Chapter 11 - The Call Of The Saints
“And he shall send his angels with a great
sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four
winds, from the one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew
This gathering of the saints to meet their Lord
at his coming is familiar enough in idea to all readers. Not a little
speculation has gone into various attempts to fill out the details of this
experience which is to mean so much to those who are concerned in it. Such
sanctified surmises are not to be discouraged, provided the overall restraint of
basic principles of Scripture is not thrust aside. The more these wonderful
experiences of the future can be clothed with practical reality, the greater the
aid to faith. But in such matters, let it be remembered there is little or no
room for dogmatism. Possibly, probably, certainly—of these qualifying
adverbs the first two are always more appropriate than the
There is one element in this doctrine of the
“rapture” of the saints which seems to be hinted at in most of the
Bible passages concerning it but which does not seem to have received the degree
of attention it deserves. In its simplest form it meets the student of prophecy
in the parable of the ten virgins.
That this parable was spoken specially for the
warning of saints alive at the Lord’s return can hardly be questioned.
“Then (in the day when ‘the lord of that servant
cometh’—Matthew 24:50) shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto
ten virgins”. The interpretation of the details of the parable is not
without its difficulties. The words “they all slumbered and slept”
cannot possibly refer to the sleep of death, but is rather to be taken as a
picture of the ecclesias in the Last Day—all, without exception, being
caught unawares by the Lord’s appearing. It may be taken as certain that
no matter how careful and rigorous one’s scrutiny of Scripture in an
attempt to know clearly beforehand the precise details of the divine
“programme”, all—repeat, all—will be startled and
shocked by the actual event and its accompanying cry: “Behold, the
bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him”.
An integral part of the ensuing story is that the
foolish ones, knowing themselves to be utterly unprepared, did not immediately
respond to this call, but instead went off in a frantic and none-to-easy attempt
to buy oil in the middle of the night.
When the Lord comes and calls his own, none will
feel worthy to meet him; nor will there be, in that sudden flash of honest
self-awareness, which the experience will bring, even a willingness to meet him.
All, without exception, will know themselves to be unworthy. But the essential
difference between the two classes will be that some will have “oil in
their vessels”—a solid unshakeable faith in the grace of Christ,
rather than in their own achievements in godliness—whereas the others will
Thus it transpires that some “go in with
him to the marriage”, whilst the others with lamps alight, truly, but
themselves untidy and flustered, arrive too late. They have come with their
lamps, intent on shewing their devotion, and yet more intent on having a share
in the universal joy and gladness, only to find the door shut in their faces,
and a peremptory disowning word of rebuke spoken from the other side of it. What
can their poor flickering lamps add to the blaze of light within the wedding
feast? Their very coming in such circumstances is a futility and
Behind all these vivid parabolic details, which
become the more impressive as the mind dwells upon them, must lie a solemn
reality. Is it possible to avoid the idea that when the call goes out bidding
the saints come to meet their Lord, a not inconsiderable class will all at once
realize their utter unpreparedness and react instinctively with a “Not
now, but later. Give me time. I am not quite ready yet”?
All experience of human nature suggests that
something of this sort is bound to happen. And if this is not the very situation
envisaged by the parable, then what do the details mean? To say that they
are meaningless— just part of the drapery to fill out an arresting
story—is in effect to throw more than half of the parable away and comes
near to accusing Jesus of telling stories for the benefit of itching ears. All
experience of the gospels informs the reverent student that Jesus of Nazareth
was no waster of words.
It would seem, then, from this parable of the
virgins that there is a distinct possibility that the call of the saints will be
backed by moral but not physical sanctions. The disciple when bidden “Go
ye out to meet him” will not be whisked away willy-nilly by a lock of his
head, nor in the latest jet air-liner, but will be taken if he is willing to
respond to the call.
There are very few Scriptures, which speak of
this call of the saints to judgement, yet it is remarkable how many of them
carry some hint of this idea, which the parable of the virgins seems to
Jesus compared the Last Day in detail with
“the days of Noah” and “the days of Lot”. It is
noteworthy that in both instances, when the time came for the faithful to be
taken away they were invited and constrained but not compelled, to
come to safety: “Come thou into the ark”; “Arise . . .
lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city . . . Haste thee, escape
thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come
The exhortation of Jesus carried with it the same
implication: “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is
revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the
house, let him not come down to take it away; and he that is in the field, let
him likewise not return
Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:30-32).
The question is not to be evaded: if the
gathering of the saints to Christ is to be by physical compulsion, what point is
there here in the reference to Lot’s wife? The parallel between her
experience and that of the foolish virgins is remarkably close.
It is possible that the familiar passage which
follows may have had a different intention from the interpretation usually put
upon it: “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the
other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto
them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered
together” (Luke 17:36, 37).
Strange and unsatisfactory interpretations have
been assigned to this short parable. The idea of Roman “eagles”
gathering around the dead body of the nation of Israel in A.D. 70 is
superficially attractive, but is hopelessly out of context in both Matthew 24:28
and Luke 17:37.
