The Israelites woke in the chill desert dawn. They emerged from their tents to the dazzling sight of a wilderness covered with something small, round and white. As they gathered their courage and the substance, they found it to taste like honey wafers. As they fed upon it in the years to come, they found it sustaining and satisfying. But on that spring morning they looked with wonder at this heaven-sent provision and asked, “What is it?” (Exo 16:15). The manna was only a little thing. It seemed to have none of the spectacular qualities that might have been expected to evoke wonder. But for all its seeming insignificance, it confounded all their experience, transcended all their established categories, and left them struggling to make sense of what they saw.
In this series, we have thought about the first coming of the Lord Jesus. Like the manna, He “came down from heaven” (Joh 6:38), sent by God to meet the need of a hungry and perishing people. Like it, He came down “upon the dew,” “conceived … from the Holy Spirit” (Mat 1:20 ESV), and was separate both from Adam’s sin and the defilement of a sin-plagued world. As it was small, round and white, so He was “meek and lowly of heart,” perfect and pure. And as men saw Him, they asked, “What manner of man is this?” because they had no frame of reference, no way of processing, understanding, or accommodating the wonder of “God manifest in flesh.” And so, as we have seen, time and again they marveled at the radical distinctiveness of this unique Man.
The One who came to Bethlehem is coming again – first to the air, to summon and snatch away His saints, and then to the earth, to vanquish His enemies, subdue rebellion, and inaugurate a thousand years of perfect rule. The momentous events of the Rapture will unfold largely unbeknownst to the world of the unsaved, but His coming in manifestation will be visible to “every eye” (Rev 1:7), as shattering as a lightning flash (Mat 24:27).
This event should loom large on our horizons – far larger than, at times, it does. Its implications are cosmic in their scope and enormous in their significance – the vindication of Christ, the display of His bride, the restoration of Israel, and the deliverance of Creation will all be accomplished at His return in glory. This event is a glorious prophetic fact that should govern our relationship to the world, the character of our lives, and the devotedness of our service (1Co 7:31; Heb 12:27–28; 1Pe 1:7). And, in the face of persecution and injustice, it provides hope of rescue, recompense and retribution: “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired [“marveled at” ESV] in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed ) in that day” (2Th 1:6-10 KJV).
In this context, it is hardly a surprise to find the same “marveled” word that we have been tracing throughout this series. The revelation of Christ will shock, startle and appall the rebellious armies of earth. It will devastate the arrogant “kings of the earth” who have taken “counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed” (Psa 2:2). The sorrow and terror that will transfix their hearts as Christ appears are awful to imagine. But along with sorrow and terror, His appearing will cause wonder.
But who will wonder? It may be the wonder of these unbelieving men that is spoken of in this verse. But if this is the case, we need to ask what it is, exactly, that will call forth that wonder. Some commentators argue that the world will marvel at Christ revealed in us. At the Rapture, those who have trusted Christ during the present age will be changed: “We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jn 3:2 KJV). As we appear with Him in His manifestation, with transformed bodies and in white raiment, we will reflect and radiate His glory, and as those that have hated, despised and persecuted His saints see the transformation, they will marvel to see Christ’s glory reflected in us. This is undoubtedly true – in our conformity to the likeness of Christ we will eternally be “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph 1:6). This, however, is probably not the truth that Paul is emphasizing in this passage.
Other interpreters argue that the preposition en (in all them that believe, v10) has the sense “among.” Paul is writing to believers who were feeling the heat and pressure of persecution, and who were facing the prospect of martyrdom. What a comfort it would have been – and still is – to believers in circumstances like this to know that, in spite of the worst that man could do, not only was Christ coming back, but, when He did come, they would be present and involved, sharing in His glory. It was, perhaps, this that Edward Denny had in view when he wrote:
“Blessed morning! Long expected,
Lo! They fill the peopled air,
Mourners once, by man rejected,
They, with Him, exalted there.”
It is certainly precious to reflect that, when Christ returns in glory, we will not occupy the position of distant spectators, but will be intimately and immediately involved as the honor guard of the king, trumpeting His praises to a wondering world. But, wonderful though that truth undoubtedly is, it too is probably not what Paul intends here.
Rather, the translation “marveled at by all those who believe” seems to best fit the context. Believers will marvel, and it will be at the Lord Jesus Christ, in all His conquering majesty, that they will marvel.
“All who believe” is a comprehensive term. It embraces Old Testament saints who will see, at last, the accomplishment of their Messianic hope. It includes those who have been saved amidst the horrors of the Tribulation, and who now hail their Deliverer. Among their numbers will be those of the Jewish nation who will fulfill prophecy as they look on Him “whom they have pierced” (Zec 12:10). But, as Paul is quick to point out, the description also embraces the Thessalonian believers, and all those who have believed the message of the gospel in this dispensation.
We ought not miss the impact of this. At the time of which Paul speaks, we will have spent more than seven years in the presence of the Lord Jesus. We will have seen Him face to face (Rev 22:4) and seen His glory (Joh 17:24). With all the faculties of our perfected bodies we will have learned more and more of the greatness of our Lord. But we will not have ceased to be amazed. And now, as the One whom we have loved, and seen, and loved still more is manifested in His triumphal glory, our souls will swell with a wonder undiminished by familiarity and undimmed by the passing years.
The world speaks of the “seven-year itch,” the onset of boredom and the decline in happiness after seven years of marriage. For the Bride of the Lamb there will be no seven-year itch, but seven years of wonder added to wonder, worship upon worship, culminating in yet more wonder and yet more worship as we grasp a fresh revelation of His greatness and His glory. “Happy people – what a Savior we have found.”