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Rapture And The Day Of The Lord Part 1

The Rapture and the Day of the Lord

 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In First Thessalonians 4:13-18 the Apostle Paul is writing to the Thessalonians in part due to a misunderstanding regarding those Believers who had died and the Rapture of the Body of Christ. It was a tough time to be a Christian.

Regarding the teaching of the Rapture of the Body of Christ we would like to point out that often it is incorrectly referred to as the Rapture of the Church. However the Greek word “ekklesia” translated in our English Bibles “Church” refers to a local congregation, meeting in a particular geographical area and is not used in a universal sense in the Bible.

Therefore, it is “The Body of Christ” who will be raptured which is made up of all Believers past, present and future, not a universal church which is an unbiblical concept. Therefore as you hear or read the term “Rapture of the Church” it is being used only in the sense of the Body of Christ and not a reference to a particular denomination, group or congregation. 

From First Thessalonians 4:13 through First Thessalonians 5:11 the following teaching will be verse by verse and word by word to more properly discern what was revealed to those first century believers and therefore how it should affect our lives. We want to apologize in advance for the constant references we will have to make to different languages and the use of words therein. It is the purpose of this blog therefore to bring to the surface the things we need to know concerning the coming of our Lord in the Rapture and the subsequent Dark days that follow called The Day of the Lord. At the beginning of this blog we intend to show you an easy way to “Rightly Divide the Word of Truth”. For years we have taught bible students 5 basic rules to follow.

“Where ever you look within the scriptures five things observe with care, of whom it speaks, of how it speaks, of why, of when, and where.”

Here is a basic outline to follow no matter what passage you study.  In First Thessalonians 4:17-18.

 

A REUNION OF BELIEVERS, BOTH LIVING AND DEAD – verse 17

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air”

  1. WHERE?

“in the clouds” + “in the air” Greek has no article in front of “clouds”

 

Not referring to rain clouds, but clouds of glory –

KJV Acts 1:9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

KJV 1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

KJV Matthew 26:63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. 64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

 

  1. WHEN?

“we which are alive and remain” Paul included himself – he did not say “they which are alive and remain” or “you which are alive and remain”

He was expecting the Lord’s return at any time – imminent! The reason for the delay?  2 Peter 3:9

KJV 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

 

  1. WHO?

“together with them” – those who are alive at the time and those who have died in Christ – only believers!

The Greek word for “together” – hama – is a word involving time; the word for “with” – sun – involves space – we will arrive at the same time and be together in the same space! “dead in Christ rise first” – but arrive together!

 

4.   HOW?

“caught up” – Greek: harpagesometha from harpazo meaning “to seize or snatch away” –    

John 6:15 – “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make Him a king…”

Acts 8:39  “the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip…”

Rev. 12:5  “her child was caught up unto God”

1 Cor. 15:52 “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…”

                         

  1. WHY?

“to meet the Lord in the air” – the Greek text says “unto a meeting of the Lord” He has planned it for our blessing!

           

IT IS A REMINDER THAT THE FUTURE IS MORE BLESSED THAN THE PRESENT -17

“and so shall we ever be with the Lord” – Phil. 1:21-23

KJV Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

 

IT IS A REMEDY FOR ALL OUR WORRIES AND FEARS – 18  

  1. It eliminates mental DIFFICULTIES – 13a
  2. It eliminates emotional DEPRESSION – 13b
  3. It eliminates personal DEFEAT – 1 Thess. 5:6

1 Thessalonians 5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

                                          INTRODUCTION

The term “Rapture” is simply a Latinized form of the Greek term “caught up.” It is the Greek πρόφθασε – prófthase, “gathering,” with Him.  The Greek word is “Harpazo” is used seven times in the New Testament. (Matt. 13:19, John 10:12, Acts 8:39, II Cor. 12:2, 4, I Thess.4:17, and Rev. 12:5) In each case it means something was quickly grabbed, snared, snatched up or seized.

The Greek word literally can be translated, “shall be seized.” It is in this form that word “Harpazo (har-pad’-zo) is used in the New Testament as “caught up”.  Otherwise in the bible there would seem to be seven harpazo “raptures” : Enoch,1 Elijah,2 Philip, 3 Paul,4 John5 and Jesus,6 and, of course, the Body of Christ, 7 the Church.  (In fact, the very Greek term, harpazo, is employed in four of these references.

