Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. – John 17:24 – NKJV – throughout.
These words were prayed by the Lord Jesus at the close of His last Passover supper. They must have given the disciples some measure of comfort and reassurance, at such a difficult and confusing time for them. Earlier that evening their hearts had been troubled by the news that the Lord was leaving. Not only that, but Jesus had told them that they would not be able to follow Him to the place where He was going, at least not yet (Jn. 13:33). With loving authority, the Lord had commanded His disciples not to let their hearts become unduly burdened by the news. How were they to do that? By trusting Him completely, and by knowing in their hearts that His absence would only be for a short time: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). Not only is the Lord Jesus coming back for us, but He is longing for us to be with Him in His Father’s house!
The Appointed Time
In His Passover prayer, the Lord first consecrated Himself to the Father in readiness for all that lay ahead, and then prayed for His disciples to be protected from the evil one. Jesus then turned His thoughts towards you and me, that is, to all those He knew would one day come to faith through the message His disciples would proclaim. Ever since their exodus from Egypt and their entry into the Promised Land, the Jewish people had sacrificed an unblemished male lamb, or goat, at an appointed time each year. This was how they were to remember that the Shepherd of Israel had delivered them from bondage “with a strong hand” (Ex. 13:9), before bringing them through the wilderness into a good and safe pasture.
Now the appointed time had come for Jesus to fulfil all that the Passover had prophetically signified. As He reclined with His disciples in the upper room that night, Jesus not only directed their thoughts back to Egypt, as was the custom, but forwards, beyond Calvary, to a heavenly land where they would one day celebrate the feast anew (Lk. 22:16; Matt. 8:11; Heb. 11:10). Although His departure was necessary for their sake, the Good Shepherd was not about to abandon His little flock, or leave them as orphans in this world. In a short while Jesus would ask the Father, and the Father would send them “another Comforter/Helper,” the promised Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-18, 26-28).
The Extent of His Love
We know from Luke’s account that Jesus had eagerly desired to eat His last Passover meal with His disciples. According to one translation, Jesus said to them, “Earnestly have I longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. According to another, “With an intense desire I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Why did Jesus long so much to eat this meal with His disciples, and why did He tell them so? Although the answer is not clear from the text, we know that He wanted to celebrate Passover with those He called His “children” (Jn. 13:33), His “friends” (Jn. 15:15), and His “brethren” (Jn. 20:17) – those whom He had chosen, and who themselves had chosen, to do the will of His Father (Mk. 3:31-35; Matt. 6:10). At a time of great personal sorrow, Jesus desired the consolation of His closest friends (see Matt. 26:37-40). He also wanted them to know that His longing to eat this meal with them was not confined to that final Passover occasion. A new and glorious day would one day dawn when all sorrow and suffering would cease, and when all of God’s family would be gathered together to eat and drink with Him in His Father’s kingdom (Rev. 19:6-9).
Jesus and His disciples may well have celebrated the Passover together during the first two years of His public ministry. Now the appointed time had come for the Lord to offer Himself as the unblemished Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), and so accomplish in His body a redemption that would far exceed Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. By breaking bread, distributing the wine, and stooping with servant-hearted humility to wash the feet of His disciples, the Lord revealed the full extent of His love (Jn. 17:6).
Some years later, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul wrote about the way Christ had “loved the Church,” having given Himself up for her “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word”.This was so that He might one day “might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27; Jude 24). This is indeed a mystery, but one which encourages us to think more deeply about the way the Lord sees us, and the lengths to which He has gone to make sure that we are presented, and presentable, to Him on that day. The Bridegroom is longing to be with His Bride because He loves her, and loves her with the same love with which the Father has loved the Son (Jn. 15:9; 1 Jn. 3:1).
The Blessedness of the Blessed Hope
The desire of the Lord for His Bride is a crucial aspect of the doctrine of the Second Coming, but one that is sadly missing from many sermons, articles, and books that deal with the subject. Although the thought of the Lord’s return can be overwhelming at times, simply because it is outside our experience and beyond what our finite minds can comprehend, it is so sad to see believers being robbed of their blessed hope by those who are not looking or longing for His return. Even though the Apostle Paul knew that it was better for the churches under his care that he remained with them, his desire was always “to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). The Apostle has set every generation of believers an example to follow, having poured out his life daily in sacrifice and service to the Lord, while at the same time living in the certain knowledge and constant expectation that Jesus could come for him at any moment.
