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The Church’s Future
When God deems the Church complete, then the Lord Jesus Christ will come in the air to receive her to Himself. As mentioned earlier, this is frequently referred to as the “Rapture” of the Church, though the actual word is not found in Scripture. The next major event for the Church will be the Judgment Seat of Christ, followed by the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We will briefly review what the Bible says about these three events.
The return of the Lord for his Church was promised by the Lord Himself (John 14:3), endorsed by heavenly messengers as He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11), and confirmed in the Epistles (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:4–18). The Lord’s personal reiteration is given in the closing words of Scripture (Revelation 22:20).
As we study these and other New Testament passages (particularly 1 Thessalonians 4:4–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52), we will determine that His return is personal, literal, purposeful, and dramatic. It will bring to fruition God’s plan and the Saviour’s promises; the dead raised, the living changed (mortal to immortal bodies), and the Church complete, gathered across the centuries from every tribe and people, tongue and nation.
His return is surely the Church’s present hope, and the individual’s hope, and therefore it should greatly influence the way we live (e.g., 1 John 2:28; 3:3). We should be looking forward to the Lord’s return (Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:13). We cannot forget it since each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that we do it until He come.
As with many future events, Christians hold diverse views with respect to the Rapture. Of those who believe in it, some believe in a partial rapture, others believe in a pretribulation rapture, a midtribulation rapture, or a posttribulation rapture. I am a pretribulationist for several reasons, including the following:
- The tribulation period is a period when the earth experiences the judgments and the wrath of God (Revelation 6:17), and the Church is exempt from such wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Revelation 3:10).
- The tribulation period cannot begin until the Antichrist is revealed, and the Antichrist cannot be revealed until the residence of the Holy Spirit changes (2 Thessalonians 2:6–9), i.e., at the Rapture.
The Judgment Seat of Christ
The judgment of the believer is threefold:
- As a sinner—in the past—our sins have been judged at the cross, resulting in the death of Christ and justification for the believer.
- As a son—in the present—now we are children in God’s family and if we sin, communion with the Father is broken, so we must confess and forsake such sin for restoration to take place. If confession does not occur then we are disciplined by God.
- As a servant—in the future—where at the Judgment Seat of Christ our faithfulness an our works will be examined and tested.
Revelation 22:12 states “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” At the Judgment Seat of Christ each individual believer will experience a thorough investigation of his/her actions, motives, and beliefs. The true value of service will be revealed and every person will receive praise from the Lord.
Four main Scripture passages describe the Judgment Seat of Christ, and each has a different focus. They are as follows:
- Romans 14:10–12 focuses on the individuality of the Judgment (each one),
- 1 Corinthians 3:10–15 focuses on the nature of the Judgment (testing of works),
- 1 Corinthians 4:1–5 focuses on the basis of the Judgment (revealing of secrets), and
- 2 Corinthians 5:9–10 focuses on the purpose of the Judgment (display of character).
When we carefully study these four Scripture passages we should conclude that, at the Judgment Seat of Christ, there will be:
- A judgment for all believers—none will miss it (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10),
- A judgment based on a revealing of the believers secrets and motives,
- An investigation of each individual and each person will speak for themselves,
- A rendering of accounts and explanation of reasons (Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5),
- A direct dealing with God, the omniscient, impartial, and righteous Judge,
- An evaluation of the believer’s works (Ephesians 4:12),
- A very searching judgment—a thorough testing (1 Corinthians 3:13),
- An appropriate recompense for work done—rewards and loss (1 Corinthians 3:14, 15), and
- Praise from God for each believer (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Since we will appear before the Judgment Seat in our glorified bodies, and being in the likeness of Christ, there will be no jealousy, envy, or questioning of the awards made but only full approval and appreciation of God’s decisions.
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
The marriage, and marriage supper, of the lamb are referred to only in Revelation 19:7–9. These verses do not actually describe this wedding, or wedding feast, but announced that the time for them to take place has come. We read that His bride has made herself ready and is dressed in fine linen. Also, John is commanded to write “blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast.” To better understand what is spoken of here we need to appreciate eastern marriage customs of that day. These still exist today in many eastern countries.
A typical marriage of that day had three separate stages, or parts. The first stage was the espousal, or betrothal, a contract usually between the fathers of the two young people, which promised the woman to the man. This contract was legally binding and once effected the couple could be referred to as husband and wife, though they might not live together in a marriage relationship for many years (cf. Joseph and Mary).
The second stage was called the “presentation.” When the groom had built a residence for his bride, and the bride was ready, the boy’s father would bring the girl and present her to his son. This made the marriage fully binding.
The third stage of the marriage was the marriage supper or marriage feast, comparible to what we call the wedding reception. This feast could occur immediately following the marriage ceremony, or be held sometime later. In those days it was often the latter, and the feast could last as long as a week. The bridegroom’s father would usually invite guests to this feast, where the bridegroom would show his bride and everyone would rejoice together.
These three stages of marriage are destined for the Church as the bride of Christ. Paul uses the words betrothal and presentation when he writes to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 11:2 about their husband, Jesus Christ. God the father chose (betrothal) the Church to be the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ in eternity past, and this is seen in a spiritual sense in Ephesians 1:3, 4.
In Ephesians 5:27 we see the Lord Jesus Christ will present to Himself the Church, His Bride, in all her glory, holy and blameless. When will this happen? It would seem to me that the time when the Church is without spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless, will be after the Judgment Seat of Christ. Then the Church will be seen in all her glory.
Now we come to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. As previously mentioned, the verses in Revelation do not provide many details, but state that it is time for the feast, that the Bride is ready, describes what she wears, and that invited guests are blessed. Do the scriptures suggest where the feast is held?; when it is held?; and who might be the invited guests? Let’s attempt to answer these questions in the reverse order, since I believe if we can identify the guests we will find out where and when the feast will be held.
A careful study of the wedding feast parables in Matthew 22:1–14 and Matthew 25:1–12, John’s remarks in John 3:29, the judgment of the nations described in Matthew 25:31–46, also Luke 13:28–29 and Revelation 20:4 suggests to me that Old Testament saints, people such as John the Baptist, those martyred in the tribulation period, and faithful Jews and Gentiles surviving the tribulation period, will be invited guests. If so, then the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will take place on earth after Armageddon and the subsequent binding of Satan.
This series of posts has been adapted with permission from F. J. Hopton, From Here to Eternity: What Every Christian Should Know, Canada, 1999.