1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Believers Who Have Died
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one anotherwith these words.
Dear Friends in Christ,
This evening I want to continue and conclude our study of the rapture that we began last Wed. night. But before we get to that, I want to briefly review for you what we talked about last week. First of all, what exactly is the rapture? Well, the rapture is that event that the Bible describes in different places but especially our text for this evening – 1 Thess. 4 – where all true believers in Christ who are living at the time of his return will be caught up out of this world and taken to be with him. While some denominations believe that a whole series of events will take place after the rapture, not the least of which is a 1000 year reign of Christ on this earth from the city of Jerusalem – a view known as premillennialism – we in the Lutheran Church are among those Christian denominations who are known as amillennialists, meaning that we don’t adhere to this literal 1000 year reign of Christ from Jerusalem, which by the way was something that Christ himself never spoke of. As important as that would be, you would think he would have at least mentioned it, but he didn’t. In fact, remember what he said to Pontius Pilate when he was being questioned by him? He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So for these and various other reasons that I don’t have time to get into we believe that when Christ comes back again, that will be it for this world. The rapture will occur along with the resurrection of the dead, the fiery destruction of this world and universe, the final judgment, and the ushering in of the eternal state which the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth.
Well, one thing that we amillennialists do have in common with the premillennialists is our belief in the rapture. We just differ on what will happen after the rapture. So last week we looked at 4 characteristics of the rapture that begin with the letter “S.” We learned that it will be a sign-less event. Though Jesus gave lots of general signs to look for as we await his return to this earth to keep us in a state of readiness and preparation, there is no specific sign that will immediately precede his return to this earth. Because of that it will be a surprise event. In other words, no one will be able to predict exactly when it will happen. It will also be a sudden event. Like the Apostle Paul says in I Cor. 15, it will happen in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. And then lastly we learned it will be a selective event – an event that will involve only believers in Christ. Tonight we want to take a look at 4 more characteristics that will mark the rapture, starting with this one.
- A spectacular event
- Paul puts it this way in v. 16 of our text: “…the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” Imagine it, my friends. The Savior who loved us enough to leave all the glory and perfection of heaven behind at his 1st coming; who exposed himself to the absolute worst that this world could inflict upon him; who died that horrible death on Calvary’s cross as our sin-bearing, sin-paying Substitute; who up until this time we have only read about and heard about – that same Savior will split the heavens and we who are living will see him for the very first time.
- Read Max Lucado’s description of that day in his book When Christ Comes Again…
- A sequential event – in our text Paul identifies 5 major aspects of the rapture that will occur in the following sequence.
- The return of Christ – “…the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” Talk about that loud command…what will it be? Max Lucado suggests one word: “ENOUGH!!!” Enough of sin, enough of sickness, enough of sorrow, enough of suffering, enough of Satan, enough of pain, enough of death.
- The resurrection of the righteous – “…the dead in Christ will rise first.”
- This is something we confess every time we say the Apostles Creed – “I believe in the Holy Spirit…” The day is coming when all the cemeteries of our world will become very active as they give up their dead who have now been made alive by the One who conquered death through his own resurrection.
- And oh how wonderful our resurrected bodies will be! Like Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:42-44: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Like David Jeremiah says in his book Is This the End? – “…all genetic flaws will be corrected, all illnesses healed, and all damage repaired to perfection.”
- The redemption of the living
- Not only will those who have died as believers be changed as part of the resurrection, Paul also said the same thing will happen to those believers “who are alive and remain.” Elsewhere in 1 Cor. 15:51 he says: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” In his letter to the Romans Paul referred to this change as “the redemption of our body.”
- Quote from Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, “Heaven: Your Real Home”…(found on p. 259 of David Jeremiah’s book)
- The rapture – v. 17 of our text: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to fly, I suppose you will find out that day!
- The reunions – the rapture sets the stage for a delightful series of meetings or reunions for believers.
- First, the souls of those who have previously died and who return with Christ will be reunited with their now resurrected bodies.
- Second, the living believers will meet the resurrected believers which would include our loved ones who have preceded us into heaven’s glory and all the saints that appear in the pages of Holy Scripture and countless others whom we will have all of eternity to get to know.
- Third, the living believers will experience the joy of meeting their Lord and Savior face to face for the very first time.
- So if you like family reunions or even if you don’t, I guarantee you’re going to love the ones I’ve just described!
- A strengthening event
- Knowledge of the rapture brings comfort and consolation to God’s people. In fact, that was Paul’s original intent when he wrote of the rapture to the Thessalonian Christians. He was addressing a question many of them had about their loved ones who had previously died and whom they feared were going to miss out on the 2nd coming of Christ and the ensuing resurrection. So Paul tells them in vv. 13-14 of our text: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” So the rapture brings with it the consolation that we will see our believing loved ones again, only under much different and far better circumstances than the last time we saw them.
- But it also brings with it the comforting knowledge that all the heartaches and hurts, all the disappointments and despair, all the pains and pitfalls, all the sicknesses and sorrows that are so much a part of this broken, sin-cursed world will come to a screeching halt and will never rear their ugly heads again in the lives of God’s people. Is it any wonder then why Paul concluded this section of 1 Thessalonians with these words: “Therefore encourage (comfort) each other with these words.”
- A separating event
- In Matt. 25:31-33 Jesus says: ““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” We call this the Great Judgment Day scene. It will take place the day of Christ’s return, the day of the rapture, the day of the fiery destruction of the world and universe that Peter speaks of in his 2nd Epistle when he says: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
- In the book that I use for my Adult Information Class it says in reference to that day: Everyone, all believers and all unbelievers, will stand before Christ for judgment. Jesus will look for saving faith and the fruits of saving faith. There are today and will be then only two camps: saved or unsaved, fruits of faith or lack of them, sheep or goats, blessed or cursed, the glory of heaven or the torment of hell.
- To those on his left, the goats, Jesus will say: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” But to those on his right, the sheep, he will say: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Oh how I pray that every one of us here this evening will find ourselves among the sheep that day and will hear those blessed words from our Savior so that we might then begin together that perfect life that he earned for us and that he promises to all who believe and trust in him.
CONCLUSION: In a couple of weeks most of us will gather with family members around beautifully decorated Christmas trees. And we will open our gifts. If you’re like me, you have no idea what you’ll be getting, but you can be pretty sure you’re going to like it. Well, I don’t care whether it’s a new I-Pad, a new cell phone, a new television, a new diamond necklace, or even a new car, I can guarantee you that whatever it is, it won’t come close to comparing to the great gift that God gave us on that 1st Christmas so long ago and the many other gifts he will give us on that special day when we will be either raptured out of this world or resurrected from the dead so we can begin our new life with him in our new body and our new home that the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth.