Posts Tagged ‘rapture’

In our Scripture today Jesus teaches us about his second coming. It’s the most Jesus talks about his return, apart from the Olivet discourse, which in Luke’s gospel is found in chapter 21. So, there’s a lot of information here. (Some of this material is also found in Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse in  Matthew 24).

I want us to go through this today, so that we can learn more about Jesus’ return, and also so that we can be challenged and encouraged to be prepared for it.

Looking for Jesus’ coming – vs. 22-25

As we work our way through the first few verses, notice that there is a “looking” or “seeing” theme throughout. First of all, the disciples will look for Jesus to return. v. 22 – “And he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.’”

The reason they will “desire to see” Jesus come back, is that things will get hard for them. They will be persecuted for following Jesus. Life will be hard. And they look to Jesus’ return because he will give them relief. This will be the time when evildoers are judged and followers of Jesus will be blessed with peace and life eternal in his presence.

And yet, Jesus says, they will look but he won’t come. Jesus indicates here that his coming could take some time. As Christians, we will go through many difficulties, without relief from Jesus’ return.

Next he tells us that false prophets will say, “Look, here he is!” v. 23 – “And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.”

Given the hard times the disciples will go through and their longing for Jesus to return, there will be the temptation to fall for false claims of his return. The false prophets will point to where they think Jesus has returned, or who he might be. But Jesus warns them, and us, ahead of time not to allow our desperation to lead us astray so that we follow after them.

He then tells them that his coming will not be some secret affair that only a few know of so that someone could even say, ‘Hey, come look, he’s over here!’ Jesus will be seen by all when he comes. v. 24 – “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” Jesus’ coming will be a worldwide public event. It will be like lightning that shoots across the sky. It will be impossible to miss.

v. 25 – “But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’” This section ends with a reminder that Jesus has to suffer before he comes to his day of glory. This echoes v. 22, where his followers will go through hardship before we find vindication.

This brings us to the next section –

The three-fold pattern of Jesus’ coming – vs. 26-30

Here, Jesus begins to make some comparisons between his coming – and Noah’s flood on the one hand, and the destruction of Sodom on the other.

First, the days of Noah. vs. 26-27 – “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”

The people in the days of Noah were unprepared. They were going about their normal lives, eating and drinking, unaware of any danger. But then “Noah entered the ark,” and afterwards judgment fell upon them all. Notice the three parts: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Noah; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.

And then we have the days of Lot. vs. 28-30 – “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot – they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”

The citizens of Sodom were going about their normal routines unaware of the danger of the coming judgment. But when Lot left Sodom, the judgment came and killed all of them. Again, the same three-fold pattern emerges: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Lot; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.

Jesus says twice in these verses, “As it was . . . so will it be. His point is that the sequence of Noah, Lot and the Son of Man is the same. So we learn from this that when Jesus returns:

1. People will be going about their normal life unaware of what is about to happen; clueless and unprepared.

2. The righteous will be removed, just as Noah and Lot were.

3. And then the judgment will come and destroy all the rest.

The remaining teaching in this passage focuses in on step #2, the removal of the righteous. And first of all Jesus calls us to –

Be prepared to leave! – vs. 31-33

vs. 31-32 – “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.” These verses draw further on the story of Lot in Genesis 19. Jesus is saying that when the righteous are taken it will be like when Lot came out of Sodom.

God sent angels to rescue Lot, but he was reluctant to leave his house. The angels practically had to drag him and his family out of the city. In the same way v. 31 pictures someone who is attached to their possessions when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about scooping up the belongings in their house. They can’t leave their earthly life behind, just as Lot was hesitant to leave his life in Sodom.

Also, when they were outside of the city the angels told Lot and his family they were not to look back. And when Lot’s wife did look back, she was judged by being turned into a pillar of salt. So v. 32 pictures someone who is attached to their earthly life when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about looking back from the field, because the want to preserve their earthly life. Jesus tells them not to look back. Rather they are to remember Lots’ wife, who longingly looked back to her life in Sodom and was judged. (The example of Sodom, a wealthy city, fits well the theme here of undue care for possessions and one’s earthly life).