For example; the Apostle Paul uses this word when he describes himself as being “caught up” to the third heaven in II Corinthians. He said, “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows 😉 such an one caught up [Greek, harpazo] to the Third Heaven.” (II Corinthians 12:2)

This term conveys the idea that those who are members of the Body of Christ will be caught up in the air to meet the Lord Jesus when He returns. It describes Jesus’ faithful followers being gathered around Him in the air with Him at the centre.

1 Corinthians 15:52. The event is described as taking place “In a moment, in the twinkling of the eye.” In other words “instantly.” One moment Believers are on earth going about their normal life, and in next moment, in the presence of the Lord. Where are we “caught up” to?

Paul used the Greek word “aer” (not misspelled!), which means the area which is the lower denser atmosphere below the tops of the mountains.

There are two Greek words for the English word “air”, and both refer to different places. The other word is “aither”, and means the upper rarified atmosphere above the mountains. Using the word “aer,” Paul is saying Christ at the Rapture will return to a point below the mountain tops of Earth.

The “therefore” shows that a purpose of the Rapture is “Comfort.” Believers will reunite with their bodies. God will both raise the physical bodies of believers and Rapture them. He will Rapture those living when He comes. This is comfort for all Christians.

In order to lay a foundation for the doctrine of the “Rapture” or “The Day of The Lord” we offer proof texts. A proof text is a passage of scripture presented as proof for a theological doctrine, belief, or principle. In a secular sense a proof text is usually derogatory not so when used of scripture.

Case in point, I believe many today have misunderstandings concerning the Apostle Paul’s teaching in his letter to the Thessalonians. So let’s begin by studying the passages and the words found in them by “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth”. 2 Timothy 2:15

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

From verse 13 to the end of the chapter, the Apostle Paul talks about the Rapture of the church to meet the Lord in the air. This is the blessed hope of the Believer.

 

But

The word “but” both introduces a new subject but also connects to the previous paragraph. The restlessness of disorderly Believers (1st Thessalonians 4:11-12) was, in part, caused by an incomplete understanding of the Rapture of Believers from the earth. They rightly understood that the coming of Christ was imminent, that is, no sign needed fulfillment before He came again. However, they had not considered the possibility that some of their friends would die before it occurred. They, therefore, plunged into deep grief. Doubts filled their minds as to the status of these prematurely deceased believers.

 

I do not want you to be ignorant,

This phrase, expressing that Paul does not want them to be ignorant is a formula customarily used to discuss difficult problems and correct false ideas (Romans 1:13; 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 12:1). Usually, whenever the Bible warns us that we are ignorant about something, it is warranted. The topic of Believers dying is so important to the Thessalonians that it requires an explanation from the apostle Paul.

The only way we can know about the afterlife is through the revelation found in the Bible. If we have adequate knowledge of what the Bible teaches about this subject, then it will dispel excessive grief in our souls. We can only resolve our ignorance by reading the Bible. We will rid ourselves of excessive grief by eliminating our ignorance about the future.

The Thessalonians were clearly looking for the Lord’s return at the Rapture, but they did not know the state of their dead loved ones until that point. They thought that those who died would miss the Rapture.

 

brethren,

The word “brethren” occurs in verses one, six and nine of this chapter. Paul appeals to the relationship the Thessalonians have with Paul in Christ. The truth that Paul is about to reveal is strictly for those who know Christ.

 

Principle

Knowing biblical truth is the foundation of stability, especially when it comes to eternal things.

 

Application

The Rapture of the church is an important doctrine, because it affects our future and present hope.

It is important that unbelievers know about the first coming of Christ and its purpose also important is Jesus’ imminent return to planet earth to translate Believers to heaven is a glorious truth that comforts all Believers in Christ.

 

Concerning those who have fallen asleep,

“Fallen asleep” is the literal meaning of the Greek word. Metaphorically, this word means death, the sleep of death. Some believers in Thessalonica died because of persecution. They wanted to know what happened to their fellow Christians who died.

Some cults teach that the soul sleeps in death. They claim that after a long period, God will wake up the soul. Does the Bible teach this?

The Bible never uses the term “asleep” when referring to unbelievers, but always uses the term for Believers. Physical death for Believers is nothing more than sleep. God will wake them one day to physical resurrection from the dead.

As well, the Bible never uses “sleep” for the soul. Soul-sleep is a false doctrine. The soul of the dead is unconscious in reference to this world (Job 7:9-10; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; Isaiah 63:16) but wide awake and fully conscious of the glories of the world to come (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 7:15-17). Stephen’s spirit went to be with the Lord, but his body fell asleep (Acts 7:60).

The Thessalonians did not concern themselves with the souls of their departed loved ones, but about the resurrection of their bodies. The sleep of the body is only temporary; it will rise from the dead one day. God does not annihilate the soul and spirit at the physical death of the body. There was no need for the Thessalonians to worry about the fate of their loved ones.

In John 11:12-13, the disciples thought of the normal physical sense of sleep but the Lord used it in the figurative sense, referring to physical death (1 Thessalonians 11:11, 13). The pagan culture of the Thessalonians offered no hope about a future physical life. Many people viewed the body as evil in any case. They wanted to get rid of the body.

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, ‘because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.'” And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter'” (Acts 17:30-32).

Paul speaks of those Christians who had died since he left them. What happened to them at death? Did their body and soul just go to sleep at death? No, their souls went immediately and instantaneously into the presence of God.

“For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart [to die] and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh [continue to live physically] is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:23-24).

 

lest you sorrow as others who have no hope

“Sorrow” means to cause pain or grief, to distress, vex, and be sad. Believers do not have the same pain as unbelievers when it comes to the death of the physical body. Christians know the soul goes immediately into the presence of God. Therefore, Christians grieve, but not in the same way. Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope.

For example, Jesus grieved over the death of a friend (John 11:35). This does not mean that He despaired over ever seeing His friend again. Normal human beings grieve over the physical death of their loved ones (Philippians 2:27). God does not dehumanize Christians by removing grief from the realm of experience.

Many non-Christians believe that, when they die, they will go into a dark, dank hole and decay until their body is no more. They have no hope beyond the grave. Others have no idea what is on the other side. They have no guarantee about eternity. They hope only in the present, not in the future.

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

 

Principle

Death does not end all for believers, so there is no need for unnecessary sorrow.

 

Application

Some Believers grieve over their dead loved ones like pagans do, as if they have no hope of ever seeing them again. They sorrow, but they do not sorrow like the lost. God does not keep them from human sorrow. But their sorrow is not a final sorrow. There is as much difference between a Christian funeral and a pagan funeral as there is between black and white.

Many non-Believers are afraid to die, because they do not have a hope beyond the grave. They have no Heaven. They know nothing of sins forgiven.

Christians have a glorious hope. Because Christ rose from the death eternally, so we will also rise.

There is no hope apart from Christ. If we put our hope in an organization, we will be disappointed. If we put our hope in a political system, that will fail us. Only Christ offers permanent, eternal hope. It is one thing for Believers to grieve over their loved ones but it is another to grieve inordinately. The resurrection of Christ persuades against surplus sorrow.

1 Thessalonians 4:14

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus”

 

For

Paul now sets forth two great features in the work of Christ that banish unfounded grief. Removal of ignorance about these will remove worries about what happens to the physical body of the Christians who die.

 

if we believe

The word “if” in the Greek (here) means that this supposition is assumed true. Paul assumes that the Thessalonians believe in the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:3). The following truths only carry currency if we believe them. Hope rests on our faith in the resurrection of Christ. The certainty of our hope is inseparable from Christ’s resurrection.

 

that Jesus died and rose again,

Paul here uses Jesus’ human name on earth, emphasizing his historical nature. In His humanity, Jesus launched two foundations of the Christian faith – His death to pay for our sins and His resurrection to initiate us into eternal life. Therefore, in one statement we have the two foundations of the Christian faith.

Paul does not use the word “slept” for the death of Christ; instead, he uses the harsher word – “died.” Christians can enjoy peaceful sleep because Jesus endured death as a penalty for sin. Jesus’ death took away the sting of death.

The second great fact is the truth that Jesus rose again. Because of His victory over death, the body of the Believer sleeping in Christ will rise to participate in the Rapture and be caught away from earth.

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the irreducible minimum of the gospel. A person cannot claim to be a Christian without believing these two great truths.

“Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24).

“But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, “and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30).

“…who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).

“Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9).

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18).

“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:8).

 

Principle

Ask yourself, what is the Gospel? Many reply “It’s the Good News” and so on. The Corinthians had come to a place where they denied the Lord that bought them and brought them. Writing to the Corinthians in the 15th chapter of First Corinthians the Apostle Paul said, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

 

Application

As Believers we believe that Jesus substituted His death on the cross for our eternal death and that He bodily rose from the dead to give us eternal life.

 

even so

The words “even so” show the parallel between the resurrection of the bodies of Believers and the resurrection of Christ. Paul now draws his first conclusion. There is complete concord there. The resurrection of the body of the Believer is as sure as the resurrection of Christ. Our physical bodies will rise from the dead since Christ rose from the dead.

 

God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus

God will personally bring Believers with Him in the resurrection of the physical body from the dead. The soul and spirit will reunite with the physical body at that time. God will give us a resurrection body that is like the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

The Father thus fully acknowledges the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and acts on it by resurrecting our bodies when Jesus comes back. The guarantee of our bodily resurrection is the resurrection of Christ. This is not a general resurrection for He will bring back only those who fell asleep in Christ and no others.

The comparison would be more exact if Paul had said, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again even so also will God raise us up.” However, departed Christians are spiritually with Christ in heaven and God will not raise their bodies until He brings back their souls and spirits to earth. This is why they come back “with Him,” accompanying Christ in the closest kind of association and fellowship. Paul will show how God will bring Christians back with Him in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.

 

Principle

One day the Father will undo the work of the undertaker.

 

Application

For those who have placed their trust in Christ, the grave no longer has any victory, death no longer has a sting, and Believers do not fear death because they know that their resurrection is as sure as the resurrection of Christ. Even more, He will rapture us into His presence (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).

“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). (the rapture not the second coming)

“When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).

God will resurrect our physical body and transform it into a resurrection body first. Then we will meet the Lord in the air with a new resurrected body.

1 Thessalonians 4:15

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep”

 

For

Verse fifteen explains verse fourteen. “Since Jesus died and rose, it follows that God will….” Paul, building on the two great facts of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, does not present some novel analysis of his own about the Rapture. Rather, he makes these statements on the authority of Christ.

 

this we say to you by the word of the Lord,

Paul’s authority for making statements came personally from the Lord Jesus by direct revelation. Jesus made no such statements when He was on earth. The Lord gave to Paul special revelation about the church (Ephesians 3:1ff) and the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Nowhere in all the history of Israel or the teachings of Jesus was there any information on the Rapture until this special revelation to Paul.

Paul’s special revelation included two things: 1) there will be a special resurrection of departed saints in the church prior to the Tribulation period, and 2) Jesus will rapture the church to Heaven.

This is the first time the New Testament explains the Rapture of the church in writing. This is brand new truth. The Lord alluded to the Rapture in John 14:1-3, but this is the first formal presentation of the Rapture in writing [John wrote long after 1 Thessalonians].

 

that we who are alive

First, Paul deals with the special resurrection of all church saints prior to the Tribulation period. Those who “are alive” here are believers still alive when Jesus comes again. They never experienced death.

The idea of resurrection was not new. The Old Testament taught about resurrection and so did Jesus. The Old Testament consistently associates the resurrection of Israel with the Tribulation, particularly at the end in connection with the millennial kingdom (Isaiah 26:19 with 16-18, 20-21; 27:1; also 26:1-15 for Millennium; Daniel 12:1-2).

Martha knew that there would be a resurrection of Israel when the Messiah returned to set up His earthly kingdom (John 11:24). This is a resurrection of Israel at the Second Coming [in distinction from the Rapture] at the end of the Tribulation.

Paul includes himself in those he named as living and remaining at Christ’s return, because he was not at all certain whether he might die first. He believed the Lord’s return could occur at any moment in his lifetime. He was disappointed, but not mistaken.

The Rapture is a signless, timeless event that is always imminent. Jesus can come at any time. Each generation of Christians have justification to expect the Lord to come in their generation.

 

and remain

The word “remain” means be left behind, survive. These are those who survive bodily until Christ comes back. No Christian will leave until God wants them to leave. None of us can stay here if God wants us to go and none of us can go if God wants us to stay.

 

until the coming of the Lord

The second component God uniquely revealed to Paul was the Rapture. The idea that the Messiah would come to earth and raise the dead saints of Israel in the Old Testament was not unique to New Testament Christians. However, the idea of a Rapture was unique because there is no hint of this concept from Genesis to Malachi.

The word “coming” means a presence. It comes from two words: with and being. The coming of the Lord will be the time He will be with us. He will arrive and we will stand in His presence. Paul uses this term for His presence in contrast to His bodily absence.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12).

