You know, we live in a world that is really enamored and we long to know, “What’s the future going to hold?” And the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament, Old Testament – it is filled, the core teaching, it’s filled with prophecy.
When the Bible was written one fourth of all Old and New Testament passages speak to the issue of prophecy. One out of every five verses of the apostle Paul relate to prophecy.
In this book, in I Thessalonians, which it’s one of the earliest books so it’s a foundational doctrine. How does Paul end chapter 1? The Lord’s return. How does he end chapter 2? The Lord’s return. How does he end chapter 3? The Lord’s return. Now in chapter 4 he is going to broaden it and really give some teaching about the return of the Lord with regard to believers, and the return of Christ with regard to how we relate to the world around us.
And so when you bring up the return of Christ and the end of the world you often have a number of, what I think, are predictable responses.
Let me highlight two or three, just by way of remembrance. When you bring up the end times, I find there’s one group that has, what I call, an unhealthy preoccupation with it.
They’re the fanatics. The date-setters. The predictors. These are the group of people that are so heavenly minded, they’re really not much earthly good. They write books and say that Jesus will be coming back and then when He doesn’t they say, “We were off a year and we’re going to bump it and we’ll reprint the book.” Wait a second. Where is all that coming from? So, you have an unhealthy preoccupation.
A second group you have is, what I call, the fearless skeptics. These are people that say, “Hey, the world is never going to change. It’s been bad, it’s been good, Christ isn’t going to return. It’s a myth. Someone made it up. This whole idea about Jesus returning, about another world, about an afterlife is just a crutch that weak people need because the world is hard.” And they just don’t buy.
The third group is, what I call, the fearfully confused. These are people that some have a relationship with Christ and some don’t but they believe. I mean, surveys tell us that a great majority of Americans believe that Jesus is coming back.
They don’t know when, they don’t know how, they don’t know if they’re going to be involved, they don’t know who goes and who stays, they’ve heard words like “rapture,” “tribulation,” “second coming,” “great white throne,” and they just have all these things blowing around in their mind and they really don’t have a clue of how it all works.
And so it produces confusion and really sometimes some fear. And isn’t it interesting that really times haven’t changed much? The apostle Paul, in one of his earliest books, is going to write to a group of people and he addresses all three of those groups.
Remember the group that had an unhealthy preoccupation with the Lord’s return? In fact, they got so focused on the Lord’s return they quit their job, started bumming around, mooching and loafing off the Church, and that’s all they could think or talk about and they were busybodies.
And last week what did we learn? The apostle Paul said, “Hey, wait a second. A proper understanding of the return of Christ means you get a job, you mind your own business, you support yourself, and you have a sterling testimony in your work for the sake of Christ.”
Now what he’s going to do is address the other two groups. If you want just a little preview, in chapter 4, verses 13 to 18, he’s going to give hope to those that are fearful and confused. And he’s going to speak to the Church. And he’s going to say, “You’ve gotten some bad information about the return of Christ. Let me clear up for you some important data with regard to the Lord’s return.”
And he will introduce the clearest teaching in all of the New Testament on what’s called, “The Rapture,” and we’ll look at it.
Then he’s going to shift and he makes a real break. Chapter 5 verse 1, he’s going to say, “But there’s some other information that I’ve already taught you about, about the Lord’s return. You know it from the Old Testament, you know it from the teachings of Jesus, you know it when I was with you.” Remember, he’s writing this document about eighteen to twenty-four months later, after he visited with them.
And he’s going to talk about the day of the Lord, and prophecy in general, and he’s going to give us, as believers, a manual, if you will, about how to respond to people that we’re going to need to warn them, and to win them in a very winsome way.
And so, if you want to open your study sheet with me, let’s look at how he gives hope to the fearful. I Thessalonians 4:13 through 17, you may want to open up your Bibles and follow along. And if you don’t have that with you, we’ve got the text in the study notes.
And really, as you analyze and study this passage there are three major questions that come up. And he’s going to ask and answer them in this passage. The first question they have is, “What happens to a believer when he or she dies?”
The answer is going to be out of verses 13 and 14 that the certainty of a believer’s resurrection is based on the fact of Christ’s resurrection. See, they got some bad information and they’re getting a little fearful and they’re saying, “Now, what happens when someone actually dies?”
Beginning at verse 13, please take a pen if you have it and jot down if you will, “but,” before the word “brothers.” The NIV doesn’t have it but it’s important because he’s giving a contrast.
He says, “But, brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.” And then add the little phrase, “For if,” because it’s a conditional. It’s called, “A first class condition assumed to be true.”
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then,” is the idea, “we believe that God will bring, with Jesus,” or through Jesus, “those who have fallen asleep in Him.”
Now, let’s analyze these two verses just for a minute. He says, “Okay, brothers, in contrast, I just talked to those people with the unhealthy preoccupation. I told them to get a job. But, brothers, with regard to the Lord’s return, I don’t want you to be ignorant or uninformed about those who are asleep.”
You might circle the word, “Who have fallen asleep,” it’s a technical term in the New Testament. It is one hundred percent of the time referenced to a Christian who has died. So he says, “I don’t want you to not know about brothers and sisters or when you die, what’s going to happen.”
