Lord came alternated in his mind with the expectation of death; and that it is better to recognize the obvious fact that Paul was mistaken as to the nearness of the Second Advent than to torture his words to secure their infallibility”. The following are the words of a German critic:  “No unprejudiced man can deny that Jesus Christ has erred, if His discourses have been correctly reported by the Evangelists. That He taught His disciples He might return from heaven at any moment after His departure from the world, and would certainly come in clouds during the lifetime of the existing generation, and so led the early Church to look for His appearing in their day, is indisputable. History has falsified the expectation, and criticism is justified in repudiating the old ideas of the infallibility of Jesus, and of the literal inspiration of the Scripture”.
To the foregoing may be added the following extract from a well-known English author:
“Let us choose a case where the mistake is undeniably clear. Such a case we find in the confident expectation and assertion, on the part of the New Testament writers, of the approaching end of the world. Even this mistake people try to explain away; but it is so palpable that no words can cloud our perception of it. ‘The time is short’. ‘The Lord is at hand’. ‘The end of all things is at hand.’  ‘Little children, it is the final time.’ ‘The Lord’s Coming is at hand.’ ‘Behold, the Judge standeth at the door.’ Nothing can really obscure the evidence furnished by such sayings as these. When Paul told the Thessalonians that they and he, at the approaching coming of Christ, should have their turn after, not before, the faithful dead: ‘For the Lord Himself shall descend . . . in the air’—when he said this, St. Paul was purely simply mistaken in his notions of what was to happen. This is as clear as anything can be.” 
If, then, we were to assert that our Lord and His Apostles taught the Church that His Coming might take place at any moment after He had left the world, we should be unable rightly to resist such objections. But if we examine the evidence upon which these charges are founded, we can readily trace two cardinal mistakes. The first is a misinterpretation of the Lord’s predictions in the prophecy of Matthew 24, by which His words concerning the future judgments upon the nation, and the future tribulation in the land of Israel which is to be “immediately” succeeded by His Return in glory, are applied only to the past destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This error is due to the general loss of prophetic light in the Church of God, and the view so commonly held that there is no national future for Israel, but that God has cast away His people. Conjoined with this there usually is a mistaken interpretation of the words, “this generation shall not pass away until all these things have been fulfilled”, regarding which it is only necessary to say that as the things mentioned include “the Coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven”, which certainly has not yet taken place, it is impossible to suppose that the word “generation” could have been intended by our Lord in the restricted sense of the race of men then living, and that it must be taken, as often elsewhere in Scripture, in a moral sense, exemplified by the phrases, “a righteous generation”, “the generation of thy people”, etc. Thus taken the expression is exactly true, for Israel is still a generation abiding in the same spiritually blinded state as when the words were first spoken. 
The second error consists in overlooking the fact that the word “we“ is, in many places, used by the Apostles when addressing
The Church in a Corporate sense
with reference to past or future events in the history of the Church as a body, and not with a limited application to the actual persons living when they spoke or wrote. Take, as an example, the words of the 4th chapter of Galatians: “For we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world”. No intelligent reader could suppose that in using the word “we” the Apostle referred only to the Galatian Christians to whom he wrote, for these, as Gentiles, had never been dispensationally under the law; and, moreover, the expression, “when we were children”, would have had no intelligible significance if applied to them. Nothing, however, is easier to see than that the Apostle is speaking corporately of the whole family of faith as one body, and that he refers to its corporate history in past dispensations, comparing it to that of a young man before he has attained his majority, and contrasting the experience of God’s people in past ages with that which, with fuller light, they were now privileged to enjoy. The same principle explains this expression as used in the 4th chapter of 1st Thessalonians, “Then WE which are alive and remain”. It is impossible to suppose that the Apostle meant here that he himself should be on the earth at the Coming of the Lord. How could this possibly be so, seeing that he had, by inspiration, predicted events which would require a long period—more than a lifetime—for their fulfillment, as, for example, when he told the elders of the Church at Ephesus that “after his departure (by which he meant his death) grievous wolves would enter in, not sparing the flock”; and when he warned Timothy that “in the latter times many should depart from the faith”; not to speak of the fact that in the 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians he describes the gradual development of the final Apostasy, and then says, speaking of the Day of the Lord, “for that day shall not come, except there come the Apostasy first, and that Man of Sin be revealed, whom the Lord shall destroy” at His Coming? In the face of evidence like this, it is surely both foolish and irreverent to speak of the Apostle as expecting the Return of the Lord from moment to moment. How could he have done so while he was teaching that it would not take place until after the occurrence of certain predicted, but as yet unfulfilled events, and when he himself was expecting martyrdom to close his labors?
