The Future for the Church/Assembly
As part of a series of studiess on “The Future” this paper looks at the future for the Church/Assembly. It is linked with the other studies in the series. It is also worth reading before the study on “The Christian Hope and Expectation”.
Where is the Church/Assembly in prophecy?
Much of the Old Testament is taken up with the future for Israel. Even when the Lord Jesus was here and spoke of the future, He was speaking to Jews and described the experience of Israel. It was all that the disciples would understand. However, after the Lord was raised, the disciples realised that they were now part of something completely new.
Someone has described the present day of grace, during which the Church/Assembly is being formed, as a parenthesis in the history of God’s interaction with mankind. In other words, the whole of the last two thousand years is not really mentioned in prophecy because it hasn’t had anything to do with Israel. Yet it is implied in so many ways. Two examples are given below:
“Kings' daughters are among thine honourable women; upon thy right hand doth stand the queen in gold of Ophir” (Psalm 45:9).
“And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah, and gave him as wife Asnath the daughter of Potipherah the priest in On. And Joseph went out over the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:45).
In each of these the one who is being described is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus in His glory. The queen or wife that they have is not mentioned much but she is there with them. This is a picture of the Church who will be one with Christ. This ties in with the picture of the Church/Assembly as being the ‘bride of Christ’ (see Revelation 21 and 22).
Another example is not made clear until Peter uses it on the day of Pentecost referring to the fact that the Holy Spirit has been sent “And it shall be in the last days, saith God, that I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your elders shall dream with dreams; yea, even upon my bondmen and upon my bondwomen in those days will I pour out of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). This was quoted from the prophet Joel 2:28-29 and so we see that the day for this pouring out of the spirit has arrived. This makes the Church distinct from other time periods because the Holy Spirit for the first time now dwelt within believers. The Lord Jesus referred to the distinctiveness of the kingdom He was introducing when he said that John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets and yet “he who is a little one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
So, in the prophecy of Daniel 9 (see ‘The Lord in Prophecy’) the church period began when the Messiah was cut off after week 69 and this has included the last two thousand years.
What happens next?
There is a lot of misunderstanding about what the Church/Assembly is to experience next. Let’s look at the Coming of Lord a little more closely. We have seen the Lord’s very public ‘Appearing’ in glory to judge the nations and save Israel. Yet, the Bible seems to tell us that something very different is to be expected by Christians. The Bible speaks of one Coming of the Lord but then seems to split this into two distinct events as shown in the table below:
Christ's Coming for Christians ...
Christ's Public Appearing ...
|Christ comes to the air or clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:17)||Christ comes to the earth (Zechariah 14:4)|
|He comes for his saints (1 Thessalonians :16-17)||He comes with His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13 and Jude 14)|
|Christ’s coming for His saints is never said to be preceded by celestial portents.||His coming with His saints will be heralded by signs in the heavens (Matthew 24:29-30).|
|It is identified with the ‘Day of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 1:14 and Philippians 1:6&10).||It is identified with the ‘Day of the Lord (or Jehovah)’ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).|
|It is presented as a time of blessing (1 Thessalonians 4:18).||The main emphasis of Christ’s Appearing is on judgement.|
|The coming for His saints take place in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). This strongly implies that it will not be witnessed by the world.||The Appearing will be visible worldwide (Matthew 24:27 and Revelation 1:7).|
|This seems to involve primarily the Church (John 14:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).||This involves Israel primarily, then also the Gentile nations (Matthew 24:1-25:46 and others).|
|Christ comes as the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).||He comes as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).|
|It is not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark & Luke) but it is alluded to several times in John’s Gospel.||The Appearing characteristic in the Synoptic Gospels but not in John’s Gospel.|
|Those taken are taken for blessing (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Those left are left for judgement (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).||Those taken are taken for judgement. Those left are left for blessing (Matthew 24:37-41).|
|No dating system is given for events preceding the coming for the saints.||An elaborate dating system is given for the appearing, such as 1260 days, 42 months, 3½ years (see Daniel 7:25, 12:7, 11, 12 and Revelation 11:2,12:14, 13:5).|
|The title “Son of Man” is never used in any of the passages dealing with the coming for the saints.||The revelation is spoken of as the coming of the “Son of Man” (Matthew 16:28, 24:27, 30, 39, 26:64, Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27).|
|Table adapted from ‘Believers Bible Commentary’ by William MacDonald, p2050.|
These are obviously two separate events. However, there can be disagreement over when they will take place. The coming of Christ for the saints is referred to by some as ‘The Rapture’. The word "rapture", comes from the Latin and Old French and means to seize or snatch away - hence its application to the hope of the Church! In modern times it means to be in a state of absolute delight and so in both senses of the word it is a fitting title for the most hoped for event in the Church/Assembly.
How do we know when this event will take place? In Thessalonica there was a very committed and faithful church/assembly. They were looking forward to the Lord’s coming and were bright in their faith. However, when some of their number died they began to be afraid that these would miss out on ‘The Rapture’. Paul puts that to rest by telling them that the dead in Christ will rise first and then the living would go up with them to be with the Lord for ever.
“For this we say to you in the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who remain to the coming of the Lord, are in no way to anticipate those who have fallen asleep; for the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel's voice and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall be always with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
When this happens is shown in 2 Thessalonians. Before the Lord comes to judge the nations there will be the ‘man of sin’. Daniel’s vision describes this person as a small horn who will rule over the beast that represents the Roman Empire. This seems to indicate that out of the nations of Europe will appear a political entity that resembles the power and character of the Roman Empire which disintegrated about 1500 years ago. The leader who controls this confederacy of nations will, after making a peace deal with Israel, will then invade Israel to attack Jerusalem.
However, this ‘man of sin’ will not be revealed until “he that restrains” is taken away.
“Let not any one deceive you in any manner, because it will not be unless the apostasy have first come, and the man of sin have been revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself on high against all called God, or object of veneration; so that he himself sits down in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Do ye not remember that, being yet with you, I said these things to you? And now ye know that which restrains, that he should be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness already works; only there is he who restrains now until he be gone, and then the lawless one shall be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall annul by the appearing of his coming; whose coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-9).
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul was writing to reassure the Christians. Some had been teaching them that the persecution was so fierce against them that they were now in the ‘Day of the Lord’, i.e. the time of great judgement and suffering before the very public judgement of the nations by the Lord Jesus. Paul wrote to tell them that the ‘man of sin’ had to appear before the ‘Day of the Lord’. In other words, the judgement would not begin until this leader had appeared who would resist God and who would gather the armies of the nations to Jerusalem to fight the Lord. This man will not appear until “he that restrains” is taken away.
So, who is he that restrains? Paul tells them that they know what and who restrains. The one who restrains is the Holy Spirit indwelling the Church/Assembly. We are told that the Church/Assembly will resist evil and act as a preservative against evil in the power of the Holy Spirit. See below for examples:
“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have become insipid, wherewith shall it be salted? It is no longer fit for anything but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). Salt kills and prevents food from going off. So we, as filled by the Holy Spirit, act as restraining influence on the world around us.
“For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your opposers shall not be able to reply to or resist” (Luke 21:15).
“And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10).
“Subject yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
The ‘man of sin’ under Satan’s influence will not be able to have a free reign over the earth as long as the Church/Assembly remains. Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be taken away and the Church, as indwelt by the Holy Spirit will go with Him.
This shows that the ‘rapture’ must happen before the seven years of Daniel’s final week begins. The next great event for the Christians is seeing the Lord. In the “twinkling of an eye” we shall go from this world and find ourselves before the Lord to be with Him forever.