Second reasoning he says, “I don’t want you to grieve.” Now, we’re going to have sorrow. I did a funeral Monday afternoon. And there’s no way that you’re not going to grieve and you’re not going to hurt.
But he says, “I don’t want you to hurt and I don’t want you to grieve like those that don’t have any hope.” And he was writing in a day very much like ours where people basically said, “Hey, you die, you’re dead. Dust, dust. There’s nothing after this. You lose a close friend, you lose a close friend. You lose a mom, you lose a dad, you lose a spouse… they’re gone.”
And the pagan world had no hope. And he says, “That’s not true.” And then notice why, verse 14. He says, “Here’s the basis of teaching about those who die. If, in fact, or since we believe that Jesus died and He rose again,” do you get his logic? “So then we believe that God will bring through Christ or with Christ those who have,” same word, “fallen asleep in Him.”
And so he has answered the first question, and basically it’s just to arrest their fears. He said, “You can know with one hundred percent, bank on it accuracy that we know Jesus rose from the dead. We have eyewitnesses, over five hundred of them. The fact that He rose from the dead you can know that when a believer dies that believer, man or woman, will be raised also.”
Second question that pops up, “Okay, Paul, we got it for us. But what about our loved ones? What about the mom, the dad, the child that died before us?” His answer is going to be that the Christian dead, will rise first, and share in the kingdom.
And, again, there must be, there must have been some teaching floating around, like they were fearful that, “What about… I lost my brother, I lost my mom, I lost a close friend and this general teaching about resurrection, the return of Christ, what happens to them? Are they going to get to be in on this?”
And there must have been some teaching floating around that was casting doubt on that because he is very strong in his response. Look at verse 15. And, by the way, if you want to keep adding and I don’t mean this negatively. Don’t take this negatively at all. The NIV is written to be smoothly read. It’s not quite as literal or wooden a translation as some others. And so, what they do is sometimes they take the “for” or the “but” and you get the clear sense of the passage but I think it’s very important when you’re trying to do real analysis that when there is a “for” or a “but” or a “therefore,” those things tell us the relationship of what’s going on.
And so, before verse 15 there’s the word “for.” “For,” in other words, “the reason I can say this,” “for according to the Lord’s own Word, we tell you that we, who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, when He comes, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
And so his teaching is going to be, “Hey, you have a mom, dad, brother, sister, friend who has died already? You don’t have to be uptight and think that they’re not going to get in on the resurrection.”
In fact, notice, who does he appeal to? He says, “According to the Lord’s own Word.” Either Paul got this directly, by way of revelation, as we know in other places he did from the Lord. Or possibly, this is something that Jesus taught during those forty days in the book of Acts, when He was in a resurrected body teaching and he [Paul] got it from the other apostles.
But this is a verbatim quote – this isn’t theory, this isn’t passed on – from our Lord’s own mouth, he says, “We can tell you that we,” notice he includes himself because he doesn’t know when he’s going to come back, “that we who happen to be alive will certainly not precede,” or be resurrected, “before those who have died before us.”
In fact, he says, “It will certainly not,” it’s the strongest negative in the New Testament. It’s a double negative. It’s impossible. Ain’t no way it’s going to happen. That’s a very loose translation but you get the idea. He says, “They will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
Well, then the third question pops up. He has clarified the fate of those who have died, he has clarified the order of those who have died. But the real basic question then pops up: When and how will these end time events occur?
You know, they’re trying to, “Okay, wait a second. Paul, okay, I’ve got it. I feel better about the fact that if I’m a believer and I’ve known Christ, I’ve accepted Him as my Savior that, okay, Christ is resurrected, I’ll be resurrected. I got that.
Now, I’ve been worried about uncle Bob, and he died before me, and I’ve heard some stuff that I don’t understand. Now I’ve got, okay, if uncle Bob died, he goes first, and then us. Time out, hey, Paul? How does all this work? I mean, how does it all fit together?”
That’s the next question. Notice now, in verses 16 and 17, the answer is going to be the Rapture of the Church. He’s going to teach more clearly here, than anywhere in the New Testament, about the Rapture of the Church.
And in about five minutes you’ll understand, if you’re thinking, “The Rapture of the Church, what’s that mean?” You’ll find out. Verse 16, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven.” It’s the return of Christ.
Notice, He doesn’t send a messenger boy. “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven.” Now notice how He does it. There are three characteristics of His return. First, with a loud command. Second, with the voice of the archangel. And third, with the trumpet call of God. And then what will happen? And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Who is going to be resurrected? Anyone who has ever believed in God? Does it say that? No. Who is going to be resurrected? The dead in Christ, those people who have trusted in Christ, from the birth of the Church, Acts chapter 2, to the present, when he is speaking, he says, “Something is going to happen. The Lord is going to come back. Okay, you got that?” “Got that.”
How is it going to happen? It’s going to start out with a shout or a loud command. The word, in classical Greek, gave reference to an authority or a general giving a command that must be carried out. God is commanding, okay, now it’s time.
