Harry Whittaker
The Last Days

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 24:31).

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 other.

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 have neither.

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 impertinence.

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 require.

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 thither”.

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 back.[12] 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 similitude.

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 false teachers.

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 committed unto him.[13] Both now and also hereafter “the Son quickeneth whomsoever he will” (John 5 :21). The judgement seat is “the judgement seat of Christ”.

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 18:22).

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” (Luke 12:36).

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.

[12] 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.
[13] The context (John 5:28, 29=Daniel 12:2) confirms the view of John 5:27.

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