If before, in v. 23 Jesus said, “do not go out or follow them,” that is the false prophets, here we are to drop everything and go to Jesus when the angels come for us. (For references to angels as the gatherers on the day of resurrection: Matthew 24:31; 13:39).

In v. 33 Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” This is a warning. Don’t be attached to your earthly life! That is, to your family, friends, job, possessions, status and earthly plans.

  • If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, seeking to preserve it, you will lose it, just like Lot’s wife.
  • But, if you let go of it all, your possessions, your projects and your earthly dreams; that is, if you lose your life – then you will keep your life; life in the kingdom of God forever.

And the way to prepare is to already now die to your earthly life by putting God first and sacrificing whatever God wants you to sacrifice now. Then you will be ready, and not hesitant on the day of resurrection, when the angels come for you.

This brings us to the final section, which give a bit more detail about –

What will happen when the righteous are taken – vs. 34-37

vs. 34-35 – “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding (meal) together. One will be taken and the other left.”

When Jesus talks about being “taken” he is, again, speaking of the exit of the righteous, or stage two of his coming; the resurrection. When he talks about being “left” he is talking about being left to be judged.

Notice the separation that will take place between, no doubt, family members, friends and coworkers. One is taken to be saved, the other is left to be judged.

v. 37 – “And they said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’” The disciples are asking the question, ‘Where the righteous will be taken?’ Jesus gives a cryptic and somewhat gruesome answer.

What he is saying is that just like vultures are up in the sky over what is dead on the earth, so by means of the resurrection, the righteous will be up in the sky over those destroyed in the judgment. (See as well 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Also notice that this saying in Matthew 24:28 comes right after the reference to Jesus being in the sky, v. 27).

This is in accord with Isaiah 66:24 which says of the righteous on the final day, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.” We will be in the sky, looking upon the results of the judgment.

  • This matches what happened at the time of the flood. Noah was lifted up above those who drowned in the waters below.
  • This also matches what happened when God destroyed Sodom, for Genesis 19:28 says, Abraham “looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.”

Now, there’s a lot in this passage, but let’s end with –

Five key points

1. When times are hard as we wait for Jesus, we need to be careful of false teachers who promise us relief by telling us that Jesus has, in fact, already returned.

2. We have to remember that when Jesus comes everyone will know, not just a few. It  is a can’t miss occurrence.

3. There is a three-fold pattern connected to Jesus’ coming: Things will be normal and people will be unaware. The righteous will be removed, then the rest will be judged.

4. Judgment is real! We don’t like to talk about this, but it is clearly here. It is patterned on what happened in the flood and the destruction of Sodom. As Jesus said of these, God’s judgment “destroyed them all.” And so it will be on the final day. It will be truly horrible! It will be a time of reckoning for rebellion and evil. This is not something you want to be a part of.

5. We need to be prepared by choosing now to die to our earthly lives, and live completely for God.

I end with the simple question – Are you ready??

Christians are you dead to your earthly life? Are you  ready to drop everything and go to Jesus when he returns? Or are you busy pursuing your earthly life and enjoying it – looking for more wealth, possessions, a bigger house and clinging to these?

If you aren’t yet a Christian, are you willing to receive the salvation that Jesus brings so that you can be a part of the great gathering of the righteous on the final day?

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We have been looking at 1 Thessalonians for a number of weeks and we are now in the final part of chapter 4, where Paul is going through a list of topics that need to be addressed. First was sex, or how we are to control our own bodies in holiness and honor. Next was mutual love, or how we should give generously to the needs of others, and how we ought not take advantage of such generosity to become idle busybodies.

Today the focus in on the resurrection of the righteous when Jesus returns. The second coming of Jesus is a big theme in 1 Thessalonians, mentioned in six different places. It also dominates 2 Thessalonians.

 But there was some confusion among the Thessalonians on the question –

What about the dead in Christ?