This command is going to be announced. Literally, it’s an archangel. We know that Michael is an archangel. We know there are other archangels. So we don’t know exactly which archangel it is but it’s going to be announced by an archangel.
Then, after the announcement, there’s going to be a “[trumpet sound.]” Kind of that shofar horn. And it’s not going to sound anything like that. But there’s going to be the blowing of a trumpet, and when there’s this blowing of the trumpet, then the action is going to take place and those who died in Christ are going to be resurrected.
Now, jot down I Corinthians chapter 15, verse 51 through 54. Because we’re going to pick up right there the commentary on this event. Now, I’m going to read just a couple of them. You can, this afternoon, check it out in more detail.
Listen carefully. The apostle Paul writes about this event: “Listen. I tell you a mystery.” And, by the way, anytime the apostle Paul uses the word “mystery,” it’s not a “secret” but he uses the word “mystery” to say, “I’m giving you information that hasn’t been revealed before.”
God has revealed it; it’s a mystery. In other words, other people in times past don’t know about this. This is a new teaching from God. What’s he say? “Listen. I tell you a mystery,” and here’s the mystery. Not the resurrection, we all knew about that. Here’s the mystery, “We will not all sleep,” or die, “but we will all be changed.” Ooh. “Paul, could you run that by us again?” “Yeah, yeah.”
“We will not all sleep,” everyone in the world won’t necessarily die. It’s the same word for “sleep,” a Christian who has died. “But we will all be changed,” or transformed. Now listen, and he gives it to us. How? “In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” Now listen to this, “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed,” or transformed.
And then he goes on to say, explaining it. “Those people who died before whoever is going to be living, who were believers in Christ, they are perishable. Their bodies have decayed.” He said, “In a miraculous way, the Lord is going to come down in the air, there’s going to be a command, and an archangel is going to make an announcement, the trumpet is going to blow, and when the trumpet blows in a miraculous fashion, those perishable, decayed bodies will be resurrected.”
Jesus, we’re told earlier in the passage, will bring them with Him. When a person dies their Spirit immediately goes to be with the Father. They are in the presence of God. Jesus comes with the immaterial part of them: soul, spirit. Their bodies are resurrected. They will join, and then they will have a resurrection body. And that’s what he’s teaching.
And then the apostle Paul will go on to say, “They, because this type of resurrection happens to them, they will go from perishable to imperishable and we, who are mortal or living,” he’s going to say in the next verse, how we will take on immortality but not through death. He’s now going to talk about the Rapture.
Now, look and then I’ll round it up in just a second. But look at verse 17. He says, “After that,” okay, now by way of review, what do you mean by “after that”? After the command, after the announcement, the trumpet blows, all those who have been in the presence of God immediately from death because the apostle Paul says what? Philippians 1? He says, “I’d rather be with God or stay in service.” He teaches that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
The moment a believer dies, their spirit or the immaterial part, spirit and soul, is immediately with God. That comes with Christ, those believers in Christ are resurrected, and then after that, it means immediately… following.
It’s kind of like a race and those of us who may happen to be alive at the Rapture, will lose by a hair. It’ll go, “Zoop, zoop.” Okay? Those people who have died? Zoop. Those who haven’t, zoop, we’re right behind them.
“After that we who are still alive and who are left will be caught up together with them,” who is them? Those resurrected saints. “In the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Where are we going to go and what are we going to do? Well, next line. “And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
Now, the little word “caught up,” circle in your notes, will you? It literally means “to seize, to carry off, or to snatch away suddenly.” It’s reference to the transport of a person from one place to anther. It’s used twelve times in the New Testament. Let me give you two other examples, so you get the idea that this rapture…
Now, you’re thinking to yourself, “Now wait, it says ‘caught up.’ Where do people get this rapture stuff?” It means, “Caught up, seized, or snatched.” When it was translated in Latin, the Latin word for this word here is “rapturo.” And so, as you know, Latin was a very common language and so the word “rapturo” came into being and people called it, “The Rapture.”
Acts 8. Here’s Philip. Use of the word “rapture.” Philip is minding his own business and here is the Ethiopian eunuch, right? Guy is in his chariot, he’s reading out of Isaiah. And he says to himself, “You know, I don’t have any idea what this means.”
So Philip was moved by the Holy Spirit, he said, “Hey, would you like to understand what you’re reading?” The guy says, “I’d love to, I just don’t know who it’s talking about.” He gets up in the chariot, remember that? And he explains about the Messiah, the person of Christ. About how you could have your sins forgiven, about how He came and the Messiah has come and about the resurrection.
And so they’re riding in this chariot together. They’re going along for a while and then the eunuch has got it! This Ethiopian says, “I got it! It’s faith in Christ! It’s grace! This is fantastic!” And he sees a pool of water. He says, “Hey, you think I could get baptized right now?” And Philip says, “Sure, man!” Loose translation again. You know, “Why not?”
And so he baptizes this guy, this African fellow, and they go down into the water and they come up but when they come up it says that Philip was snatched, raptured, seized – same word – and he lands in Gaza.
Now, can you, boy, would that be an experience for both of them? You know? You know, you’re riding in your chariot, you just trusted Christ, you get baptized, and woo! But, see, that’s the meaning of that word.