It has already been made clear in these articles that the very next event on the divine timetable with respect to earth is the coming of the Lord for His Church as He promised: “I will come again and receive you unto Myself” (John 14:1-3).
With this agrees the statement: “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord hath drawn nigh” (James 5:8). The perfect tense in the verb (eggiken) points to the fact that the Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension are all in the past; these events have opened the way. The next event must be His coming. In this sense, that coming has been “imminent” since He ascended, leaving His disciples on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-11). We remember that “imminent” does not carry the thought of “immediate,” but rather must be understood as “impending” or “overhanging.” It could happen at any moment. In fact, the very last words of the Lord to the churches in Asia (Rev 22:20) are words that have rung down the ages with satisfying authority: “Surely I come quickly.” Every believing heart, from the depth of earth’s trials and tears, responds with supreme assurance, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
On the Tuesday afternoon before the cross (12th Nisan, AD 32) the Lord had gathered His disciples around Him on the Mount of Olives (Matt 24-25) and spoke to them as representatives of the nation who had already passed the death sentence upon Him (John 11:53). Presently those leaders of Israel were awaiting a word from Judas the traitor – words that would set procedures in motion to ensure His death on a cross. Hence, in answering their questions, the Lord deals with the national rejection of His claims and the retribution such an action of a rebellious people demands. Then He climaxes with the return in power of the rejected Son of Man. Israel gave Him a cross; He will come back to claim the crown. This means judgment of which the Lord spoke: “immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven … and the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:29-30).
It has already been shown that in the upper room, hours before the cross, a different scene meets us. The final Passover has been celebrated. Judas, having been exposed by the Lord, hastens away to complete his traitorous bargain with Caiaphas. The Lord speaks to the 11 as representatives of those who, by believing in Him, had disassociated themselves from the national rejection of Christ. Thus, the Lord can speak to them as representatives of the new entity that would come into existence at Pentecost. They would become the nucleus of that Church of which He had spoken in Caesarea Philippi. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). To this representative company the Lord gave that precious promise: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” The contrast with the previous discourse (Matt 24-25) is crystal clear. There is not a single feature of the judgment so clearly associated with the coming of the Son of Man. Not a word about the fearful astronomical signs, the armies marching to destruction, or even the presence of angels. The emphasis falls on His Person: “I will come again.”
On that very night the tension of the upper room was replaced by the tears in Gethsemane (Heb 5:7). After midnight Christ was arrested, faced the various trials up to the final trauma of Gabbatha and then was led out to Golgotha. Nevertheless, all was put right by the triumph of the resurrection of Christ. The 40 happy days that followed were memorable. Their Lord tarried with them from Sunday 17th Nisan, AD 32 until on that Thursday afternoon on the 26th Zif, He led them out to the Mount of Olives. As they gathered around Him for the last time, there burst from the anxious hearts of the disciples a vital question: “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
The Lord’s answer confirmed what the disciples had implied. Since the rejection of their Messiah the nation of Israel had been set aside as God’s testimony on earth. Christ had come to earth through that nation and they had rejected Him. With respect to the purposes of God, Israel was no longer the key nation. It had been set aside with respect to the earthly side of the program of God. The Lord’s reply also shows that, while the setting aside was temporary with a view to restoration, the time of restoration must be left to His Father. They could do nothing to bring this about. Meanwhile they had an urgent and vital task to fulfil. These very men must be His witnesses in a worldwide mission: “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” National boundaries would no longer limit the blessing to Israel. These men would be the channel of the gospel to all mankind. So mighty was the task, that they must wait at Jerusalem 10 days, until the Feast of Pentecost, for the empowerment to be brought by the Holy Spirit in their baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1:5).
As they received this last charge from their Lord, suddenly they are conscious that His hands are extended in priestly blessing as He was rising from their midst (Luke 24:50-51). Luke’s simple statement is dramatic: “while they beheld He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Eyes still fixed above where He had disappeared from view, the disciples must have been quite startled to find two men in white apparel stand by their side with a message. This message linked two things: the manner of His going and the manner of His coming again. There is no doubt that the heavenly messengers were adding detail to the Lord’s promise of John 14:1-3 to His disciples when He said in the upper room, “I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” On that Thursday afternoon there were no astronomical disturbances, no mighty armies thundering through the land, nor a host of angelic beings standing in attendance. The disciples are told very simply, “this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” He left in bodily form, visible only to the eyes of His own; silently as far as the world was concerned. Jerusalem, two miles away, went about its social, political, and religious life unaware of what was taking place on the other side of the hill.
What a moment it will be when we see Him in yonder sky!