Every once in awhile, instead of commenting on current events in light of Bible prophecy, I will be sharing excerpts from my new book: Strength For Today: The New Testament. One of my recent devotional studies was from I Thes. 4 on the topic of the Rapture of the Church. What follows is that daily reading.
In today’s Scripture passage, I Thes. 4:13-18, we have the clear teaching of the “Rapture” of the church. The word rapture comes from the phrase “caught up” in verse 17. It describes how, at the coming of Christ, believers will be instantly taken up to heaven without experiencing death. It is one of the great, encouraging truths of Bible prophecy.
But Paul did not write this section to teach the believers at Thessalonica about the rapture. That just happened to be an incidental part of his teaching. The main question in the minds of the Thessalonians was this: What happens to those Christians who die before Jesus returns—do they miss the coming of the Lord? In light of all the persecution of Christians in the first century this was a natural, understandable, question. The whole idea that Jesus was coming back again was of great comfort to them in their suffering, so the thought that their loved ones who died before Christ’s return “missed out” on this blessed hope was very upsetting to them.
That’s why the passage begins this way: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (vs. 13). All throughout the Bible, the death of the believer is called “sleep” because it is not the end of life, or annihilation, as the atheists claim. Sleep is used to describe the death of Jairus’ daughter in Matt. 9:24, the death of Lazarus in John 11:11, and the death of Stephen in Acts 7:60.
Therefore, these believers who had “fallen asleep” (died) will not miss out on the coming of the Lord, rather they will return with Jesus at His coming! They actually will have a “birds-eye view” of the coming of Christ because they will experience it from God’s perspective. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (vs. 14). At the rapture, the souls of our departed loved ones will accompany Christ’s return, and their bodies will “rise first”. We believe, on the authority of this text, that the resurrection of all Church-age saints will take place at the rapture. The living saints that are raptured will be re-united with their loved ones “in the air” at this very moment. No wonder Paul says, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (vs. 18). Truly the reunion with our departed loved ones will be of great comfort.
Notice the three “signs” that accompany the return of Jesus: (1) a shout, (2) the voice of an archangel, and (3) the trumpet of God. In the Old Testament trumpets were used for the calling of an assembly, and this will be perhaps the most spectacular assembly-calling event of all time. Furthermore, it appears that the archangel is involved in the rapture because there is a battle here, an invasion of Satan’s territory, a snatching away of God’s children right out from under Satan’s domain. You might say the rapture is a real “invasion of the body-snatchers”. Theologians disagree as to when this “rapture” will take place. We believe it will happen before the Tribulation begins, for the following ten reasons:
- The call to “come up hither” in Rev. 4:1 is synonymous with the rapture, chronologically, before the tribulation starts.
- There is no mention of the church after Rev.3
- The promise to the church at Philadelphia in Rev. 3:10
- The purpose of the tribulation is for God to chastise Israel.
- I Thes. 5:1-4 says believers will not be “overtaken” by the day of destruction.
- I Thes. 5:9 says “God has not appointed us to wrath”.
- In II Thes. 2, the “hinderer”, the “restrainer” (Holy Spirit) will be taken out of the way before Anti-Christ comes.
- Old Testament typology: Enoch “taken up” without dying.
- The “blessed hope” of Titus 2:13 doesn’t make sense if we have to go through the tribulation.
- The worship scene of the redeemed around the throne in Rev. 4-5 while judgment is happening on the earth.
I don't know about you, but I am looking for the upper-taker, not the undertaker! In the words of the hymn writer:
O joy, O delight! Should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying,
Caught up thru the clouds with the Lord into glory
When Jesus receives His own.
O Lord Jesus, how long? How long?
E'er we shout the glad song--Christ returneth! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah, Amen!