The three Scriptures which serve as the basis for this paper are well familiar to most of our readers. In the interest of brevity, we are not quoting the content of each, only the references, but we suggest that what follows here may serve its purpose better if the reader will first review the Scriptures we are about to consider and have their content in view as we proceed.
The first is found in I Cor. 15:51-53 and it tells of one of the "secrets" which Paul revealed. The second is in First Thess. 4:15-17, a passage which sheds much light on the first though it does not mention the secret as such. The third passage is found in Revelation 11:15-18, a book of prophecy. Being therefore a part of prophecy, that passage must be distinguished from a "secret," for a secret is something which had not appeared anywhere else in Scripture before it was revealed. As terms of reference here, we shall call these three Scriptures, respectively, "the Corinthian text," "the Thessalonian text," and "the Revelation prophecy."
The "secret" revealed in the Corinthian text pertains to the future resurrection and glorification of saints who will have been called through the Apostle Paul's ministry. From the Concordant Version we quote Paul as saying: "Lo! a secret to you am I telling." No such secret as he reveals there is found anywhere in Hebrew prophecy. The Authorised Version says "The trumpet shall sound," and while the Concordant Version mentions no trumpet as such, it indicates the effect or the action proceeding from a trumpet: "He will be trumpeting." That results in a series of "trumps" or trumpet sounds, and these culminate in what is called "the last trump." This, as we are about to observe, has nothing in common with the last of seven trumpets which appear in the Revelation prophecy. The "last trump" in Corinthians is one of numerous trumpet sounds proceeding from a single trumpet which in the Thessalonian text is called "the trumpet of God." There the Lord Himself is said to be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God. We are told that "the dead in Christ shall be rising first." They will at length respond to "the last trump" proceeding from that single trumpet. "Thereupon," the Thessalonian text continues, "we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them ... to meet the Lord in the air." That coincides exactly with the Corinthian text which says that "the dead" (the dead in Christ) "will be roused incorruptible" and then "we" (the surviving ones mentioned in the Thessalonian text) "shall be changed."
According to the Thessalonian text, it appears as if "the Lord Himself" and "the Chief Messenger" are one and the same. It may seem somewhat strange at first that our Lord should appear in the role of a messenger, even though it be "the Chief Messenger;" yet possibly this serves to accentuate the vast difference between that prior meeting in the air and His ultimate return to Israel after seven trumpets are sounded there by seven successive messengers in the Revelation prophecy. Then He comes, as we are told in Matthew also, with "all the holy messengers" (25:31). The prophecy of Daniel indicates that "thousand thousands will be ministering to Him and ten thousand times ten thousand" (7:10) will be standing before Him. In contrast to that vast multitude of messengers, it appears that the prior meeting with the saints in the air (those who have been called through Paul's ministry) will be a very intimate and personal meeting. Then the Lord alone as "the Chief Messenger" from celestial realms will come to meet privately with His saints alone. According to Corinthians and Thessalonians, they will respond to the trumpeting which proceeds from the single trumpet called "the trumpet of God." Still from that lone trumpet it appears there will be numerous successive crescendos of trumpet peals, for it is only at "the last trump" that the dead in Christ will be rising first, exactly as we are told in the Corinthian text. It is obvious that the saints there in view are distinctly different from others who are to appear long afterward from a future renascent Israel when the last one of seven successive messengers begins to sound his trumpet. None of those seven in the Revelation prophecy is "the Lord Himself;" none is "Chief." Preparatory to that climactic moment in the Revelation prophecy when the kingdom and power of our Lord Jesus Christ is to be triumphantly announced by "loud voices in heaven" those seven messengers with seven trumpets will be preparing the way just as the King of Glory is about to arrive so that He can be seen from an earthly point of view; quite different from the prior meeting in the air when He will have been manifested privately only to His saints. We repeat for emphasis here that none of the seven messengers in the Revelation prophecy is "the Lord Himself." They all precede Him as heralds before the King.
The closer we observe the Revelation prophecy, the more unlike it becomes to the "secret" in Corinthians or the meeting in tho air to which that secret relates. As the seventh messenger sounds his trumpet, we note there are great voices in heaven proclaiming that the kingdom of this world—apparently just then—has become the kingdom of our LORD and of His CHRIST. "Thou hast taken thy great power and dost reign." At that triumphant moment the judgment of the unsaved dead comes into view but first, as we are told, there is to be the payment of "wages" to the prophets and saints of Israel. That prophecy anticipates our Lord's long awaited descent back to Mount Olivet, the point from which He ascended into heaven, in fulfilment of Acts l:9-ll and Zach. 14:4 with other Hebrew prophecy, such as Dan. 7:10,11. There will be faithful ones in Israel awaiting Him then (Heb. 9:28) just as there were some who witnessed His departure from Mount Olivet (Acts 1:11). In our Lord's great prophecy of Matthew 24 He indicates that persons such as those will be gathered together from various earthly pursuits, from far and near (vss. 40-42), because first "He shall be dispatching His messengers with a loud sounding trumpet (vs. 31—presumably one such trumpet for each such messenger—"and they shall be assembling His chosen (ones) from the four winds"—from all over the earth from under all the extremities of our local heavens.
It seems this should well establish that the messengers and trumpets of the Revelation prophecy are immediately precedent to the messengers and trumpets appearing in Matt. 24 and Daniel 7:10; yet those numerous messengers and trumpets in Revelation, in Matthew and in Daniel have no remote identity with the "secret" Paul reveals in the Corinthian text or the Thessalonian meeting in the air which clearly pertains to saints of an entirely different calling who ascend from the earth to meet our Lord in the air as the dead among them respond to the trumpeting which proceeds from a single trumpet, "the trumpet of God;" an event which has no parallel anywhere in Hebrew prophecy, nor in the book of Revelation.