When the New Testament uses “presence” for the Rapture of the church, it signifies not merely the momentary coming of Christ, but His presence until He manifests Himself to the world. It is a reference to His advent, arrival. Jesus at that time will be at hand in person.

There are three Greek words for Christ’s coming. The New Testament uses 2 terms for the Rapture and for the Second Coming (when He comes to earth on the Mount of Olives). Only the context can determine whether it is the Rapture or Second Coming.

There is an important distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming. The Rapture is a private coming for the church, whereas the Second Coming is a public coming where every eye will see Him.

The Rapture is for the Body of Christ only. In the Rapture, Jesus will come in the clouds to catch away the church (Body of Christ). The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is no longer in the church. At the Rapture, God changes the believer’s body into a body like the resurrected body of Christ. In the Second Coming, Jesus will come to earth to establish His millennial kingdom on earth (Zechariah 14:1-4).

Satan no longer is loose on earth. At the Second Coming, the desert will blossom like the rose.

 

Principle

The Rapture is a New Testament revelation.

 

Application

The blessed future of the church is the Rapture. The church will not enter the Tribulation.

“…looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13).

 

will by no means precede those who are asleep

The word “precede” means to come before. Those still living when Christ comes back will not precede in the Rapture all those who died before the Rapture. Jesus will raise all dead bodies of all Christians of all ages before He raptures the church.

There seems to be some silence in the Bible regarding the state of those who die now in Christ. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. On the other hand, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we read, “the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Two truths are affirmed in these biblical statements, both concerning the status of those who die as believers. First, death is a bodiless state in which we are present with the Lord. That means in the spirit. Second, “the dead in Christ will rise first” applies to the sequence of events at the return of Christ; namely, that the resurrection of our bodies — those who have died — will immediately precede the Rapture of those who belong to Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The union of glorified bodies and spirits will be forever!

Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

If our spirit returns to God, then why does 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 say “the dead in Christ shall rise first”? Are we in the grave until Christ returns or do we go to heaven as soon as we die?

The grammar of the text suggests, that at death, believers go directly in the spirit to heaven. As we travel back toward the first century, we can see that the word precede has within itself a chronology.

When Christ returns, there will be the union of the resurrected body and the glorified spirit. Since the human spirit is eternal, it goes immediately at death into the presence of the Lord.  The topic of life after death will be discussed in more articles. The reason is because there are some passages that being considered as controversial require particular attention and examination. If we are to believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord means our human spirit and which is eternal and our body of flesh are joined at death then what is our passage in 1 Thessalonians referring to?

Pastor Chuck Smith writes, “Peter, writing about the same things said (1 Peter 1:8), whom, having not seen, you love.  And though you do not yet see Him now, yet you rejoice with the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory!  I don’t see Him yet, but yet by faith, I rejoice.  I have a joy that is indescribable!  It is full of glory in the anticipation of the completed work of God in my life when I stand before the throne, complete in Jesus Christ, redeemed by His blood, with the whole family of God, to spend eternity in the glories of His kingdom.  In the anticipation, there is that joy.  There is that hope and the rejoicing with joy unspeakable, full of glory. 

“We are confident, (verse eight) I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.  I would rather be absent from this body.  Now I know as long as I’m in this body, I’m absent from the Lord.

 “But oh, I would rather be absent from this body, that I might be present with the Lord.” In First Corinthians, chapter thirteen, Paul, speaking of Jesus Christ, says, now we see through the glass darkly, but then face to face.  And how we long for that time when we see our Lord face to face.  Now through faith, through the glass darkly, but then one day, face to face.  So willing rather, I’d rather be with the Lord, and I’m confident that I’m going to be.  And I’m willing rather to be absent from this body and to be present with the Lord.”

 

Next,

The words “no means” are very emphatic. The reality of deceased Christians joining live Christians at the Rapture is without doubt. God has a plan, not only for the resurrection of Israel but also for us as individuals.

The body sleeps, not the soul. The New Testament guarantees that those forming the class of living believers at Christ’s return shall in no wise precede Christians who died before the Rapture. This shows that those who died did not die by accident. The Lord deliberately chose a specific number to die, whereas the living were deliberately left over. It is absolutely impossible for living saints to get the advantage or start over departed saints.

