The Gathering Together of the Saints
True Christians from all backgrounds share an expectation commonly known as the Rapture of the church (see 1 Thess. 4:16-17). Although debate surrounds the timing of this event, Scripture assures us that at the last trumpet we will be caught up to "meet the Lord in the air" (v.17). So, while critics will say that Francis does not believe in the Rapture, the truth is that I do. However, it is plain that, according to many Scriptures, there will also be a time of unusual grace prior to the Rapture in which the living church of Jesus Christ, like a bride, makes "herself ready" (Rev. 19:7).
During this unparalleled season of preparation, those who are alive in Christ shall realize a level of holiness and purity that will be the overflow of the presence of Jesus Himself manifested through the church (1 Thess. 3:11-13; Eph. 5:26-27; Phil. 1:9-10). The result of this new spiritual fullness will be a new level of unity. Faultfinding and gossip will disappear. In their place will be intercession and love. Wholeness will return to the citywide evangelical church. This also means that the ambition and division we see today between congregations will be identified as sin, which will be repented of before Jesus returns.
The truth of this message must be made clear, for most Christians consider oneness within the body inconceivable before Jesus returns. They have not discerned nor warred against the enemy's lies, which have conditioned believers to accept strife and sectarianism in the church. It is my passionate conviction that the church that will ultimately be raptured will be free of strife and carnal divisions -- it will be a bride "having no spot or wrinkle" that has "made herself ready" for her bridegroom (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 19:7).
According to Scripture, during the Rapture, "in the twinkling of an eye" our bodies will be changed (1 Cor. 15:52). But our character, that is, the essence of who we have become, will remain intact. There will be no regrets or wondering how "those from that church" made it, for the living bride will be a church built together in love, meeting in separate buildings but serving the one and only Lord. These true disciples of the Lord Jesus will be known for their intense and holy love for one another -- not merely in their individual local assemblies but within the context of a citywide church.
It is highly significant that the scriptural term for the Rapture is called the "gathering together" (2 Thess. 2:1; Matt. 24:31). What ultimately will be consummated in our gathering together physically to the Lord will be precipitated by a spiritual gathering together of His body on earth. Concerning the era known as the "end of the age," Jesus taught that the "good fish" shall be "gathered . . . into containers" (Matt. 13:48). And in the context of spiritual warfare, Jesus warned, "He who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matt. 12:30).
This scattering, dividing process among the Lord's sheep has gone on long enough. Jesus has set His heart to bring healing and unity to His body. In this regard, through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord spoke a somber warning. He said, "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!" (Jer. 23:1). The Son of God is not pleased with the carnal divisions in His body! Indeed, the Lord promises to chasten those pastors who continue to build their kingdoms without laboring together to build His. To them He says, "I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds" (v. 2).
In the tenth chapter of John, the Lord makes His goal clear: there shall be "one flock with one shepherd" (v. 16). He reveals it is the wolf nature that "snatches [the sheep] and scatters them," and it is the hireling nature that allows the scattering to occur (v.12) . But His promise to His sheep says this: "Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock . . . and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer . . . nor will any be missing" (Jer. 23:3-4). The pastors of the last Christian church will be under-shepherds to the Lord Jesus; they will be anointed to gather together His remnant and under that anointing shall be "fruitful and multiply."
Indeed, right now, in the context of humbling ourselves and submitting our hearts to His will, we are participating in being "gathered together." This process will progressively increase until the barriers between brethren are melted by the overcoming nature of Christ's love. Before Jesus returns, we will truly be "one flock with one shepherd." We will be a holy and blameless sheepfold, meeting in different buildings but baptized into one body.
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