“13Now concerning those who are asleep, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters.” Since Paul left, someone had died, or as he says here, fell “asleep. [Paul uses this metaphor for death  three times in these verses – vs. 13, 14, 15. This was a common euphemism for talking about death in Judaism and the Greek and Roman world. It also came to be connected with those who are waiting to be awakened at the resurrection – Daniel 12:2. See also Mark 5:39. He also speaks of “the dead in Christ” in v. 16.] But having a Christian die was distressing to the Thessalonians, because they’re not sure what that means for the person. 

As we will see in a moment, Paul has taught them the basics of the Olivet discourse from Jesus about his second coming and the resurrection (Matthew 24-25). And it’s true that here and elsewhere Jesus focuses on those living at the time of his coming. He doesn’t explicitly address the issue of the righteous dead (at least not in the first three gospels). So the question arose among them – ‘Will the dead in Christ take part in all that happens when Jesus returns?’

And apparently some thought not. And this led them to be full of grief for the one who had died. So Paul wants to teach them on this “ . . . that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” It’s true that in the Greek and Roman world there was very little hope for anything after death, except eternal sleep in the gloomy underworld. As one of them said, “Hopes are for the living, but the ones who die are without hope” (Theocritus). But as Christians we have hope.

So this is a place where Paul needs to supply what is lacking in their understanding (1 Thessalonians 3:10), given that he had to leave them so quickly. So he shares –

The story on those who have died

First, he appeals to the example of Jesus. “14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Paul is saying, Jesus died too – but he rose again. And in the same way, because of the salvation that Jesus gives (“through Jesus”), God will bring with Jesus at his coming the dead in Christ, so that they can follow his pattern of first dying and then being raised.

So the dead in Christ are not left out. They will come with Jesus in order to be resurrected to new life. [When Paul says, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” are those “with him” already resurrected or do they come with him to be resurrected? Two things point to the latter: 1) The resurrection happens after Jesus descends from heaven – v. 16. But these are “with him” at his coming; at his descent. The idea, almost certainly, is that they come with Jesus from heaven, from their interim state, from being with him in heaven – Philippians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:8. 2) God does not “bring with” Jesus those who are already raised, but those who are identified as “asleep,” that is, those not yet resurrected.]

But this teaching is not just based on the example of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is also supported by a word from the Lord“15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord . . .” What’s this all about? As I said, there’s no saying of Jesus that explicitly addresses the dead in Christ. 

Rather, I believe that Paul is referring here to Zechariah 14:5 which is a part of a “word of the Lord” oracle (Zechariah 12:1). This says, “And the LORD my God will come and all the holy ones with him” (LXX).

  • The name, “LORD” or “Yahweh” is most often taken as a reference to Jesus, when Paul reads the Old Testament. So this speaks to Jesus’ coming.
  • The phrase “the holy ones” most often refers to the angels who are a part of “the assembly of the holy ones” in heaven (Psalm 89:5). But even in the Old Testament “holy ones” can also refer to the people of God. [In the LXX see Psalm 33(34):9 and Daniel 7:18, 21.] And Paul uses this particular phrase (the plural ῾οι ῾αγιοι as a substantive) to refer exclusively to believers or saints in his letters [38 times by my count with one instance of the singular – Philippians 4:21.] And he speaks of the dead in Christ as being “with Jesus” in several places (Philippians 1:26; 2 Corinthians 5:8), so this puts them in this assembly. They are a part of the “all” of his holy ones. [See also Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 4-5, 6:9-11.]
  • Finally, the dead in Christ, will come “with him.” They will come along with the rest of the host of heaven at his return. [Didache 16:7 quotes Zechariah 14:5 and clearly refers it to the resurrection of the dead in Christ.]

Notice the similarity of this to v. 14, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” His reasoning is, if  “all” the holy ones come with him, then the dead in Christ will come with him too.

[Paul clearly alludes to Zechariah 14:5 (LXX) already in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones,” in the prayer that sets up this teaching section. (This can be seen in the Greek. Both use κυριος and both have similar phrase about the “holy ones” – Zechariah – πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ; Paul – μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ – see Gordon Fee). Notice that it is cited in the context of praying that the Thessalonians will become holy.] [Although there is no word of Jesus that makes this precise point, which is the reason for confusion in the first place, given that Paul takes Yahweh as a reference to Jesus, it turns out that this is in a sense a word of Jesus.]