Having been freed from our sins through the precious blood of the Lamb (Rev. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:19), it is inconceivable, and completely contrary to God’s Word and His character, that we should endure “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). We no longer belong to this earth (Jn. 15:19), nor do we belong to the night or to the darkness (1 Thess. 5:5). We belong to the Lord, who “delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). We are His chosen people, His children, His brethren, His disciples, His friends, His flock, His Church, His Body, and His Bride. The time of wrath to come is not a time of trouble for the true Church, but for Jacob (Jer. 30:7), a period of unprecedented distress that will engulf the world, including those of Daniel’s people who rejected their Messiah (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:15-21). This “day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:2; NASB) is not “the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6), which is the day we, as believers, are waiting and longing and destined to see.
Let us take great encouragement from the Lord’s own words in the letter to the faithful church at Philadelphia:
Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. - Revelation 3:10.
This raises one very simple, but important, question: When did such an hour of trial ever take place? Certainly not in the days of the Philadelphians, and yet the Lord promised to keep them from it – literally out of it. How do we reconcile this? By remembering that the book of Revelation is prophecy, and that John is writing about “things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1), and “the things which will take place after this” (1:19). This hour of trial is a specific period of time referred to elsewhere as the Great Tribulation, when the whole world will be tested by God in order to ‘prove’ what is in the hearts of the people on earth at that time (Rev. 7:9-17). However, as the Lord promised the church at Philadelphia, we will be rescued, or kept, from this hour.
For those of us “whose heart is set on pilgrimage” (Psa. 84:1-7) and who are doing our best to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2), the prospect of seeing the Lord and being taken to His Father’s house should fill our hearts with hope, assurance, peace, and joy. It should also dispel any fears we might have of what lies ahead, and of what we do not and cannot understand until it happens. As Paul declared in his letter to the Corinthians, “‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:9-10). The Apostle Peter put it this way:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1:6-9.
For all of us who know, love, and long for the Lord Jesus today, a bright and glorious tomorrow is guaranteed
“Come, Lord Jesus!”
With these things in mind, let us consider again how remarkable, encouraging, reassuring, and definite the words Jesus prayed to the Father were that night in the upper room. The King James Version seems to capture best what the Lord actually prayed: “Father, I will that they also ... be with me where I am”. Jesus wasn’t merely hoping or wishing that one day His followers might be with Him in glory. The Greek word translated “will” is thelo, which conveys a sense of volition, purpose and determination. It was Jesus’ express purpose, therefore, that in accord with the will of the Father, all who had met Him at the cross would one day meet Him in the air. The Apostle Paul not only knew, “by the word of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15), that Jesus could catch him away at any moment; he also longed for it to happen. As he wrote in his final letter to Timothy,
Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. - 2 Tim. 4:8.
In the final chapter of the book of Revelation, the Lord makes the following announcement: “Behold, I am coming quickly!”(Rev. 22:7, 12, 20) The word “quickly” speaks more of the suddenness and speed of Jesus’ return than the nearness of the event. That does not mean we should not be alert and watchful; indeed, Jesus’ use of “behold” calls the hearer to pay very careful attention to what is being announced. Jesus clearly wanted His Church to pay close attention to this truth, a point Peter highlights in his second letter when he warns that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” What was Peter’s reply? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” - 2 Peter 3:3-9.
When Jesus instructed John to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor, He finished each letter with the same exhortation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). As the Bible closes, the last word to be spoken by the Holy Spirit is “Come!” Can the Church hear? The Spirit is He who “searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10), and communicates to God’s people what is in God’s heart. He is also referred to as the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of His (God’s) Son (Ac. 16:7; Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19; 1 Pet. 1:11). It should not surprise us, then, to learn that the Holy Spirit, who indwells the Bride, should also be longing for Jesus to come. As John declared, “the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come’” - Rev. 22:17. What a great exhortation
When the Church walks in step with the Holy Spirit, she will not only do what He commands, but she will also desire what He desires. May those who are not longing for the Lord to come, or who don’t believe that He could return for us at any moment, open wide their hearts, that they too might hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and join with Him in proclaiming, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”
About The Author
Paul Wilkinson, PhD, is the Associate Minister at Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church, an independent Pentecostal fellowship in Stockport, England. He is a Council Member of Prophetic Witness Movement International (PWMI) in the UK, and a member of the Pre-Trib Study Group, which is based in the United States. He holds a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of York (where he was born again in 1990), and a BA, MA, and PhD in Theology from the University of Manchester. His PhD thesis was published in 2007 entitled, For Zion’s Sake: Christian Zionism and the Role of John Nelson Darby; the book has recently been republished by The Berean Call in Oregon entitled, Understanding Christian Zionism: Israel’s Place in the Purposes of God (2013). Paul is an international conference speaker and a regular contributor to Christian television, radio, and film, and was a research consultant for the award-winning documentary, The Destiny of Britain (2008). He has studied and lectured at the International School of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and is a recognised authority on ‘Christian Palestinianism.
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