There is however a passage in one of Paul's prison epistles, still further removed from any semblance of Hebrew prophecy, which coincides well with the secret in Corinthians and the Thessalonian meeting in the air. "Our realm," it says (our commonwealth or homeland) is in the heavens out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure the body of our humiliation to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21). Bodies of present humiliation transfigured to conform to "the body of His glory" is something which coincides beautifully with such "change" or transfiguration as we note must directly precede the meeting in the air. The bodies of mortal saints will be "changed," as the Corinthian text informs us, to a future state of immortality.
The "secret" in Corinthians is but one of numerous secrets which Paul revealed, including some before and others subsequent to the secret in Corinthians which we have considered here (Rom. 11:25; 16:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:3-9; 6:19; Col. 1:26-27; 4:3). He indicates also there were secrets he first revealed only orally, not to many but to such of the saints as he called "the mature" (I Cor. 2:6-7). Thus the time when each secret was revealed to others cannot be conclusively established, nor is it vital for us to know. All we can determine is the place and the approximate time when any specified secret was recorded in one of Paul's letters which have been preserved for our learning.
The Thessalonian text contains a certain indefinite time designation which indicates only that the meeting in the air will occur at some unrevealed time called "the presence of the Lord." PRESENCE from the Greek "parousia" is defined as "beside-being." There is, however, a certain "presence" indicated also in Matthew 24 where our Lord's disciples were asking "What is the sign of Thy presence and of the conclusion of the eon?"
Consequently there is a "presence of the Lord" relating alternately at different times to different people; first to saints of a prior calling largely from among the Gentiles, later to saints of a future calling from the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus we learn of a presence which is not to be seen from the earth though it will be near enough for our Lord to meet His saints in the air. Long afterward there is a presence which culminates in His personal unveiling to earthly Vision, for it is then with power and great glory that He descends upon Mount Olivet (Matt. 24:30; Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7; 14:14).
In Matthew 24: 37-39 our Lord compared His future presence to the days of Noah, saying that conditions will prevail in the days of His presence like unto those which did prevail in Noah's time until the day when he entered the ark just before the flood came and destroyed all others than Noah and his family. In Luke 17:26-30 He referred not to the days of His presence as such but to "the days of the Son of Mankind," a different term for the same event which He compared there also to the days of Noah as well as the days of Lot in Sodom. Here we observe with particular interest that as long as He spoke about "the days of the Son of Mankind" only, and compared those to the days of Noah and of Lot, He spoke in the plural of DAYS, but directly afterward He referred to the moment when the Son of Mankind is to be revealed or "unveiled," and He likened that to a single day in the life of Lot, "the day in which Lot came out from Sodom when fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all." Our Lord said like unto that will it be on the (singular) DAY in which the Son of Mankind is unveiled.
Thus whether we consider "the presence of the Lord" according to Matthew or "the days of the Son of Mankind" according to Luke, it becomes apparent that the time denoted by either of those two terms is relatively long as compared with the single day when the Son of Mankind is to be unveiled. That will be instantaneous, represented only by that one day on which Lot fled out of Sodom. On the other hand, "the presence of the Son of Mankind" or "the days of the Son of Mankind" denotes not only a plurality of days but, more conceivably also, a plurality of YEARS, and, unlike what is often assumed, it may well involve hundreds of years, including what Hebrew prophecy frequently calls "the latter days" as distinguished from the former days of Israel's Mosaic era, The Law and The Prophets; therefore suggesting a future pre-millennial era when a restored covenant nation will be served once again by a Levitical priesthood in accord with Ezekiel's prophecy (44:14-24) which essentially precedes a royal Melchisedec priesthood for the subsequent Millennial eon.
Here we have not failed to observe that both in Matthew and Luke our Lord spoke directly only of CONDITIONS which prevailed both in the days of Noah and of Lot, and these He compared to His future presence or "the days of the Son of Mankind." He of course did not say also that the number of days or years which will be required for His "presence" will be exactly the same in number as the days covered by Noah's lifetime, or the days or years required for the building of the ark, or the number of years that Lot may have dwelt in Sodom. Consequently, in the published accounts of both Matthew and Luke where these report only what our Lord said directly about the days of His presence before He is to be revealed, or "the days of the Son of Mankind," we should note accordingly that He made no DIRECT mention of the duration which His presence will require, yet the comparison to the days of Noah may in itself also imply a time likeness between the historic past and the prophetic future.
Since our Lord used the days of Noah to foreshadow the days of His presence, and since He used the singular day on which Lot fled out of Sodom to foreshadow the climactic moment of His future unveiling, we observe here (without insisting upon it) that the days of His presence may have also a time resemblance either to the six hundred years of Noah's life before the flood or the time required for Noah and his household to build an ark dimensionally greater in volume than many of our boasted engineering achievements of modern times. We are reminded here that the LONG SUFFERING of God waited (our emphasis) in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared (I Pet. 3:20). Again we are reminded that there will be similar circumstances in the days of our Lord's presence because of which some then also will misappropriate the "longsuffering" of God as their ancestors did in the days of Noah. "There will be scoffers," we are told, "going about and saying—no doubt nonchalantly—"Where is the promise of His presence" (II Pet. 3:4)? To them in that day, there will be no evidence of any oncoming peril to indicate the forthcoming unveiling of a "presence" seemingly long delayed by the longsuffering of God then also.
All this appears to suggest, the same as much other Scripture does elsewhere, that there is first to be a divinely restored Israel, with a new Levitical priesthood, followed by a prolonged though temporary time of world peace, until that new covenant nation degenerates once again into another apostasy before they shall look upon Him whom their fathers have pierced (Zech 12:10).
Melvin E. Johnson (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Sixteen, February-March 1975)