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 another with these words.
Dear Friends in Christ,
If you happened to read my opening article for this month’s newsletter or have been paying any attention to my announcements recently, then you know what I’m going to be talking about tonight. I’m going to be talking about something called “the rapture.” You’ve probably heard that term before, but you may be a little fuzzy as to exactly what it means because there are different opinions floating around out there circles these days. So we’re going to try to clear that up tonight and next Wednesday as we focus upon the theme “The 8 ‘S’s’ of the Rapture.”
And to get us started I need to briefly explain to you the 2 prevailing views of the end times that exist in Christian circles these days. The first one is called “premillennialism.” (Show PP slide explaining it) The second, which is the one that we hold to in the Lutheran Church, is called “amillennialism.” (Show PP slide explaining it)
Now if you noticed, both views include the rapture as part of the end times. So what exactly is the rapture? Well, we heard it stated so plainly before in our text for this evening from 1 Thessalonians 4 where the Apostle Paul gives us a step by step description of what will take place when Christ comes back to this earth again. The word “rapture” means to be caught up and it refers to what will happen to believers who are living at the time of Christ’s return. Paul says that they will be “caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” So let’s spend some time now exploring and examining this climactic event that we amillennialists believe will take place at the end of time when our Savior Jesus returns to this earth in all his blazing glory to claim all his faithful children for himself for all eternity.
- A sign-less event
- Wait a minute. I thought Jesus gave all kinds of signs that point ahead to his 2nd coming…wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilences, famine, false prophets, false messiahs, increase in wickedness on the earth, and so on. And that’s true. But those rather general signs which have been going on ever since Christ ascended into heaven were given to keep people in a state of readiness and preparation for his return. But as for a specific sign that will mark his immediate return and the rapture of God’s people out of this world, the closest I think we can get to that would be in Matthew24:14 where Jesus says: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Of course none of us can possibly know exactly when that has taken place, so that’s why I refer to the rapture as a sign-less event. It can occur at any moment, perhaps even before I finish this sermon or maybe not for another thousand years.
- This “any moment” timing of the rapture and the return of Christ is known in theological circles as the doctrine of imminency. Bible scholar A.T. Pierson describes this doctrine like this: “Imminence is the combination of two conditions…: certainty and uncertainty. By an imminent event we mean one which is certain to occur at some time, uncertain at what time.” The Apostle Paul understood this doctrine well and wrote about it to his protégé Titus in the 2nd chapter and 13th verse of that epistle when he encouraged Titus to always be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
- A surprise event
- Many throughout history who have tried to predict the exact date for the rapture and Jesus’ return:
- William Miller’s prediction in the 1840’s – Oct. 10, 1843; then in 1844…
- Jehovah’s Witnesses…
- Edgar Whisenant – “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Occur in 1988
- Most recently radio evangelist Harold Camping had set different dates for the rapture: Sept. 6, 1994; May 21, 2011; Oct. 21, 2011. He did repent of his prophetic errors before he died in 2013 and agreed with his critics that Jesus’ words in Matt. 24:36 should be taken literally: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
- So if you ever hear or read of someone who says he or she knows when Jesus is coming back, you can be sure that he is not coming back on that day for it will be a surprise event.
- A sudden event
- The Apostle Paul emphasized the suddenness of the rapture in I Cor. 15:52 when he wrote that it will happen “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye.” The Greek word that is translated “flash” here is atomos from which we get our English word “atom.” And while I’m sure Paul had no knowledge of what happens when an atom is split and I certainly didn’t either, I googled it and found this interesting tidbit of information: “…splitting an atom results in its overall mass being reduced, causing the release of a relatively massive amount of energy.” Well, when Christ comes again, I can guarantee you there will be a massive amount of energy released – enough to raise the dead, to rapture the living saints of God out of this world, and enough to bring an end to the world and universe as we know them. And it will happen suddenly…like Paul says, “in the twinkling of an eye.” Other translations say “in an instant,” “in a split second,” and “in a moment.”
- Tim LaHaye, who is a strong premillennialist and the author of the Left Behind series that was so popular years ago wrote a book called The Rapture. Though I don’t agree with his premillennial views, what he describes concerning the rapture is true. He says:
(read David Jeremiah’s book, p. 250).
- A selective event
- It will be an event that involves only believers in Christ. In John 14 we find Jesus addressing his believing disciples the night before he was put to death on the cross. He says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” In 1 Cor. 15:23 Paul says it will happen only to those who belong to Christ. And in our text for this evening, he affirmed the selectivity of the rapture in a 3-fold way. First, he refers to those he is addressing about the rapture as “brothers.” Then in v. 14 he says that they are ones who “believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead.” And finally in v. 16 he says that “the dead in Christ will rise first.”
- These passages leave no doubt that the rapture is restricted exclusively to believers. Only those who are followers of Christ will be taken up to heaven when he returns and be spared the cataclysmic and fiery destruction of the world that will occur on that day.
CONCLUSION: So I want to close my time this evening with a very crucial and important question: Are you a believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, placed your faith and trust in him as the One who became your substitute so that he could live the perfect life for you that you could have never lived; so that he could die that awful, agonizing, sin-paying death on the cross that you deserved to die; and so that he could conquer our great enemy death by his own victorious resurrection? If you can honestly say that you have done that, then you have nothing to worry about on that day when the rapture occurs or the day you die and leave this world behind, whichever comes first. But if you’re not at that point yet where you can say that yes, you fully trust in Jesus as your Savior, I pray that you will get there soon so that you can know the joy and relief that comes from realizing that if this is your last day on this earth, it will be your first day of eternity in the glorious and awesome presence of our glorious and awesome God. Amen.