Return, Reception, and Reunion

John 14:3.---' And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.'

It is clear that what Jesus here promises is a RETURN to, a RECEPTION of, and a REUNION with, His disciples; but what each of them will mean must be determined by the standpoint we assume---the eschatological or the experimental. Is this a hope which the believer may cherish in view of his death, or is it an experience which may here and now be claimed by Christian faith? Or are these alternatives not mutually exclusive? Has the promise of Jesus both a present and a future reference? If the Father's house embraces earth as well as Heaven, if the life now as well as the life beyond may be an abiding in God in the companionship of Jesus Christ, then we may give the experimental interpretation without excluding the eschatological, as in the present life begins the process which the future life brings to its consummation.

The RETURN of Jesus to the disciples did take place when they became conscious of His presence with them, and His power upon them. We may assert as an historical fact that the certainty that Christ lived and reigned was seized and held fast by the faith of the primitive community. It was only when this conviction had taken full possession of their minds that the disciples were filled with the holy enthusiasm of Pentecost. The Lord's return was the condition of the Spirit's presence and power in the Christian Church. In the growth in grace of believers, in the progress of the gospel, in the victory of the Christian Church over the Roman Empire, faith could recognize his constant coming. To the Christian believer today Christ often comes in the gracious influences of the Christian home, so that the human heart becomes the Divine home slowly without any sense of change: in repentance, faith, conversion, He comes to others. For the Christian Church also there are returns of the Lord in mercy as in judgment, in assurances of the sufficiency of His grace, or penitences for failure in faith and duty.

If we can thus conceive the return of Christ, the RECEPTION of the disciples unto Himself surely means the process by which the believer comes to clearer knowledge, deeper devotion, and fuller obedience. As the mind receives more fully His truth, as the heart gives richer response to His love, as the life is more thoroughly consecrated to his service, He is taking the soul to Himself and making it His own. Such a process of reception may be witnessed in the Apostolic Age. For instance, we can trace in the Acts of the Apostles a progress in the apprehension even by the Apostles of the truth about the person and the work of Jesus as the Christ of God. The Jerusalem community did not at once understand the purpose of Christ regarding the Gentiles, and it was only slowly that it was made willing to admit Gentile and Jew on equal terms. Throughout the history of the Christian Church this receiving of the Church by Christ has been going on. Whenever a truth of the gospel is freed from the errors which up to that time have hidden it, and hindered its acknowledgment, whenever a new duty in human relationships is recognized as demanded by obedience to Christ, whenever spheres of influence till then neglected are claimed for the Spirit of God, whenever the borders of the Kingdom of God are widened, the change may be described as Christ receiving the Church unto Himself. And as the Church is thus received, through the testimony or influence of the Church the world will be received by Christ unto Himself.

The REUNION with Christ, which is the result of the return of, and reception by, Christ, is expressed in terms of space, 'that where I am, there ye may be also.' But that does not confine us to any local interpretation; for throughout this discourse Jesus uses terms of space to describe spiritual conditions. He is going where the disciples cannot now follow Him. He is going to the Father. To be where Christ is, then, need not mean only to be in the same place as He is. To be near Him for a soul unlike Him would not be heaven, but hell. What the reunion means is our uninterrupted communion with Him through an entire consecration to Him, and a complete resemblance. Such a reunion is not effected in a moment, but is a process, for too many Christians so gradual as to be almost imperceptible. This, however, is the goal of the Christian course, and its constant characteristic. A man is a Christian as he lives with Christ, and Christ lives with him. There may be genuine Christian experience and sincere Christina character where this sense of personal communion is not developed, but the typical Christian life is the life of oneness in fellowship with Him. To be with Christ is to be where God as Father is revealed, where truth is disclosed, where love abounds, where holiness reigns, where peace abides, where joy is full, where death is not, and where eternal life is. This is the good which Christ offers the soul in Himself.

While the general reference of the text may be to THE SPIRITUAL PROCESS thus described, there is also a special reference to death and the hereafter, for Jesus uttered these words of comfort and cheer, help and hope, to disciples who were troubled in heart because of His departure from them in His death. Because Jesus thus returns to His disciples, receives them, and is reunited to them in the present spiritual experience, we may boldly venture to believe that He is to the soul which trusts Him the same in death as in life, hereafter as now.

We cannot now conceive the general resurrection in the literal form in which the Apostolic Age anticipated it. Even if the fulfillment of God's purpose of grace in the world should be marked by some cosmic transformation, some Divine manifestation which we cannot now imagine, we cannot think of our beloved dead as in an unconscious condition, as reduced in vitality until their personality is restored to them fully in the end of this age. It is reasonable to suppose that the fruition of heaven's perfection, glory, blessedness waits the fulfillment of God's purpose on earth. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews believed that the believers under the old covenant were not made perfect apart from the believers under the new, concerning whom God had provided some better thing, so we may believe that the world's redemption will complete even the life of Heaven. It is reasonable also to suppose that there is a moral and a spiritual continuity between this life and the next, and that physical death does not and cannot in a moment complete the development of the soul in truth, goodness, and love. While we may well believe that with this earthly life the occasions for, and temptations to, sin will cease, yet even a sinless development may be progressive.

Giving due weight to these two considerations, namely, that the completion of each soul depends on the fulfillment of God's purpose in the world, and that there will be room for, and need of, progress in the future life, we may for our comfort and hope apply this text to the believers experience of death. When he descends into the Valley of the Shadow, while no human helper or comforter can go with him---and is not this human impotence sorrow's crowning sorrow in the experience of bereavement?---the darkness will be turned to day; for the Conqueror of death will draw nearer than ever, and His closer companionship will sustain the soul.

Our love cannot but linger about the portal of death, and try to follow the loved ones into the new life. How many must be the changes, how keen the surprises, how great the wonders! But surely the new experiences, whatever they may be, will be no strain to the soul, for all will be blessed as Christ's reception of His beloved unto Himself. There will be no dread of mystery, no shrinking from the unknown, for the truth, love, and grace of Jesus Christ will then be the soul's welcome; and life's best experiences will be continued through death unto the life eternal.

In Christ, timothy maranatha