The night our Lord was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, He encouraged the remaining 11 disciples with these words: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).
Then the Savior made a spectacular promise: “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” (John 14:3). The disciples could not have fully understood at that time what the Lord Jesus was referring to. Would it be resurrection from physical death? Yes, this will be part of the event, but every true Jew knew this already (cf. John 11:24—“Martha said to Him, ‘I know that (my brother) will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’ ”). Would it be entrance into the Kingdom at His second coming? No, for He will bring all glorified saints with Him from heaven on that great day (cf. Rev. 19:14).
What our Lord was referring to was much more than bodily resurrection, great though that will be. It will be the glorification of living Christians who will never experience physical death—a “blessed hope” for the true body and bride of Christ, the church, a hope which Israel never shared. It is born-again Christians who are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13).
Unique characteristics of the church
While still on the earth, our Lord announced: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18; cf. 18:17). After His resurrection, the disciples asked Him: “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). He did not deny that the long-awaited Kingdom will come someday. But He did explain that, for now, a new program would begin: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This would happen “not many days from now”—on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:5,9; 2:1), precisely 10 days after His ascension to heaven. What was this new program? It was the church—the spiritual body and bride of Christ. What was the unique characteristic of this new body? It would consist of people—both Jews and Gentiles—who experience Spirit baptism. As He clearly explained, “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). From the beginning of the world people (including Adam and Eve) had been saved by grace through faith in God’s Word and were “born again” (cf. John 3:3). The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that he, being a teacher in Israel, should have known this (John 3:10). But Spirit baptism had never been known, experienced or even predicted for both Jews and Gentiles in the Old Testament.
As the apostle Paul explained: “By revelation He made known to me the mystery…which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs (with Jewish believers), of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:3-6).
The true church experienced a spectacular beginning—Spirit baptism on the day of Pentecost along with audible and visible sign-miracles. And it will experience a spectacular departure from the earth—physical transformation when Christ comes to receive us to Himself. This is the blessed hope—the glorification and rapture (i.e., catching up) of all living Christians to meet the Savior in the air just before the great tribulation begins on the earth.