The idea that Jesus likened the saints, soon to
be glorified with him, to a carcase, and the angels to ravenous vultures gorging
themselves, is both grotesque and utterly repugnant to all sense of the fitness
of things. Any who have seen these sinister loathsome birds tearing at a dead
beast, and even wheeling around in ghoulish expectation before the animal is
quite dead, will firmly refuse to credit their Lord with such an unseemly
The context in Matthew 24 steers the student to a
different idea. There Jesus was warning against false prophets teaching error
concerning his coming: “Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he
is in the desert; go not forth; behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it
not . . . For wheresoever the carcase is there will the eagles be gathered
together”—i.e. if you shew yourselves to be spiritually a carcase,
you will certainly find yourselves the prey of these “vultures”, the
In Luke 17 the same interpretation appears to be
perfectly valid. “One shall be taken, and the other left -- Where,
Lord?” is usually taken to mean, “Taken where, Lord?” but the
meaning could just as easily be: “Left where, Lord?” Grammatically
this has more to recommend it. It is also intrinsically more likely, for
“Taken where” is surely a needless question with the very obvious
answer: “To meet their Messiah, of course”. But “What shall be
the fate of those left behind?” is a natural enough query. And to this
Jesus gave answer: “Those who are spiritually dead will be left to the
vultures”, i.e. the horrors and tribulation, which the world must endure
at that time, will be the fate of unfaithful disciples also.
Thus all the details of this familiar Scripture
either require or at least harmonize with the view that the saints’
response to the angelic call will be an optional one.
At this point it is perhaps desirable to
re-emphasize the simple plain reiterated teaching of Scripture that “we
must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10;
Romans 14:10). But there is nothing in these passages, which requires the
inclusion of the word “simultaneously”. Wise and foolish all came to
the marriage but not all at the same time.
The idea now being explored serves to remove what
would otherwise amount to a serious contradiction in Bible teaching concerning
the Judgement. In that great Day Jesus himself is to be the Judge. Because Jesus
is “the Son of man” of Daniel 7:13, 14 all judgement has been
Both now and also hereafter “the Son quickeneth whomsoever he
will” (John 5 :21). The judgement seat is “the judgement seat of
Nevertheless the parables of tares and dragnet
appear to speak differently: “The Son of man shall send forth his
angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that
offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire:
there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41, 42).
“So shall it be in the end of the age: the angels shall come forth
and sever the wicked from among the just” (v. 49).
This difficulty is now seen to be resolved. When
the angels come to summon to judgement, a separation will then take place, which
will amount in its effects to a sorting-out of “sheep”, and
“goats” even before the presence of Christ is reached. The response
or lack of response to this call to judgement will in the main shew the worth of
those who are called. The saints will, by and large, judge themselves before
they meet their Judge.
This was foreshadowed, when Christ died. Judas
betrayed his Lord, and on hearing of the resurrection went and hanged himself.
Peter denied his Lord time after time, but on hearing of the resurrection he ran
to the tomb. Yet both of these men were promised a throne over the tribes of
Israel. One of them cancelled the promise by his lack of faith in his
Lord’s power or willingness to forgive. The other made his title sure by
simply believing that, because of his turning again to him, Jesus would forgive
him seventy times seven in the day of Judgement (Matthew
There are yet other Scriptures which hint at this
idea of an optional response to the call of the Lord: “Be ye yourselves
like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding;
that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open to him immediately”
The figure is similar to that of the parable of
the virgins, but not just the same. What is the point behind this word
“immediately”? It cannot be doubted that when the Lord comes, all
servants must “open to him”. But there is here a clear
implication of a readier response in some than in others. And Jesus pronounced a
special blessing on such.
Perhaps there is here also an explanation of the
singular omission in Paul’s famous passage about the “rapture”
of the saints: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up
together with them (the dead who have been raised) in the clouds, to meet the
Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians
4:17). All mention of discrimination between “sheep” and
“goats” is omitted here. Can it be that Paul had in mind the ready
response of the truly faithful, so that those thus caught away to meet Christ
would be those who would be “ever with the Lord”?
Again, it may be that Jesus himself was making
some similar implication when he spoke the solemn words: “Watch ye
therefore, and pray always, so that ye may be accounted worthy (RV may prevail)
to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son
of man” (Luke 21:36). There seems to be here (though the point cannot be
insisted on) an implied contrast between those disciples who are removed from
the great tribulation of the Last Days to “stand (i.e. approved)
before the Son of man” and others who do not “escape all these
things that shall come to pass”.
In conclusion, it is desirable to re-emphasize
that what has been submitted here can hardly be considered proof, in the proper
sense of the term, of what is an attractive and intrinsically probable idea,
since in no single passage can it be found to be explicitly stated. Nevertheless
when one considers that such ideas as a resurrection and a rebellion at the end
of the millenium are each confidently asserted on the strength of one much
controverted passage in a highly symbolic Apocalypse, there is less hesitation
about letting the foregoing see the light of day for the stimulation of
prophetic enquiry in readers’ minds.
 The fact that Matthew
24:17 appears to apply these words to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 in
no way invalidates their reference to the coming of the Lord — see the
context in Luke.
 The context (John 5:28,
29=Daniel 12:2) confirms the view of John 5:27.