Chapter 10 "The Dead in Christ Shall Rise First."

1 Thess. 4:16

“Waiting,” “watching,” “hasting,” “looking for” THE LORD! Not merely for deliverance from foes, or for rest from toil and warfare, or for entrance into an inheritance, but for a LIVING PERSON —for a known and trusted friend—for Him whose love, stronger than death, was set upon us while yet we were alienated and enemies in our mind, who, having loved His own, loves them to the end, Jesus the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever—the chiefest among ten thousand, the altogether lovely! To see Him as He is, to be like Him, to be with Him, to worship Him to walk with Him, to serve Him, to hold unbroken communion with Him, to be the friends with whom He shall take sweet counsel, the partakers of His glory, the sharers of His dominion, for ever and ever to be in the full enjoyment of what now is indeed true, but so feebly apprehended—“One Spirit” with the Lord, “members of the body of Christ.” Blessed hope!

Let it once take hold of the heart, and surely as God hath spoken it, the result will follow—“He that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”

But it has also pleased God to gather around this hour of expectation, as into an ineffable focus, every circumstance of joy and triumph of which the heart can conceive, every satisfaction for which it can yearn. He has withdrawn from it every terror, and circled it with a halo of grace and glory; so bright, so sweet, that indeed the only marvel is that it should ever for a moment fade from the vision of our faith.

And surely of the accompanying circumstances, the first in importance as well as order is the resurrection of the dead in Christ.

“By one man sin entered, and death by sin.” (Rom. 5:12.) Everything within us by nature recoils from death and clings to life. “The wages of sin is death,” and great as are the alleviations introduced by the gospel, so great that death is said to be abolished, and life and immortality brought to light, still it remains, the last enemy—an enemy though vanquished—the last humiliation that sin and Satan can bring to bear upon the redeemed, a monster instinctively abhorred, though robbed of its sting.

There has been a tendency in many minds to view death rather as a friend setting free the imprisoned soul; and one would not willingly deny any measure of truth there may be in this. Grace has indeed provided sweet consolation for those who fall asleep in Jesus. Little is said in the Word about the state or experience of the spirit separate from the body, but enough is said to hush every murmur and calm every doubt. It is to be absent from the body, and at home with the Lord; to exchange faith for sight, to rest from labour and suffering, to be with Christ, which is “far better.” And such terms are very far from implying a state of unconsciousness, as some have said; rather do they convey ideas of unspeakable enjoyment in the conscious and visible presence of the Lord Jesus. Yet nothing is said concerning the disembodied spirit of activities in service or of glory; these, so far as we know from Scripture, are postponed to the hour of resurrection.

Resurrection is the prospect constantly held out to the believer, since Christ became the first-fruits of them that slept. The Spirit has laboured to give abundant detail by many figures and illustrations of this victory of the Lord. Then and not till then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” It is only in prospect of that hour that faith can sing, “O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

The salvation for which we wait, the redemption for which we groan, is not death, but resurrection. Death may, indeed, be our deliverance from a body of sin, but it is not the triumph of Christ; and the heart in sympathy with His thoughts and desires will long for the hour of His victory being completed, when of all that the Father hath given Him, it will be manifest that he has lost nothing— not even a hair of the head of one of His saints being left in the enemy’s hand as a trophy. (John 6:39; Luke 21:18.)

It is not for us to know the times and the seasons (Acts 1:7), nor does it appear that any warning will be given of this resurrection hour. The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and summon from their graves “the dead in Christ.”

The corruptible shall put on incorruption, by no process of recovery, but in answer to the voice of the Son of God.

Often has the question been repeated, “How are the dead raised, and with what body do they come?” The divine answer is doubtless as plain as such a mystery could be made to our feeble understanding.

“That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body which shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” (1 Cor. 15:37, 38.)

That there is a connection between that which is sown and that which is raised is evident, for it is in their graves they shall hear, and from their graves they shall rise; but the nature and extent of that connection is a mystery at which reason has ever stumbled, but concerning which faith has no questions to ask. Suffice it that He who cannot lie has said it shall be done.

As for the rest of the dead, they rise not again till the thousand years be finished. (Rev. 20:5.) “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.” (Ps. 49:14.) In due time they too shall rise, not in “the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14), not “unto the resurrection of life” (John 5:29), not as part of the “first resurrection,” for blessed and holy is he that hath part in it; but “unto the resurrection of damnation,” “unto shame and everlasting contempt,” to stand for judgment, according to their works, before the great white throne, and to find their portion in the lake of fire, the second death. What a prospect!

Many are the religions and systems of theology that Satan has proposed to his deluded subjects, but none of them ever dared to enter the chamber of death with a ray of hope so bright as that which the gospel reveals.

It is comfort indeed, real substantial comfort, that is offered to the sorrowing child of God. God has not said, Go thy way, be warmed, be fed, without giving what is needed. If He calls upon, Rachel, as she mourns for little ones slain by the sword, to refrain her voice from weeping, it is because “they shall come again from the land of the enemy.” (Jer. 31:16.) If He would comfort the heart of a sorrowing sister, He says, “Thy brother shall rise again;” and now to His mourning people it is, “Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” The separation is but for a little while, there will be a real meeting again—an eternal reunion of the redeemed — a gathering unto Him who is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

And is there not even an earnest and a pledge of this in the manner of those three resurrections wrought by the Lord Jesus while on earth? There was the raising of the daughter of Jairus, of the widow’s son, and of Lazarus, and in all the three cases the joy of the Lord would appear to be in giving the lost ones back in resurrection to the hearts from which they had been torn. Most specially is it so with the widow’s son, “He delivered him to his mother.” (Luke 7:15.) Well might He say, “Weep not” who could afford such comfort as this; and well may He charge His people now to sorrow not as those that have no hope: the comfort He offers is as real, as substantial, only it may be a little farther off; but it may be very near.

That Satan should so far have worked upon the credulity of the people of God, as to raise a doubt as to the mutual recognition of the saints in resurrection, is truly a marvel; but it is ever the enemy’s way to spoil us of the comfort and blessing that are for us in the Word.

Were Moses and Elias not recognizable on the mount of transfiguration? Is Paul not to know his children in the faith when he says, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thess. 2:19.) Is the comfort of 1 Thess. 4:18, that a multitude of unknown persons shall be associated with us in the hour of His coming again? Shall we sit down in the kingdom with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and shall we not know them? Surely this is to wrest the Scripture, and abstract from the prospect the very sweetness and comfort it is intended to convey.

True, they will be “changed,” and such a change! that which was sown in weakness shall be raised in power; that which was sown in corruption shall be raised in incorruption; that which was sown in dishonour shall be raised in glory; that which was sown a natural body shall be raised a spiritual body. Such was the transfiguration that passed upon the Lord Jesus (corruption excepted), between the hour when John beheld Him bleeding on the cross, and the day that he saw Him resplendent in heavenly glory, and fell at His feet as dead. How could John recognize Him as the same, or feel at home in the presence of such majesty? Yet it is here that He tenderly laid His right hand upon His prostrate servant, and assured him of His being the very same who was dead! It is enough. John’s recognition of the Lord is as complete in Patmos as it was when, on the lake of Galilee, he said, “It is the Lord.”