The Future of the Church
Ian Jackson, Eastbourne, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Church and Prophecy
In considering Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy it was observed that within the time frame noted by Gabriel to Daniel, in which God would deal with Israel nationally, God will literally fulfil all the promises to Abraham and to David. The glorious day is coming when Israel will dwell in peace in the land of Canaan under the king of David’s line, ruling in Jerusalem, with consequent blessing to mankind.
Strictly speaking, prophecy is to do with the earth and, in particular, God’s dealings with Judah, ‘thy people’, Dan. 9. 24, and Israel. The church is found nowhere in the Old Testament, because truth regarding it had not then been revealed. The Old Testament prophets have nothing to say about it. The mystery truths of the New Testament connected to the church belong to the gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel’s prophecy. They do not form part of that prophecy.1
Believers of this present day have been severed from all earthly things to wait for God’s Son from heaven.2 We do not look for signs of His coming but simply wait for Him, 1 Thess. 1. 10, our deliverer from the coming wrath. In previous articles it has been pointed out that this deliverance, which takes place at the rapture, will occur before the seventieth week begins and the prophetic timetable resumes its course.
The Church and the Father’s House
‘I go to prepare a place for you’, John 14. 2, are precious words of our Saviour. They do not refer to His going to Calvary but rather to His going to the Father’s house. By His entering in there, a Man in a body of glory, He opened the way for His people. ‘The forerunner is for us entered’, Heb. 6. 20. But He will come again. Equally precious is His promise that ‘if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again’, John 14. 3. Maranatha: we await the imminent fulfilment of His personal word of hope.
He will meet us in the air. Dead saints will be raised up, and the living saints will be caught up and they will be together, for ever, with the Lord, 1 Thess. 4. 16-17. With bodies fashioned like unto His body of glory, Phil. 3. 21, suited to the expression of all that is spiritual, 1 Cor. 15. 44 and conformed to the image of His Son, Rom. 8. 30, we shall be fit for the Father’s house. Those who have died in Christ are with Christ but they do not yet enjoy heaven in its character as the Father’s house, for they do not yet have a glorified body. With those saints who are still living, they await the glorious moment when He who loved the church and gave Himself for her will cause her to stand at His side, His glorious church, having neither spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing, being holy and without blemish, Eph. 5. 27-28.
This will take place at the marriage of the Lamb but before that event takes place in heaven certain other matters must be fulfilled.
The Assertion of the Rights of the slain Lamb
The opening verse of the section of the book of Revelation that deals with those ‘things that shall be hereafter’, Rev. 1. 19, notes a door opened in heaven, 4. 1. The church age has run its course and the call is, ‘Come up hither’, 4. 1. A heavenly scene unfolds and amongst those who are round about the throne of God is the church, represented in the four and twenty elders. Unlike the thrones of men that have come and gone, that throne is set and the Throne-sitter sits in a scene of complete tranquillity. He is the object of continual worship, of which He is worthy.
In the right hand of the Throne-sitter is a seven-sealed book, the title deeds to the universe. Here is His right to govern in the world which He has made for His own pleasure, v. 11. Who is worthy to take the book? No man! But there is One who is worthy, and, at Calvary, He prevailed. John turns, expecting to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah but, on turning, he sees a freshly slain Lamb. For John, it must have been an astonishing sight; mortal wounds in a living person and that Person none other than the slain Lamb of Calvary. It is little wonder that a chorus of praise and worship begins. The saints in glory, seen in the twenty-four elders, many angels, and the whole creation join together to ascribe worship to the One who was slain and who lives for ever and ever.
This exhibition of the rights of the Lamb to assert the rule of God in the created universe is necessary prior to the unfolding of the events on earth between chapters 6 and 19 of the book of Revelation3 and before His manifestation when He comes to reign upon the earth. When He is manifested, He will not appear alone. At the very beginning of time, it was the intention of God that a Man crowned with glory and honour would rule on the earth for God, in association with the woman God brought to him; so it will be when Jesus reigns. In risen glory God gave Him, as head over all things, to His church and she is His complement, the ‘fulness of him that filleth all in all’, Eph. 1. 23.
The Judgement Seat of Christ
When the marriage of the Lamb is about to take place the voice, as it were, ‘of a great multitude’ in heaven, Rev. 19. 6, proclaims that His wife has made herself ready. This she has done by arraying herself in fine linen, clean and white, v. 8. This linen is said to be the righteous acts of the saints and the arraying takes place as a result of the judgement seat of Christ.4 It has often been said that we shall wear up there what we weave down here, each believer’s righteous acts adding to the lustrous whole.
