Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What do Christians look forward to?

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Song of Solomon 2:10

One of the most precious prayers of Jesus occurs near the end of what is properly called the Lord’s Prayer, in John 17. It is found in verse 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Some mistakenly interpret this verse to be talking about the death of the saints, but nowhere is death mentioned. Alliteration is totally in the mind of the interpreter, and he gives the text any meaning that he deems appropriate. That is why alliteration being used to finding meaning in the text of the Bible is so scary. The interpreter is allowed to bestow whatever fitting meaning he wants to on the text. One may look in vain for any mention of the doctrine of saint’s death and afterlife, and thus we ought to have confidence that whatever Jesus meant, he did not mean for us to be thinking about death and the afterlife. Instead, it is talking about the most beautiful love story of the universe. Jesus, the bridegroom, is so completely in love with his bride, the church. Over and again, he petitions the Father about the church, showing his love and steadfastness toward his bride. Can I prove this from the text? Very easily. Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer and see evidences of his love for the church.

In verse nine Jesus prays, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Looking forward, Jesus is actually praying for those the Father has given him, the church. In verse eleven, Jesus again prays for the church (specifically, those whom thou hast given me), “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Again, in verse fifteen, Jesus prays, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” In all these three instances (and there are more), Jesus is clearly praying for his followers, his chosen ones, and is looking forward to those that the Father has given him.

This high priestly and intercessory prayer is thus made on behalf of the bride of Christ, present and future, the seed of what would become the church. His love is apparent throughout the prayer, as he most carefully prays through for the church. Notice again the verse of my topic, v. 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Notice now in particular the petition part to the prayer, “I will that they. . .be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” Where was Jesus going? Of course, he ascends to the Father, and assumes his throne, where we see him in Acts. He is in heaven. This is referring to the translation, often called the Rapture, when Jesus will come and gather his church and take them to heaven, that they might behold all the fullness of his glory.

There are a great many arguments about exactly when in prophetic events this event takes place; there should be no argument about it actually taking place. There is a much more famous passage in John 14:2, 3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Again, there are commentators who wrest this Scripture to be talking about the dead, or when Christians die and go to heaven. There is absolutely no context to support such a contention, and allegory, it should be remembered is always in the mind of the interpreter.

I believe that the Bible clearly teaches the Rapture taking place before the Tribulation, or the last week of Daniel. In fact, most believers have acknowledged the imminence of his coming, even while they may not agree on the order of prophetic events. Perhaps it is because Jesus warns us over and again to be watchful for his coming, lest we be surprised. The apostles follow up with this warning. It is very difficult for those who would place the Rapture after the Tribulation to follow this doctrine, of his imminent coming, if events of the Tribulation have to come first. That would mean, that instead of looking for Christ, we should be looking instead for the beasts and the false prophet. Instead of Christ’s sudden appearance we should be looking for these rascals. In our history, hundreds of saints have identified hundreds of people who were to be the beasts or the false prophet, and history has proven all of them wrong. That should give a holy pause to the student of Scripture. Nonetheless, this doctrinal ground has been furrowed by others better than me, and ought not to be the subject of this peace. I instead, just want us to look at the beauty of what is happening.

The passage of John that I started with, that of Jesus praying for us that we might be with him is not just beautiful because of the words. It is an altogether fine thing that we are called to be with him, and that we will see him in his glory, but if we stop there we do not see the love story. This whole prayer is full of Jesus’ love for the church; he is praying his last words as a living man for us, but more than that, this is the love of a bridegroom being expressed for his bride. I am told that there were three great steps to a Jewish wedding. First, while yet children the two in question are betrothed. The church and Christ fulfill this picture as the Bride and the Bridegroom are bonded in the Holy Spirit, sealed unto the day of redemption. Second, the groom comes and retrieves his bride from the home of the bride. This will be fulfilled when Christ, the groom, comes and finds us at home here on earth. Third, the groom takes the bride to his home, where they have a marriage supper. This picture is represented when Christ, the groom, gets the church, his bride, and takes us to his family home, heaven, and there we have the marriage supper.

Jesus is dripping with love and concern for his bride in his last intercessory prayer. His is the love of a groom infatuated with his bride; he is concerned with her welfare above all else. How else will we explain this beautiful prayer of Christ, that we may be with him where he is, and that we may behold his glory?

I think of when I was courting my wife. I remember sharing things little by little with her, as she learned to do with me. The delightful thing about falling in love was that we learned to trust one another. I would share a peculiar taste, or a favorite of mine, and she would endeavor to remember it, and make it precious to her. I did the same for her. We endeared each other’s peculiarities to each other, and so we learned to trust. It is all part of falling in love, and is very evident here. Christ has a warm and passionate love for us. He wants what perhaps all good grooms would want.

First, he wants to show us off to the heavenly host. Ephesians 5:26 says, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it [the Bride] with the washing of water by the word.” He has cleaned us, put us in clothes that shall never be sullied or dirty again. He has washed us as white as snow. But Revelation 19:8 tells us, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” In other words, there are two things here Christ finds wonderfully attractive in his bride, that attracts his full love and devotion. First, he washed us white as snow, and second, we are clothed in the fine linen of the righteous acts of the saints. Not that these are works originated by us; rather they are works that the Holy Spirit has done in and through us, so that in both senses, we are the product of Christ’s adornment.

The trouble with the church today is that we are not acting much like the beloved bride. We do not seem to realize the divine favor that has been poured out upon us, and we do anything except act like a bride in love. And, I fear there are many of us, who do not seem to realize we are getting ready for the event of the universe, and we are not busy about our Father’s business. We are like rats scurrying around and working, but we have forgotten our purpose—we are to be serving the Master. Some of us endeavor to become experts in theology rather than worrying about being a bride ready for her groom. We are ready to argue points of doctrine, and will do so very often, even to the point of offending our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, doctrine matters, but we have lost sight of the fact that our brothers and sisters matter more. Christ prayed in the Lord’s prayer over and again that we might be brought to unity, that we might be marked by his love. The least knowledgeable saint found busy for his Lord is going to be immeasurably and fantastically ahead of us, for he has taken his little mite of knowledge, and applied it vigorously toward the one he loves. It ought to teach us to stop and ponder, how much of our day is really spent getting ready for our Groom? If we are really in love, hadn’t we better act like it?

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