The reason is obvious. Deceased believers whose souls are in Heaven have a part in the coming of Christ from the very start. They are like those in the first division of a parade that are associated with the dignitaries, marshals and escorts. Living believers are like a division that joins the parade along the line of march not as spectators but as participants.

 

Principle

Souls in heaven will joins living people on earth in the resurrection of their bodies from death.

 

Application

Christians should not get the idea that when believers go to heaven they are somewhere in outer space sleeping in nylon nighties!

That is a fairy tale that is more like a nightmare! When we go to Heaven, we will be more awake than we are now. Our souls and spirits will be in heaven fully conscious, but our bodies will remain on earth until just before the Rapture when God will resurrect our bodies and transform them so they will be just like the resurrection body of Christ (Philippians 3:21).

Christians in heaven will join living people on earth in the resurrection and rapture of their bodies to Heaven. Their souls and spirits will join their bodies in the Rapture of the church.

1 Thessalonians 4:16

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first”

Paul now shows why the living will not precede the dead by elaborating on the prophetic order of events at the Rapture.

 

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout,

“The Lord Himself” – use of the intensive pronoun means “Himself…and no other!

  Greek “Lordkurios is used for the word Yahveh in the OT

The word “descend” literally means to go down. The Lord Himself will descend personally from heaven to the sky.

The word “shout” carries the idea of a call, summons, shout of command.

with a shoutGreek: keleusmati from keleuo which means “to command” or “to order something to be done” – cf. John 5:24-29

Jesus will summon all believers to be with Him in the clouds just as a general would summon his soldiers or an admiral, his sailors. Such a shout both demands and expects instant compliance even in the heat of battle. The call knows no defeat in the conflict and conquest.

 

with the voice of an archangel,

An “archangel” is an angel of exalted rank, the highest rank of any angel. “with the voice of the archangel – Jude 9 tells us his name – “Michael the archangel” – the leader of all the holy angels – cf. 2 Thess. 1:7

The rapture is one of the greatest interventions into the affairs of men in the history of the universe. It is backed by all the authority, power and majesty of heaven.

The Rapture not only marks the culmination of the progressive sanctification of the saint but also the completion and glorification of the church. No wonder Jesus shouts with the voice of an archangel. This is an announcement of the victory of the redeemed over sin and the world.

 

and with the trumpet of God.

with the trump of God” – representing the voice and approval of God Himself  cf. Rev. 9:13; 10:7; 11:15-17; – cf. Psalm 29:3-4

A trumpet is a wind instrument usually made of bronze or iron broadening out to a megaphone. Ancients blew the trumpet on solemn occasions to stir up others to get their attention. This was true of the seven angels of Revelation. They used the trumpet in war for various signals of military actions. Trumpets in the Old Testament were a signal to God’s people (not to the lost).

This signified the approach of God to His people and their assembly before Him (Exodus 19:13, 16-17, 19), the ongoing march (Numbers 10:2), movements in battle, divine deliverance and great festival occasions. God’s trumpet sound is an indication of something momentous. This is the divine summons that the church has awaited for centuries.

 

And the dead in Christ will rise first.

This phrase is an explicit statement about the resurrection of the believer from physical death. The word “rise” literally means to stand up or to make to stand up. Jesus will cause believers to live physically again.

Dead believers will rise before living believers (1 Corinthians 15:52). Not just any person will rise from the dead but only those who are “in Christ.” This phrase refers to the spiritual position into which God places Christians when they believe in the death of Christ to forgive their sin. The Bible never claims that the Old Testament saint is “in Christ.” Christ makes positional truth possible by virtue of His work on earth. Death does not disturb our spiritual union with Christ.

 

Principle

God is able to rebuild a decaying body into a resurrected body.

 

Application

God will restore our present physical bodies in the resurrection into a likeness of the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

This resurrection of physical bodies into the likeness of Christ’s resurrected body is only for those who have a right relationship with God. We enter this relationship when we place our trust solely in the death of Christ to obtain forgiveness for our sins.

1 Thessalonians 4:17

“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord”

This passage gives us a chronological sequence of events related to the Rapture.

 

Then

The word “then” means afterward, thereupon, thereafter. This word denotes succession in numbering and shows chronological sequence. The word “then” strongly opposes the former state of resurrecting the dead.

This is an entirely different event. The previous verse explained the place of the dead bodies at the Rapture. This verse explains what happens to those living when Jesus comes again.