In order to help us distinguish the various future judgements, questions ought to be asked as to the identity of the people who are judged, the nature of that which will be judged, when and where they will take place, and what will be the outcome. It will be seen immediately that the judgement seat of Christ is not the same judgement as the judgement of the living nations, Matt. 25. 31-46 or the great white throne, Rev. 20. 11-15. The first of these takes place on earth and the outcome is entrance into or exclusion from the millennial kingdom. The great white throne is the judgement of the wicked dead; it takes place after the present heavens and earth are no more and the outcome is eternal punishment in the lake of fire. The judgement seat of Christ is altogether different. Those who appear there are saved; the question of sins does not arise; there is no punitive outcome; there is reward given for service to Christ.
Those areas of life that will be reviewed include how we have dealt with our fellow-believers, how we have contributed to the local assembly, how faithful we have been to the Lord in the matter of service that He has placed into our hands, and whether we have been well-pleasing to the Lord.5
At the bema, Christ will not be judging in respect of the sins of His people for they were eternally dealt with at Calvary. His people rejoice in the thought that judicially God has said of them, ‘Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more’, Heb. 10. 17. However, it must not be thought that this means that the judgement will not be testing and severe.6 All shall give account there and it is therefore good to live each of the days of our life in the light of that review. At the judgement seat there will be rewards given and loss of reward experienced. Anything that abides the test of fire shall be rewarded but for that which does burn up there will be loss. All that remains, therefore, will be found unto praise and honour and glory. Great encouragement may be obtained from the fact that ‘then shall every man have praise of God’, 1 Cor. 4. 5.
The Marriage of the Lamb
The marriage of the Lamb will take place in heaven, as will the marriage supper, after the judgement seat of Christ and before the appearing in glory of Christ and His church.
There are two reasons why heaven is ablaze with joy in Revelation chapter 19. These relate to the whore and the bride. The great whore of chapter 17 has been judged and her smoke ascends for ever and ever, but the greatest joy arises from the fact that ‘the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready’, Rev. 19. 7. In Western culture the day of the marriage is all about the bride but in the Old Testament the wedding day was for the greater glory of the groom. Thus, it is the ‘marriage of the Lamb’.
He will present her to Himself, causing her to stand at His side, as in unsullied array she is there, ‘a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle or any such thing’, Eph. 5. 27.7 And that nuptial freshness will never change. A thousand years later she is called not His ‘wife’ but His ‘bride’ as the holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven, ‘prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’, Rev. 21. 2.
When He appears to the amazed eyes of the kings and nations of the earth she will be with Him in glorious display. There is a glory that will belong to her exclusively in that future day; it is a glory given to her by her eternal Lover.8
The Church and the Millennial Kingdom
Thereafter, He will set up on earth His millennial kingdom. The administration of that kingdom will be in the hands of the enthroned elders. In Revelation chapter 4 they are seen worshipping but in chapter 20 verse 4 they are seen, with others, in relation to the administration of the kingdom, though no other group will ever be as close to Christ as the church. It is a wonderful truth that in that kingdom the church will be the vehicle for the display to the world of the glory of God, 21. 11. Ephesians chapter 3 verse 21 will then be fulfilled, ‘Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen’.
- The apostle Paul indicates that the mystery of the body of Christ ‘was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets’, Eph. 3. 5. That mystery concerns the fact that in this dispensation Jews and Gentiles who believe on God’s Son are fellow heirs, fellow members of the same body and fellow partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel, v. 6. The church does not occupy ground promised to the nation of Israel but ‘according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord’, v. 11, she has a heavenly calling, a heavenly character and a heavenly destiny.
- cf. Col. 2. 20; 3. 2-3.
- These events correspond to the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy.
- The bema, or judgement seat, was a raised dais upon which the judges would sit at the games, rather than a throne upon which a monarch or judge might sit in a court.
- Major passages dealing with the judgement seat of Christ are found in Romans chapter 14, 1 Corinthians chapters 3-4 and 2 Corinthians chapter 5.
- Cp. 1 Cor. 3. 13.
- For her He gave Himself at Calvary, where He went that He might secure to Himself the object of His eternal love. He has, in the meanwhile, sanctified and cleansed her with the washing of water by the word. He has nourished and cherished her. Nothing, however, will match that greatest of all moments when the church in glory, arrayed so beautifully, will stand at His side.
- ‘The glory which thou hast given me I have given them’, John 17. 22. Then the world shall know that the Son was sent by the Father and that the Father has loved them even as He loved the Son. The life she possesses is hidden in the present day but ‘when Christ, who is our life, shall appear’, Col. 3. 4, then shall we also appear in glory with Him.