Paul goes on – “. . . that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Paul also concludes from this word of the Lord that since the dead in Christ descend with Jesus from heaven, even before the resurrection happens, they have a certain precedence over the living, who are still on earth at this point. They are first, because they are already with Jesus. [Those “who remain” might well mean those that are not already a part of the assembly of the holy ones with Jesus.]

So, not only do they take part in what happens when Jesus returns, they have a certain chronological priority.

Next, Paul gives the sequence of events that will happen when Christ returns and the righteous are raised. “16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Notice how this sequence is really just a summary of the Olivet discourse of Jesus from Matthew 24:30-31, which Paul had taught them when he was with them. [The connections with the Olivet discourse continue in 5:1-11, where Paul says that they know these things – 5:1-2.] 

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Matthew 24:30-31
1. Jesus will descend from heaven 1. “The Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven”
2. A cry of command, the voice of an archangel 2. “And he will send out his angels”
3. The trumpet of God 3. “With a loud trumpet call”
The dead in Christ will rise first Zechariah 14:5
4. We who are alive will be caught up (resurrected) 4. The angels will “gather his elect from the four winds” (a common metaphor for resurrection)

But since Jesus doesn’t address the dead in Christ in the sequence, which caused the confusion for them, Paul adds in Zechariah 14:5. A word of the Lord that supplements and clarifies the teaching of the Olivet discourse on the place of the dead in Christ (in blue).

Paul also makes clear that this is a royal event. Several aspects of his description of it in vs. 15-17 point this out. For instance having an angel herald his coming and the blowing of a trumpet. Also, the word used here for “coming” makes this point. It means presence, coming or arrival. But it could also be used of the coming of a ruler or emperor on an official visit. Finally, the word “meet” has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city (Acts 28:15-16; Matthew 25:6). This will be the role of the living when Jesus comes. So the dead in Christ will be raised first, and the living will function as the welcoming committee.

The Thessalonians had welcomed Roman emperors to their city before, so they would know what Paul is talking about here. Except that here they will be welcoming the emperor of all creation to earth.

Paul’s message is – be encouraged! “18Therefore encourage one another with these words.” He has taught them that:

  • the dead will be a part of the events of the second coming
  • they will even have a certain priority in the order of resurrection
  • we will be “together with them” in the resurrection – v. 17
  • we will all be with the Lord forever – v. 17

And he has done so, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” – v. 13.

[Why is there no discussion of a reunion with loved ones in the interim state? Most likely because of the contrast that controls this passage between the living and the dead. The living, as living ones, can only be reunited through the resurrection. If they die they can presumably be reunited in this way, but then they are no longer the living. Paul does not speak of a reunion in the interim state, perhaps because the real hope of the Christian is the resurrection. And also this isn’t the specific question being addressed. Rather it is, ‘Will the dead in Christ take part in the events of the second coming?’]

Finally, a few words on –

Hope and grief

Paul is not saying don’t grieve when a fellow Christian dies.

  • Jesus grieved for Lazarus, even though he knew he would be a part of the resurrection and even though he knew that he was about to raise him back to life  – John 11.
  • And in Philippians 2:27Paul spoke of the sorrow he would have had if his coworker, Epaphroditus had died, “sorrow upon sorrow.”
  • And we are told in Acts 8:2 that when Stephen was killed fellow believers “made great lamentation over him.”

It is perfectly fine and natural to grieve. Paul is simply saying don’t grieve like those who have no hope. The Christian who has died will be raised again to new life when Jesus returns. This tempers our grief and is a testimony to our strong belief in the salvation that Jesus brings. That we if we are dead when Jesus returns, we will awake. And if we are alive we will be caught up. And this should encourage us indeed.

May God make us to be a people of hope in a hopeless world. May we be a light to the world of a faith that even death cannot defeat. Amen.

William Higgins 

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