 

We who are alive and remain

By the word “we,” Paul includes himself in those who might be living at the Rapture. He was disappointed but not mistaken. Paul’s expectation of the Rapture kept him on the tiptoe of anticipation of meeting the Lord face to face.

 

Principle

Spiritually Healthy Believers live in anticipation of the Lord’s return.

 

Application

A healthy Christian lives on the tiptoe of expecting Jesus’ return. Jesus may come today, glad day! Are you living in anticipation of the Lord’s return?

 

shall be caught up

The words “caught up” mean “to seize”, “snatch away” “carry off by force”.  Jesus will take the church away from earth suddenly and by force in the Rapture.

This is a signless and timeless event. Note the use of the Greek word for “caught up” in the following verses: Matthew 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12, 28,29; Acts 8:39-40,40; 23:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2,4; Jude 23; Revelation 12:5.

 

together

The word “together” marks a link in place and time. Living Christians associate with the resurrected bodies of past saints in the Rapture. The Rapture of the church into Heaven is the next event on God’s prophetic timetable.

Christians will accompany Christ back to Heaven. He will take us by force. He will suddenly seize us and carry us off in order to claim us for Himself.

“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. “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 14:1-3).

 

Principle

Once again we see the Rapture is a signless, timeless event whereby we will accompany Christ to heaven, body and soul.

 

Application

No prophetic event needs to occur before the Rapture. The church does not need to enter the final apostasy. Israel does not have to possess fully the land of Palestine from the Euphrates to the River of Egypt.

The church does not have to evangelize the world before the Lord comes for her. None of these things need happen before the Rapture. However, all these things must occur before the Second Coming. It is crucial to distinguish between the Rapture and the Second Coming to keep a proper prophetic perspective.

The Rapture is a signless, timeless event. No one knows the time. Therefore, we must live in the light of His unannounced coming.

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

 

with them

The “them” here are those physically raised from the dead in verse 16. We will reunite with our loved ones who died as Christians.

 

in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

The New Testament used the word “meet” for the arrival of a magistrate. This word carries the idea of an official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary. Our meeting of the Sovereign Lord of the universe will be the most auspicious and awe-inspiring occasion of the ages. This is when He takes us, His bride, the church, to Heaven. The church will meet the Lord in the “air.” This is the earth’s atmosphere, the space immediately above the surface of the earth.

 

And thus we shall always be with the Lord

The principal purpose of the Rapture is to “be with the Lord.” We will live in fellowship with Him eternally. We will never be separate from Him. As well, nothing will separate us from fellow believers either. We will never say “goodbye” again.

 

Principle

Jesus will bring the church into endless, blissful fellowship at the Rapture of the church into Heaven.

 

Application

At the Rapture, bodies of Christians who died and went to Heaven will rise first (4:16). These are those who died before the Rapture. Immediately after Jesus comes, they will rise from their burial place. Immediately following that, God will rapture both those whom He resurrected bodily and those then living into the air. From this point, all Christians will be with the Lord forever. What a blessed reunion! First and foremost, we will reunite with the Lord and then secondly, we will reunite with those we love. The Rapture completes the church. From this point on, there will be no more division or separation. And yes, if departed saints were in the Sea, blown up, or burned at the stake they will have a new body.

1 Thessalonians 4:18

“Therefore comfort one another with these words”

 

Therefore

The “therefore” shows that a purpose of the Rapture is “comfort.” Christians will reunite with their bodies. God will both raise the physical bodies of believers and Rapture them. He will Rapture those living when He comes. This is comfort for Christians. “Comfort one another with these words.”

God puts His promises on paper. He challenges believers to comfort one another with the promise of the Rapture. Paul asks the Thessalonians to comfort one another in the loss of their loved ones with this truth. They can rest on God’s truth. There is a difference in the Christian’s grief verses the non-Christian. His grief is not permanent. We will meet our loved ones again. We anticipate that day. This changes our view of life and death.

 

Principle

The Rapture comforts those who lose loved ones in death.

 

Application

The idea of the Rapture frightens some people. Those who live in unconfessed sin probably do not anticipate Christ’s coming. Sin blunts one’s desire to meet the Lord. Death is a certainty. Christians may meet physical death [if the Rapture does not occur] but they will never face eternal death.

“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1).

Christians pass into eternal life the moment they accept Christ. This is our great hope. The bleak, barren pit where we put our loved ones will come alive at the Rapture.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

“You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

 

By Jeff Russell & Pastor Holland Davis