The hope, therefore, to which the Apostles directed the minds of the saints whom they personally taught to which they direct our minds in the Inspired Scriptures they wrote, is not the hope that the Lord may come at any moment, or that He may come soon, or that He may come within our lifetime. Its moral power as a hope does not depend upon any of these conditions.
Before closing, let us return to the Scriptures which we took as texts, and apply to their interpretation the principles which we have considered. We can now see in what sense the Apostle Paul taught the Thessalonian saints to turn to God from idols, and to “wait for”, that is to anticipate, the Return of their Lord from heaven. The mighty work of the Spirit of God had dispelled the heathen darkness and hopelessness of their lives, and opened to their view a future world of holiness, bliss and glory. If they were taught to look back to Christ as their Deliverer from the wrath to come, they were also taught to look forward, out of the midst of the circumstances of time into the glorious prospect of eternity, for His Return, who would bring to them all fulness of grace and glory. By the prospect of that glorious meeting—a prospect not affected by the question of when they should see their Lord, but dependent for its power upon the glorious certainty that in a coming day of glory they should meet Him without fail—their hearts were weaned from all earthly idols, and all worldly lusts, and taught to live in yearning desire for the happy moment when, for them, time should close and eternity open, and when to be with their Lord and serve Him in glory would be the consummation of all they had hoped and waited for. Thus, too, can we apprehend more exactly, and feel more deeply, the blessed significance of the words, “Every man that hath this hope founded upon Him, purifieth himself even as He is pure”. Again let me say, it is not when the Lord will come, but the blissful fact that in due season He will come, that makes His Coming a hope to our souls. It is only an evil servant who could say, “My Lord delayeth His Coming”; a true heart lives every day in the bright anticipation, in the holy expectation, of that glorious day. The prospect of His Advent becomes the hope of our souls. Does sorrow press us? We may say, “till Jesus comes”. Do we stand mourning by a grave-side? We may say, “till Jesus comes”. Are we persecuted, distressed, pressed beyond measure by the difficulties that surround our path? It is our privilege to look upwards and onwards and to say, “till Jesus comes”. Does the world seek to charm our hearts and to detain our affections from our Lord? It is our privilege to anticipate, in the power of faith, the bright moment of His Coming, the infinite joy of that meeting, and to let this hope work within our souls, purifying us even as He is pure. To represent the hope of the Lord’s Coming as being no hope unless capable of momentary, of early realization, is to give it very much a human character, to put it very much upon a level with the hopes we connect with the things of time. To view it as a hope realized only by the power of faith—a faith which brings eternity into the midst of time—is to grasp it as a heavenly hope; a hope not only heavenly in its character, but heavenly as to the power by which alone it can be realized in the soul. This is taught in the words, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost”, for a heavenly hope can be realized only by the heavenly power of the Holy Ghost—the only power, indeed, by which we can in any respect think, feel, or act aright as to the things of God (see Gal. v. 25).
 See Matt. 13:49: “The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among (ek mesou, lit, out of the midst of) the just.”
 The Rev. J. Denney, B. D.: The Epistles to the Thessalonians” (The Expositor’s Bible), p. 174.
 Prof. Schwartzkopf: Could Jesus err? pref. 1, p. 12. Giessen, 1896.
 It must be remembered that “at band” (Phil. 4 5) may be taken as pointing to the Lord’s presence with His people, as One to whom they may appeal for protection, guidance, or help. The Greek does not at all require that we should understand the words as meaning “the Lord is soon coming”. “The end of all things is at hand” (lit., “hath drawn nigh”) (1 Pet. 4 7) is an expression which can be better understood when it is remembered that New Testament revelation had brought out more clearly the character of the age, and of the circumstances which would mark its course and its close, and taught the practical bearing of these facts on the believer’s walk. We ourselves use similar expressions in everyday life, such as “the end now comes into view”, etc., meaning thereby that something which has occurred, or which has been communicated to us respecting the results and issue of events now in progress, gives us valuable help in deciding upon the path we shall take in the midst of present circumstances.
 Literature and Dogma, p. 142, 5th Edition. Matthew Arnold.
 Genea (the word translated “generation”) “often (means) ‘race’, or ‘family of people’, ‘progenies Such is possibly its meaning here and in Matt. 23:35, 36, where the whole people are addressed” (Webster and Wilkinson, Greek Testament, in loco). A friend has kindly pointed out that in Homer (Iliad v. 265) the word is used to denote a “breed” or “stock” of horses.