Between the coming of the Lord Jesus for His saints, and His appearing with them in glory, there will be an interval, during which momentous events will take place in heaven and on earth. It is not our present purpose to consider what will happen in the world below, but rather to trace the path of the risen and glorified saints who have passed into the heavens with their Lord. It may not be possible to tabulate in exact order the varied spheres of glory into which the risen saints will pass, but we may surely gather from the Word of God some of those "things to come," which have been made known by the Spirit, to nourish faith and hope in the saints during their earthly days.
First in order of all these glorious things, will be the seeing of the blessed Lord Himself. "We shall see him as He is " (1 John 3:2). The very first to gaze upon the unveiled glory of the Son of God, will be the risen saints, as they gather around Him on that fair resurrection morning. No longer as through a glass darkly; or, as now by revelation of the Spirit through the Word, but "face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). Not a "brief glance" as Stephen had, through the open heavens, when cruel men led him forth to death: not a "passing word" as Paul heard from the glory, as he journeyed towards Damascus, but the beginning of an eternity of gazing upon His beauty, and of hearing His voice. Yes, blessed be God, before the glory of His kingdom, before He sits upon His throne, ruling the world in righteousness; before His enemies lick the dust, His loved and ransomed people will be gathered into His immediate presence to behold Himself. As the beloved John G. Bellet, of Dublin, so sweetly said, when he drew near to the end of his journey:—"Oh, to be with Him, before the glories, the crowns, or the kingdoms appear. It is wonderful, wonderful! With the Man of Sychar. With the Man of the gate of the city of Nain. I am going to be WITH HIM forever."
The "Father's House," the circle of love, comes before the throne of glory. There He will present the people given Him by the Father. Not one will be a wanting on that day (John 6:39). There they will be greeted and welcomed to His everlasting habitation by the God who loved them long before. As we sing—
"There no stranger-God shall meet thee,
Stranger thou in courts above;
He who to His rest shall greet thee,
Greets thee with a well-known love."
The Book of the Revelation—which is a book of signs and symbols, shows the saints as raised in glory. In Chapters 2-3, the earthly history of the Church is traced from the time that it left its first love, till its final rejection by the Lord. In the beginning of Chapter 4, John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved"—who is here the representative of the living saints—is caught up into heaven, and from that time onward we hear no more of the Church as a light-bearer upon the earth. Chapter 4:4 presents another, and possibly a later view of the risen and glorified saints, as elders seated on thrones, clothed in white raiment, and wearing Victor's crowns of gold. These crowned elders, may represent saints of former dispensations, who have been raised and glorified. They are now seated round about the throne (Rev. 4:4). Then closer still, nearer to the Lamb "who is in the midst of the throne" (Rev. 5:6); yea, one with Him there—for they are said to be "in the midst of the throne" (Rev. 4:6)—are "four beasts—four living ones" (this is a better rendering than "beasts," see Newberry's Bible), instinct with divine and spiritual intelligence, of those before and behind. Who can these represent but the Church, the saints of this present age, who will lead the worship of heaven (Rev. 4:9; 5:8, 14), and execute the judgments of God in the age to come (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 6)? These saints of the past and present dispensations, now glorified together, fall down and worship the Lamb. They both proclaim Him as the Worthy One, and acknowledge His blood as the ground of their redemption. They stand there in glory upon His merit alone. They know no other stand. They see Him there as the Lamb once slain. The memorials of Golgotha are there—the pierced hands and feet, the wounded side—proclaiming amidst the glory, the love that led Him forth as the Victim to die. On "the Lamb in the midst of the throne" every eye in all that ransomed throng is resting in ineffable delight. Of Him every voice is swelling.
The risen saints are also seen presenting the prayers of saints, who are still on earth, in golden vials full of odours. These saints on earth are not of the heavenly company, but part of the earthly calling among whom God is again working. They are not raised and glorified, but on the earth, passing through seas of trouble, and crying to God for deliverance. Later, they appear "before the throne" (Rev. 7:9), not "around" it, as the elders, or "in the midst of it," as the living ones, but "before" the throne, and before the Lamb, to serve God day and night in His temple (Rev. 7:15).
Thus we learn, that in the great congregation of the redeemed in glory, there will be many families (Eph. 3:15). and various circles; each in the ordered place assigned it in the wisdom and love of God, and all perfectly doing His will, and manifesting the glories of the Lamb, whose redemption work they own has made them meet for that heavenly glory.
The heart lingers in worship and desire over these glorious descriptions of the saints' coming bliss. What joys await us in these bright courts of heaven! What has not been provided for the saints of God, the objects of His eternal love! There are seats, or thrones, on which they sit grouped round the rainbow-circled throne of the Eternal God. The crowns upon their heads bespeak their victor honours. The golden vials filled with prayers from sufferers yet on earth, proclaim their heavenly priesthood. Their robes of spotless purity and whiteness, tell what the saving grace of God, the cleansing blood of Christ, and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit have wrought for them, and in them. Is it any wonder that they sing and ascribe all praise to God and to the Lamb! Surely as we think of these things, and look forward to those scenes in which, through grace, we shall have our part, our hearts must take up their song and sing—
(Note: The Crowned Elders—There are some who hold that the Elders and the Living Creatures are the same glorified saints in two aspects, as worshippers and executors of the Divine will in service).
"Let us with joy adopt the strain.
We soon shall sing for ever there,
Worthy's the Lamb for sinners slain,
Worthy alone the crown to wear.''
From The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus, with Subsequent Events in Heaven and on Earth by John Ritchie. 3rd ed., enl. Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, .